Who are these guys? Learning about the nation's best freshmen

We've been down this road before. After all, college basketball, in the one-and-done era, is all about its freshmen. But this season -- this season is different. Just listen to the gushing:

  • The Bilastrator has been at this for quite some time, and this is the single best crop of freshmen his dreamy eyes have ever seen. This is the deepest, most talented class in recent college basketball history.
    -- Jay Bilas, " The College Basketball Opus"
  • On Sept. 27, the first day of official practice, we gave the 2013-14 season an unofficial title: The Year of the Freshmen. Fair warning: Here we go again.
    -- Eamonn Brennan, " Welcome to the Year of the Freshmen"

But who are these guys, these one-and-dones in a once-in-a-generation class? Over two weeks, we chronicled them, the top 10 freshmen in the land based on our ESPN 100 rankings. In case you missed it, it's time to catch up, to familiarize yourself with a group that will dominate this college basketball season and then be gone.?

Consider this your complete Freshmen Orientation.


Duke freshman Frank Jackson had his mind made up. He was going on a Mormon mission. Instead, he finds himself serving a different version of a mission in Durham, North Carolina.

"We don't have multiple wives," Jackson said. "We don't all have 20 kids. We're not a cult. We're Christians. We're normal. We believe in being good people.

"I'm in the spotlight. Everyone is watching us. I can use that as a chance to be a light in the world, in a sense, to show people how I live and what I believe."

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The Razorbacks wanted Malik Monk to stay in Arkansas, and it turned ugly when he committed to Kentucky. But the mild-mannered, high-scoring Monk hasn't looked back.

He had always heard boos from opposing crowds as a standout at Bentonville High School in Bentonville, Arkansas. But the tone grew dark after his commitment to the Wildcats.

"We kept him secluded," his mother, Jackie Monk, said. "I was afraid of him being out.

"It was hurtful because they didn't know him as a kid. I shook my head, of course. I wanted to explode as a parent. Every time he caught the ball when he ran up the court, they'd yell 'Marcus Monk! Marcus Monk!' to taunt him. They booed."

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Miles Bridges knows his surroundings and the expectations that come with being from Flint and going to Michigan State.?"I think Miles Bridges is the next Flintstone," coach Tom Izzo said. "He's a blue-collar superstar."?

And he almost left.

"Everybody, literally everybody, from Flint goes to Michigan State," Bridges said. "I wanted to switch it up at first. I wanted to be different."

In just the past year, a federal public health state of emergency was declared when lead poisoning -- from a contaminated local water supply -- was discovered among thousands of residents.

Or, as Bridges put it: "Everybody knows it's tough out there."

He stayed.

"I just felt it," Bridges said. "I felt like I belonged there."

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Markelle Fultz has a Michael Jordan story. Like MJ, Fultz didn't make his varsity team as a high school sophomore. But Fultz doesn't want to follow Jordan's footsteps. He wants to be better.?

"My mindset is different from a lot of people," Fultz said. "You ask people their goal, and they'll say to make it to the NBA. My goal isn't just to make it there, it's to be the best that ever played."

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Kentucky freshman De'Aaron Fox's blinding speed brings former Wildcat John Wall to mind. Fox welcomes the pressure that comes with the comparison, but how similar are they?

"I mean, being compared to someone like him, it's a huge honor," Fox said. "I see similarities, but I still feel like we play differently. With speed and athleticism, I think we're really similar. ... I feel like he handles the ball better, and I feel like I shoot the ball better."

What say you, John Calipari?

"Everyone says he's as fast as John Wall," Calipari said before pausing. "Stop. See, John Wall used his speed as a weapon. And it was his No. 1 weapon. Wasn't just a weapon, it was the weapon that he used to beat you. De'Aaron doesn't see himself that way, and I'm trying to get him to just fly, man. Go at people, try to get to that rim and then, if it's not there, let's play."

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Kentucky freshman Edrice "Bam" Adebayo brings a physical presence to the paint that the Wildcats lacked last season. He also brings a love for Katy Perry's music and plenty of jokes.

One crushing handshake from Adebayo proves his nickname fits. His mother, Marilyn Blount, called him "Bam" after a 1-year-old Adebayo flipped a coffee table while watching "The Flintstones."

Kentucky lacked that big-bodied athlete last season. Calipari had Karl-Anthony Towns in 2015 and Julius Randle in 2014. Last season, the Wildcats didn't have a mobile, physical center to stop Indiana's Thomas Bryant, who scored 19 points (6-for-6 inside the arc) during the Hoosiers' second-round victory over Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.

That shouldn't be a problem this season with Adebayo on the roster.

"Bam is a beast," Calipari said.

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Lonzo Ball is now charged with redeeming the West Coast's most accomplished program after a 15-17 campaign -- just the fourth losing season in the post-John Wooden era -- prompted angry fans to fly banners over the UCLA campus demanding fourth-year coach Steve Alford's dismissal.

He understands the task at hand.

"We've got UCLA across our chest," Ball said. "We're playing for more than ourselves. We've gotta bring that history back."

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Duke freshman Jayson Tatum was glued to his mother's hip as she worked her way from a gift wrapper to a law degree. He wouldn't be a projected NBA lottery pick without her.

"She's my best friend," Tatum said. "I'm the biggest mama's boy ever, and I'm proud to say it."

Brandy Cole's take on how she gets along with her son?

"We have a unique relationship. There's no B.S." Cole said.

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Kansas' Josh Jackson knew he would be challenged. Someone was going to find out if he was soft. "I knew it was coming," Jackson said. "Immediately." How did it go? "I think I passed."

He proved, quickly, he doesn't like to lose. In anything.

Chess gets heated. Checkers gets heated. Connect Four -- Connect Four! -- gets heated. Video games aren't merely a relaxing diversion; they're another avenue in which to compete. (His top choice is "Mortal Kombat XL." His main character? Raiden. "I don't think anyone can beat me," he said.)

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Duke's Harry Giles is the nation's top freshman. When will he play? Right now, no one knows because of three knee surgeries in three years. But everyone has thoughts. Even Greg Oden, who has one thing to say: Be careful and be patient.

"I know people are doubting me,'' Giles said. "People would say, 'You're good. You're good. Don't worry.' But I want to prove the doubters wrong. I thrive on stuff like that.''

What does Oden think?

"So many people wanted me to play. I wanted to play, but I was so out of whack,'' Oden said. "I should have listened to what everybody said and sat my butt down. Instead, I kept trying to do extra stuff, to push myself to be ready faster. I was worried about being able to show people what I could do instead of worrying about getting better all the way. I will always regret that.''

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