Atlantic 10 title contenders and bottom feeders have at least one thing in common: exciting freshmen who can compete in the league for years to come.
Here are five Atlantic 10 freshmen who should have an impact this season, no matter where their respective teams finish in the standings.
1. Dejon Jarreau (6’5, guard), Massachussetts
Jarreau headlines this list, and also headlines Derek Kellogg’s top-25 recruiting class. The lanky, versatile guard comes in with an impressive recruiting pedigree: Rivals has him the 38th player in his class, while 247sports has him at 54. He might start alongside Donte Clark and will be expected to boost an offense that ranked 218th in the country according to KenPom last season.
2. De’Riante Jenkins (6’5, guard), VCU
Jenkins was Will Wade’s first big recruiting win, as the 44th best recruit in the nation according to both Rivals and 247sports. He and Jarreau have similar body types and skill sets, but Jenkins shouldn’t be relied on as much right away since he’s joining a proven Rams’ core led by JeQuan Lewis. Nonetheless, he played a big role during VCU’s trip to Spain by averaging 13 points over the Rams’ four games. Wade told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he liked what he saw from Jenkins.
“He’s got to continue to get better at what we’re doing defensively, but he’s very good in the open court,” said Wade. “He’s a very unselfish player. He led our team in assists.”
3. De’Monta Buckingham (6-4, guard)/Nick Sherod (6-4, guard), Richmond
This is a cop out, but in many ways Buckingham and Sherod are hard to separate. The Richmond natives and middle school teammates were both 247sports three-star recruits. More importantly, both should play an immediate role for the Spiders. There’s little experience in Chris Mooney’s back court, other than senior ShawnDre’ Jones and sophomore Khawn Fore, and he expects the two freshmen to play right away. Look for Buckingham to contribute more at the point and Sherod to add outside shooting.
4. Jalen Johnson (6-7, forward), Saint Louis
Newly-hired coaches need to take gambles when scrambling to fill out a recruiting class. Travis Ford thinks he made a smart one in Louisiana prep forward Jalen Johnson, whose recruiting stock fell after he suffered a torn ACL in his junior season. His versatility will be welcome in a front court that needs bodies. Only three returning big men logged minutes last season, and Ford has high expectations for Johnson and fellow freshman Zeke Moore.
“I think the two freshmen will make a major impact on our team,” Ford told the St. Louis Times-Dispatch. “Zeke and Jalen will both get significant minutes, I believe, and be difference makers. Jalen has played at a very high level AAU-wise, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he came in and became a freshman of the year candidate.”
5. Kamari Newman (6-4, guard), George Mason
Dave Paulsen needs shooting, badly. The Patriots hit just 29.2 percent of their threes last year, and posted the 328th worst effective field goal percentage in the country (45.1%). Not surprisingly, despite the experience they gained, promising sophomore guards Otis Livingston II and Jaire Grayer did not have good shooting debuts. That’s where Newman comes in. The Detroit native has a reputation as a shooter and got late interest from Michigan, Baylor and USC. He told the Detroit Free Press last November that he expects to make an immediate mark in Fairfax.
"They already had a plan for me as a freshman,'' said the 6-foot-4 lefty who'll be a Mr. Basketball candidate this season. "As a freshman, I could come in and have a chance to play right away. I watched their practice, and they didn't really have a lot of scorers on their team. I knew that's what they needed.”
All five of these freshmen are set to play a big role in the Atlantic 10 this season and it will be interesting to see who has the biggest impact.