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January 18, 2007

Hoops class of 2006 living up to its billing

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The rule prohibiting players from entering the NBA directly out of high school figured to make this one of the top freshman classes in recent college basketball history.

This class hasn't disappointed in that regard.

A look at Rivals.com's top 10 players in the 2006 recruiting class illustrates how much of an impact freshmen have made across the nation.

All 10 players on the list already have cracked the starting lineups of their respective teams. The only one not scoring in double figures is Stanford forward Brook Lopez, who is still working his way into peak condition after undergoing offseason back surgery.

"We feel pretty good about that top 10," said Jerry Meyer, the national basketball recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "It's hard to find guys below them in the rankings who are playing better."

Ohio State center Greg Oden the No. 1 player in the 2006 recruiting class set a school record by shooting a perfect 8-for-8 in his second career game. Oden already has established himself as one of the game's top defensive players.

The 7-footer is averaging 14.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game despite playing with a surgically repaired right wrist. Oden wears a cast on his right hand and has to shoot free throws with his left hand.

And he's not even the best freshman on this list.

That honor belongs to Texas forward Kevin Durant, rated by Rivals.com as the No. 2 recruit in the nation. Durant leads the Big 12 in scoring and rebounding and has been selected as the Rivals.com national freshman of the week each of the last two weeks.

"I'm impressed at how he has become a more physical player," Meyer said. "We all knew he was capable of scoring in huge numbers for Texas, but when you watch Texas play, he actually plays center for them most of the time. He's doing a great job of rebounding, and he's doing a great job of scoring inside with strong physical moves. He's not just relying on his jump shot."

Here's a closer look at how Rivals.com's top 10 players in the 2006 recruiting class have fared thus far. The players are listed in order of their ranking.

The Rivals.com Class of 2006 Top 10: How They've Fared
1. Greg Oden, Ohio State, C, 7-0, 280.
High school:
Indianapolis Lawrence North.
Statistics: 14.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.9 blocks per game

The skinny: On the surface, Oden's statistics may not justify the fanfare that accompanied his arrival on campus. If the season ended today, Texas forward Kevin Durant would probably edge him out for national freshman of the year honors. But that shouldn't diminish what Oden has accomplished. His mere numbers don't reflect the impact he can have on a game. Oden already is one of the nation's top defensive players. Ohio State opponents have to rely on their perimeter attack because their inside players aren't going to reach their scoring averages against Oden. He also had a breakthrough performance on the offensive end Saturday by collecting 24 points and 15 rebounds in a 68-66 victory over Tennessee. If he's doing this well now, imagine how good he'll be once his surgically repaired right wrist returns to full strength.

Quotable: "He is a great player. He does a great job getting in position. Once he gets the ball inside, you can't stop him. Once he gets his other hand back, I don't know of a player in college basketball that could stop him." - Tennessee forward Duke Crews

2. Kevin Durant, Texas, F, 6-9, 225
High school:
Suitland (Md.) Montrose Christian
Statistics: 24.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.9 blocks per game

The skinny: Durant has made a greater impact than any true freshman since Carmelo Anthony helped Syracuse win a national title in his lone season in college. Texas' inexperience may prevent Durant from leading the Longhorns to similar heights, but Durant's mere presence will make them a tough out in the postseason. He leads the Big 12 in scoring and rebounding. He has averaged 34 points and 13.5 rebounds per game in his last four contests. Durant certainly is the freshman of the year thus far. If he keeps up this pace, he just might be the national player of the year - regardless of class.

Quotable: "Send him to the league (NBA). He needs to go to the league, man."-Missouri coach Mike Anderson

3. Brandan Wright, North Carolina, F, 6-9, 205
High school:
Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy
Statistics: 15.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.5 blocks per game through Wednesday.

Notable: Wright arguably has gotten off to the best start of any member of North Carolina's talented freshman class, which was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 1 recruiting haul of the 2006 season. He entered Wednesday night's game with Clemson leading the Atlantic Coast Conference with a .641 field-goal percentage. Wright also ranked second on his team in scoring and leads the Tar Heels in blocked shots. He is the only North Carolina player to score in double figures every game this season. However, he still needs to work on his free-throw shooting. Wright was shooting just 55 percent from the line as of Tuesday and went 1-of-8 on free throws Saturday in a 94-88 loss to Virginia Tech that ended the Heels' 12-game winning streak.

Quotable: "When we came in, we knew expectations were already high. But us guys, we didn't listen to the hype. We just came in and worked hard. We've really come a long way since Day One."-Wright, speaking about the progress of North Carolina's entire freshman class.

4. Chase Budinger, Arizona, F, 6-7, 205
High school:
Carlsbad (Calif.) LaCosta Canyon
Statistics: 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists per game

Notable: Budinger wasted no time making a name for himself at Arizona. In just his second college game, Budinger collected 32 points 23 in the first half to lead the Wildcats to a 101-79 victory over Northern Arizona. Budinger obviously couldn't keep that pace up, and he failed to reach double figures in each of the Wildcats' last two losses. But he still ranks ninth in the Pac-10 in scoring and owns a team-high .547 shooting percentage. Budinger has the scoring and shooting ability to carry a team. The only question surrounding this gifted player is whether his defense will ever catch up to his offense.

