It’s that time of the year again, when I make my best educated guess as to which freshmen newcomers will provide the most impact within the NEC.
This is far from a perfect science, of course, as the coaches themselves aren’t even certain who’ll adapt to the daily rigors of Division I basketball. But given the recruiting pedigree, talent and opportunity, I feel the 8 rookies I’m highlighting here have the best chance to earn a coveted all-rookie team spot at season’s end. Let’s begin with my top five.
Ikenna Ndugba, Bryant – Barring injury, Ndugba is the surest bet to land on the NEC all-rookie team given both his talent and the opportunity in front of him. I don’t expect the Boston native to overly impress in a statistical sense, but his intangibles and leadership may fit in perfectly considering Bryant’s need for a heady ball handler. If you want to read more as to why Ndugba is my NEC Preseason Rookie of the Year, go here.
Miles Wilson, Mount St. Mary’s – Jamion Christian has made it a point over the past couple of recruiting cycles to target long, athletic guards who would thrive physically at higher mid majors. There’s been several of these guards brought into Emmitsburg, but Wilson may be Christian’s crown jewel of the bunch. Wilson, who’s projected to play predominately at the 2 and 3, can score the basketball from the perimeter and off the bounce. As a freshman, his ability to hit outside shots may be his most coveted attribute – last season the Mountaineers converted just 31.7% of their three-point attempts.
Tyson Batiste, Central Connecticut – Batiste took a prep season at Notre Dame Prep last season after de-committing from Little Rock (Arkansas), hence he arrives in New Britain as a more mature freshman. Thus far the added year of wisdom has paid dividends – this offseason Donyell Marshall has been impressed with Batiste’s leadership and ability to run the offense. On the court, the 6’2 guard profiles as an intelligent combo guard, who can do a little of everything. The backcourt is somewhat crowded at CCSU, yet it wouldn’t surprise me if Batiste makes a name for himself in year one.
Julian Batts, LIU Brooklyn – In this day in age of selfish play and “me-first” attitudes, Batts seems to be a player who’s a coach’s dream – a talented guard who’ll do anything his coach asks of him in order to help the team win. The 5’11 point guard has received rave reviews from the LIU Brooklyn staff for that reason, but his insertion into this post is due to the Blackbirds’ glaring hole at the point. Sure, Joel Hernandez and Jashaun Agosto may handle the ball some, but Batts appears to be the program’s point guard of the future. If Batts does well early, Perri should rely on him to get the ball where it needs to be, like, for example, in Jerome Frink’s hands!
Adam Grant, Bryant – For the Bulldogs offense to be clicking on all cylinders, Tim O’Shea’s team needs to make outside shots. That’s one thing Grant can help with right away. Make no mistake, he brings other impressive attributes to the game, but O’Shea should utilize Grant both as his go-to-scorer off the bench when needed and as someone who can also handle the ball when Ndugba needs to rest.
Keith Braxton, Saint Francis U – Even though Braxton appeared to be under recruited before accepting Krimmel’s offer, the 6’4, 205 pound forward possesses a versatile skill set and the physical tools to compete right away. Krimmel described Braxton as someone who does a lot of things well, to the point where he could even help handle the ball in spurts. This assessment makes sense after the forward impressively averaged 22 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 5.4 apg in his final year at Delsea High, illustrating Braxton’s ceiling as a rich man’s Ollie Jackson. Even if Isaiah Blackmon is fully healthy, the recent bad news regarding Basil Thompson could put more onus on Braxton, making him a regular part of the Red Flash’s rotation.
Chris Williams, Central Connecticut – It’s nearly impossible to identity the key contributors to Marshall’s team in year one, but Williams has the chance to be an under-the-radar recruiting steal much like Matt MacDonald was for Greg Herenda once upon a time. Williams will need to expand his shooting range, but for now his bread and butter resides in his mid-range game where a quick first step can get the Chicago native into the paint with relative ease. Whether Williams shines in year one is anyone’s guess, but the Blue Devils currently could use a versatile, athletic wing to compliment players like Austin Nehls, Khalen Cumberlander and Tafari Whittingham.
Dashon Burke, Robert Morris – Andy Toole always has a freshman or two who excels as a rookie, so the smaller Burke (there’s also 6’11 Braden Burke who I like too) is my best guess as the next Colonial rookie who logs significant minutes. At 6’4, the Orange, NJ native always finds himself around the ball, while his size and skill set make him an enticing player in the NEC. While it’s unclear what his role may be in year one – Kavon Stewart is obviously entrenched as the Colonials’ full time point guard – Burke’s ability to score, facilitate and rebound may find him minutes in Toole’s rotation.
Also Considered: Jashaun Agosto, LIU Brooklyn, Rasheem Dunn, St. Francis Brooklyn, Braden Burke, Robert Morris, Ryan Gomes, Mount St. Mary’s, Zach Radz, Sacred Heart