As promised recently ... below is this blogger's view of the top freshmen joining conference programs this year.
The individuals selected might not necessarily be the most talented, nor might they eventually be the best players, three or four years from now, of this year's freshmen.
But, these are the players who should have the most impact, based on their respective team's needs, this coming season. These are the guys who will likely get the most minutes and have the greatest opportunities to record the type statistics that will merit All-Rookie consideration at the end of the season.
But, first, the traditional disclaimer: Picking the best of incoming freshmen is, like the practice of medicine, an inexact science.
Here's a typical example: Entering the 2002-03 season, almost no one (not even Siena's coaching staff) expected big things from incoming freshman Michael Haddix. All the pre-career hype went to Paul Williams, a talented 6-foot-9 forward from St. Patrick's High School in North Bergen, N.J. Williams was a first-team all-New Jersey selection as a high school senior.
But Haddix had a much better preseason and got into the starting lineup ahead of Williams. The 6-6 Haddix finished with 440 points in his first season, the most scored by a freshman in the program's history. He averaged 13.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
Williams struggled to find success at the college level and only averaged 3.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game as a freshman. After a similar second season at Siena, Williams transferred to St. Bonaventure, where he became a role player in his last two years of eligibility.
When Haddix's career was over he was the program's sixth all-time leading scorer with 1,594 points and the only player in Siena history to record more than 1,500 career points and 800 career rebounds (he finished with 807).
But, if someone were making a list of the conference's newcomers at this juncture prior to the 2002-03 season, Williams assuredly would have been on it and Haddix would have been omitted.
Anyway ... here's one blogger's opinion on this season's MAAC Freshmen of Impact, in no particular order:
- Rob Gagliardi, 6-2 guard, Canisius: The Golden Griffins have their top seven players returning, but one of them is junior guard Bobby Goldsberry, who cracked the starting lineup late last season but only averaged 2.3 points and 1.5 rebounds per game on the season. Goldsberry will still get his share of time in the backcourt, but Gagliardi is a member of Canada's age-level national program, has faced considerable international competition and can score. For a program that struggled offensively a year ago, Gagliardi should provide some points and will get the opportunity to do so, even if he's coming off the bench.
- Julius Brooks, 6-9 forward, Loyola: The Greyhounds were in desperate need of front-court help, and have two potential contributors coming on board in Maryland transfer Shane Walker and Brooks, a true freshman. In a preseason interview with the Baltimore Sun, Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos indicated that it might be Brooks who gets the starting job at center over Walker. Brooks averaged 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks per game at Page High School in Greensboro, N.C., last year and reports indicate he will contribute as rebounder/shot blocker with a developing offensive game, particularly in the paint.
- O.D. Anosike, 6-8 forward, Siena: Yours truly saw Anosike play several times on the AAU circuit in the summer of 2008, and was very impressed. He is an athletic big man who can play any of the three front-court positions. He relentlessly pounds the boards and runs the court, blocks shots and has a nice mid-range jumper. He won't be a starter this year, but the Saints had almost no front-court depth last season, and Anosike solves that problem. He'll could get significant minutes as the first Siena player off the bench at center and power forward.
- Sam Prescott, 6-3 guard, Marist: The Red Foxes need plenty of help from newcomers, and there are five freshmen joining the program (as well as two high-major level transfers). But, this blogger will go out on the proverbial limb and pick Prescott to have the biggest impact of the frosh. Prescott was a high school reserve before transferring to Imhotep Charter School in the Philadelphia area for last season, where he had a break-out year. He was also impressive on the summer AAU circuit. He's athletic and reputed to be a strong defender. That alone should get him minutes right away. He's the type of player who could produce some offense, too, in Marist's dribble-drive attack.
- Derek Needham, 6-0 guard/Colin Nickerson, 6-3 guard, Fairfield: OK, we're going to hedge our bets a little here. Either Needham or Nickerson ... and, maybe, both ... is going to have to make some sort of impact for the Stags. The team's retuning guards are competent Warren Edney and developing Lyndon Jordan. If nothing else, Needham/Nickersonn will be the top two backcourt reserves. At best, one of them will grab a starting spot at some point this season. They're different players. Needham is a true point, while Nickerson is more of a scorer. At this point, still more than two weeks away from the start of preseason practices, my guess is that even the Fairfield coaching staff isn't entirely certain about whether Needham or Nickerson will get the most time this season. But, the two are the future building blocks of the Stags' backcourt.