College Basketball

Ranking the 10 Most Athletic Incoming Freshman in College Basketball in 2014-15

Thad NovakCorrespondent IMay 1, 2014

Ranking the 10 Most Athletic Incoming Freshman in College Basketball in 2014-15

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    USA TODAY Sports

    College basketball’s incoming freshmen are usually on the raw side when it comes to skill development, but they can stack up very nicely against their older counterparts in terms of raw athleticism. The class of 2014-15 does nothing to defy that trend, with an impressive collection of high-flying wing players and bruising interior talent.

    North Carolina’s versatile Theo Pinson does his share in both categories. The 6’6” forward can mix it up inside, but he’s also got all the speed you expect from a perimeter star joining Roy Williams’ high-octane, fast-break offense.

    Herein, a closer look at the multi-talented Pinson and nine more of the quickest, fastest, strongest and highest-jumping freshmen headed to college hoops this fall.

10. Emmanuel Mudiay (SMU)

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    There are quicker point guards than Emmanuel Mudiay, but not many. The versatile Texan is a terror in the open floor precisely because so few opponents can stay with him or in front of him.

    Where he sets himself apart from the rest of the floor generals, though, is his size and strength.

    With his 6’5” frame and leaping ability, Mudiay can get to the rim against defenders who would stop other point guards in their tracks, plus he has enough muscle to finish his shot.

9. Dwayne Morgan (UNLV)

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    Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images

    Like so many high school forwards, Dwayne Morgan is still growing into his body. Of course, in his case, that means he’s adding a power forward’s strength to what was already an impressive collection of small-forward assets.

    Morgan has outstanding speed at 6’7” and his quickness makes him one of the top defenders in the incoming freshman class. He’s not as awe-inspiring a leaper as some of the other forwards here, but he’s still well ahead of most freshmen in that department.

8. Rashad Vaughn (UNLV)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    It’s fitting that Rivals.com ranks Rashad Vaughn head-and-shoulders above every 2-guard in the freshman class. After all, his knack for dunking means that Vaughn’s head and shoulders are above the opposition on a regular basis.

    He can put his leaping ability and strength (at 200 pounds on a 6’6” frame) up against those of any backcourt player in the class. He’s also got all the speed and quickness you look for in an elite perimeter scorer.

7. Keita Bates-Diop (Ohio State)

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    Image from 247sports.com

    Ohio State’s recent defensive standard-bearers, Aaron Craft and Amir Williams, have relied more on hard work and technique than on preternatural athletic ability to shut down opponents.

    Keita Bates-Diop has his share of the former, but it’s his ample supply of the latter that makes him such an anticipated addition to Thad Matta’s roster.

    The 6’7” Bates-Diop uses his long legs to cover huge amounts of ground in a hurry (especially on the fast break), but he also has the quickness to stay with smaller ball-handlers on the perimeter.

    Like many forwards his age, he needs to put on some extra muscle, but he’s already a factor as a shot-blocker thanks to his mobility, which includes some impressive jumping aptitude.

6. Malik Pope (San Diego State)

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    Image from 247sports.com

    Steve Fisher’s success as Aztecs coach has been built primarily on recruiting a steady stream of long, lean forwards who can run like gazelles.

    Malik Pope fits that bill perfectly, as few opponents with anything like his 6’8” height can keep up with him in the open floor.

    Pope is also a tremendous leaper, making him a force as a rebounder. He’ll be even better in that category when he adds some muscle to his 210-pound frame, as strength is the one area where he still needs noticeable improvement physically.

5. Theo Pinson (North Carolina)

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    A 6’6” small forward firmly in the Vince Carter/Jerry Stackhouse tradition, Theo Pinson will be a crowd favorite for the Tar Heels.

    With Marcus Paige leading the break, Pinson will get ample opportunity to run out for highlight-reel dunks that show off his prodigious leaping ability.

    Of course, he also has the power to go up and over a defender, as he showed in his much-replayed slam against Kelly Oubre Jr. at the McDonald’s All-American Game.

    Pinson is the total package from an athletic standpoint, and the only thing that keeps him from placing higher on this list is that the rest of the stars here reach more impressive extremes of power or speed than he does.

4. Cliff Alexander (Kansas)

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Cliff Alexander is just about as quick as you’d expect from a 6’9”, 240-pound power forward. That said, the hulking Chicagoan makes up for the deficiency in a big way in other areas.

    With the possible exception of Jahlil Okafor, Alexander is the strongest player in the class and he runs the floor amazingly well for someone with his bulk.

    Most importantly, his phenomenal leaping ability makes him an awe-inspiring dunker and shot-blocker, even without the lateral quickness that normally comes with those specialties.

3. Chris McCullough (Syracuse)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    With his long-legged 6’10” frame, Chris McCullough is as fast a straight-line runner as you’ll find in the 2014 freshman class. He’s also remarkably quick for his height, which him to switch onto perimeter players as a defender.

    McCullough’s most impressive asset is his leaping, not just because of how high he can soar, but because of how fast he gets off the ground.

    His reaction time lets him get extra chances at tipping rebounds and blocking shots, a bonus that helps compensate for the lack of exceptional power in his 220-pound build.

2. Kelly Oubre Jr. (Kansas)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The most impressive defensive performance at the McDonald’s All-American game came from Kelly Oubre Jr.

    His propensity for shutting down both post scorers and wing penetrators was partly a matter of great defensive fundamentals, but it also owed a lot to his well-rounded athletic prowess.

    The 6’7” Oubre has added considerable strength to his 190-pound body and he’s done it without sacrificing anything in the way of speed or leaping ability.

    His single most impressive attribute is his quickness, which allows him to stay in front of ball-handlers on one end of the floor and blow by defenders at the other.

1. Stanley Johnson (Arizona)

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    For raw power, there are few big men who can stand up to 6’6”, 225-pound SF Stanley Johnson.

    The Californian standout specializes in overwhelming perimeter players with his strength, but that approach only works because he also has the speed and quickness to stay right on top of them as a defender.

    Johnson isn’t quite so devastating as a leaper, but he still finishes plenty of impressive dunks thanks to his ability to outmuscle would-be shot-blockers.

    The mere fact that he can dominate as a scorer—despite an iffy jump shot—is a testament to his aptitude for barreling to the rim in transition, or in the half-court.

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