Westlake center Will Baker shoots against O'Connor during a high school basketball game in 2019. Baker is Texas' highest-rated recruit in the 2019 signing class. NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Men's Basketball

Big 12 basketball season preview: The 12 highest-rated freshmen

Posted November 5th, 2019

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Thirteen percent — or 13 players — of the 247Sports composite rankings for 2019 top 100 recruits are at Big 12 schools.

It’s a change from years past as the collective league recruiting is void of a Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Andrew Wiggins and Trae Young type of player that we know of. None of the incoming freshmen are ranked inside the top 30 and that actually makes sense because perhaps only three or four of the 13 are expected to start for their teams and some may not see much playing time at all.

Two of the Big 12 teams, one who is a legitimate Final Four contender and one I’m picking to finish last in the Big 12, have no top 100 recruits entering the program. That doesn’t mean those teams will be void of freshmen talent, it just means those teams will be happy to get any positive contribution from their young players.

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The lowest rated player in the top 100 is No. 94 recruit Dejuan Harris who committed over the summer to Kansas, reclassified to 2019 — he was headed to prep school– and enrolled at KU this month. It’s already announced that he’s redshirting this season.

That works out well for me since I love to keep things at 12.

Here are the 12 highest rated freshmen entering the Big 12 and how they may impact their team.

12. Jalen Bridges, West Virginia, No. 91

The 6-foot-7 guard from Fairmount, W.Va., joined the Mountaineers in September after reclassifying from 2020 to 2019. It was first reported that he would be graduating early and joining Bob Huggins’ group in January, but that was fast-tracked and now he’s officially on the roster. He averaged more 21 points and six rebounds in high school.

Will he make an impact? It’s tough to say. With Jermaine Haley and Emmitt Matthews and Arkansas transfer — well, he was dismissed from the team in August — Gabe Osabuohien has requested a waiver to play right away, are all 6-foot-7 or taller forwards. My hunch is coach Bob Huggins gets him on the floor and he provides good backup for Haley and Matthews, especially when/if Osabuohien’s waiver is denied.

11. Terrence Shannon, Texas Tech, No. 90

Shannon played at the IMG Academy in Florida and is from Chicago. He’s a good example of how Texas Tech coach Chris Beard is getting talented, solid recruits to West Texas, one of the most difficult locations in college sports to attract recruits.

Shannon, a 6-foot-6 small forward is an athletic player who, according to scouting reports, needs to develop a jump shot and is probably, like most guys on the latter end of the top 100, a three- or four-year player. Which means he’ll probably go No. 1 in the NBA draft in two years if Beard continues the magic development he had with Jarrett Culver and Zhaire Smith.

Will he make an impact? Tech lost so many players last season that I can’t envision them not throwing a good athlete with good size on the court as long as he plays hard on defense.

10. Marcus Watson, Oklahoma State, No. 88 

The Cowboys have the starting five set this year because it’s the same starting five as last year, but depth on the bench was the downfall. Watson, at 6-foot-6, 205 pounds, should have a role on this team as OSU will need three or four guys it can rely on in reserve rolls. Watson, from Buford, Ga., was a top-10 shooting guard in his class and led his high school team to a state title.

Will he make an impact? He and the No. 102-rated recruit Avery Anderson should get big minutes for the Cowboys as they try to return to the NCAA Tournament.

9. P.J. Fuller, TCU, No. 76

We have our first possible starter. Fuller, a 6-foot-4-inch guard from Seattle via Findley Prep in Nevada could compete with international recruit, and No. 105 ranked recruit, Francisco Farabello and graduate transfers Jaire Grayer and Edric Dennis Jr., for starting rotation minutes. We know Desmond Bane and Kevin Samuel are going to start, after that it’s more of a guessing game with sophomore R.J. Nembhard thrown in the mix.

Fuller is a point guard and last year averaged more than 18 ppg.

