The one-and-done era has revolutionized college basketball. So much so, that freshmen now have the ability more than ever to make an immediate impact for their respective team that their older and more experienced peers can't. Last season, Alabama's Brandon Miller, Arkansas' Anthony Black, Houston's Jarace Walker, UCF's Taylor Hendricks and Kentucky's Cason Wallace all made a big enough impression after only one season to become top-10 NBA Draft picks.
USC guard Isaiah Collier is the headliner from this incoming freshman class and he is tracking to be one of the top selections in the 2024 NBA Draft. Collier joins a USC roster that already has one of the top guards in the country in Boogie Ellis and the expectations under USC coach Andy Enfield have never been higher.
Kentucky's Justin Edwards headlined another top-ranked recruiting class for coach John Calipari and he is projected to be an impact starter immediately. Edwards shined during Kentucky's international tour and showed why he could be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft this summer.
Here are the 20 freshmen in college basketball expected to be the most impactful this season:
1. Isaiah Collier, USC
Collier was a relatively late riser in the 2023 class. He was ranked in the 20s and 30s for a majority of his high school career before skyrocketing into the No. 2 slot in the final 247Sports Class of 2023 rankings. Collier has a chance to be the best freshman in college basketball because of the role he's expected to take on from Day 1. Collier was one of the best passers in high school basketball and his facilitating is considered his greatest strength as a player. His style of play complements Ellis in the backcourt well because he is one of the top-scoring guards in the country. The race to be the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NBA Draft is wide-open and Ellis is certainly in the conversation.
2. Justin Edwards, Kentucky
On Kyle Boone's 2024 NBA Draft Big Board, Edwards is the No. 1 prospect. His performance in Kentucky's GLOBL Jam games in Canada this summer certainly helped his stock. The scoring, playmaking and creation abilities were on full display and Edwards showed why he could be the Wildcats' No. 1 option this season. Edwards has the prototypical size at 6-foot-8 to be an elite wing in college and the defensive upside he showed will help his case to be selected high this summer.
3. DJ Wagner, Kentucky
When the 247Sports Class of 2023 recruiting rankings debuted, Wagner ranked as the No. 1 prospect in his class. Wagner dropped a few spots but still finished ranked No. 6 in the rankings. Kentucky was in a battle with in-state rival Louisville to land his services and getting Wagner helped solidify the Cats' No. 1 recruiting class. Wagner will have the opportunity to step in immediately as Kentucky's starting point guard and he should provide a dynamic 1-2 punch with experienced returner Antonio Reeves in the backcourt.
Baylor coach Scott Drew has experience working with a player of Walter's caliber because he has a nearly identical physical build as former Baylor standout Keyonte George, who went on to be selected No. 16 overall by the Utah Jazz. Walter is listed as 6-5, 180 pounds and George was listed as 6-4, 185 pounds. Walter is hyper-athletic and he knocks down shots from all levels. One area he must address is his efficiency. On the AAU circuit, there were times when he forced shots and it led to plummeting field goal percentages.
The bad: North Carolina averaged 12 assists per game last season, which ranked No. 264 in the nation. The good: the assist numbers are bound to improve this season with Cadeau in the fold. He is one of the true floor generals in the class and is a plug-and-play starter for Hubert Davis. North Carolina hasn't had a passing point guard of Cadeau's talent in quite some time and he finished as the No. 12 overall prospect. Don't be surprised if Cadeau wins ACC Freshman of the Year this season.
6. Stephon Castle, UConn
The reigning national champions lost three key players to the NBA Draft and there are many challengers in line to replace that production. Castle is projected to start from Day 1 at point guard for the Huskies and should be the front-runner to win Big East Freshman of the Year. Just like Collier, Castle was another late riser in the recruiting cycle that went from a four-star prospect to a consensus five-star recruit. Castle finished ranked as the No. 9 overall player and the No. 2 player at his position by 247Sports.
7. Aden Holloway, Auburn
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl has experience working with talented point guards such as Jared Harper, Sharife Cooper and Javon McCormick and Holloway appears to be next in line. Holloway is one of the best overall shooters in his class and he showed an ability to score in multiple ways during his high school and AAU career. Auburn is projected to finish in the middle of the SEC this season and if Holloway is as good as he projects to be, the Tigers could rise in the standings come late in the season.
8. Jared McCain, Duke
Duke finished just behind Kentucky for the No. 1 overall recruiting class in the country and McCain was the Blue Devils' top-ranked addition. McCain, like Holloway, is one of the most talented shooters in this class and that should make him an immediate difference-maker. One of the roadblocks that could hold McCain back from putting up bigger numbers this season is the fact that Duke has two veteran starting guards returning in Tyrese Proctor and Jeremy Roach. If Jon Scheyer elects to go with a small three-guard lineup, McCain could have a chance to compete with fellow freshman Caleb Foster for the final starting spot in Duke's lineup. If McCain does come off the bench, he should be a favorite for ACC 6th Man of the Year.
