Selecting the outstanding freshmen players of the 2013-14 season is no easy task, especially in September before team practices begin. Talk to any head coach this summer and you’ll likely get this response when asking about freshmen: “Well, [freshman A, B and C] will have a chance to compete for minutes, but I need to see what they can do in full 5-on-5s.”
As a result, this exercise is pure speculation, but we’ve nevertheless devised this list of top NEC freshmen (at least in our mind) based on three criteria: recruiting hype, perceived skills, and perhaps most importantly, opportunity. Without a chance to grab more than 5-10 minutes per game, a freshman could languish on the bench behind a highly skilled upperclassman.
So with that disclaimer out-of-the-way, we give you our top five (OK, top six) NEC freshmen of the 2013-14 season!
5B) Justin Brickman, Bryant – A quick confession: Selecting the younger Brickman here is a leap of faith on our end, considering the freshmen talent I’m leaving off the list. But given the big opportunity ahead of him, and the success his older brother Jason had as a freshman at LIU Brooklyn, we’re simply going with our gut. Out of high school, Justin has a similar profile as Jason – he’s a heady floor general who possesses excellent court vision, a tight handle, and dangerous perimeter skills. Whether that translates into meaningful minutes at the Division I level is anyone’s guess, given that the competition for point guard minutes at Bryant will be fierce. Sophomore Shane McLaughin and freshman Declan Soukup are both talented as well, and Tim O’Shea won’t care about Justin’s last name if he’s outperformed by his teammates.
5A) Kavon Stewart, Robert Morris – Stewart, who was rated as the 11th best point guard prospect in New Jersey according to ESPN Recruiting, will likely serve as Anthony Myers-Pate’s backup as a freshman, at least early on. Though undersized at 5’10”, Stewart’s tremendous blend of quickness, agility, and poise is part of the reason why he was offered by Seton Hall, Rutgers, and Cincinnati. He’s Andy Toole’s point guard of the future once Myers-Pate graduates, but don’t be surprised if the fourth year head coach is anxious to show off his new toy a lot during NEC play.
4) De’von Barnett, Sacred Heart – In all honesty, Barnett wasn’t an early consideration for this list, but then two things happened. First of all, Anthony Latina is near giddy when he talks about Barnett’s upside. Secondly, and more important, was Barnett’s excellent 5-game performance on the Pioneers’ Canadian trip, where the freshman forward led the team in scoring (14.0 PPG) while doing it quite efficiently (124.2 offensive rating, 64% FG%). The summer competition was inferior to what Barnett will encounter this November, but the opportunity to play some 3/4 in Sacred Heart’s rotation is there for the taking. As an athletic, rangy forward who can run the floor, he fits right into Latina’s up-tempo scheme.
3) Khalid Nwandu, Mount St. Mary’s – Back when the Mount only had one scholarship to work with for the 2013-14 roster, Nwandu was the ultimate recruiting prize for Jamion Christian, and for good reason. The ultra-athletic guard, who hales from nearby York, PA, provided fans with highlight reel dunks and overstuffed stat sheets. All of the physical tools are there for Nwandu to thrive, but it’s his defensive prowess that has Christian most excited for season number one. With one of the team’s best defenders gone in Shivaughn Wiggins, Nwandu may have a real opportunity to grab some playing time with his ability to defend the 1, 2, or 3. We reckon he’ll also make some plays on the offensive end as well.
2) Jeremiah Worthem, Robert Morris – If you’re judging the quality of recruits by the number of offers they received, then Andy Toole’s group easily takes the cake of the NEC programs. Worthem, in particular, had 12 offers to consider before entrusting his collegiate career with Toole. Now in Moon Township, Worthem’s combination of size and athleticism should find him minutes in Robert Morris’ suddenly thin frontcourt that recently lost fifth-year senior Lijah Thompson. Although these results should be taken with a grain of salt, Worthem excelled in the Pittsburgh Pro Am Summer League, showing off his impressive inside-out game. His noteworthy showing this summer likely bodes well for immediate future as a Colonial.
1) Nura Zanna, LIU Brooklyn – If Julian Boyd’s recovery from a torn ACL last December went smoothly, then Zanna would surely be further down our list. Unfortunately for the Blackbirds, Boyd suffered a setback, opening up a gaping hole in LIU Brooklyn’s frontcourt. The big question is who Jack Perri will slot alongside promising sophomore E.J. Reed, and we’re placing our bets with Zanna. Exceptional bloodlines aside (Zanna’s brother Talib plays for Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh), Zanna is ferocious on the glass and is quite skilled offensively around the rim. He may not be as versatile or experienced as JUCO transfer Chris Carter, but there’s no denying the potential upside of the 6’7″ power forward. He’s a bit undersized as a true 5, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue against NEC competition.
Also Considered: Cole Walton, Sacred Heart; Iverson Fleming, LIU Brooklyn; Jayde Dawson, Fairleigh Dickinson; Matt Mobley, Central Connecticut
For Big Apple Buckets top impact transfer of the 2013-14 season, go here.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride