Unheralded recruits burst onto the NCAA basketball scene every year. Who are some potential under-the-radar freshmen to watch across the nation in 2022-23?
Uncertainty is woven into the fabric of NCAA basketball. The upset-heavy, single-elimination NCAA Tournament is the pinnacle of the sport’s reality in that sense but there are surprises at every turn of a given season. Recruiting is a prime example. While there are some “sure things” amongst five-star recruits, the fact remains that unpredictability reigns when it comes to projecting freshmen.
Whether due to injuries, late-blooming successes or simply lack of exposure, several potential stars always slip through the recruiting cracks. Just this past summer, a trio of former sub-100 recruits were selected in the top 10 of the NBA Draft (Benn Mathurin, Jeremy Sochan and Johnny Davis). Several other draft picks, including Jalen Williams and Jake Laravia, were rated outside of the top 200 out of high school.
With the 2022-23 season on the horizon, it is almost time for a new batch of unheralded prospects to make their mark on the college stage.
To account for the “under the radar” label, freshmen ranked in the top 100 (247Sports Composite) for the class were excluded from consideration. In addition, heavy emphasis was placed on the potential pathway to immediate playing time for each freshman.
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Aidan Mahaney, Saint Mary’s Gaels
Summer trips are an excellent place for incoming freshmen to showcase their potential for immediate contributions. Aidan Mahaney is a prime example after adding coal to his hype train over Saint Mary’s trip to Australia. The local Moraga product proved capable of running Randy Bennett’s offense on the trip, consistently creating for others and himself.
Mahaney averaged 18.4 points over SMC’s first five games down under. He dished out six assists in his opener, drilled five 3s a day later and was a massive part of a comeback effort in another victory. Saint Mary’s returns Augustas Marciulionis as a potential lead guard as well, but don’t be surprised to see him and Mahaney share the court. The Gaels are entering a new, post-Tommy Kuhse era, and Mahaney could be difficult to keep out of the rotation.
Kebba Njie, Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State has hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament in Micah Shrewsberry’s second season on the sidelines. The Nittany Lions boast a strong backcourt with preseason All-Conference Jalen Pickett pairing with Camren Wynter, Myles Dread and Seth Lundy. The 5 spot in their rotation, though, might be filled by a true freshman in Kebba Njie.
Njie, the No. 114 overall prospect in the 2022 class, is very athletic with quality size (6-10). He should instantly become a lob threat offensively, but it is defensively where he will need to make his mark. The Big Ten is loaded with experienced, physical bigs; how Njie handles players like Hunter Dickinson and Trayce Jackson-Davis could define Penn State’s season.
Braden Smith, Purdue Boilermakers
It’s not often that Indiana’s Mr. Basketball flies under the radar, but that appears to be the case with Braden Smith. The 6-0 guard out of Westfield, Indiana, is ranked as only the No. 195 overall prospect in the 2022 class (247Sports Composite). While not rated highly, Purdue will need him to make an impact. The Boilermakers lost Jaden Ivey, Sasha Stefanovic, Eric Hunter Jr. and Isaiah Thompson this offseason, leaving a void in the backcourt.
READ MORE: Examining the Boilermakers’ point guard situation for 2022-23
David Jenkins Jr. (UNLV) and freshman Fletcher Loyer are the two most high-profile additions, but both are better as off-guards. Smith brings point guard pedigree and could be handed the reigns from the onset of his career. He averaged 18.3 points, 6.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game as a senior. Purdue will run much of its offense through its frontcourt of Zach Edey, Mason Gillis and Caleb Furst, but Smith will play a vital role. The Boilermakers have made seven straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
Taviontae Jackson, Colorado State Rams
For the first time in Niko Medved’s tenure at Colorado State, he will not have the luxury of either Kendle Moore or Isaiah Stevens to run his offense. That is, until Stevens returns from an injury that will keep him out for at least the first month of the campaign. Medved-led teams have often featured high-scoring guards, dating back Reed Timmer at Drake and Devin Sibley at Furman. Without Stevens for the early portion of this season, Medved may turn to incoming freshman Tavi Jackson for a big role.
The importance of Jackson early in the season should be undersold. Colorado State is hoping to contend for a second-consecutive at-large bid, and playing without Stevens in nonconference makes that much more challenging. Jackson, 6-2, carries a strong two-way reputation as a talented, hard-nosed competitor. He will have the advantage of sharing the backcourt rotation with vets Josiah Strong and John Tonje before Stevens returns. Playing rock-solid defense and taking care of the ball will go a long way.
