College basketball’s top 20 freshmen for 2023-24: Stephon Cassel, Isaiah Collier and more

The Athletic

Although some scouts have expressed concern about the overall quality of the 2023 recruiting class, several freshmen are poised to deliver outstanding performances and make significant contributions to their teams’ success.

In Class 2023, there’s a treasure trove of hidden gems and new abilities that demand your attention. Here, I present the top 20 freshmen you can’t miss.

1. Stephen Castle| 6-foot-6 combo guard | Yukon

I’ve been following Castle’s career since I was 15, and it’s no surprise to see all of his accomplishments. The 215-pound guard from Newton High School in Covington, Ga., is an all-trades prospect who can play both guard positions and has the keys to success from the get-go. He is very talented with a big strong frame that excels at scoring, defending and facilitating around the rim. It will be interesting to see how dynamic the pick-and-roll between Castle and upcoming NBA draft pick Donovan Clingan can be. His jump shot is a lot, but he will make shots as the season goes on. Castle will be the best freshman in the Big East in terms of what he does well and how he impacts the game. The defending national champions won’t be taking a big step back with graduating guard Tryston Newton and Rutgers transfer Cam Spencer in the backcourt, along with five-star incoming freshmen including Solomon Ball.

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2. Jacob Walter | 6-5 Shooting Guard | Bayer

Baylor is very good with guards; In the past four years, the Bears have been drafted four times, two in the first round. Walter will be next. A year ago, Kyonte George was Waco’s first all-star, earning Big 12 Freshman of the Year and second-team All-Big 12 honors. Although Walter isn’t a lock to repeat that success, he has a very good chance to make as big an impact as George, if not more than expected. Walter is a shooter who can put up big numbers on his “A” game. Last season, 55 percent of George’s shots came from 3-point range, and he made just 33.8 percent of those. Walter can make 36 to 37 percent of his shots if he shoots more often because he’s a much better catch-and-shoot prospect. Helping Walter have a successful season are veteran guards around him, like Toledo transfer RayJ Dennis, a natural floor general who led Mack in assists (5.8), and VCU transfer guard Jayden Nunn, who will take some of the pressure off. Outside of McDonald’s All-American. Dennis puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses which often leaves Walter open. This pairing is a match made in heaven. Bears fans should also watch out for freshman guard Miro Little. He should be able to play effective minutes early and in Baylor’s potent three-guard lineup. He played five games for the Finnish national team at the 2023 FIBA ​​World Cup this summer, averaging 5.0 points and 4.6 assists in 17.5 minutes per game.

3. Isaiah Collier | 6-4 point guard | USC

Collier is one of the best surfers I’ve ever seen. It’s a generational understanding of where everyone is on the floor, where they need to be, and how to fit the needle to help their teammates score. The Trojans haven’t had a point guard like this in a while, and he’s going to be a rock star from day one. It’s easy to see why many NBA mock drafts have the McDonald’s All-American going in the lottery. This Pac-12 may be the best it’s been in over a decade, even though this is the league’s final year, thanks to its competitive teams, incoming transfers and a star-studded freshman class led by Collier. The Trojans signed Collier’s high school teammate Arinton Paige. The 6-foot-11, 245-pound forward is a big-time athlete who serves as a shot blocker, rebounder and lob threat to work with Collier in pick-and-rolls. The Georgians already have great chemistry, and I look forward to seeing it on full display as the Trojans try to win the conference for the first time since 1985.

4. Sam Walters | 6-9 forward | Alabama

Walters may be the most underrated prospect on this list, but he will play a role in the Crimson Tide’s success this season. The 6-foot-10,198-pound forward has a unique skill set that includes being a better athlete than he’s given credit for, with the ability to stretch the floor from 3. And creating his beat. He’s very similar to star transfer Grant Nelson and will learn a lot from him that will pay dividends in the long run. Throughout the summer and early fall, Walters was the Tide’s best freshman and one of their best pure offensive players. His offensive play comes naturally and with Bama’s lack of frontcourt experience, he could get about 20 minutes per game. Nate Oates added Muhammad Waugh, a West Virginia transfer who played just 10.6 minutes per game last season. Nick Pringle is back in Tuscaloosa, but the other frontcourt players expected to get minutes are all freshmen, including four-star Jarin Stevenson, who reassigned this summer. On a smaller scale, Walters can be used as a floor-spacer and knock-down shooter in pick-and-pop situations.

