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Jan. 5, 2011
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Sidney Lowe knows a thing or two about what freshmen face when they play ACC basketball.
Lowe was a freshman guard for NC State in the 1979-80 season and, under coach Norm Sloan, helped the Wolfpack to a 20-8 record and a 9-5 ACC mark. His stats weren’t great – 5.4 points per game – but he gained the kind of experience that would later help him lead the Pack’s improbable run to the 1983 national championship under Jim Valvano.
Now in his fifth year as State’s head coach, he has a unique perspective on the difficult transition freshmen make from high school to a high-level college conference.
“It’s a difficult deal for freshmen, as we know,” Lowe said this week.
The ACC was primarily a league of veteran players last season. This year most teams are chock-full of freshmen making significant contributions. Lowe has three of them in his rotation – Ryan Harrow, Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie.
Freshmen must learn a new system as well as constantly face players of higher caliber than their opponents in high school. That leads to mistakes, which is OK unless they are repeated.
“You can’t come down the floor and do something one time and know that it’s wrong,” Lowe explained, “and then come down and do it again. I know they’re going to make mistakes; the key is learning from those mistakes and not committing the same mistakes over and over.”
Point guard – which Lowe played – is perhaps the toughest position to master for freshmen. And two of them, Duke’s Kyrie Irving and Wake Forest’s Tony Chennault, are currently lost to their teams with injuries.
Irving was off to the best start of any ACC freshman, averaging 17.5 points in eight games and recording 41 assists to just 22 turnovers before an injury to a right toe. His status remains in doubt, although Duke hopes to get an update this week.
“If he had surgery then he would definitely not be able to return (this year),” coach Mike Krzyzewski said this week. “And even if he doesn’t get surgery there’s a chance he could not return. Along the way we’re just following whatever the specialists say on this and the course of action they want to follow.”
Chennault injured his foot before the season started and played 18 minutes in the Deacons’ opening game before limping off the court. He hasn’t played since. If he could return by Feb. 1, Chennault could still play in 10 ACC games plus the ACC Tournament.
Coach Jeff Bzdelik said the timetable is day by day.
“He’s been cleared for full rehab,” Bzdelik said, “and if everything goes well, in about 10 days he’ll be cleared for full basketball activity. After he’s released for full basketball activity, if things go well there’s a chance … he’ll be able to play at least a dozen ACC games.”
If Chennault is medically cleared to play, Bzdelik said he will discuss things with the player and his family to determine the future for this season.
“I will not jeopardize the young man’s health at all,” the coach said. “We will think of that first; we will err on the side of caution. But if he responds well and if he’s 100 percent, physically ready to go, he will play.”
Here’s a look at freshmen making an impact for each ACC team.
BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles have the surprise freshman of the year in walk-on Danny Rubin, a 6-6 guard who has started 12 games, is averaging 23.6 minutes and scoring 7.6 per game while shooting 46.4 percent on 3-pointers.
When he was at Cornell, coach Steve Donahue scouted Rubin and really liked his game but recommended he go to prep school for a year and then be given another look. When Donahue got the BC job, Rubin’s dad called and said he was a big Eagles fan and might want to send his son there. Donahue agreed and the results have been far beyond his expectations.
“The thing that probably surprised me the most … is how tough is he, how poised is he, and Danny has been spectacular in those senses,” Donahue said. “He’s just been hard to rattle. I probably made the mistake of not playing him early, in particular in the Yale game (a BC loss).
“I watched him practice and he did a good job but maybe I was thinking ‘how could this kid help us in this league?’ I’m convinced that he can now, obviously. He’s pretty consistent with his daily effort, pretty consistent in a game. He’s made us a much better team because teams have got to worry about him. He’s got the poise and the confidence, if you leave him open, to take it and make it at hard times.”
Another freshman, 6-2 Gabe Moton, has played in every game for BC and is averaging 2.6 points in 11.6 minutes.
CLEMSON: Only one freshman on the roster, 5-10 Cory Stanton, who is averaging 2.9 points in 14.2 minutes per game.
DUKE: Besides Irving, the other freshmen are 6-7 Josh Hairston (2.7 points, 2.1 rebounds in 10 games) and 6-1 Tyler Thornton (1.3 points in 11 games).
FLORIDA STATE: Okaro White (6-7 forward) is contributing 6.8 points and 3.1 rebounds in 14 minutes per game. Guard Ian Miller (4.7 points, 15 minutes per game) is hurt and his return is unknown.
GEORGIA TECH: Coach Paul Hewitt has one freshman starting, 6-11 Daniel Miller (5.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.15 blocks in 25.5 minutes) and three others playing regularly – 6-5 guard Jason Morris (6.0 points in 16.2 minutes), 6-8 forward Kammeon Holsey (3.6 points, 2.8 rebounds in 15 minutes) and 6-10 Nate Hicks (1.6 points, 2.1 rebounds in 8 minutes).
Hewitt said he would like the big men to become more of a scoring threat around the basket and more assertive in the low post.
