Kentucky’s quartet of highly regarded freshmen — Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein — will take the court for the first time Friday night.
But you already know plenty about them.
Here’s a look at 11 other freshmen to keep an eye on during the 2012-13 season. Some were recruited by Kentucky. Some weren’t. All will be counted on to make in impact during their first season of college basketball.
SHABAZZ MUHAMMAD (UCLA): Many UK fans thought Muhammad would end up in Lexington. Instead, he picked UCLA on the same night that Nerlens Noel went for Kentucky. The 6-foot-6 wing spent his senior season of high school as the top-ranked recruit in the country, ceding the position to Noel on many lists after the UK center reclassified to 2012. He was supposed to be a savior for UCLA basketball (and Coach Ben Howland), but it’s unclear when (or if) he’ll get to play. Aside from a shoulder injury suffered in practice last month, the NCAA is investigating possible improper benefits received during his recruitment. There’s no timetable for a ruling, but many expect Muhammad to be the best freshman in the country if he’s cleared to play.
Opener: Friday vs. Indiana State
Must-see TV: Jan. 24 at No. 12 Arizona (ESPN2)
KYLE ANDERSON (UCLA): Until Muhammad returns to the court, Anderson will be the face of UCLA basketball. The New Jersey native stands 6-9 and has the skills of a point guard, which prompted comparisons to Magic Johnson throughout his high school career. That’s a bit much, but Anderson is a unique freshman. Fun fact: As a junior, Anderson led St. Anthony to a playoff victory over previously undefeated St. Patrick, ending Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s prep career in one of the most-hyped high school games in recent memory.
Opener: Friday vs. Indiana State
Must-see TV: Nov. 20 vs. No. 1 Indiana (ESPN) (Possible Legends Classic final)
ISAIAH AUSTIN (Baylor): Nerlens Noel goes into the season as the top-ranked freshman post player in the country. If anyone takes that title away from him, it probably will be Austin. The 7-foot-1 center from Arlington, Texas, was tied with Anderson as the No. 3 recruit from the class of 2012, according to the RSCI rankings. DraftExpress.com projects Austin to be the No. 6 overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Those who want to compare him to Noel will get an early opportunity. The Bears visit Rupp Arena on Dec. 1.
Opener: Friday vs. Lehigh
Must-see TV: Dec. 1 at No. 3 Kentucky (CBS)
ANTHONY BENNETT (UNLV): Another class of 2012 star who many thought would end up at UK, Bennett instead chose UNLV, a school near where he played his high school ball at Findlay Prep. A native of Canada, Bennett is a 6-foot-8, 240-pound rebounding machine. But he also has an outside game, and he’s expected to be a big part of the resurgence at UNLV, which is ranked No. 18 to start the season.
Opener: Monday vs. Northern Arizona
Must-see TV: Dec. 29 at No. 11 North Carolina (ESPN2)
GARY HARRIS (Michigan State): UK was never seen as a favorite in his recruitment, but Harris did have the Wildcats among his final choices before ultimately going with Michigan State. It didn’t take long for the 6-foot-4 shooting guard to make an impression on Tom Izzo. The Michigan State coach has praised Harris for his defense, and the Indiana native will begin the season in the starting lineup on a team ranked No. 14 in the country.
Opener: Friday vs. UConn
Must-see TV: Jan. 27 at No. 1 Indiana (CBS)
YOGI FERRELL (Indiana): Ferrell is another Big Ten freshman who has earned an immediate starting spot on a national contender. Hoosiers Coach Tom Crean will turn to the 6-footer from Indianapolis to run the point guard position for a team that starts the season No. 1. Crean has been pleased with what he has seen so far. “Yogi is a special player,” the coach told 24/7 Sports. “We knew that when we recruited him, and he’s done nothing to believe anything less than that in the time that he’s been here.”
Opener: Friday vs. Bryant
Must-see TV: Feb. 2 vs. No. 5 Michigan (ESPN)
RODNEY PURVIS (N.C. State): Purvis spent most of his high school career being referred to as “the next John Wall,” a comparison to the former UK point guard and fellow Raleigh, N.C., native. As if that wasn’t enough to live up to, Purvis chose to stay home and play for the Wolfpack. “There’s a lot of pressure,” Wall said after Purvis committed. “He’s the hometown hero now.” Purvis had committed to Louisville first, and Kentucky was firmly in the mix until the transfer of point guard Ryan Harrow, who left N.C. State after one season. Purvis, a 6-foot-3 guard, started for the No. 6 Wolfpack in their only exhibition game.
Opener: Friday vs. Miami (OH)
Must-see TV: Nov. 27 at No. 5 Michigan (ESPN)
DAJUAN COLEMAN (Syracuse): Coleman was a visitor for last year’s Big Blue Madness at Rupp Arena, but he committed to the Orange just a few days after the trip. That wasn’t surprising. The power forward attended high school less than 10 miles from the Carrier Dome. At 6-9 and 288 pounds, Coleman will be a load down low for Syracuse, which already includes standout big men Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita. Despite his size, Coleman has proved nimble in the paint and is considered an exceptional passer.
Opener: Sunday at No. 20 San Diego State
Must-see TV: Jan. 19 at No. 2 Louisville (ESPN)
DEVONTA POLLARD (Alabama): Pollard, in whom the Wildcats showed some interest, is the highest-rated SEC freshman not at UK. The early reviews are glowing. “For the way we play, especially defensively and in the press, he’s going to be a nightmare for a lot of teams,” Tide senior Andrew Steele said of the 6-8 forward last month. In less than two years, Pollard was forced to endure the death of his father and the loss of his family’s home, which burned down after being struck by lightning. Through the adversity, he became one of the top recruits in the country.
Opener: Friday vs. South Dakota State
Must-see TV: Jan. 22 vs. No. 3 Kentucky (ESPN)
PERRY ELLIS (Kansas): A four-time Gatorade player of the year in his home state, Ellis decided to stay in Kansas rather than move east to Kentucky. The 6-foot-8 forward was a top-five prospect in his class before finishing his high school career as the No. 31 senior in the country. There’s no questioning his talent, but Coach Bill Self’s challenge will be getting the laid-back Ellis to break out of his shell. “We don’t need blenders,” Self told the Kansas City Star. “We need guys to take charge.”
Opener: Friday vs. SE Missouri State
Must-see TV: Nov. 13 vs. No. 14 Michigan State (ESPN)
And one more …
MONTREZL HARRELL (Louisville): He was “only” the 85th-best senior in the country, according to the RSCI rankings. But Harrell caused quite the stir when he decommitted from Virginia Tech late in the 2012 recruiting cycle. One reason is because there weren’t many quality prospects still on the table. Another reason is that many observers think Harrell will turn out to be much better than that No. 85 ranking. Kentucky was one of the schools that pursued the 6-8, 235-pound forward, but Harrell ended up at Louisville. Cards assistant Kevin Keatts was the head coach at Hargrave Military Academy when Harrell decided to attend that institution, and the familiarity paid off. Although U of L has a loaded roster, Harrell is expected to play a role early on.
Opener: Sunday vs. Manhattan
Must-see TV: Dec. 29 vs. No. 3 Kentucky (CBS)