by Jonathan Burke
Each year, the United States Basketball Writers Association presents the Wayman Tisdale Award to the nation’s most outstanding freshman. Over the last 15 years, there have been some interesting trends. Although these trends are not predictive of future results, it is intriguing to note the commonalities that the Freshman of the Year award-winners share. 14 of the last 15 Freshman of the Year winners won at least one game in the NCAA Tournament, but 5 lost in the second round. Only 2 of 14 won the National Championship.
Despite mixed postseason results, most Freshman of the Year selections are top-ranked recruits that utilize their collegiate success to secure themselves as high NBA draft picks. In fact, 71% of FOY award winners were top-5 recruits, and 79% were top-5 draft picks, 3 of which were drafted first overall. With that in mind, here are some of the top candidates for this year’s award.
Freshman of the Year Favorites:
James Wiseman (Memphis)
James Wiseman’s arrival at Memphis brought renewed hopes to the Memphis faithful. The nation’s top recruit enters the year as the preseason favorite to win Freshman of the Year. He is currently projected to go number one in the 2020 NBA Draft.
In his senior year at East High School, Wiseman averaged 25.8 points, 14.8 rebounds, and 5.5 blocks per game. Wiseman is a 7-foot-1, modern day big with elite athleticism that impacts both ends of the floor. His finishing at the rim and shot blocking set him apart from the rest of the NCAA, and his dominance in the paint will only improve as he continues to fill out his frame.
Last season, Memphis ranked 96th in the nation in block percentage (11%) and 120th in rebounding rate (51.2%). While Wiseman likely won’t average 15 rebounds and 5 blocks per game, he will certainly help Memphis improve in those areas. Excitement for Memphis basketball is at levels not seen since the days of Derrick Rose, and Wiseman accounts for a large part of that. A dominant campaign in 2019-2020 can help Wiseman secure Freshman of the Year honors and the number one overall NBA Draft pick
Cole Anthony (North Carolina)
While James Wiseman was the top-ranked recruit this offseason, Cole Anthony might be the most hyped player in the freshman class. To say that Anthony is a dynamic playmaker is an understatement. His quickness allows him to blow by defenders with ease on the way to the hoop, and his handles are exceptional.
As a senior last season, Anthony nearly averaged a triple-double with 18 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 9.5 assists per game. His high school stats provide a glimpse into his game – Anthony is everywhere. He can score off the dribble and make plays for his teammates. He loves to push the pace in transition, which fits UNC’s agenda.
Last season, the Tar Heels ranked 8th in the nation in pace. He instantly enters the realm of the top players in the nation, even as a freshman. While Anthony is a likely a one-and-done player like last year’s Tar Heel PG Coby White, he will undoubtedly make his mark this season. As the most dangerous player at a blue-blood program with national title aspirations, Anthony has a legitimate chance for the Freshman of the Year award.
Freshman of the Year Contenders:
Anthony Edwards (Georgia)
Atlanta-native Anthony Edwards was touted as the number two recruit in the nation this offseason. He decided to join coach Tom Crean in Athens, making Edwards the first five-star recruit to commit to UGA since Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in 2011.
Edwards finished his senior year averaging 25.7 points and 9.6 assists per game at Atlanta’s Holy Spirit Prep. Edwards is a 6-foot-5 powerful guard that attacked the basket with ease in high school. He could use his vicious crossover to beat defenders, or use his quickness and strength to hold off opponents in the lane. He is a quality shooter, which forces defenders to close him out and risk opening driving lanes.
Edwards is currently projected to be a top-three pick in next year’s NBA Draft and could even reach the number one spot if things fall into place. If he wants to win the Freshman of the Year award, Edwards will have to make his team better. His main obstacle is that his team is nowhere near as good as most other contenders’ teams. The Bulldogs are slated to finish in the bottom half of the SEC, and their young team could experience some growing pains this year. However, Edwards’ talent is enough to overcome that roadblock, and he could make a legitimate case for the Wayman Tisdale Award.
Isaiah Stewart (Washington)
Another five-star recruit in the mix this season is Isaiah Stewart from Washington. Stewart is a 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward and center combination player with a 7-foot-4 wingspan. He is a physical specimen and the highest-rated recruit for the Huskies in recent history.
Last season at La Lumiere, Stewart averaged 18.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game. The Pac-12 has taken notice, as they included Stewart in the first team preseason All-Pac 12 team. He is also on the shortlist for conference player of the year.
Stewart is powerful in the paint, and he hustles and plays with intensity on both ends of the court. Washington’s zone defense was effective last year, holding opponents to only 64.8 PPG. However, because zone normally allows more rebounds to opponents than man defense, they ranked #312 in rebound percentage at 47.6%. The addition of Stewart should bolster their rebounding numbers in 2019-20. Stewart comfortably projects as a top-10 pick in June’s NBA Draft, and he appears to be the perfect addition to anchor Washington’s 2-3 defensive scheme.
Vernon Carey Jr (Duke)
The star of Duke’s recruiting class almost always has a chance to win the Freshman of the Year award, and that is no different with Vernon Carey. The son of a former NFL lineman, Carey is listed at 6-foot-10 and 275 pounds. He is an imposing presence in the paint, but he is not the old-school center you might expect. Carey is quick and agile, especially for his size. He is effective in the post due to his ability to use his strength to overpower defenders, or execute a spin move and finish at the rim.
Carey can also join the fast break and is a threat in transition, which is rare for most players his size. These strengths are heightened by his ability to contribute outside of the paint. Carey is a threat to shoot and drive, which led to 21.7 points per game as a senior.
This year, he aims to be the fourth Dukie in six years to win the award, but has Zion-sized shoes to fill. Once again, Duke reloaded and is a title contender. As one of the most versatile players in the nation on one of the best teams, Vernon Carey Jr is a serious threat to be named the nation’s top freshman.