Commentary

Memphis, St. Mary's and Gonzaga have freshman gems

Originally Published: November 30, 2007
By Kyle Whelliston | Special to ESPN.com

We've look at the best freshmen in the BCS conferences. Here's a quick look at the impact freshmen from the rest of the country.

East


Alvin Abreu, New Hampshire (America East), 6-1, 180
Averages: 12.0 points and 38.1 percent 3-point shooting in five games
Breakout game: 14 points and 5-for-8 shooting in a win at Central Connecticut State
Outlook: Abreu has impressed summer camp scouts, coaches and early collegiate opponents with his rock-solid physique and smooth outside shot. He's averaged double figures in his first five games and could evolve into the kind of point producer that helps UNH make its long-awaited jump in the America East standings.

Gavin Gavin
Jay Gavin, Marist (Metro Atlantic), 6-3, 195
Averages: 10. points and 2.1 assists in six games
Breakout game: 19 points on 6-for-12 shooting in a loss to Miami (Fla.)
Outlook: Early in the first year of the post-Jared Jordan era, the Red Foxes' new shooting guard has given fans hope for the future. The Seat Pleasant, Md. product leads the team in scoring so far and was the bright spot in an otherwise forgettable 0-3 trip to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. More recently, he earned MAAC rookie of the week honors for his role in two close wins over Colgate and Richmond.

Damian Saunders, Duquesne (Atlantic 10), 6-7, 205
Averages: 10.6 points and 7.8 rebounds in five games
Breakout game: 19 points, six assists and four rebounds in first college debut against Howard
Outlook: Saunders was originally signed by Marquette, but a drug-possession charge in June and poor grades ended that affiliation. Dukes head coach Ron Everhart snapped him up, and Saunders has shown the running and jumping ability that Tom Crean originally liked so much and has lived up to the hype that placed the forward on many recruiting top-10 lists out of high school.

Justin Rutty, Quinnipiac (NEC), 6-7, 240
Averages: 6.8 points and 7.2 rebounds in five games
Breakout game: nine points and seven rebounds in a loss to Binghamton
Outlook: Rutty made quite an odd impression in his first game: no points and 12 rebounds in a season-opening home win over Hartford at the Q-Pod. He looks like the big man that new coach Tom Moore's Bobcats need to get over the hump and achieve their first-ever NEC championship. Rutty can be the inside presence they've been sorely lacking during a decade of D-I life.

Trevor Welcher, Delaware State (MEAC), 5-10, 160
Averages: 7.3 ppg, 5.2 apg and 1.94 assist/turnover ratio in six games
Breakout game: nine points and four assists in a loss to Columbia in the NIT Season Tip-Off
Outlook: A methodical, system-oriented team that's won three straight MEAC championships on the strength of solid point guard play has given the ball-handling duties to a freshman. He's only the third point guard in Greg Jackson's seven years as head coach. The key three's don't stop there: He's also a third cousin of Kobe Bryant.

Honorable mention: Anthony Breeze, Coastal Carolina (Big South) 6-5, 185, (11.8 ppg; 25 points on 9-for-9 shooting against Cincinnati); Andrew Goudelock, College of Charleston (SoCon), 6-1, 170 (12.2 ppg, 27 points against UNCW in first college game); Remy Cofield, Pennsylvania (Ivy), 6-4, 205 (20 points against Virginia); Jamarco Warren, Charleston Southern (Big South), 5-10, 162 (15.7 ppg, 3.4 apg)

Midwest


Rahmon Fletcher, Wisconsin-Green Bay (Horizon), 5-10, 165
Averages: 10.5 ppg in six games
Breakout game: 15 points and 5-for-10 shooting in a win against North Dakota State
Outlook: After playing leading scorer Ryan Evanochko out of position at the 1 for a couple of seasons, head coach Tod Kowalczyk made sure he got a true point guard. While Fletcher hasn't piled up the assists (only averaging 1.5 per game), he's shown some versatility early on -- he has a sweet long jumper, can drive to the basket and can get quite artistic in the air.

Hamilton Hamilton
Reggie Hamilton, Missouri-Kansas City (Summit)
Averages: 12.2 ppg, 4.5 apg, 1.3 spg and 10-for-20 3s in six games
Breakout game: 16 points and seven assists in debut against Kansas
Outlook: Hamilton comes from the same legendary Chicago high school, Thornwood H.S., that produced prep-to-pro power forward Eddy Curry. The combo guard was one of the stars of the post-Curry era there, averaging nearly 18 points as a senior. As a Kangaroo, he's finished in double figures in five of his first six games.