Chase Cormier, Northeastern Huskies
Northeastern experienced its worst season under Bill Coen this past year, finishing only 9-22 (2-16 CAA). Now, the Huskies are hoping to bounceback with a heavy dose of newcomers around returners Jahmyl Telfort and Chris Doherty. Setting the tone for Northeastern’s six-man freshman class is Chase Cormier, a talented lead guard poised to immediately run the offense. Cormier started every game on Northeastern’s summer trip.
The 6-2 Cormier fills a major positional need for a team that returns four starting-caliber upperclassmen listed between 6-5 and 6-7 for the 2-through-5 spots. He is a smooth-shooting lefty with crisp ball handling. Northeastern ranked just 325th in offensive turnover rate and 262nd in 3-point percentage last year. Cormier will play a significant role in fixing those woes. He has underrated explosiveness and a deadly pull-up jumper.
Cormier’s shiftiness and shooting ability — combined with a clear path to playing time — should make him one of the top freshmen in the CAA.
Tamin Lipsey, Iowa State Cyclones
Iowa State lost starting point guard Tyrese Hunter to the transfer portal this offseason but was able to add Temple transfer Jeremiah Williams to help fill that void. A preseason Achilles injury, though, has already knocked Williams out for the season. The Cyclones still feature Jaren Holmes and Caleb Grill as capable ball-handlers, but both are better-suited off-ball. Opportunities will be available for freshman Tamin Lipsey to run the offense.
Lipsey is a local product out of Ames which Iowa State’s coaching staff quickly built a relationship with. A high-IQ guard who does not try to do too much, he could bring stability to the lead guard spot even as a freshman. Perhaps most importantly, he will need to help the Cyclones take care of the ball; ISU ranked just 304th nationally in offensive turnover rate last season. Lipsey and fellow first-year Eli King are a duo to watch this year as Iowa State hopes to contend a second straight NCAA Tournament berth.
Brendan Hausen, Villanova Wildcats
Brendan Hausen arrives as the No. 113 overall prospect in the 2022 class, but he is overshadowed by a pair of top-50 teammates. With Mark Armstrong and Cam Whitmore —as well as returners Caleb Daniels and Justin Moore (when healthy) — ahead of him on the depth chart, Hausen might not play much as a freshman. Still, he is someone that you will want to have been ahead of the curve on in a couple of years.
The 6-4 guard is a deadeye shooter who should thrive in Villanova’s system. He is a hard-nosed competitor with a killer mentality as a shot-maker. Armstrong and Whitmore are huge pieces for Villanova this year, but Hausen is a multi-year college player to watch. He will be a pivotal piece of Kyle Neptune’s first few seasons as head coach. Versatile shooters who can spot-up, run off screens or create for themselves have tremendous value.
Justin Taylor and Chris Bunch, Syracuse Orange
Syracuse lost three full-time starters — and three of its top four scorers — this offseason. Without a great transfer class arriving, head coach Jim Boeheim will need a large freshman class to step up this year. Judah Mintz is the most notable but is too highly rated to qualify for this article. Justin Taylor and Chris Bunch are the next most important and will compete for a starting spot on the wing.
Syracuse is most well-known for its zone defense but has ranked in the top 25 for adjusted offensive efficiency in three straight years. Buddy Boeheim, Jimmy Boeheim and Cole Swider accounted for 68.3 percent of Syracuse’s made 3-pointers last year, though, and all have since departed. Joe Girard is back, but the Orange need more perimeter threats. Watch for Taylor and Bunch to immediately step into prominent shot-making roles as freshmen. Both bring quality size (Taylor at 6-6, Bunch at 6-7) to the wing and hit 3s.
Braeden Carrington, Minnesota Golden Gophers
A key priority for Ben Johnson since taking over at Minnesota has been keeping talent in-state. His first two transfer classes brought Jamison Battle and Dawson Garcia back home, but he has also landed some in-state recruits. Braeden Carrington, for instance, is a local freshman who could crack the rotation immediately. The Park Center product was slotted at only No. 226 in the 247Sports Composite rankings but garnered national recruiting attention; he held offers from Xavier, Seton Hall, Missouri and Florida.
Carrington, 6-4, averaged 17.8 points per game as a senior and became the first Gopher commit to win Minnesota Mr. Basketball since Amir Coffey in 2016; three of the last four award winners have gone on to be drafted into the NBA. With Minnesota losing Payton Willis, EJ Stephens and Luke Loewe from its backcourt over the offseason, Carrington could slide into a role alongside Morehead State transfer Ta’Lon Cooper this season.