Will he make an impact? Yes. Possibly as a starter, but definitely expect him to be a rotation player.

Texas head coach Shaka Smart speaks with guard Donovan Williams (4) during practice at the Erwin Center, Tuesday, Oct., 29, 2019. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

8. Donovan Williams, Texas, No.73

If you want to know why I’m high on Texas, Williams is a good example as to why. It’s not because I think Williams will make a huge impact for Texas this year. It’s because I don’t think he will. Texas is so deep that a 6-foot-5 guard from Missouri City, Texas, with great length and athletic ability may be the last guy on the bench. You never know, he could also be playing heavy minutes in two months. But Williams can develop this year behind Courtney Ramey, Matt Coleman, Gerald Liddell, Jase Febres and Brock Cunningham. And those are just the guards and they don’t include Andrew Jones.

Will he make an impact? I don’t think so. I think he’ll be where Liddell and Cunningham were during the regular season last year.

7. Tristan Enaruna, Kansas, No. 64

The Jayhawks nearly had zero top 100 recruits, then May came and KU scored two late wins. Enaruna, 6-foot-9, 205 pounds, is an interesting prospect to say the least. He’s from the Netherlands and attended the Wasatch Academy in Utah. Kansas coaches believe Enaruna could develop into a complete offensive player before he leaves and coach Bill Self compared him to one-and-done NBA first round picks Kelly Oubre and Andrew Wiggins. That’s some comp as both of those players made huge impacts for Kansas.

Will he make an impact? Not this year. From scouting reports, Enaruna seems to be a high-ceiling project, the type of guys Kansas loves, but with Jalen Wilson (more on him to come) in Lawrence along with junior Marcus Garrett and returning sophomore starter Ochai Abgaji, I’m not sure where Enaruna wins minutes.

6. Jalen Wilson, Kansas, No. 53

One of two players on this list from Denton Guyer High School in Texas, Wilson was headed to Michigan — he’s named after Jalen Rose for crying out loud — but he opted out of his NLI when John Beilein took the Cleveland Cavaliers job. For a while it seemed like Wilson and 5-star Class of 2020 guard R.J. Hampton would be heading to KU together. Then Hampton decided to graduate high school early and sign a pro contract in New Zealand. Wilson, though did pick Kansas. The 6-foot-8, 215 pound Wilson averaged more than 18 points and six rebounds at Guyer.

Will he make an impact? Of the four freshmen Kansas has, he’s probably the only one Kansas could wind up relying on heavily, but he’s not going to have the same burden past freshmen have had at KU, especially last season. Instead, Wilson should be able to play multiple positions and be a key bench player. I don’t think he will beat out returning starter Ochai Agbaji and I’m not even sure Agbaji will beat out junior Marcus Garrett. But could we see Wilson play the four?

Texas forward Kai Jones (22) laughs during practice at the Erwin Center, Tuesday, Oct., 29, 2019. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

5.  Kai Jones, Texas, No. 51

Originally from Nassau, Bahamas, Jones played at the Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. He’s 6-foot-11, 212 pounds and his high school scouting report reads a lot like the last three NBA first-round draft pick centers Texas has produced: Athletic, good hands, lengthy, lacks strength. While the strength issue didn’t hang over Jaxson Hayes last year, it certainly did with Mo Bamba and Jarrett Allen. He’s probably a future pro but he’s going to need some  “wow” moments like Hayes did to pop up in next year’s draft.

Scouting reports say he can shoot from about 17 feet, and given Texas’ history, they’ll probably let him shoot those shots. The big question is: is he a center or a forward? It’s a big question because if he’s a center, then he’s probably third on the depth chart behind Jericho Sims and Will Baker. If he’s a forward, he’s probably behind Sims (who could play forward with Baker at center, similar to the Sims-Bamba lineup two years ago), Kamaka Hepa and Royce Hamm. There’s also going to be some question of whether Texas’ best lineup is a small-ball lineup with all the guards and switchable pieces on the floor.