Chris Knight, Bowling Green (MAC), 6-7, 210
Averages: 14.0 ppg and 6.5 rpg in six games
Breakout game: 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting and eight rebounds in a win at Cincinnati
Outlook: Knight took a redshirt last season, but the Falcons' new star swingman has fit in with new coach Louis Orr's program just fine. He announced his presence in his first college game in his home city of Cincinnati, and back home he thrilled the Anderson Arena crowd with key jumpers and some electrifying dunks, helping BGSU to a surprising 4-2 record so far.

P'Allen Stinnett, Creighton (Missouri Valley), 6-2, 170
Averages: 13.7 ppg and 3.3 apg in three games
Breakout game: 23 points on 9-for-15 shooting in first debut against DePaul
Outlook: Sadly, the Bluejays never did get to make the P-Funk "mother ship connection," as superstar guard Nate Funk ran out of eligibility last season. But the Bluejays still have the "P," their top recruit who features explosive speed and a soft shooting touch. Stinnett was the first Jay in two decades to lead the team in scoring in his first contest. If he keeps up the production, the forecasted down season for Creighton just might not happen after all.

Chris Wright, Dayton (Atlantic 10), 6-2, 175
Averages: 15.8 points and 7.4 rebounds in five games
Breakout game: 31 points on 9-for-15 shooting and five assists in debut against ETSU
Outlook: UD is trying to recapture the form that brought the school three NCAA bids in five years to start the century. But they've already done something nearly as important -- dipping into the talent-rich pool of local players. Wright's old friends at Trotwood-Madison H.S. have had the continued opportunity to see him play, and the springy, high-altitude Flyer has been putting up the kind of numbers that will help him compete with Duquesne's Saunders for A-10 rookie of the year honors.

Honorable mention: Jake Anderson, Northern Illinois (MAC), 6-2, 200 (23 points and five rebounds at Indiana State); Romain Martin, Eastern Illinois, 6-3, 180 (14.4 ppg in five games); Vance Cooksey, Youngstown State (Horizon), 5-11, 165 (10.6 and 5.0 apg in five games); Pieter van Tongeren, Evansville (Missouri Valley), 6-11, 233 (8.0 ppg and 7.8 rpg in four games)

South


Derrick Rose, Memphis (C-USA), 6-4, 195
Averages: 17.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg and 4.3 apg in six games
Breakout game: 24 points and six rebounds in win over Connecticut
Outlook: A classic unselfish, pass-first point guard who can drive (second) and even rebound (third), Rose has NBA scouts drooling and C-USA opponents running for cover in advance of league season. He already has his first point guard's double-double at the college level (19 points and 12 assists against Austin Peay), and he could very well be the piece that has the two-time Elite Eight Tigers playing in April. His outside shot hasn't quite caught up with the rest of his game, but watch out when it does.


Gibson Gibson
Devin Gibson, Texas-San Antonio (Southland), 6-0, 170
Averages: 18.8 ppg, 5.5 rebounds and a national-best 4.3 spg
Breakout game: 13 points and 10 rebounds in a loss at Texas
Outlook: Two of UTSA's games so far have been against non-Division I opponents, but you can't say the Roadrunners' lightning-fast newcomer has been padding his stats at the expense of the Hardin-Simmonses and Paul Quinns of the world. The Houston native posted a double-double against the Longhorns, then followed it up with a 19-point, seven-rebound, seven-steal performance against Navy.

Brockeith Pane, Houston (C-USA), 6-2, 195
Averages: 17.0 ppg, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 spg in seven games
Breakout game: 21 points and seven rebounds in a loss vs. VCU
Outlook: Pane was chased by Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, but he chose to be a Cougar. Houston is off to a 6-1 start, and a big reason is the solid newcomer who's helped take a big chunk of the scoring load from senior Rob McKiver. On Monday, Pane was named the C-USA's player of the week -- only the eighth freshman ever to win that honor -- for averaging 23 points and 6.5 boards against SWAC schools Texas Southern and Grambling.

Willie Powers, Georgia Southern (SoCon), 6-1, 190
Averages: 14.8 ppg and 54.2 percent FG in five games
Breakout game: 26 points on 10-for-16 shooting and seven rebounds in a win over Mercer
Outlook: Davidson, App State and UNC Greensboro have received a lot of the early SoCon ink, but don't forget about the Eagles, who have won four in a row and were the winners of the nation's first conference game (over Furman last Saturday). Gainesville native Powers has already earned a lot of minutes -- his 33.0 mpg leads all SoCon players -- and he's received raves from opposing coaches about his work ethic and well-timed shots.

Gerald Robinson Jr. Tennessee State (OVC), 6-0, 170
Averages: 15.4 ppg and 48.5 percent 3-point shooting in five games
Breakout game: 24 points on 9-for-19 shooting in a loss to Georgia Tech
Outlook: Is the Ohio Valley ready for another high-scoring player named Gerald Robinson? This isn't the Tennessee-Martin senior forward and double-double specialist, this is the limber and fast freshman guard who recently chose local TSU over George Mason. Once he finds some shooting consistency, he'll be a big help to the Tigers in their quest to climb the OVC ladder.