Jared Frey, Stony Brook Seawolves
“When you’re the best shooter on the team, you tend to find your way in the game.” That’s what Stony Brook head coach Geno Ford told me for The Almanac regarding his incoming freshman Jared Frey. A 6-4 southpaw out of Columbus, OH, Frey appears in line to play big minutes in the CAA. The Seawolves recently lost Dean Noll to a season-ending injury, making Frey all the more important. He is a deadeye marksman.
Frey arrives after posting the single-season records for 3-pointers made and 3-point percentage during his time at the International Sports Academy at Andrews Osborne. His reputation as a shooter is clear, and will fit in nicely at Stony Brook. Ford-coached teams have not always been perimeter-oriented, but three of his last four units have ranked in the top 150 nationally in 3-point attempt rate. Frey will help up their efficiency.
Justin Moore, Drexel Dragons
Drexel returns four players who averaged 15-plus minutes per game last season, including three who started 15 or more games. Among those returnees is Amari Williams, the reigning CAA Defensive Player of the Year. The core is strong, but offsetting Camren Wynter’s transfer will be challenging. Wynter was a three-time All-CAA performer in Philadelphia, starting 112 of 114 career games and averaging 35.3 minutes per contest.
Incoming freshman Justin Moore and ORU transfer Jamie Bergens face the unenviable task of replacing Wynter. The 6-3 Moore arrives after averaging 15.2 points, 6.1 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game at Archbishop Wood HS — the same school that also recently produced Tommy Funk, Collin Gillespie and Rahsool Diggins. Will Moore be able to follow in their footsteps? He brings a competitive attitude and will have a veteran core around him.
TJ Hurley, Vermont Catamounts
Elite perimeter shooting has been a steady staple during Vermont’s run of six consecutive America East regular-season titles. Yet, Vermont’s returners for ’22-23 only shot 34.5 percent from deep last season. Hopes are high for bigger shooting seasons from vets Finn Sullivan, Aaron Deloney and Kam Gibson, but freshman TJ Hurley will also have his opportunities from beyond the arc. The 6-5 Canadian is a deadly perimeter weapon.
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Hurley also already proved his worth over Vermont’s summer trip to Canada; he netted 17 points on five 3-pointers in one of their wins. His marksmanship is an elite skill that should translate instantly to the college level. As the Catamounts look to space the floor around incoming star transfer Dylan Penn, it could be hard for Becker to keep Hurley on the sidelines. Hurley might also be Vermont’s next star of the future.
Hurley could immediately slide into a starting role with Penn hurt to begin the season.
Christian Winborne, Saint Joseph’s Hawks
The DMV area has recently produced some electric guards, including sending Erik Reynolds II to Saint Joseph’s last season. Christian Winborne now heads to Hawk Hill to pair with Reynolds. Winborne is a shot-making guard who creates for himself at a high level. Before his commitment to the Hawks, Winborne held offers from Xavier, LSU, Virginia Tech, VCU, Seton Hall, Rutgers and several Ivy schools.
Lynn Greer III and Reynolds appear poised to play a good chunk of SJU’s backcourt minutes, but Winborne will also have opportunities. The Hawks know they need improved decision-making this year after ranking 256th in turnover rate last year. Additionally, Billy Lange’s last eight teams have ranked in the top 70 nationally for 3-point attempt rate. Winborne supplies more ball-handling and shooting.
Braxton Stacker, Murray State Racers
Playing alongside Nick Smith, Brandon Miller and Jeremy Fears can make anyone fly under the radar. That was the case for Murray State freshman Braxton Stacker, who took the court with those three top 100 recruits — as well as Mizzou’s Christian Jones and Butler’s Connor Turnbull — on the 2021 Brad Beal Elite team. BBE reached the EYBL finals that year, and Stacker was a big piece, even if not a starring one.
Stacker provides positional size as a 6-5 slasher. He gets to the basket, plays through contact and defends. He had a few standpoint performances at the 2021 Peach Jam, including a 17-point outing against New Heights Lightning. Murray State is back under the tutelage of Steve Prohm this year and lacks roster continuity. Stacker could provide a defensive and athletic punch as a freshman.
Pete Suder, Bellarmine Knights
Bellarmine finished second in the ASUN during its first Division I season (2020-21). In their encore last year, the Knights won the ASUN Tournament. However, they were barred from the NCAA Tournament due to transition rules. The program then lost three starters over the offseason. Without Dylan Penn, CJ Fleming and Ethan Claycomb, minutes could be available for incoming freshman Pete Suder.
