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November 6, 2006

Will freshman class live up to the hype?

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Rivals.com selected the top 25 storylines for the upcoming 2006-07 college basketball season and will be releasing articles daily, counting down from No. 25 to No. 1. The No. 2 storyline centers on how the NBA's age limit has forced the top high school players to head to college.

The NCAA might want to consider increasing its marketing budget for the upcoming college basketball season. Designing a campaign for the newcomers would be even better.

When it comes to the latest freshmen class, they've got their best product in more than a decade.

Thanks to the NBA's age limit rule, the top high school players are in college for the first time since 1995 - when Kevin Garnett started what would become a trend. In the last decade, many of the top prep prospects skipped college and headed to the NBA.

The first year of the rule also coincides with arrival of arguably the best group of freshmen in years. The 2006 class is highlighted by several players who would have been first-round picks if eligible, including top-ranked prospect Greg Oden, Kevin Durant (No. 2), Brandan Wright (No. 3), Thaddeus Young (No. 5) and a handful of others capable of making an early jump to the NBA.

The mega-talented group has been dubbed "the one-and-dones," referring to the fact that some will stay in college for only one season before entering the draft.

"There are a solid 15 or so guys in the 2006 class who should have productive NBA careers," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer said. "The three guys at the top - Oden, Durant and Wright - have superstar potential. I imagine anywhere from eight to 12 of the players from this class would have entered the draft out of high school if the age restriction had not been instituted."

Oden, a 7-foot center from Indianapolis who signed with Ohio State, would have probably been the top pick in the 2005 NBA draft if he could have skipped his final high school season.

Built with an imposing frame and the strength to match, Oden has long been a big name and a dominating force on the AAU circuit - particularly on the defensive end. He has been called the best post prospect to come along in decades.

Fans will have to wait a little longer to see how Oden fairs in the college ranks though. A wrist injury is expected to keep the big man sidelined until January.

Oden's delayed debut might make Durant the favorite to capture National Freshman of the Year honors. The 6-foot-10 small forward from the Washington, D.C., area probably had a slight edge even over a healthy Oden.

The most gifted offensive player in the class, Durant joins an extremely young Texas team that lost five starters. Durant will be expected to be a major scoring threat immediately. The former Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) star has all the physical tools needed, including a smooth shooting stroke and tremendous range.

Wright's size and skills already have pro scouts salivating. The 6-9 power forward from Nashville, Tenn., has long arms, a great feel for blocking shots and a finesse game that makes him a weapon on the perimeter. He'll team with Tyler Hansbrough, the unanimous pick for 2005-06 National Freshman of the Year, to form one of the top inside tandems at North Carolina.

The 6-8 Young, who signed with Georgia Tech, possesses remarkable versatility. Capable of playing a number of positions, the left-hander from Memphis will create matchup problems at the next level.

A strong season or two could land a handful of others in the first round.

Few players in any class have the size and athleticism of 6-9 wing Chase Budinger. An extraordinary leaper who was also one of the nation's top high school volleyball players, he'll add a new dimension to Arizona's offensive attack.

The same goes for Paul Harris and Syracuse. The Orange's prize recruit can overpower guards with his muscular 6-4, 220-pound frame and is also effective against much bigger players in the paint.

Ohio State wing Daequan Cook will be extremely difficult for opposing perimeter players to handle one-on-one. Armed with an explosive first step and a solid jumper, he'll get a chance to show off both early with Oden sidelined.

Kansas landed one of the most physically gifted players in the class in power forward Darrell Arthur. Blessed with great athleticism, the 6-9 big man runs the court extremely well and also owns a variety of polished moves.

Shooting guards Wayne Ellington and Gerald Henderson, former prep teammates from the Philadelphia suburbs, are both great athletes with excellent offensive games. Ellington will suit up for North Carolina, Henderson is at Duke.

Washington's Spencer Hawes (6-11) will grab the attention of many pro scouts with his size and array of post moves.

Georgia Tech point guard Javaris Crittenton should get plenty of attention. Explosive and athletic, he also has an NBA-ready body.

How many of these players will live up to all the hype? How many will be lottery picks? How long will they stay in college?

That all remains to be seen. But finding out the answers should add plenty of excitement to the college game this season.

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