Two of the top-five recruits in the 2020 class a year ago turned pro in favor of playing college basketball. The year before, No. 1 overall recruit James Wiseman played a total of three games for Memphis while No. 5 overall recruit RJ Hampton went overseas to prep for the NBA. But the 2021-22 college basketball season should bring with it a fresh and fruitful wave of young talent in a freshmen class stocked with star power and spread out from the west coast to east coast and a little of everywhere in between.
So we're looking at those rookie talents in our annual preseason freshmen primer piece. In it, I'll rank the top newcomers to the sport from 1-10 using only one metric: impact. Projected production and pro prospects don't factor into the equation. It's merely an evaluation of what effect a player will have on their new team.
Without further ado, let's kick things off with Paolo Banchero, the Duke freshman who ranked No. 2 in the recruiting rankings but ranks No. 1 on our list.
1. Paolo Banchero | Duke | PF
In basketball, fit and situation are the two most important factors to success. For Banchero, the fit is great at Duke but the situation is even better. The program lost its top three scorers from a season ago and needed frontcourt talent to replenish its roster. He steps in as the clear alpha on this team and should dominate inside and out because of his versatile offensive game that allows him to create and score from anywhere on the court.
2. Chet Holmgren | Gonzaga | C
Gonzaga returns a preseason player of the year candidate in Drew Timme so Holmgren, the No. 1 incoming recruit, won't immediately be the star of the preseason No. 1 Bulldogs. That doesn't mean he won't be a star at all, though. Alongside Timme in the frontcourt, Holmgren's wiry arms, shot-blocking superpowers and guard-like skills at 7-feet tall should make him among the most watchable players in the game.
3. Patrick Baldwin Jr. | Milwaukee | PF
Baldwin Jr. was ranked several times as the No. 1 high school prospect in the country before entering college as the No. 7 overall recruit. And coming off a season-ending ankle injury, there's understandably less buzz surrounding him than the Bancheros and Holmgrens of the sport. But it should not be by much. Baldwin is a 6-9 sharpshooter with the skill and savvy of a wing ready to step in as the No. 1 option on a Milwaukee team that has the goods to win the Horizon.
4. Kennedy Chandler | Tennessee | PG
Chandler was a key piece of USA's U19 team that won a gold medal at the World Cup this summer. Averaging 7.7 points and 3.4 assists per game, he shot nearly 40% from 3-point range and should parlay that momentum into a starring role for Tennessee. With the two leading scorers from last seasons Vols team gone -- including Jaden Springer -- he figures to be an integral part of this team's long-term potential as the floor general in Knoxville.
5. Emoni Bates | Memphis | SF
Easily the most impressive inclusion on our list if only because Bates won't turn 18 years old until his second college semester. Equally impressive are his credentials as a former No. 1 recruit who reclassified late to join the Tigers. He figures to step in as a bucket-getter early for Memphis -- and Penny Hardaway has even hinted at playing the 6-8 wing on the ball some, too.
6. Jabari Smith | Auburn | PF
Auburn ranked in the top three last season among SEC teams in rebounding, then went out and added star UNC big man transfer Walker Kessler and Smith, a five-star big man, to formulate one of the most talented frontcourts in the league. Smith should be the lightning to Kessler's Thunder of that pairing with a smooth shooting stroke and a big, strong frame that should allow him to space the floor and wreak havoc on the interior as well. This Tigers team has NBA talent throughout and Smith has the pedigree -- and likely also the production -- to be the best of the bunch.
7. Jalen Duren | Memphis | C
Duren was the No. 1 recruit in the 2022 class before committing -- and reclassifying -- to Memphis. So even next to Emoni Bates and a veteran group that includes Landers Nolley and DeAndre Williams, don't expect him to take a backseat here. He won't produce the same flash as other top frosh on this list but his size and energy all but guarantees he'll be plenty productive and impactful on both ends for the Tigers.
8. TyTy Washington | Kentucky | PG
Four of the seven newcomers for Kentucky are transfers, an unprecedented move for a one-and-done reliant coach in John Calipari, but TyTy Washington is going to nonetheless find his way into the lineup with regularity. Once a borderline top-100 prospect, he finished his high school career ranked 14th nationally after a strong senior season and his offensive versatility as a scorer and creator can lift this team to new heights when he settles in -- even with as much experience that surrounds him.
9. JD Davison | Alabama | PG
Nate Oats and the Alabama staff are proving they have a way of identifying -- and producing -- NBA-caliber talents with consistency. Davison is next in that line as he steps in at point guard to play alongside Jahvon Quinerly. The No. 3 prospect at his position coming out of high school, he has a college-ready body and top level vision to boot to bolster his profile as one of the top newcomers in the game. Quinerly's presence may impact his playing time and production but the talent and presence he brings will affect winning -- for the better -- in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
10. AJ Griffin | Duke | SF
There was some concern leading into the season about Griffin's knee after injuring it in October but he is already back in action and showing promise. If healthy, he'll be one of the best freshmen in the country because Duke will need players around Banchero to step up.