By Chris Mahr
Part of the rationale which, prior to Tuesday, had many pundits predicting No. 1 overall recruit Andrew Wiggins going to Kentucky was the potential for a Fab Five-ish recruiting haul that would rival Michigan’s freshman class of 1991. Had Wiggins signed with the Wildcats, he would have been the sixth recruit in the Rivals Top 20 to take his talents to Lexington.
When Wiggins shocked a lot of people by signing with Kansas instead, many reacted as if he had just passed up an opportunity to win a national title. How could he be so selfish as to pick a school where, God forbid, he would be the clear-cut star instead of sharing the spotlight with arguably the finest freshman class ever assembled?
The college basketball-watching populous — particularly those in Lexington, Chapel Hill and Tallahassee — has to wake up to the fact that Wiggins isn’t exactly joining a batch of scrubs in Lawrence. In fact, even before Wiggins signed with the Jayhawks, they already had the second-best haul in the land.
While Kentucky’s recruits were grabbing all the headlines, Bill Self and his staff had to “settle” for four recruits ranked 34th or higher nationally in the Rivals150. Even if Wiggins had gone elsewhere, that’s worth popping champagne for. And yet … how often have you heard pundits and fans salivating over them, particularly in comparison to the new Wildcats?
Here’s all you need to know about Kansas’ “other guys.” If they join forces with Wiggins to lead the Jayhawks to great heights, don’t act so surprised.
SG Wayne Selden (No. 12 in Rivals150)
In terms of size, strength and athleticism, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Selden is a pretty convincing Ben McLemore clone. Anytime you can replace a possible No. 1 overall NBA draft pick with someone just like him, you’re in pretty good shape.
Like McLemore, Selden — who was one year behind Nerlens Noel at the Tilton (NH) School — has range from beyond the 3-point arc and the body to take it to the rim with authority. One thing he brings to the table that McLemore didn’t is his skills as a passer, something that will play very well on a team replete with talent and searching for ways to get everyone involved (and keep them happy).
C Joel Embiid (No. 25 in Rivals150)
The 6-foot-11 Cameroonian is still raw, but reports indicate that his development has been startling since coming over to the States and starring at The Rock School in Gainesville, FL.
Like predecessor Jeff Withey, you can be sure that Embiid will control the paint and eventually become a similarly imposing shot-blocker. Additionally, he’s been said to possess agility and coordination that Withey (and few big men as a whole) have never been able to boast about. He’s the ideal type of big man for a team like the Jayhawks that are always looking to impose their will on opponents.
SF Brannen Greene (No. 29 in Rivals150)
With Wiggins and Selden constantly driving to the hoop, expect them to find Greene on the kick out in 2013–2014 for big 3-pointers. The Georgia native not only has the textbook form with which to hit many treys, he also has the size (6-foot-6) to easily get his shot off every time.
That size will also come in handy whenever the Jayhawks attack in transition or whenever opposing defenders cheat on his 3-ball too much. He’s got the midrange game and athleticism to thrive inside the arc as well as outside.
PG Conner Frankamp (No. 34 in Rivals150)
It takes a gifted distributor in order for a team replete with talent to thrive (and to get along with one another). Bill Self has such a player in Frankamp.
A scorer for the early part of his high school career, the former Wichita North High School star has become a better and better distributor recently. When need be, he can still set the nets on fire, having shot 49% (93-of-189) from behind the arc during his senior season.
It’s everything you want from a starting five in today’s college game: two dangerous players on the wings (Wiggins and Selden), a force on the inside (Embiid), a deadly three-point shooter (Greene) and a point guard who can bring it all together and hit some shots when he needs to (Frankamp).
The only misfortune this crop of soon-to-be Kansas freshman has is that they’re entering college at the same time as Kentucky’s more ballyhooed quintet of recruits. If it was any other year, Bill Self would be lauded for landing one of the best freshman classes ever.
As it is, being labeled the second-best freshman class this year will have to suffice. With the talent and (on paper) perfect formula to win a national title, neither Kansas nor its fans will mind in the least.
Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.