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Jan. 9, 2013
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Forty years ago, for the 1972-73 basketball season, the NCAA declared freshmen eligible to play.
Talented first-year players have been making their presence felt ever since. This year is no different in the ACC. One way to turn around a program’s fortunes is with an infusion of freshmen, many of whom step right into the starting lineup.
Georgia Tech won only 11 games last season, but with the help of two freshman starters the Yellow Jackets have 10 wins heading into tonight’s game at NC State.
Marcus Georges-Hunt, a 6-5 guard from College Park, Ga., is averaging 11.2 points and 4.7 rebounds a game. Robert Carter Jr., a 6-8 forward from Thomasville, Ga., averages 9.8 points and 6.6 rebounds.
They are surrounded by veterans like point guard Mfon Udofia, center Daniel Miller and post player Kammeon Holsey, who are all playing well and make their transition easier. The fact that the freshmen are first and second on the team in scoring – Carter is also the leading rebounder – is no real surprise to Tech coach Brian Gregory.
“Those guys are logging some minutes,” he said. “We brought them in here to play. We knew that those guys that could make an impact for us. They're taking advantage of the opportunity, they're getting better every day, learning every day. (They are) much improved on both ends of the court since we started.”
Carter received more hype coming into the season but Gregory had equal confidence in Georges-Hunt.
“I felt from day one he would be one of the premiere freshmen in our league,” Gregory said. “He lost about 15 pounds from his senior year to when he entered Georgia Tech, got in great shape. He's in the gym non-stop.
“When you got a guy that has the physical tool, and you add the IQ to it and the feel for the game, the different ways that he can impact a game, I just felt that he would really make a big impact for us. I just loved everything about his game.
“The best part is I think he's only scratching the surface. I think he can really improve in some key areas (and) that is going to make him, when all is said and done, one of the best players in this league.”
Boston College’s situation is similar to Georgia Tech’s. The Eagles won nine games last year but have recorded eight as they head into today’s game at Virginia Tech. Coach Steve Donahue has two freshmen starters in the backcourt, 6-2 point guard Joe Rahon (San Diego) and 6-3 Olivier Hanlan (Quebec).
Hanlan is second on the team in scoring at 12.9 and adding 4.2 rebounds. Rahon is third in scoring at 11.8 and leads the Eagles with 57 assists. Donahue said he expected both to be starters but he also thought there might be a few more growing pains.
“Joe Rahon is probably one of those kids that’s light years ahead in terms of IQ, toughness, feel for the game,” he said. “(He) plays more like an upperclassman. The thing about Olivier, he's got a world of ability, he wants to be good, he learns and he really competes.
“The other thing is I think they're both physically ready to compete at this level, where maybe your typical freshman guard isn't. Both kids have good size and good physicality.
“The thing I would say I'm surprised at is their consistency. Every day in practice they practice hard. There's none of those issues you typically see with freshmen. They really have an understanding of what it takes to win games at this level.”
Wake Forest is another team that has shown improvement thanks to freshmen. The Deacons are 7-6 as they host Virginia Wednesday night. They have a host of young players to support veterans C.J. Harris and Travis McKie. Two who have started every game are point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre (Concord, N.C.) and forward Devin Thomas (Harrisburg, Pa.).
Miller-McIntyre is averaging 8.9 points and has a team-high 37 assists. Thomas is making his mark as a rebounder, pulling in 14 against Xavier and 12 against Duke.
“Devin Thomas, in my mind, was one of the most underrated rebounders by the recruiting experts coming out of high school,” said coach Jeff Bzdelik. “I mean, he had many 20-plus rebounding games in high school, and even throughout the AAU season against top-of-the-line competition.
“He's ferocious, he has a nose for the ball, he rebounds outside of his area, he's an excellent athlete, plays with great force. I think he's got a chance to be one of the very special rebounders in this nation as he continues to develop. He's getting stronger, he's getting more confident.”
Miller-McIntyre shares time at the point with another freshman, Madison Jones (Raleigh), who averages 4.5 points and has 23 assists.
“They're learning,” Bzdelik said. “The defense starts with them and the kind of ball pressure they put on people. They need to improve their decision making. They've been doing a better job of that as of late, and making sure that they're leading this team. There's a lot on their plate, but they're both talented young men and very smart, and they're going to be fine.”
Freshmen are playing important roles with other teams throughout the league. NC State’s Rodney Purvis is averaging 9.8 points. At North Carolina, Marcus Paige is starting at point guard and averaging 7 points with 54 assists while Brice Johnson comes off the bench with 8.4 points and 4.6 rebounds.
Florida State is getting production from guards Montay Brandon (5.6 ppg) and Aaron Thomas (7.3). Virginia is getting a combined 18 points per game from the trio of Evan Nolte, Mike Tobey and Justin Anderson. Clemson is getting a combined 13 points from guards Adonis Filer and Jordan Roper.
At Duke, a cast of veterans has made the adjustment easier for 6-4 guard Rasheed Sulaimon (Houston). Although he scored just two points in a win against Clemson Tuesday night, Sulaimon went into the game averaging 11.9.
“Well, it's always easier for a younger player if he's playing with established veterans,” said coach Mike Krzyzewski. “There's stability most of the time. They can talk to him during a game, not just us talk to him during a time out.”
Sulaimon is not a one-dimensional player, either.
“Rasheed is very athletic and can guard,” Krzyzewski said. “He's an outstanding driver. He's just done a really good job bringing us a high level of athleticism to our perimeter, the ability to defend, then put the ball in the basket also.”
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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