Evans Seven: Five-stars poised to step forward next season
Immanuel Quickley was left for dead. Ashton Hagans was primed for another strong season as Kentucky’s primary offensive facilitator while blue-chip prospects Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks were expected to absorb primary scoring roles in Kentucky’s offense. Instead, Quickley has upped his scoring numbers by 11 points and is in contention for SEC Player of the Year honors.
In this week’s Evans Seven, we dissect the five-star freshmen that might not have had the type of seasons they were hoping for, but - with a new outlook and a strong offseason of development - could still live up to the original expectations, just as Quickley has this winter.
2022 Rankings: Top 75
1. MATTHEW HURT
Granted, Matthew Hurt is averaging double figures in scoring, but his impact pales in comparison to Tyrese Maxey, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Nico Mannion, the three prospects that followed him in the final Rivals150 Rankings for his class. Hurt has been sporadic, and his primary deficiency remains his ability to handle physicality, which limits his defensive efforts in the half-court.
If Hurt adds some strength and develops better shot-creating abilities, his sophomore campaign should be a bit different. Another onslaught of talent is headed to Duke in the fall, but Hurt is a better shooter than anyone in Duke’s 2020 class. He is making over 40 percent of his perimeter attempts this season, and if he remains in Durham he has a chance to shine and play like the top 10 prospect that he was coming out of high school.
2. BRYAN ANTOINE
Bryan Antoine had labrum surgery over the summer, which led to him missing the first stretch of the season. He has played in over seven minutes just three times and has scored 18 points this season - while some of his classmates have scored that in a single game.
Antoine remains one of the most talented guards from his class, and a healthy start next season will be just what the doctor ordered, as he'll be playing alongside Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore. Add in the fact that Saddiq Bey is likely to enter the NBA Draft and Antoine should have a greater role and more confidence, allowing him to get back to being the gifted playmaker, scorer and athlete that he built his reputation on.
3. JOSIAH JAMES
Josiah James didn’t score in double figures in a game until mid-December, and while his numbers have improved throughout the season, another year of college ball could be just what is needed. A gifted guard/wing who could legitimately play four different positions, James has begun to shoot it at a better clip, as he has made over 45 percent of his 3-point attempts since the new year. That's a promising sign for someone whose primary deficiency entering college was in his shot-making.
James’ return to Knoxville could help the Vols compete for the SEC title next year. Jaden Springer, Corey Walker and Keon Johnson are expected to enroll, which might give James the type of role that could lead to a breakout campaign and justify his status as a top 20 prospect from the 2019 class.
4. SAMUELL WILLIAMSON
Samuell Williamson was on a number of top-freshman lists to begin the season, but it has been more downs than ups for the Texas native. He did score in double figures twice in his first three college games, but has only eclipsed 10 points once since then.
Louisville's system has been more about about playing through Jordan Nwora, someone who shares a similar position on the floor as the former five-star. With Nwora likely gone after the season, it could be Williamson’s chance to shine. Junior college standout Jayden Scrubb is expected to enroll, but a full year of learning the nuances of Chris Mack’s system should do wonders for Williamson, and he could evolve into the Cards’ keystone figure next winter.
5. ISAIAH MOBLEY
Isaiah Mobley was ranked higher than his fellow five-star classmate and likely high lottery pick, Onyeka Okungwu, but Mobley has not had the type of success that Okungwu has. That could change next year, but Mobley could also be overshadowed again by another tremendous prospect: his younger brother and the top-rated center in the 2020 class, Evan Mobley.
While Evan, a phenom 7-footer, will undoubtedly produce, his older brother should see more minutes and a rise in production on the offensive end, thanks to the upcoming graduation of Nick Rakocevic. Isaiah has never been the best of athletes or shot-makers, but he is a skilled, versatile forward that can play a number of roles on either end of the floor. With an already-developed chemistry with his brother, Isaiah's averages this season of five points and four rebounds could easily double during his second go-around next year.
6. KEION BROOKS
Could Keion Brooks - who many thought would be a one-and-done player - return to Kentucky for his sophomore season and dramatically improve his standing as a next-level prospect? While he has been given chances to flourish lately, Brooks has not always displayed the shot-making ability and versatility that John Calipari was hoping to get from the Indiana native.
When he is playing with confidence Brooks can be one of the more difficult stops, thanks to his size, length and athleticism. BJ Boston might get most of the attention as the face of UK’s offense heading into next season, but the chances of Brooks repeating his poor shooting numbers are slim, and with more time in the gym and weight room a breakthrough could be in store for the former five-star prospect.
7. CJ WALKER
CJ Walker hasn't had the freshman season he was hoping to have, and he has failed to score in three of his past five games. At his best, Walker flies around and makes plays off of his instincts while relying on his toughness and athleticism to make a mark on the stat sheet. He can also hit the occasional perimeter jumper, and his skill set made him one of the more versatile and intriguing prospects in the 2019 class.
Walker has been fighting for minutes with older and more experienced forwards Shakur Juiston and Francis Okoro, but the former will be gone next year, which should allow Walker to have more of an impact as a sophomore, even as Eric Williams Jr. and Eugene Omoruyi see their eligibility begin next fall. An offseason of development and greater confidence could lead to a much more productive and consistent Walker as a sophomore.