Will he make an impact? It’s hard for me to envision Smart not using Jones in some way when it’s such an important season for Texas and Jones’ potential will have the fanbase behind.

4. De’Vion Harmon, Oklahoma, No. 47

Our first lock starter. Harmon will be the starting point guard for Oklahoma this year. The 6-foot Denton Guyer product is the No. 7-rated player from the state of Texas and the No. 5-rated point guard in the country. He’s being relied upon to replace a handful of graduate transfer seniors who manned the point a year ago for the Sooners. He averaged more than 20 points and five assists last year in high school.

Will he make an impact? It’s not that big of a stretch to say he’s the key to the Sooners’ season. OU has a returning core, but they aren’t true point guards like Harmon.

3. Will Baker, Texas, No. 35

Again, this is why I like Texas this year. Three players are entering the program that Texas doesn’t have to rely on to win. That was sort of the case last season, but they wound up really needing Courtney Ramey. Baker is a true 7-footer and is 235 pounds. The Westlake product, ranked as the fifth-best recruit from Texas and ninth-best center, joins his former teammate Brock Cunningham at Texas. Baker has all the tools to be a really great college center and with his size I’m sure he’ll one day play in the NBA. For all the high-profile centers who Shaka Smart has brought to Texas, Baker seems like the first one who has an offensive game as a strength. He should be able to score down low easier.

I’m not sure what Texas’ rotation will be, but I’d be surprised if Jericho Sims isn’t playing one of the post positions, then Texas has to decide what type of lineup they want to roll with in terms of starting Baker.

Will he make an impact? He could start for Texas on day one and I wouldn’t be surprised, but I don’t think that happens. Instead I see him coming off the bench, and that’s important because in Big 12 play Kansas, Baylor, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Kansas State, TCU and Iowa State all have big guys who are the best or second-best players on their teams, especially the first two teams on that list who Texas is probably competing with for the league title.

2. Jahmi’us Ramsey, Texas Tech, No. 32

Ramsey is definitely poised to be the biggest breakout star freshman in the league. The 6-foot-4 guard from Duncanville High School in Texas was the Dallas Morning News SportsDay Player of the Year. Rivals.com lists him as a 5-star recruit, while 247 Composite rankings have him at 4 stars, but that hasn’t really mattered for freshmen under coach Chris Beard. That said, he’s the first 5-star recruit to ever pick Texas Tech according to the school’s athletic website.

This was a big recruiting win for Tech as the Red Raiders beat Florida, Indiana, Louisville, LSU and Oregon. Ramsey won a state title last year, scoring 19 points and grabbing nine rebounds in the championship game. Tech needs Ramsey to be a force. With Culver gone, someone has to step in and be the go-to scorer. My thinking is it will be Davide Moretti or Kyler Edwards, but Ramsey is one reason why so many prognosticators are picking Tech in the top 15 of their preseason polls.

Will he make an impact? If he doesn’t, Texas tech could be in trouble.

1. Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia, No. 31

The only 2019 McDonald’s All-American joining the Big 12 is heading to a program that’s not well known for hauling in big recruits. But Bob Huggins is no stranger to landing big-time recruits, especially when he was in Cincinnati.

Tshiebwe could start right away for the Mountaineers, who probably wouldn’t mind having another big man to pair with star sophomore forward Derek Culver. The 6-foot-9, 250 pound player originally from Congo and attended high school in Pennsylvania, committed to WVU last October. His scouting report reads like a Huggins dream: high-motor, tough and athletic. He won’t be as polished offensively as Culver, but he should be a force.

Will he make an impact? He will. I’m not sure if he starts because I’m not 100 percent sure what WVU’s scheme will be. They went away from “Press Virginia” last season a bit. Playing Tshiebwe and Culver together goes against the small-ball grain but in a league where Kansas, Texas and Baylor could play real big, it may be a lineup we see a lot.

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