5. Jaland Lowe | 6-3 point guard | Pittsburgh

Pitt was one of the more surprising teams in college basketball last season, as the Panthers were projected to finish 13th in the ACC, but finished fourth and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016. This season, the Panthers have a lot of talent. Jeff Capel hires a backcourt with four-star guards Jaland Lowe and Carlton Carrington. Lowe had arguably the best summer of any prospect in the 2023 class, finishing with 14 offers from a handful of three-star recruits and finishing his high school career as the No. 82 prospect according to 247Sports. Coordinated. The Panthers only added one guard via the transfer portal — Ishmael Leggett from Rhode Island — so both Lowe and Carrington should play decent minutes. Both freshmen can play either guard position, and I’m excited to see how they develop and play alongside each other. Both have good size, see the floor well and can score the ball. They are also coaches’ children and are prepared for moments like these. There will be bumps in the road for these two, but by the end of the year they will be seen as one of the best freshmen in the country.

6. Caleb Foster | 6-5 Combo Guard | Duke

The Blue Devils are loaded with the No. 2 recruiting class, including a handful of future NBAers in Tyrese Proctor and Kyle Filipowski, and an impressive 81 percent of them returning. Despite the recruiting rankings, Caleb Foster is Duke’s best freshman, and in time it will show. What he does well, you can’t teach. He is a 6-5 combo guard who can read defenses, shoot from deep and facilitate in the pick-and-roll. He was the biggest snub in last year’s McDonald’s All-American game, and he comes into this season with a big chip on his shoulder. Additionally, future Hall of Famer Steph Curry is a big fan of Foster, and they often train together during the summer. I’d be remiss not to mention Duke McDonald’s All-Americans Jared McCain and Sean Stewart. I’m not sure what’s more impressive, McCain’s Tik Tok following or his jump shot. For the sake of this story, let’s talk about the offensive skill set. McCain will be a great shooter and playmaker at the next level. He can be a first-rate ballplayer, has the style of CJ McCollum and will be a fan favorite. As for Shawn Stewart, he is an accomplished athlete and has the highest vertical in Duke history at 36 inches (yes, taller than Zion Williamson). Fortunately for all of these freshmen, they have veterans in place to learn from in the short and long term, including five-star TJ Power. The hype is real behind this Duke team.

7. Aden Holloway | 6-1 point guard | Auburn

Auburn’s work with 6-foot-2 or shorter guards is impressive, and you won’t find a better fit than Holloway and the Tigers’ system. Holloway has senior point guard Bruce Pearl, who signed with Sharif Cooper at Auburn, and has a chance to be great. Over the past few years, the Tigers have needed stability at the point guard position, and Holloway does just that. He is one of my top college-ready point guards in the 2023 recruiting class. You could argue he’s the most ready freshman PG in the country, and Pearl hands the keys to the offense to the McDonald All-American. Allowing Holloway to run the offense will allow KD Johnson to play off the ball and focus on scoring, creating more opportunities for Johnny Broome to become the future NBAer he should be. The 1-2 punch of Broome and Holloway will be very exciting and difficult for teams to stop. Auburn also added Florida international transfer Denver Jones, who should pair well with roommate Holloway. Remember, Pearl let the guards go. Holloway should be the star in the offense.

8. Jackson Shelstad | 6-0 point guard | Oregon

Like Collier and Holloway, Shelstad is ready to make an immediate impact from the point guard position. He is a younger version of Ducks legend Payton Pritchard. He’s calm, great in the pick-and-roll, a vocal leader and can make shots anywhere on the floor. Behind two McDonald All-Americans in Kwame Evans and Mookie Cook, Oregon has been somewhat overlooked in this recruiting class, but Shelstad is the glue that holds it all together. Schellstad will be big time, but he’s not alone. The Ducks shot 53.8 percent (sixth in the Pac-12), including their two leading scorers, N. Faly Dante and Jermaine Quisnard. It’s not a situation where Schellstad will be asked to save the Ducks, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2021, but instead be the link at the point guard position to win games. He’ll do that and more in Oregon’s final season in the Pac-12.

9. Garway dual | 6-5 Guardian| Providence

I first saw a dual game four years ago at a camp in Houston, and I wondered, who is this skinny kid with long arms that has real game? No one saw him or paid him any attention. Come to find out he was on the third team in the AAU program and was recently cut. I told myself, that kid can play and land on his feet, and he did. Between six months and a year, he grew a few inches, transferred to Indiana and became a top-75 recruit in the nation. Who would have thought that a skinny, long-armed kid with a good attitude would end up as the nation’s 38th overall prospect and lottery pick? The dual play will be a big factor in how good the ruins will be. He is a strong, versatile defender who serves as a key player in Kim’s English offense. At 6-5, he can see opposing defenses and get into position with ease. I know he’s going to play and impact the game, he won’t be in Rhode Island long.

10. Elmarco Jackson | 6-3 Guardian | Kansas

Every year, Kansas has at least one star freshman who immediately contributes and gets drafted. Jackson has a chance to be next in line. Depth may be an issue for the Jayhawks, but the starting five of Dajuan Harris Jr., Jackson, Kevin McCuller Jr., KJ Adams and Hunter Dickinson is one of the best in the country. Kansas typically runs multi-guard lines and playing with the best pass rusher in Harris, Jackson can be a rock star in his role. Additionally, with so much focus on Dickinson, Jackson and Dishinghauser will need to play more catch-and-shoot opportunities or driving lanes. He’s arguably the most athletic freshman PG in the country, so if he makes shots at a good clip, that makes the Jayhawks even more lethal.