“I think Daniel has the best chance to do that,” he said. “He’s a very skilled player, excellent passer, has got good touch around the rim. I think he’s just got to understand that he’s capable of doing it each and every possession of the game.”
MARYLAND: Guard Terrell Stoglin is playing 18 minutes a game and averaging 10.9 points (third on the team) while shooting 47.2 percent overall and 40 percent on 3-pointers. Guard Pe’Shon Howard, also playing 18 minutes, is averaging 4.6 points and has 38 assists.
“(Stoglin is) a very effective scorer at the point guard position,” Williams said. “He does a good job in finding shots for the other players and for himself. I think the toughest thing for a freshman to understand is how hard you have to play each day in practice getting ready for games. Terrell’s a good guy and he’s really working at it.”
MIAMI: Although 6-9 Donovan Kirk has left the team and will transfer, the Hurricanes have three other freshmen in their mix. Erik Swoope (6-6 forward) has worked into the starting lineup and averaged 5.3 points and 2.5 rebounds in his four starts. Rion Brown (6-5 guard) is averaging 4.1 points in 12.6 minutes per game. And
Raphael Akpejori (6-8 forward, 2.0 points, 2.1 rebounds) may be ready for a bigger role.
Coach Frank Haith likes Brown’s ability to score and said Swoope is making the transition from forward to the post and getting better every practice.
“Both those guys I think will play more (in the ACC portion of the schedule) and Akpejori will probably get an opportunity, too, in the post,” Haith said.
NORTH CAROLINA: The Tar Heels brought in one of the top recruiting classes in the country, including 6-8 Harrison Barnes, ranked by some as the No. 1 incoming freshman.
Barnes has started every game and is averaging 11.9 points and 5.5 rebounds, although shooting just 37.2 percent. Point guard Kendall Marshall is coming off the bench and playing 15 minutes a game. He’s averaging just 3.5 points but leads the team with 60 assists. Guard Reggie Bullock is hitting 7.7 points in 14.2 minutes off the bench.
Coach Roy Williams said all three are early in their learning curve. He likes the defensive improvement of all three and said Marshall is moving the ball quickly and creating things for his teammates.
Despite the weight of enormous expectations of Barnes, Williams said he’s coming along.
“I think Harrison is getting more comfortable each and every week, each and every game and I think that will show up as the season goes along,” Williams said.
“I think the big thing for all freshmen, and I don’t think Harrison is an exception, is all of a sudden realizing how good everybody else is that you’re trying to guard and the guys who are guarding you. That’s a big shock to everybody. Am I concerned about Harrison? Yes. Am I concerned about him more than anybody else on our team? No. If that was my biggest worry, I’d say I’m in pretty good shape.”
NC STATE: Harrow (6-1 guard) leads the Pack in scoring at 10.8 and Brown (6-5 guard) is tied for second at 10.5. Leslie is fifth in scoring at 9.5 and the leading rebounder at 7.9. Those numbers could change a bit with senior post player Tracy Smith back in the lineup after missing 10 games.
“They’ve been put in a tough situation because a lot of pressure was put on them,” Lowe said, “and (there were high) expectations from the outside and I think they’ve handled it well. I think they’re going to continue to get better. They still have a lot to learn, but I’ve been very pleased with their progress.”
VIRGINIA: Two freshmen have been starting, 6-4 guard K.T. Harrell (10.1 points) and 6-6 guard Joe Harris (9.5 points). Another, 6-2 guard Billy Baron, is coming off the bench (3.9 points in 12.4 minutes).
Coach Tony Bennett said he won’t know how ready the trio will be for the ACC schedule until they’re in it, but he believes the experience they gain will be valuable in the long run.
“I love their attitude and their unselfishness and the character and the heart that they’re possessing,” he said. “They’re humble guys and they’re willing to learn. They know they’ve got a ways to go, they have an eagerness and a willingness to try to do what’s right and they’ve shown some poise and some things beyond their years.”
VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies are using two freshmen, 6-1 Tyrone Garland and 6-7 Jarrell Eddie. Garland is averaging 3.7 points in 6.5 minutes and Eddie is averaging 2.9 points and 2.5 rebounds in 12.5 minutes. Both could see increased playing time with the recent announcements that sophomore Cadarian Raines and senior Dorenzo Hudson are out for the season with injuries.
WAKE FOREST: The Deacons brought in a five-player class, but Chennault has been unable to play and 6-8 Melvin Tabb missed six games shoring up academic obligations.
Two freshmen starters have been stalwarts so far. J.T. Terrell (6-3 guard) leads the team in scoring at 13.7 and Travis McKie (6-7 forward) is scoring 13.6 and leading all ACC freshmen in rebounding at 8.0. Carson Desrosiers (7-0 center) has averaged 3.8 points and 3.0 rebounds.
Losing (the Deacons are 6-8) is something the freshmen aren’t used to.
“You can’t always get what you want, that’s just the way it is,” Bzdelik said. “All these high school players come from programs that won, otherwise they wouldn’t be playing at this particular level. Winning is a hard thing; you need to understand what it takes to win (in the ACC).”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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