Five Frosh Faces

A look at five first-year players to keep an eye on

Oct. 31, 2006


By Bryan Armen Graham


Bryan is a basketball editor for and contributes on a regular weekly basis.
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The first year of the NBA age restriction has prompted an unprecedented influx of talent in the college ranks.


Indeed, it's been some time since collegiate hoops fans have seen so star-studded a class as this year's freshmen. But while Ohio State's Greg Oden, Syracuse's Paul Harris, Duke's Gerald Henderson, Georgia Tech's Javaris Crittenton and Arizona's Chase Budinger are sure to grab national headlines from the get-go, here are five other first-year players that might not be NBA-ready but are still poised to make serious contributions for their respective teams.


Wayne Chism, Tennessee, Forward/Center


Chism, who is expected to start in the middle from Day One for the Vols, is the crown jewel of Bruce Pearl's recruiting class. The 6-foot-9, 245-pound Tennessee native, who averaged 16.1 points and 10.6 rebounds as a senior for Bolivar Central, fills the team's most pressing needs -- providing the Vols a strong and relentless interior presence. Since proven 6-foot-10 center Major Wingate was dismissed from the team in September, Chism's importance to the Vols has become even more vital.


What They're Saying: "In Chism, the Vols will get a player whose game has improved dramatically over the past 12 months. Chism averaged 21 points and 14 rebounds in his first season with the Tigers, his improved polish around the basket complemented by more aggressive defensive play. `He's only been here one year with us, but I've seen him improve so much,' Bolivar coach Rick Rudesill said. `I had to coach against him for two years, and I saw all kinds of potential there. I knew he would one day grow up and use it, and it's happening now.'" - Jim Masilak, The Commercial Appeal (Tenn.)


Jordan Eglseder, UNI, Center


Eglseder was a chubby, uncoordinated sophomore that had appeared in just one varsity game when the 6-foot-7 forward gave his verbal commitment to UNI. Two years later, the Bellevue Marquette product had blossomed into an agile 7-foot-1, 255-pound center, a prime recruiting target of a number of Big Ten programs. But despite his skyrocketing profile, the Iowa native's commitment to the Panthers never wavered. Eglseder, the first seven-footer in the history of UNI basketball, three times made the all-state first team and averaged 26 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots for the Mohawks.


What They're Saying: "Over the last two years, Eglseder has sprouted four inches, turned baby fat into muscle and emerged as one of the state's most dominant players despite facing double- and triple-teams on a nightly basis. Marquette has 50 wins and a state tournament appearance the last two seasons. `You forget he's 7-foot,' [Bellevue Marquette coach Jim] Squiers said. `He does some things with the basketball you might expect out of a small forward - things that 7-footers aren't supposed to do. He runs the floor extremely well for a kid his size, and the thing that impresses me the most is the touch he has for a big kid. ... I think the sky's the limit for him.'" - Troy Johnson, Telegraph Herald (Iowa)


Darrin Govens, Saint Joseph's, Guard


In Govens, Jawan Carter and D.J. Rivera, Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli landed a trio of talented guards with his incoming recruiting class. But the Chester native Govens was the Class 4A Pennsylvania Player of the Year as a junior and as a senior, made the All-State first team and helped Chester to the state title as a junior. He finished with 1,598 career points, averaging 17.9 points and 4.4 assists in his final season. It's worth mentioning that Chester High has retired two uniforms in the history of its basketball program: the numbers of former Hawk Jameer Nelson and Govens. If the latter enjoys even half the success of the former, high times are afoot on Hawk Hill.


What They're Saying: "Yesterday afternoon, in the Chester High lobby, right next to the trophy case that is a mini-shrine to Nelson, Govens confirmed that 2 seasons after Nelson played his final game for Saint Joseph's, he will play his first game for the Hawks. The junior point guard had watched the three other prominent area juniors recently announce their college choices - his AAU teammate and Haddonfield High's Brian Zoubek (Duke) and Episcopal Academy supers Gerald Henderson (Duke) and Wayne Ellington (North Carolina). So he figured: why wait? After Govens read a very brief statement announcing his intentions, his coach Fred Pickett told him to `talk louder' and his aunt [Theresa Govens] told him to `put your hat on.' Govens did put the Hawks hat on. He is taller (6-1) and more slender than Nelson, but he is already one up on Jameer. He led the Clippers to the state championship as a junior. Jameer did not win one until he was a senior." - Dick Jerardi, Philadelphia Daily News


Alex Stepheson, North Carolina, Forward


Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington might be the sexier pro prospects in North Carolina's glitzy six-man class, but it's the 6-foot-9, 225-pound Stepheson who's projected to start from Day One in Chapel Hill as a result of his considerable rebounding and defensive abilities. The Los Angeles native was a vacuum on the glass at Harvard-Westlake High, averaging no less than 13 boards in each of four seasons -- including 63 over one memorable two-game span. Look for Stepheson to become a mainstay in the Carolina lineup alongside Tyler Hansbrough, the Atlantic Coast Conference Preseason Player of the Year.


What They're Saying: "The first glimpse of greatness came during his freshman year, when Stepheson practiced with Harvard-Westlake's varsity team. He wasn't a polished offensive player, but it was obvious by his size, leaping ability and timing that he was on his way to being a great defender. As usual, the Wolverines were loaded with talent that year, but one by one they ventured into the lane to attempt shots, and one by one Stepheson sent them back with resounding blocks. Stepheson was called up to varsity late that season and played a role in the Wolverines' Southern Section championship. He's been part of two other Southern Section titles since, every season adding a new layer to his game. A defensive and rebounding specialist early on, Stepheson's offensive game has steadily improved." - Vincent Bonsignore, The Daily News of Los Angeles


Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut, Center


Should the 7-foot-3, 265-pound Thabeet make as much an impact as Rick Pitino expects, the youthful Huskies could prove just as tough an out as last year's Elite Eight group. After all, the Louisville coach has compared the Tanzanian native -- one of the most anticipated recruits in UConn history -- to one-time Georgetown shot eraser Dikembe Mutombo. Though considered a project on offense, Thabeet exhibited improvement in that area during the Global Games in June, scoring 14 points, grabbing 16 boards and blocking four shots in a victory over Puerto Rico.


What They're Saying: "Thabeet is 7-feet-3. He is 268 pounds with a well-proportioned body. He's a decent athlete with an innate ability to defend and block shots. He has been playing organized basketball for four years, so he is further behind on the learning curve than some of his new teammates. There's ample reason to believe he'll be somewhat of a project, but he's among the biggest, if not the biggest, player in UConn history. `In probably two years, he'll be maybe the most [influential] player in all of college basketball,' Calhoun said. `Give him two years.'" - Mike Anthony, Hartford Courant

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