11. Deshawn Harris-Smith | 6-5 wing | Maryland

At Big Ten media day, Kevin Willard called Harris-Smith “the most physically gifted player I’ve ever coached.” The 6-5, 215-pound freshman combines contact with a college-ready body and has an incredible motor. He rebounds well from the guard position and is a more than capable shooter. He is very good at attacking defenders coming down off ball screens. The Terrapins have another potential star freshman in Jamie Kaiser Jr. Kaiser. In August, Kaiser Jr. finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds in a 105-40 win over the Bassano PRC Stars. Maryland returns 60.8 percent of its punt returns, including three starters in Donta Scott, Julian Reese and Jahmir Young. There is a chance these two will play an effective role in this top 20 club.

12. Joseph “Jojo” Tegler 6-7 Forward | Houston

I stopped by Houston’s practice recently and they were loaded, from the guards to the bigs to the coaching staff. They have three new bigs in Tughler, Jacob McFarland and Cedric Latt who will all rotate and get early minutes. Of the three, Tuggler can make an immediate impact as a rebounder, shot blocker and lob threat. I hate to compare 18 or 19 year olds to NBA players, but in a few years, I can see him turning into Portland Trail Blazers center Robert Williams III. Kelvin Sampson is tough because he sees what he can be, but what I really like and see in action is that Tugler is willing to learn. He has great mentors around him in Jay Wan Roberts and Javier Francis who have taken him under their wing. He will probably play around 12-15 minutes per game but will make an impact as the season progresses.

13. Colin Murray-Boyles | 6-7 Forward | South Carolina

Murray-Boyles won’t be talked about much before the 2023-24 season, but by season’s end, he’ll be a household name. Aesthetically, the 6-foot-7, 231-pounder doesn’t jump off the page, but he’s productive. As a high school senior, he averaged 15.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.0 steals per game. He shot 7-of-7 from the field and 2-2 from 3 on the GameCox International Tour this summer. I don’t know how many games the Gamecocks will win this year, but I expect Murray-Boyles to make the SEC All-Freshman team as one of their bright spots. If so, he and Gigi Jackson will become the first two freshmen in program history to make back-to-back SEC All-Freshman teams since Michael Carrera (2012-13) and Cyndarius Thornwell (2013-14).

14. DJ Wagner | 6-3 point guard | Kentucky

For most of the offseason, we didn’t know what Kentucky’s roster would look like as they lost several players on the bench and there were questions about the return of SEC Sixth Man of the Year Antonio Reaves. One thing was for sure: the Wildcats were talented, especially in the yard, with Wagner, Robert Dillingham, Justin Edwards and Reed Shepherd. It’s hard not to see Wagner as a dynamic in Calipari’s offense. The McDonald’s All-American MVP averaged 14.8 points at the GLOBL Jam in Toronto this summer and should continue to put up big numbers throughout the season, especially if Aaron Bradshaw is sidelined as he recovers from a foot injury. .

15. Chris Johnson | 6-4 Guardian | Texas

On paper, Texas’ starting lineup is one of the best, with the addition of third-team All-American Max Abmas and former Virginia center Kadin Shedrick. However, the bench has some question marks, with inexperienced players who may not be ready to produce right away or players who have recently moved up the ranks. This is where the four-star recruit comes in. The Longhorns staff is excited about what Johnson brings to the table, from his playmaking to his ability to create shots. There’s a way he can be the Longhorns’ first or second guard off the bench and be relied upon to provide key minutes in late-game situations. We have an idea of ​​what Abmas, Dylan DeSue and Tyrese Hunter will be up to, but who will be the much-needed X-factor in the second episode? I think Johnson will fill that void as the season goes on.

16. Mackenzie Calculator | 6-8 wings | Indiana

If you walk into the gym where Mbako plays and ask a stranger to find an ‘NBA player on the floor, you’ll immediately point to the 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward. He’s as physically gifted as any prospect in the 2023 class, and the word on Bloomington Street is that he’s already one of the Hoosiers’ best players. There is no doubt in my mind that Mamko will play a vital role for Indiana this season. He was named the preseason Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Mgbako will be a key piece of the puzzle for the Hoosiers as a knock-down shooter and floor-spacer. If he can put it all together, he could have a stellar freshman season like Jalen Hood-Schifino.

