Commentary

Freshmen could produce record number in the '08 draft

Originally Published: June 24, 2008
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

The NBA knew just how talented the freshmen in the Class of 2008 would be, and how much of an impact they would have on the NBA draft.

"There is no coincidence here," said Neil Olshey, the L.A. Clippers' director of player personnel. "From the time these kids were sophomores in high school, we knew that whenever they were draft eligible that they would dominate the first part of the draft."

One And Done

Here are the 12 freshmen who have entered their names in the NBA draft:

Jerryd Bayless, Arizona
Michael Beasley, Kansas State
Eric Gordon, Indiana
Donte Greene, Syracuse
J.J. Hickson, NC State
DeAndre Jordan, Texas A&M
Kosta Koufos, Ohio State
Kevin Love, UCLA
O.J. Mayo, USC
Anthony Randolph, LSU
Derrick Rose, Memphis
Bill Walker, Kansas State

So, too, did the organizers of the summer amateur basketball events. So, too, did the college coaches who recruited and eventually coached them.

"I knew that whenever they chose to go into the draft, that this would be a banner year," said Sonny Vaccaro, the godfather of the summer basketball scene for decades, who also said the 2008 freshman class was the deepest, most talented group ever.

So, too, did the players, all 12 who may possibly go in the first round, which would be a first for the NBA draft.

"You could tell that by the time we were all seniors [in high school] that we could all go [to the draft] just after one year," said Indiana's Eric Gordon, one of the six freshmen expected to go in the lottery. "We're all on a mission to do something."

"It's one of the best classes in a long, long time," Arizona freshman Jerryd Bayless said.

"It might be one of the best classes, possibly ever," Syracuse freshman Donte Greene said.

"I knew at the [2007] McDonald's game that we had a lot of good players in this class," USC freshman O.J. Mayo said. "I didn't know the impact on college basketball, but I knew we would all do some special things."

"I just knew during the AAU games that this was a really talented class," Memphis freshman Derrick Rose said.

Everyone knew that this class, with talent and depth, was going to be unique.

On Thursday night (ESPN, 7:30 ET), expect to see the freshmen dominate the lottery with the top two picks from this class: Rose and Michael Beasley (Kansas State). Six of the top seven could all be freshmen with Mayo, Kevin Love (UCLA), Gordon and Bayless possibly following in that order.

"I knew when I saw these guys that those six would be [high picks]," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "All of us who recruited those guys knew, or should have known [they were going to the NBA after one season]."

Greene, Ohio State's Kosta Koufos, LSU's Anthony Randolph, NC State's J.J. Hickson, Texas A&M's DeAndre Jordan and Kansas State's Bill Walker, a redshirt freshman who was supposed to be in this class but graduated early from high school to play in college, are also projected to be selected in the first round.

[+] EnlargeBill Walker
AP Photo/Nati HarnikBill Walker took the unconventional route as a member of the Class of 2008 (he entered college a year early), but he could be the 12th freshman picked in the first round.

UCLA coach Ben Howland said you could easily toss in another first-round freshman had Duke's Kyle Singler entered the draft.

"He's someone that gets lost in the shuffle, but he might be as good as anybody else [in the class]," Howland said.

Memphis Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said this class is "one of the better freshman classes I've ever seen. It's one of the most unique freshman classes since they've all exited for the NBA at once, instead of varying times."

A year ago, a record eight freshmen were picked in the first round.

"You knew they were going to be great, but being a great prospect and becoming great players is a difficult task," said Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie, who signed Jordan to Texas A&M before he left to take the Wildcats helm. "Usually someone stays longer and some of the development might be slower. But all of the guys played great, and all decided to go."

A change in the NBA draft rules two years ago has created this one-and-done trend, and it forced this class to bide its time in college for a year before entering the NBA. But if these players weren't ready to be selected in the first round of the draft -- and in some cases, make an immediate impact -- they wouldn't be coming out, either.

Vaccaro said that of the top eight freshmen -- Rose, Beasley, Mayo, Gordon, Bayless, Love, Koufos and Randolph -- who could be picked in the lottery, all except Randolph and Koufos could have been picked in the lottery last year had they entered the draft straight out of high school. Had Walker not torn his ACL in December 2007, he too might have been a lottery pick.

"They all went to college and succeeded for a reason," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "I remember going to see these underclassmen in high school, and they dominated every game they played in. There's no doubt in my mind that this group of guys was going to perform at a high level."

It all comes down to talent. The Class of 2008 had tons of it, and it will be hard to repeat.

"It was an exceptional year, and it's not a normal thing where they all play well, develop and have the ability to leave," Gillispie said.

And that's why the record number of freshmen expected to get selected in the first round may mark a two-year trend, not an epidemic that we can expect to see for years to come. Wallace said it would be hard to roll out one freshman class after another as talented as this one, with players who can go to the NBA and play right away.

Martin was even more direct.

"This is a phenomenal class," he said, "and this is not something that will become a yearly thing."

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com