This season could be a season of freshmen for the America East. The conference will add plenty of young talent and almost every team has a player capable of making an impact on the league this season. Here are the top five freshmen to watch, listed in alphabetical order.
Wheeler Baker, Albany – While the Great Danes bring in two junior college point guards, it might be this freshman who will force his way into the mix. Baker is 6’2″ 175-pounds and profiles as a combo guard. He averaged 26 points per game as a senior. He was also a finalist for Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball, which went to Duke freshman Tyus Jones. Albany head coach Will Brown knows that Baker can be a scorer, though he will have to earn his coach’s trust be demonstrating he can be a capable defender.
Trae Belle-Haynes, Vermont – Head coach John Becker called the 6’2″ point guard “quick as lightning” when he first saw him in summer workouts and Belle-Haynes didn’t disappoint on the team’s trip to Canada. The young point guard showed the ability to score and had a team-high 17 points against Carleton in the Catamounts’ fourth game on the trip. The final recruit to sign in Vermont’s freshman class, Belle-Haynes has already shown the ability to be a rotation staple.
John Carroll, Hartford – After the Irish freshman had to sit out the first two games while still being cleared by the NCAA, he had an immediate impact on the team’s Australia trip. The 6’8″ freshman scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in his first game and John Gallagher is excited for a lethal front court pairing of Carroll and senior Mark Nwakamma. The Dublin native will have a steep learning curve figuring out the intricacies of the Hawks offense, but even if he doesn’t know it by heart, he will be making plays around the upperclassmen rotation.
Ernie Duncan, Vermont – Despite missing the team’s trip to Canada, it is clear that the 6’2″ guard will take the ball on day one for the Catamounts. He worked out during the team’s trip, but Becker did not want to risk injury by playing him. Duncan is the headline recruit of Vermont’s young class, having played at the highest AAU levels and is physically ready to play right away.
DeShaun Thrower, Stony Brook – Thrower won Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan after signing with the Seawolves in the fall and he is expected to help fill the void left by Stony Brook’s graduating senior guards. Steve Pikiell admitted he was nervous when landing the 6’2″ guard who also was the star quarterback for his high school’s team, because Thrower was unafraid to take a hit. Now he will be able to use that physicality for the Seawolves in building threats around Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy.
Other notable freshmen to watch: Malcolm Brent, UMBC; Iba Camara, New Hampshire; Tanner Leissner, New Hampshire; Kevin Little, Maine; Roland Nyama, Stony Brook; Dusan Perovic, Binghamton; Willie Rodriguez, Binghamton; Drew Urquhart, Vermont
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the America East conference, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.