Top 10 Freshman Centers in CBB History
Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis has shattered Shaquille O’Neal’s SEC freshman record for blocks and has put forth a great first season in Lexington - great enough to make our list of the Top 10 freshman centers of all time.
Where does Davis fall among the best, and who joins him on the list? We examine.
Note: Freshmen not allowed to play until 1972-73 season. Michael Beasley, Tyler Hansbrough, Eddie Griffin and Derrick Coleman were all forwards.
10. Alonzo Mourning (Georgetown, 1988-89)
Like the other Georgetown player on this list, Mourning’s stats aren’t overwhelming (13.2 PPG, 7.3 RPG) because he had so much talent around him on a team that went 29-5. But here’s the only number you need to know: 5.0 BPG. A center is the backbone of a team’s defense and Mourning blocked 169 shots as a freshman in just 34 games.
T-9. Jared Sullinger (Ohio State, 2010-11)
Sullinger, a 6-foot-9 post player who relies on his skill rather than athleticism, took the Big Ten by storm during his first season with the Buckeyes in 2010-11. The Columbus native thrived in the pressure cooker of his hometown, averaging 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds for Ohio State, which went 32-2 but was eliminated from the NCAA tournament with a loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16. Still, being the star player on the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament as a freshman is pretty darn impressive.
T-9. Greg Oden (Ohio State, 2006-07)
It’s so hard to separate these two Buckeyes. We’re surprised that Oden’s arrival at Ohio State wasn’t met with a parade. A celebrated recruit, the eventual top pick in the 2007 NBA draft didn’t make his Buckeyes debut until December thanks to an injured wrist. He was hampered by the injury for much of his lone season in Columbus - doing much of his offensive damage with his off hand. It didn’t hurt the Buckeyes, who rode Oden all the way to the national title game. They lost to Florida, but Oden - who averaged 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 blocks for the season - had a ridiculous 25 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in the game.
8. Joe Smith (Maryland, 1993-94)
It’s crazy to think Smith was still in the NBA last year, as he set the college basketball world on fire by averaging 19.4 PPG and 10.7 RPG for a program still reeling from the death of Len Bias. Oh, and he did it all while shooting 52% from the field. Not only did Smith lead the Terps to their first NCAA tournament since Bias’ death, he went on to completely revive Maryland basketball.
7. Patrick Ewing (Georgetown, 1981-82)
The stats (12.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.2 BPG) won’t blow you away but Ewing was never going to put up huge scoring numbers while splitting the ball with Eric “Sleepy” Floyd. He was a defensive monster that swatted everything in sight, even if it was a clear goal tend. Largely because of Ewing, the Hoyas went from a first round exit in the 1981 tournament to the title game the following year - and possibly a national title if it weren’t for an errant Fred Brown pass.
6. Kevin Love (UCLA, 2007-08)
As the story goes, a young Love - the son of former Oregon and NBA star Stan Love - studied tapes of great passing centers like Bill Walton and Wes Unseld and infused that into his game as a freshman phenom at UCLA. His lone season was memorable for the collective swoon of basketball purists, who loved him for his throwback outlet passes. Bruins fans loved Love, so to speak, because he averaged 17.5 points and 10.6 rebounds, won Pac-10 Player of the Year, was named First Team All-American and led UCLA to the Final Four. What a year.
5. Shaquille O’Neal (LSU, 1989-90)
“The Diesel” - though he wasn’t known in that manner at the time - was a hell of a player right off the bat for the Tigers, for whom he set the aforementioned SEC freshman blocks record that was broken by Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. O’Neal, still extremely raw offensively, averaged 13.9 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.6 blocks but, most importantly, shocked the basketball world by debuting the combination of size and agility that would make him one of the great NBA centers of all time. And keep in mind that Shaq was doing all this while playing with Chris Jackson, who was averaging nearly 30 PPG.
4. Anthony Davis (Kentucky, 2011-12)
We don’t care what John Calipari says, Davis is a center. As we mentioned, Davis has destroyed Shaquille O’Neal’s SEC freshman record of 115 blocks, which the LSU center amassed through 32 games. Davis broke the record in 24 games is now averaging 4.9 swats per contest. But beyond the sheer numbers, the impossibly lanky Davis - who looks as if his limbs have been stretched - has set the tone for the Wildcats, who are 25-1 and ranked No. 1 in the country.
Oh yeah, he also averages 14.0 PPG and 9.9 RPG. The scary part? Davis isn’t done; he has his sights set on the all-time SEC blocks record (170) set by Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado and the NCAA freshman mark (182) set by Marshall’s Hassan Whiteside. Now routinely close to triple doubles and the favorite for National Player of the Year, there’s no telling how high on this list Davis could end up depending on how UK does in March Madness.
3. Ralph Sampson (Virginia, 1979-80)
The towering 7-foot-4 Sampson had one of the legendary college careers of all time, which included three Naismith Player of the Year awards. But his freshman season - the campaign in which he didn’t win the award - also was memorable for Sampson leading Virginia to the 1980 NIT championship. Sampson averaged 14.9 points, 11.2 rebounds and 4.6 blocks in his freshman season, when he was named a First Team All-American. Pretty good for a teenager.
2. Pervis Ellison (Louisville, 1985-86)
As a result of his disappointing professional career, the greatness of Ellison as a college player sometimes is lost - especially his accomplishments as a freshman, when he led the Cardinals to the 1986 national championship. He averaged 13.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks during the season but lifted his game in the NCAA tournament, posting averages of 18.0 points and 12.0 rebounds. Ellison was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 1986 Final Four and earned the nickname “Never Nervous Pervis.” A talented freshman that dominates is one thing. One with ice water in his veins? That’s really special.
1. Wayman Tisdale (Oklahoma, 1982-83)
Tisdale wasn’t your typical center at just 6-foot-9 but that was fine for coach Billy Tubbs, who didn’t run a typical offense. Granted, the frenetic pace of the Sooners’ offense padded Tisdale’s stats, but he was a statistical monster with 24.5 PPG, 10.3 RPG and 2.5 BPG as a frosh – and doing it all while shooting 58% from the field. It’s no wonder there’s now a Wayman Tisdale Award to honor the top freshman in the nation as Tisdale’s first season in Norman as a center will likely never be topped.