Quotable: "I have a little bit of fatigue setting in. I just have to be mentally tough. It's more mental than physical." - Budinger, after scoring four points Sunday in a 79-77 loss to Oregon

5. Thaddeus Young, Georgia Tech, F, 6-8, 217
High school:
Memphis (Tenn.) Mitchell
Statistics: 14.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists per game

Notable: Young has teamed up with classmate Javaris Crittenton to help make Georgia Tech a factor again in the ACC. Young has been battling with Crittenton for the team scoring lead while also showing off his versatility. The 6-8 forward is shooting 41 percent from 3-point range and is tied for second on the team in assists. Young missed a victory over Penn State last month with tendinitis in his left knee and shot just 1-of-6 in his first game back. He has since returned to form. Young has shot 21-of-38 from the floor in his last four games.

Quotable: "When you look at Thaddeus' season this year, he has put up solid numbers from the beginning. I think now he's getting more comfortable in the Georgia Tech system. I would expect if he stays around for another year, you could see his numbers really explode to higher levels." - Meyer

6. Spencer Hawes, Washington, C, 7-0, 250
High school:
Seattle Prep
Statistics: 15.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.9 blocks per game

Notable: Washington has been a major disappointment thus far with only one win in its first five Pac-10 games, but Hawes shouldn't shoulder the blame for his team's misfortunes. The 7-footer leads the Huskies with 15.2 points per game and ranks third in the conference in blocked shots. He already has tied Todd MacCulloch's 10-year-old school freshman record for blocks. But he may need a second wind. Hawes has averaged just 9.3 points per game while shooting 13-of-36 in his last three outings.

Quotable: "Hawes has definitely had a great season. I think he might have even caught people by surprise by playing so well so early. More than anything, what's been impressive is he has become the go-to man in the Washington attack." - Meyer

7. Javaris Crittenton, Georgia Tech, G, 6-5, 198
High school:
Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy
Statistics: 14.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.9 steals per game

Notable: Crittenton was named the ACC rookie of the week Monday after leading the Yellow Jackets to back-to-back victories over Duke and Florida State. Crittenton scored nine points in the last four minutes of a 74-63 victory over Duke and collected a career-high 23 points while shooting 8-for-11 in the 88-80 triumph over Florida State. Crittenton is tied for second in the ACC in assists per game and is fifth in the league in steals.

Quotable: "I'm just studying film and trying to learn all that I can. Coach (Paul Hewitt) has been getting on me and helping me improve in the areas that I need to improve on and helping me become a better basketball player."-Crittenton

8. Wayne Ellington, North Carolina, G, 6-4, 195
High school:
Merion Station (Pa.) Episcopal Academy
Statistics: 12.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists per game through Tuesday

Notable: Ellington has established himself as North Carolina's top outside threat. He entered Wednesday night's game with Clemson shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range and led the Tar Heels with 36 baskets from beyond the arc. He went 12-of-19 from 3-point range during a three-game stretch against Rutgers, Dayton and Penn just before the Tar Heels began their ACC schedule. He has struggled since then and went just 4-of-18 from beyond the arc in North Carolina's first three ACC games. While his long-range shooting has slumped lately, Ellington has improved his assist-to-turnover ratio after a slow start in that regard.

Quotable: "I think Ellington is finding his niche as the go-to guy on the perimeter for North Carolina. North Carolina has an inside-oriented attack with Brandan Wright and Tyler Hansbrough. When they need a bucket on the perimeter, Ellington has been making the tough shots for them." - Meyer

9. Ty Lawson, North Carolina, G, 5-11, 193
High school:
Mouth Of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy
Statistics: 9.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.8 steals per game through Tuesday

Notable: Lawson made five assists and no turnovers against Ohio State in his first career start. That performance has set the tone for the rest of this sure-handed point guard's season. Lawson entered Wednesday's game with Clemson ranked second in the ACC in assist-turnover ratio (2.54-to-1) and fourth in assists per game (6.2). He entered Wednesday's game with almost as many steals (31) as turnovers (35). Lawson isn't much of a threat from the outside he's only 11-of-29 from 3-point range but he's shooting 53.5 percent overall. Lawson also has demonstrated an ability to draw contact. Center Tyler Hansbrough and power forward Brandan Wright are the only Tar Heels with more free-throw attempts this season.

Quotable: "(North Carolina coach Roy Williams) wants me to call the defense, call the offense, pressure the ball. He just wants me to be a little Roy Williams out there." - Lawson

10. Brook Lopez, Stanford, F, 7-0, 240
High school:
Fresno (Calif.) San Joaquin Memorial
Statistics: 8.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.0 blocks per game

Notable: Lopez had a later start to his career than the other guys on this list because he underwent back surgery in September. He missed the first five games of the season and didn't move into the starting lineup until Jan. 7. Lopez has shown flashes of potential scoring 18 points during his 17-minute stint in a Dec. 3 victory over Texas Tech but he is still playing catch-up because of his offseason surgery. His twin brother, Robin, starts at center for Stanford and averages a team-high 17 points per game. Rivals.com rated Robin Lopez as the No. 28 overall prospect in the 2006 recruiting class.

Quotable: "Brook is just getting back to where he's probably 75 or 80 percent.'' - Stanford coach Trent Johnson

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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