Suder arrives via Carmel High School (Indiana), which has produced several quality players over the years. Suder won two state titles and compiled an 88-17 record over four seasons with the Greyhounds. He boasts an impressively well-rounded game with the ability to stuff the stat sheet on both ends. If not for missing much of his final AAU summer with a broken tibia, Suder might have garnered more recruiting attention.
Suder was a proven winner in high school, and he brings a set of skills at 6-5 that make him malleable to what Bellarmine head coach Scott Davenport needs. Suder is a terrific positional rebounder; he stole several second-chance buckets for Carmel.
Jackson Paveletzke, Wofford Terriers
At least one Wisconsin native has been featured in Wofford’s starting lineup for 150 of the program’s last 156 games. Storm Murphy started the trend, then Max Klesmit led the charge last year. With Klesmit transferring to Wisconsin this offseason, a new representative is set to take the mantle: Jackson Paveletzke. A native of Kimberly, Wisconsin, the 6-3 Paveletzke is an incredibly skilled scorer with a killer mentality.
Wofford’s rotation featured five guards who averaged 10-plus minutes per game last year — all departed this offseason. Corey Tripp is a rising piece to note, and the Terriers added a few transfers as well, but Paveletzke will have his opportunities. He finished his high school career as Kimberly’s all-time leading scorer; he averaged 30 points, 6.1 assists, and 5.2 rebounds per game as a senior, peaking with a 50-point performance.
Travis Roberts, Jacksonville State Gamecocks
Jacksonville State won the ASUN regular-season title last season and reached the NCAA Tournament — albeit in unconventional fashion. Head coach Ray Harper is still walking the sidelines, but he lost five key contributors from last year’s team this offseason. Demaree King, Amanze Ngumezim, Maros Zeliznak and Juwan Perdue are back, but the Gamecocks will otherwise look to new faces for big contributions to their repeat efforts.
Freshman guard Travis Roberts is among the most exciting newcomers. He carries a 6-6 frame and is a big-time shot-maker. In talking with Three Man Weave’s Ky McKeon for The Almanac, Harper raved about the incoming Roberts: “I think he has the chance to be special … He came in with a mindset as a veteran, not a freshman — he hasn’t taken a backseat to anyone.” Roberts could be one of the top first-year players in the ASUN.
Kyle Thomas, Eastern Illinois Panthers
Eastern Illinois finished last season 5-26 and was rated as the second-worst team in the entire country by KenPom. If the Panthers want to take a big step forward this year, Kyle Thomas must be immediately impactful. Thomas is only an incoming freshman, but he already has the attention of his opposing coaches. The Almanac’s anonymous coaches’ poll of the OVC labeled him the “Best Pro Prospect” in the league.
His father, Daryl Thomas, played two years alongside EIU head coach Marty Simmons in the mid-80s under Bob Knight at Indiana. Thomas might have ended up at a higher level if not for that connection. Thomas was rated as only a top-300 player in the class by 247Sports, but his interest list was impressive; he held offers from Arizona, Nebraska, and Illinois. He could be among the top bigs (and top freshmen) in the OVC from the onset of his career.
Will Batchelder, Holy Cross Crusaders
Joe Pridgen won Patriot League Rookie of the Year in 2019-20. R.J. Johnson was an all-freshman selection in 2020-21. Kyrell Luc won Patriot ROTY in 2021-22. For three consecutive seasons, Holy Cross has featured freshmen that have immediately made a big-time impact. Could Will Batchelder be next? The 6-1 guard is in line to potentially start as the Crusaders’ point guard from the onset of his career.
When Batchelder signed with Holy Cross last fall, head coach Brett Nelson described him as such: “He has a high basketball IQ with excellent speed and quickness. Add in his elite shooting ability and skill level, and Will can be a special player at Holy Cross. We expect him to come in and make a huge impact from day one.” Batchelder is a local addition who could instantly provide steady ball-handling and superb shooting.
Emmanouil Dimou, Kansas City Roos
Last year, Kansas City posted the second-highest win total for a season in program history with 19. However, the Roos will have a challenging time building on that after losing their head coach and top four scorers over the offseason. Marvin Menzies, previously of NMSU and UNLV, now takes the reins and has a very young group to work with. Freshmen are littered throughout the roster, with Emmanouil Dimou as perhaps the most exciting.
Dimou, originally from Athens, Greece, arrives in KC after playing for his country’s U14, U15, U16, and U18 National Teams over the last several years. The 6-4 guard creates for others and is also a strong shot-maker. Nicknamed “Manos,” Dimou averaged 4.3 points and 1.0 assists per game at the U18 FIBA European Championship in Turkey this past summer. With the Roos’ roster turnover this offseason, Dimou will have the chance to play immediately.