Josh White, North Texas (Sun Belt), 5-10, 167
Averages: 16.3 ppg and 7-for-14 3-point shooting in four games
Breakout game: 25 points and six rebounds in a win over Oklahoma State
Outlook: White received a lot of mid-major interest out of Baton Rouge's Christian Life Academy. But now that he's arrived on the Mean Green's scene, he's caught some high-major attentions too. The pint-sized freshman's giant performance against OSU, which ended with him being carried off the floor on his teammates' shoulders, earned him Sun Belt player of the week honors.

Honorable mention: Marquis Weddle, Tennessee-Martin (OVC) (15.8 ppg in six games; 24 points against Mississippi State); Glen Andrews, Tulsa (C-USA), 6-3, 185 (team-leading 10.0 ppg in 17.8 mpg); Kevin Perkins, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Southland), 6-1, 160 (13.7 ppg and 1.7 spg in four games)

West


Daye Daye
Austin Daye, Gonzaga (WCC), 6-10, 190
Averages: 13.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.5 bpg and 49 percent shooting in six games
Breakout game: 20 points and 10 rebounds in debut against Montana
Outlook: The son of former UCLA star and NBA player Darren Daye started his prep career at 6-4, but when he grew half a foot, he kept his outstanding guard-like skills. So for up to four years, opposing WCC coaches, players and fans will get to enjoy to the recurring nightmare of Daye stepping out of the paint for deep 3s. He's made four of his first six attempts.

Patrick Mills, Saint Mary's (WCC), 6-0, 175
Averages: 15.8 ppg, 5.0 apg and 96.2 percent free-throw shooting in five games
Breakout game: 37 points on 10-for-20 shooting and five rebounds in win over Oregon
Outlook: A product of the same efficient Australian Institute of Sport that produced Andrew Bogut, the Canberra Cannon is off to an explosive start with his advanced court sense and smart shot. Back home, a player who his national team coach describes as a "jitterbug" is already a big-time role model. Not only was he the youngest-ever member of the "Boomers" national squad, he's Australia's first Aboriginal basketball star.

Luke Sikma, Portland (WCC), 6-8, 220
Averages: 9.3 ppg, 10.7 rpg and 1.4 bpg in seven games
Breakout game: 11 points and 13 rebounds in debut at Fresno State
Outlook: Sikma is a very familiar name in the Northwest -- center Paul used to drive Trail Blazers fans nuts when he played for Seattle in the early 1980s. But the Rose City has Son of Sikma now, a rangy forward who can run the floor a little too. He opened his college career with four straight double-digit rebound performances, and he has three double-doubles to his credit so far.

Malcolm Thomas, Pepperdine (WCC), 6-8, 205
Averages: 13.7 ppg, 10.6 rpg and 53.4 percent shooting in seven games
Breakout game: 22 points and eight rebounds in debut at Oregon
Outlook: The Waves have a long way to go until they achieve WCC respectability, but that distance may be bridged by a promising freshman class, led by a San Diego-area big with superior finishing skills. Thomas has notched three double-doubles so far, including a blistering 20-and-16 performance in an overtime game versus Long Beach State.

Evan Washington, Air Force (Mountain West), 6-4, 190
Averages: 7.9 ppg, 55.3 percent shooting, 7-for-13 3-point shooting in seven games
Breakout game: 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting against Washington State
Outlook: New head coach Jeff Reynolds knew that the Falcons had to replace all three of their senior double-figure scorers from last season's 26-win team. But it turns out AFA had a promising prospect in-house at its Air Force Academy prep school, who was lighting up the scoreboard and hitting key shots all over the place. For a school that has prided itself on making the most of every possession, Washington has been a ridiculously efficient scorer, averaging a team-high 1.35 points per shot taken.

Honorable mention: Vinnie McGhee Jr., Sacramento State (Big Sky), 6-0, 165 (10.1 ppg and 6.1 apg in seven games); Tyrone Shelley, Pepperdine (WCC), 6-6, 210 (16.6 ppg; 34 points against Cal State Northridge); Mark Payne, UC Davis (Big West), 6-7, 190 (8.3 ppg and 64.5 percent shooting in six games); Billy White, San Diego State (Mountain West), 6-8, 212 (8.7 ppg and 70.3 percent shooting in seven games)

Kyle Whelliston is the national mid-major reporter for Basketball Times and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

Kyle Whelliston

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
Kyle Whelliston has contributed to ESPN.com's college basketball coverage since 2005. He covers mid-major programs for Basketball Times magazine, and will have a basketball travelogue of the 2008-09 season published next summer. Whelliston also founded midmajority.com and statistical database site Basketball State (bbstate.com).

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