Who is arguably the all-time greatest freshman to play college basketball?
How about Magic Johnson?
How about Patrick Ewing?
How about Isiah Thomas?
How about Anthony Davis?
How about Carmelo Anthony?
We can go on and on, and argue forever.
But this discussion is really fun. In recent months, there have been stories on major Web sites about the sport’s top freshmen in history.
And the latest one that caught my eye was an advertising insert that appeared in Athlon Sports’ 2012-13 college basketball yearbook. It was a listing of Top 10 Freshmen of All Time, which was compiled by the staff of Athlon Sports.
Guess who was No. 1 on that list?
Getting the top honor was former UK star Anthony Davis, who was Mr. Everything in leading the Wildcats to the national championship in Big Easy last April.
“Davis didn’t simply have one of the best freshman seasons in college basketball history — he had one of the best seasons of any player,” said the publication.
Managing editor Mitchell Light said the magazine also published an article about the Top 10 freshmen on its Web site — athlonsports.com — several months ago.
“We initially did the list for a story on our Web site during the season and had Davis No. 3, behind Kevin Durant (Texas) and Carmelo Anthony (Syracuse),” wrote Light in an e-mail. “He moved up to No. 1 after winning the national title and Player of the Year. It was a pretty easy decision to rank him No. 1. He was the best player in the nation on the best team. Durant was the best player in the nation as a freshman, but his team didn’t enjoy nearly the same level of success. Anthony won a title, but wasn’t as dominant as Davis.”
The leading freshmen from the modern era were evaluated, dating back to the 1972-73 season when they first became eligible for varsity action.
Former LSU coach Dale Brown had several great rookies, including Chris Jackson and Shaquille O’Neal, when he coached the Tigers from 1972-1997 with two Final Four appearances.
But Brown said Davis is probably the best college freshman he has ever seen, not counting his freshman players at LSU. Since the retired coach — who saw Davis play in the Final Four in New Orleans — understandably would be biased toward his former LSU standouts because of his “love for them,” his freshmen were not considered for his opinion.
Athlon Sports, by the way, picked LSU’s Chris Jackson as the fourth-best freshman ever.
In an e-mail to this columnist, Brown wrote that Davis “had almost a flawless game” with the 2012 NBA Draft’s No. 1 selection averaging UK-highs 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and (an NCAA freshman record) 186 blocks in 40 games.
“Stars have great stats but superstars make all those around him better players and that makes him a superstar,” added Brown, a motivational speaker who still lives in Baton Rouge. “(Davis) could handle the ball, excellent rebounder, one of best shot blockers I have ever seen, nice shot from perimeter, very unselfish, stupendous attitude, humble, good moves around the basket, and had total control of his emotions, even after some nasty fouls.”
UK coach John Calipari often praised Davis last season. Here’s what Calipari said after Davis had captured another impressive award, the 2011-12 Roy F. Kramer SEC Male Athlete of the Year (in a vote by the league’s athletics directors), in late June.
“I’m so proud of Anthony,” Calipari said in a statement from UK. “To become the Male Athlete of the Year in the greatest conference in the country is truly a remarkable achievement. Anthony did it by becoming the ultimate team player. He deferred to his teammates, put the team before himself and dedicated himself to becoming the best player in the country. I couldn’t be happier for Anthony, and I’m looking forward to watching him achieve even greater things at the NBA level.”
In addition to Davis, two of Calipari’s ex-players — Derrick Rose (at Memphis) and John Wall (Kentucky) — also made the list at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively.
Even though we have seen so many great rookies over the years, it’s still awfully hard to argue against Davis as the top hoops freshman of all-time.
It’s a super choice as far as I’m concerned.
Jamie H. Vaught, a long-time sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is currently a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.