Pac-12 coaches are quick to laud this year’s freshman class, but a quicker look at the numbers shows that the conference’s kiddos are struggling to put up similar numbers as their predecessors.
In 2012-13, Arizona State’s Jahii Carson and UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad ranked in the top four in scoring, and UCLA’s Jordan Adams, Utah’s Jordan Loveridge and Oregon State’s Damyean Dotson joined them in the top 25. That’s not even including the Bruins’ do-everything then-freshman point guard Kyle Anderson or Arizona’s Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski.
A year before that, Washington’s Tony Wroten and Stanford’s Chasson Randle lit up the league, ranking fourth and eighth in scoring, respectively. And don’t forget Colorado’s Spencer Dinwiddie, Cal’s David Kravish and Oregon State’s Eric Moreland, who led the conference in blocks. Nor does that include Arizona’s Nick Johnson, who averaged a respectable 9.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
This season, only two freshmen rank in the top-30 in scoring — Washington guard Nigel Williams-Goss and Arizona forward Aaron Gordon. Only Gordon and Colorado’s Wesley Gordon (no relation) rank in the top 20 in rebounds. Only Williams-Goss and USC’s Julian Jacobs rank in the top 15 in assists.
The clearest indication of the league’s lack of breakout babies? When asked about this year’s freshman class, Cal head coach Mike Montgomery could only name the Wildcats’ Gordon.
He did make a good point about why the league’s stat boards are veteran-laden.
“The league is good, and part of that is due to fact that guys have veteran players; Arizona State and Oregon benefited from transfer rules,” Montgomery said. “That’s why you’re seeing a lot more teams able to win. If you were to go with freshmen across the board, it might make it harder.”
That’s not to say the league is bereft of young talent.
Here’s a look at the favorites for the conference Freshman of the Year award:
Averages: 11.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.9 blocks per game
Breakout game: Gordon entered his freshman year with sky-high expectations, far-and-away the biggest in the conference. Aside from his poor free-throw percentage, he hasn’t much disappointed. He exploded out of the gate with four double-doubles in his first six games, but a 16-point, eight-rebound performance at San Diego State was huge. The Aztecs haven’t lost since.
Growing pains: Before a 17-point, eight-rebound game Sunday, Gordon had been slumping a bit offensively in his previous three games, averaging just over six points per game as he shot 8 for 29. Gordon’s struggles at the free-throw line have been glaring, though he’s shown the ability at times to get out of his own head.
Mock draft: No. 21, 2014 NBA draft (NBADraft.net)
Coach’s call: “A lot of it is instinct, a lot is talent, but a lot is his mind. Because he knows the type of player he is, he doesn’t always judge himself by points per game. There will be a number of times he’ll apologize after a game because he got single-digit rebounds.” – Arizona coach Sean Miller
Averages: 13.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.1 steals per game
Breakout game: Williams-Goss, the conference’s leading first-year scorer, broke out on the scene very early — Game 3, in fact. Against Eastern Washington in mid-November, Williams-Goss had 22 points, six rebounds and five assists, staking claim to the Huskies’ starting position. His biggest game, however, may have been his 32-point blowup in a six-point win over visiting Oregon State on Jan. 25.
Growing pains: There haven’t been many as Williams-Goss has been a reliable scorer and distributor, but he got a bit turnover-happy in December, when he committed 18 gaffes against 12 assists in a four-game stretch.
Mock draft: N/A (NBADraft.net)
Coach’s call: “Being comfortable leading the team — when he first got here, he’s a natural leader, but he didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes — and now he steps on the floor and just tries to lead our team, and that’s a good thing. It would be hard, but for him, he’s done it. He’s not intimidated.” — Washington coach Lorenzo Romar
Averages: 11.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 steals per game
Breakout game: Against Nevada in late November, LaVine was in the midst of his best streak of the year. In consecutive games, he had 19, 21 and 18 points, adding three rebounds and two assists in his 21-pount outburst in a 105-84 win over the Wolfpack.
Growing pains: LaVine has averaged less than five points per game in his last four games as he’s shot just 5 for 23.
Mock draft: No. 11, 2014 NBA draft (NBADraft.net)
Coach’s call: “He’s a freshman that has done so many good things for us. I think he’s played really well for us, somebody who got out of the gate like no other freshman has done. The expectations were at an incredible level for him because of how he started. Probably a lot of freshmen would love to be in a slump where they’re averaging 11.1 points per game. He’s just extremely talented. I think things will work out the best for Zach as he moves forward just because he’s such a talent.” — UCLA coach Steve Alford
Averages: 8.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.9 blocks, 0.8 steals per game
Breakout game: Hollis-Jefferson has matured in a hurry since Brandon Ashley was lost for the season with a broken foot. In two games ABA (After Brandon Ashley), the fab freshman is averaging 15 points and 7.5 rebounds, including a 14-point, 10-rebound game in a 67-65 win over Oregon on Thursday.
Growing pains: In a four-game stretch in early January, the team’s first Pac-12 games, Hollis-Jefferson was a non-factor, averaging just four points and five rebounds and rarely getting to the foul line, where he has improved greatly.
Mock draft: No. 11, 2015 Draft (NBADraft.net)
Coach’s call: “You mention Gordon, but you should probably put Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in there. You’ve got to put him in there. His production would’ve been probably more if he wasn’t playing behind such a good player as Ashley.” — Oregon State coach Craig Robinson