September 17, 2006

Youth Movement

Nearly every team in the ACC will rely on a freshman this season in a starter's role or on the first or second chair on the bench. And what a year to do it. The conference reeled in one of the best group of young talent in some time.

Instant impact, instant responsibility

No one will be helped more by freshmen than North Carolina. Roy Williams could very well employ three rookies in the starting lineup right away. Point guard Tywon Lawson will take the reigns for the Tar Heels and could easily be mistaken for a track star. His speed will make the UNC lineup even more deadly. Lawson is a better scorer than former Tar Hell Raymond Felton.

Now pair him with Wayne Ellington, the nation's top overall freshman shooting guard, and you could argue that the Tar Heels have the best starting backcourt in the ACC and maybe in the country. Ellington is a smooth operator that has ice in his veins. He'll be on the other end of a game winner or two during his time in Chapel Hill.

Forward Brandan Wright could average 18.9 points and 7.8 rebounds a game as a freshman. Check that. That is what Tyler Hansbrough put up as a freshman. Wright has that kind of impact but he won't have to score as much as Hansbrough did as a rookie. Instead, the two will be the toughest 1-2 punch in the conference. Teams will have to determine what player to shut down because stopping both will be impossible.

One of the reasons why North Carolina's frontline will be so deadly is because of the incredible depth at the power forward and center positions. Williams inked a pair of California posts that could start for any team in the country. Instead of playing 25 minutes a game, Alex Stepheson and Deon Thompson will be the best big men reserves in the conference.

Down the road in Durham, Duke will be counting on the young talent of its freshmen this season. Coach K finally has a player at the wing that can utilize his versatility, athleticism, rebounding and perimeter scoring touch much like Luol Deng did in his one year at Duke.

Philly wing Gerald Henderson is that player this season and he should see plenty of minutes from the outset because of his athleticism, the best of all the incoming freshmen. Henderson has a body that doesn't need any transition time to college. His perimeter shot improved each game out as a senior in high school. Defensively, Henderson finally gives Duke an answer for the conference's athletic wings.

The fronline received a shot in the arm when New Jersey forward Lance Thomas. The 6-foot-8 big man will be counted on to rebound the basketball, one of the biggest weaknesses of last year's team. Anything less than five boards a game as a starter will be a disappointment. Fellow Jersey native Brian Zoubek, a 7-foot, 230-pound center, is an old school pivot man who has surprised in summer pick up games.

Shooting guard Jon Scheyer is being prepared to be J.J. Redick's replacement. It starts by being a starter. Scheyer, a Chicago prep star of legend status, moves off the ball much like Redick did. The coaching staff loves his competitiveness and plan on using him right away and could even be a starter on opening day.

The Final Four is in Atlanta this year and Georgia Tech might be one of the sexiest dark horse picks to play for the title this season because everyone is back and the team adds two McDonald's All-Americans to the starting lineup.

Thaddeus Young, a 6-foot-8 small forward, is the consensus top NBA prospect of the incoming freshmen, will start and be the focal point of the Yellow Jackets attack. Young is expected to play 32 minutes or more a game. Because of the opportunity before him, Young may make the biggest impact of any of the talented freshmen in the ACC this year.

Point guard Javaris Crittenton is the nation's top overall point guard, according to Rivals.com and should be the second coming of Jarrett Jack. The 6-foot-4 guard has been studying the team since his junior year and knows all of the ins and outs of his current teammates.

Wake Forest's lineup has been depleted due to graduation. That is the bad news. The good news, at least for the six incoming freshmen, is plenty of playing time. Skip Prosser will need help right away from three key players - point guard Ishmael Smith, shooting guard Anthony Gurley and power forward Jamie Skeen.

Smith is a thin but jet quick guard that should start at the point. Gurley, a well-built and aggressive scoring guard, will assume the scoring responsibility that Justin Gray left. Skeen may be the most productive of them all. He is a good inside-out combo forward that will start and play big minutes. Rarely, if ever, does he lose basketball games, too. That will be the biggest attribute he will bring to Wake, a team that is expected to struggle this season.

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Virginia was one of the biggest surprises in the ACC last year and the Cavaliers did it was a mediocre roster. Dave Leitao upgraded his roster and has a trio of potential starters. Will Harris, a gritty, muscular and athletic wing forward can play three positions for UVa and his mature game will be counted on earlier than later.

Indiana native Jamil Tucker might be the biggest sleeper freshman in the conference. At 6-foot-8, he's a dangerous player on the wing because of his good looking perimeter game and solid ball-hanlding skills. Leitao plans on using him as a power forward that can step out to the midrange. Tucker could be peppered into the starting lineup.

Nigerian native Solomon Tat is the x-factor. He could start because of his NFL like body. He could start because he gets into the hole whenever and however he wants. Ideally, he would be best served as a reserve.

Maryland has a good back court right now and the backcourt of the future on the roster. Expect the younger to play right away to be prepped for the future and to pick up wins right away.

Point guard Eric Hayes is a Steve Blake clone and the Terps won a National Championship with him at the helm. Hayes is a coach's son and can defend three positions. He is a tough-minded kid that should play well under Gary Williams' motivational tactics.

Hayes teamed with Greivis Vasquez on the AAU circuit and thrived. Vasquez is a fundamentally sound player that can light it up on the perimeter.

Virginia Tech lost two key members of it's recruiting class (Tyrone Appleton and Jeff Allen) to academics but point guard Nigel Munson is coming to Blacksburg and that is a big thing. Munson will see plenty of time at the point, and could even start in select games, in Virginia Tech's strong backcourt. He is a pass first point that will be even better next year.

Florida State needs help down low and they 'Noles are finally getting the services of Ryan Reid, a 2005 signee who spent last year in prep school. He isn't flashy but he is efficient. That is what FSU needs and Reid could even start with a good showing in the preseason. Point guard Josue Soto could also vie for starting time. He has a year's worth of great momentum coming into college and played well in international competition this summer.

Finding a niche

Sidney Lowe didn't exactly blow the NC State fan base away on the recruiting front. It wasn't his fault. He didn't have enough time to sign any blue-chippers in 2006. What he does have to help is 2005 holdover Brandon Costner, a former McDonald's All-American who red-shirted last season. Costner should help right away because of minutes available, his overall skill package and versatility.

Trevor Booker just gets things done down low and he could even contend for starter's minutes at Clemson as a frosh. The bouncy 6-foot-7 forward does a great job of blocking shots and rebounding down low.

Frank Haith is looking to replace the points left by departed Guillermo Diaz and Robert Hite at Miami. Ohio sharpshooter James Dews could be that guy. He was an unheralded player nationally but the Hurricanes saw enough in him to snatch him away from Big Ten country. New Orleans native Lawrence Gilbert emerged as a senior in Houston after Hurricane Katrina and could shine in the next four years in Miami. He is a 6-foot-7 do-everything wing.

Boston College inked a good class but not a great one. And you better believe Al Skinner will make on of the three - Daye Kaba, Tyler Roche and Shamari Spears - into a vital part of team this year. But who? That remains to be seen.

Ranking the ACC's freshmen classes

1. North Carolina
2. Duke
3. Georgia Tech
4. Wake Forest
5. Maryland
6. Virginia
7. Virginia Tech
8. Florida State
9. Boston College
10. Miami
11. Clemson
12. NC State

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