Kansas Texas this offseason. With Morris no longer with the program, Jackson should have a chance to carve out a larger role than expected. The No. 4 point guard from his recruiting class who should plug in nicely in Bill Self's offense. Kansas added the No. 1 transfer in the country in former Michigan big man Hunter Dickinson and the pick-and-roll game with him and Jackson should be fun to watch. Jackson will make a difference for a national championship contender.last month. He was expected to have a large role after transferring from
The son of former NBA All-Star Peja Stojakovic has a very similar skillset as his father. The younger Stojakovic is a mid-range assassin and has shown an ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the floor. Stojakovic frequently uses his size against smaller defenders to score in the post. One area of improvement that will be critical for his development is finishing at the rim against bigger and stronger defenders. Stojakovic could end up being the No. 1 option for Stanford by the end of the season.
Ten more freshmen to watch
Omaha Biliew, Iowa State: Out of any player on the wild card tier, Biliew has the best case to crack the top 10. He should be one of the early favorites for Big 12 Freshman of the Year because of his high motor and the impact he makes on the defensive end. Biliew is a great finisher inside but will need to improve his outside shooting in order to be elite.
Aaron Bradshaw, Kentucky: The No. 5 overall player from his class is a mystery heading into the season after suffering a fractured foot a few months ago. Bradshaw is a modern-day big man with the ability to stretch the floor and if he gets healthy in time for the start of the season it will be hard to keep him off the floor.
DeShawn Harris-Smith, Maryland: Harris-Smith isn't going to be the type of player who scores 20 points every night, but he should be an immediate contributor for one of the top teams in the Big Ten. The 6-5 lefty is one of the best rebounders at his position and can run with the ball in transition off an opposing miss. The biggest question mark is can he improve as a shooter? If he does, watch out.
Bronny James, USC: LeBron James said at Lakers Media Day this week that Bronny has started rehab after suffering a cardiac arrest during a summer practice and hopes his oldest son will return at some point this season. Prior to the health scare, Bronny was expected to make an immediate impact for a USC team hoping to take the next step under Enfield. James is a dynamic two-way player and seeing him back on the court in any capacity would be a massive win for college basketball.
Aday Mara, UCLA: Mara is an intriguing international prospect, but the 7-3 Spaniard is still a mystery because of the lack of competition he's faced in his young career. The Bruins signed seven players, including four international prospects in their 2023 recruiting class but it's starting to become evident Mara has the best chance to pop. The Bruins will be one of the most freshman-dependent teams in the country this season as they look to replace Tyger Campbell, Jamie Jaquez, Jaylen Clark and David Singleton.
Scotty Middleton, Ohio State: Can Middleton become Brice Sensabaugh 2.0 for Ohio State? Sensabaugh flew under the radar as a prospect and finished as the No. 86 overall player in the 2022 recruiting rankings. He went on to become one of the top players in the Big Ten and was selected No. 28 overall by the Utah Jazz. Similarly, Middleton wasn't recruited heavily by blue blood programs and finished No. 60 in the final class rankings. He is a plus-defender who would benefit greatly if he improved his offensive game.
Mackenzie Mgbako, Indiana: The former Duke commit flipped to Indiana in May and provided a huge win for Mike Woodson and his staff as they look to replace a pair of stars who departed for the NBA in Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino. Mgbako can hit shots from outside and is one of the best shooting big men in his class. His skillset on offense is drastically different than Jackson-Davis, as he was mostly an athletic rim-runner for the Hoosiers during his college career. If anyone on the Indiana roster is going to replace Jackson-Davis' production, it's going to be Mgbako.
Jackson Shelstad, Oregon: Despite being ranked No. 26 in the final 247Sports rankings, Shelstad might be one of the most underrated guards on the West Coast heading into the season. He is a quick PG who can create his own shot, score on all three levels and has a high basketball IQ. All those qualities should translate to the next level well.
Sean Stewart, Duke: Stewart will be able to overpower opponents with his physical strength. He's a strong finisher around the rim and can make a huge impact on the defensive end. Duke has multiple highly touted freshmen coming into the program, but McCain and Stewart should make the biggest difference right away.
Cody Williams, Colorado: The highest-rated signee in the history of Colorado basketball and the younger brother of Oklahoma City Thunder star Jalen Williams is projected to start at SG this season for the Buffaloes. Williams won't have to do as much as some of his peers on the list because of the proven veterans Colorado returns such as star forward Tristan da Silva. The Pac-12 race is wide open and this could be the best roster Colorado coach Tad Boyle has had in his 14-year tenure at the school. Williams will have to improve his shooting, but it's hard to not like what the No. 4 overall player brings to the table as a slasher and defender.