17. Sebastian Mack | 6-4 shooting guard | UCLA

UCLA returns 17.9 percent of its punts from just one year ago (last in the Pac-12) and has seven new players, six of whom are freshmen. All six are ranked 81st and higher in the 247Sports Composite, including Mack, who ranks 66th. For the first time in a long time, coach Mick Cronin will have to rely on new starters to get the job done. Mack would be one of the Bruins’ best scorers and most productive players from day one. He led all Bruins with 17 points against the Madrid All-Stars in August and followed that up with another 17-point game against Lo Horta Godela (Valencia). Mack is a physical shooting guard built to score with his strong frame and ability to make contested jumpers.

18. Omaha Bill | 6-8 Forward | Iowa State

TJ Otzelberger brings in the No. 9 recruiting class in 2023, led by McDonald’s All-American Bill. The 6-8, 215-pound forward has impressive defensive upside and an always-hot motor. Billy is a very hard worker and wants to be great. Late in his high school career, he showed he could knock down 3s as a pick-and-pop threat. Currently, his most interpretable skills are rebounding, defensive versatility and athleticism. The Cyclones only return 31 percent of their punts, so he should play a big role this season. The Cyclones return last season’s assist leader Tamin Lipsey (4.4) who will work well with the Bills. That pick-and-roll combo could be dangerous out of conference play.

19. Elliot Cadeau 6-1 point guard | North Carolina

I’m not normally a fan of reassigning prospects, but in Cadeau’s case, he had nothing left to prove at the high school level. Like Collier, the Brooklyn native is a next-level passer with visions of upper-class people. He plays at a high pace and doesn’t rush much, which is impressive for a young guard. He finished with 16 points against North Carolina. I was eager to see if he could create separation when attacking the rim, and he did just that, flashing the ability to make pull-up mid-range jumpers on several occasions. Prospects are not reassigned to sit, and Cadeau is too flexible, not having the ball in his hands early. He could be one of the best players on the Tar Heels by the end of the season.

20. Justin Edwards | 6-7 wings | Kentucky

Don’t let Edwards slip into No. 20 on this list; He is a big-time talent and a future lottery pick. He reminds me of former Wildcats star and future NBA draftee James Young but more polished on the offensive end. Young finished second on the team in 3-pointers with 14 points during the 2013-14 season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Edwards score for the Wildcats before heading to the NBA. The Philadelphia native has emerged as the most versatile prospect in the 2023 class, showing the ability and potential to earn All-America status in his first year. At 6-foot-7, he can score at all three levels and plays with a combination of finesse and strength that is fun to watch. Get ready Kentucky fans. Wagner, Edwards and Robert Dillingham will be must-see TV.

Honorable name

Baye Ndongo – Free Mp3 Download 6-9 Forward | Georgia Tech

I have never seen Ndongo play for the first time. I was in the back gym at a church in Houston and when this 6-foot-9 kid blocked a shot off the glass, he rebounded, pushed the ball all the way across the court, and stunned him. No one knew who he was, but watching him and studying his game, I thought he might be a professional one day. Most prospects don’t have his size as much as his athleticism, skill or feel for the game. He’s dealt with some injuries this offseason, but looking back at this roster we’re left wondering why he wasn’t in high demand when he was drafted.

Finlay Bizjak | 6-3 Guardian | Butler

Bizjak can score the ball at will and is at his best in clutch moments. In his last AAU summer, he made a lot of hot-shots and put up big numbers late in games to lead his team to wins. Bizjak played well in Buller’s team scrimmage, making several 3s and strong finishes around the rim. It doesn’t shock me if it’s so good that it’s not on the floor. Butler fans enjoy it; He will be a special player for years to come.

Brooke Harding | 6-0 guard | Iowa

Iowa doesn’t have a true point guard, but it has plenty of options at that position. Harding is one of them. As the year progresses, it will be difficult to keep Fran McCaffery in the chair. I got to see the former Mr. Illinois play a basketball game in about 15 minutes. He is a crafty scorer with a high basketball IQ and is tough as nails. He’s a little different than the Hawkeye point guards of years past, but he helps them win games.

KJ Lewis | 6-4 Guardian | Arizona

I can’t tell you how many games I’ve seen Lewis play in his high school career, but he starts at 14. I was a student at Texas Tech at the time and coach Chris Beard was at a statewide high school camp. I was sitting in the gym as a young scout, trying to find any talented kid to lock eyes with — and boom, there was Lewis, a physically gifted athlete who would punish defenders who tried to compete for shots at the rim. Well, not much has changed. He’s still a physical prospect, but his game has slowed down for him, he picks his spots well, and he’s a game-changer on defense. Arizona’s practices are tough, but several players on the roster said Lewis is a pest and very active on defense. He scored 12 points and shot 50 percent with two steals in a win over the Lebanon national team. I expect Lewis to be the main glue guy for the Widcats.

(Image: Samuel Richardson / The Athletic; from left, Elmarco Jackson, Isaiah Collier and Stephon Castle: Maria Lysaker / USA Today) Photos