Six freshmen, four games, one day


Months ago it started. This was going to be, without question, the Year of the Freshman.

How could it not? The talent was undeniable, and the marquee had four big names right there at the top: Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, Duke's Jabari Parker, Kentucky's Julius Randle and Arizona's Aaron Gordon.

Soon, the spotlight would find two more, with the play of Syracuse's Tyler Ennis and Wiggins' teammate at Kansas, Joel Embiid, impossible to ignore.

These were the six best freshmen in this, the Year of the Freshman.

They likely won't be around long, so it became necessary to enjoy their college careers while possible. This past Saturday was the rare day, one of just two this season (the other will be Feb. 22) when all six would take the floor on the same day.

We followed along, watching these six talents through their eyes and those of others on a riveting day when six freshmen, four games and one day owned college basketball.

For Comparison's Sake

By Dana O'Neil

Syracuse, N.Y. -- Jack Rose is a college freshman, Syracuse Class of 2017.

The Los Angeles native is loving college life, even if he did sacrifice Cali sunshine for Central New York rock salt. Life is fun and relatively uncomplicated, even as he navigates the tricky tightrope of the first blush of real independence and responsibility.

On Saturday afternoon, he stood about halfway up in the student section at the Carrier Dome with some of his friends hoisting a sign, "Our freshman is better than your freshman. #11>#1.''

Rose, who has eyes on a journalism career, rattled off stats and arguments to support his sign's case that Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis is better than Duke freshman Jabari Parker. All had merit, and then I reminded Rose that he and Ennis were classmates, both going through their first year of college at Syracuse. Ennis, the object of Rose's sign and adoration, was down on the court, playing in front of 35,446 insane fans, in front of a national television audience, in a game for the ages. It was an epic Saturday pitting college basketball's two winningest coaches against one another, with two of the nation's top freshmen in this, the Year of the Freshman, on the floor together. And here was Ennis, in charge of an undefeated Syracuse team.

While Rose was in the stands watching, holding a sign.

"Oh my God. I can't even imagine that,'' Rose said. "I can't play basketball, but even if I could, I'd be so afraid.''

That's the thing about these terrific freshmen: They are transcendent talents with grown-man bodies or grown-man wisdom, but they are kids.

Ennis is 19; Parker is still 18. When they don't play like kids, we shrug because that's what they're supposed to do; when they do, we question their abilities, and almost always, we forget just how young they are.

The Syracuse-Duke game was a microcosm of all that is this Freshmen Focus. One played like a grown-up, the other more like a kid.

Ennis, who looks like he's 14, played like he was 34. In a well-played, anxiety-filled overtime game, Ennis was on the court for 40 of the 45 minutes. He scored 14 points, dished out nine assists and committed only two turnovers.

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