/College basketball recruiting: These freshmen exceeded expectations to make an impact during 2020-21 season
College basketball recruiting: These freshmen exceeded expectations to make an impact during 2020-21 season

College basketball recruiting: These freshmen exceeded expectations to make an impact during 2020-21 season

With a group of stars including Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs, freshmen provided some thrills for college basketball this past season. But while those three and several other high-profile prospects from last year’s crop of freshmen are moving on to professional ball, there are tons of rising sophomores who are poised to stick around in the sport for a bit longer.

Among that group of players are several who went largely unheralded as prospects only to have a major impact on the court. It happens every season — players who went overlooked in the recruiting process due to any number of concerns end up exceeding expectations. Featured here are the top 13 freshmen who were ranked No. 200 or lower in the 247Sports Composite — or not ranked at all —  who had the biggest impact.

The group is a mix of players from major conferences and the sport’s lower tiers. It also includes a distinct international flavor and plenty of big men who may have been written off for being too short or too limited. But they, along with the others featured here, exceeded their prospect rankings in the 2020-21 season.

Players are listed in descending order of their 247Sports Composite ranking.

Pelle Larsson, Utah

247Sports Composite ranking: 203

Larsson is transferring to Arizona after an encouraging opening salvo for the 6-foot-5 guard at Utah that saw him earn Pac-12 All-Freshman honors. The Sweden native stepped into the starting lineup for Utah’s fourth Pac-12 game on Jan. 9 and started for the rest of the season, averaging 8.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists as a starter. Most impressive about his 18 starts, though, was his 47.7% 3-point shooting mark, especially since all those games were against Pac-12 competition. It’s worth wondering how those shooting numbers might hold up over a higher volume of attempts, but Larsson isn’t just an outside shooter. He proved he can score at multiple levels. Limiting turnovers needs to be a priority as he moves forward with the Wildcats.

247Sports Composite ranking: 295

Another international prospect, Abogidi came to Washington State from the NBA Global Academy in Australia. The 6-10 center started all 27 games for the Cougars and posted five double-doubles. He faded a bit down the stretch but showed enough promise to suggest that he can be a key part of Kyle Smith’s rebuild. Abogidi’s strength is his physicality, but he also showed willingness to step out and shoot the 3-pointer. If he further develops that skill, he could become an All Pac-12 performer after landing on the league’s All-Freshman team this season.

247Sports Composite ranking: 283 (2019)

Mostafa redshirted the 2019-20 season before shining for a much-improved Coastal Carolina team this past season. The 6-foot-9 center collected nine double-doubles in 26 games while averaging 12.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. If he’s consistent with that productivity, expect to see Mostafa as a perennial all-conference performer for the rest of his career. With CCU’s leading scorer, DeVante Jones, headed to Michigan next season, don’t be surprised if the Chanticleers play through Mostafa as they try and get back to the NCAA Tournament after earning bids in 2014 and 2015 under veteran coach Cliff Ellis.

247Sports Composite ranking: 300

Alexander shared the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year award with UConn’s Isaiah Whaley after leading the league in steals with 2.6 per game. Alexander led all freshmen nationally in steals per game and tied for sixth among all players. But the 6-foot guard also tied for sixth in the conference in assists per game at 4.3 while finishing as the Red Storm’s second-leading scorer at 10.9 points per game. The New York City native embodied the gritty style of the St. John’s program and played particularly well in an upset win over Villanova on Feb. 3. He could be a nuisance in the Big East for quite a while.

Keegan Murray, Iowa

247Sports Composite ranking: 334

Murray landed on the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team after averaging 7.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just 18 minutes per game while playing primarily as a reserve. Considering that 247Sports lists Western Illinois as the only other program to offer Murray, it’s clear the Hawkeyes landed a diamond in the rough. Iowa post players Luka Garza and Jack Nunge are moving on, which could clear the way for the 6-8 Murray to start next season. With a little fine-tuning of his outside shot, he could be one league’s best stretch big men.

247Sports Composite ranking: 340

The 5-11 guard landed on the All-OVC First Team after averaging 15.8 points, five assists and 1.6 steals for a much-improved Colonels team that finished 22-7. Unfortunately for EKU, Green is headed to Auburn next season and should be a strong contributor for the Tigers. Green’s scoring average ranked tied for sixth among all freshmen nationally and first among OVC freshmen. He was second in the OVC among all players in the conference in assists and will combine with former Arkansas guard Desi Sills and ex-North Carolina big Walker Kessler to give the Tigers a strong incoming crop of transfers.

247Sports Composite ranking: 440

Edey earned a spot on the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team while playing a vital bench role for a Purdue team that posted a 13-6 record in a tough league. The 7-4 behemoth put up 8.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in just 14.7 minutes per game. It’ll be interesting to see how Edey’s role changes moving forward. If star big Trevion Williams stays in the draft, Edey may be asked to play significantly more minutes, assuming his massive frame can handle the conditioning requirements.

Edey earned a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman team while coming off the bench for the Boilermakers.

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247Sports Composite ranking: 472

Broome was named the OVC Freshman of the Year after averaging 13.7 points, nine rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game for a Morehead State team that won the OVC Tournament. The 6-10 Tampa native also won the OVC Tournament MVP award after posting a season-high 27 points and adding 12 rebounds in the Eagles’ dramatic OVC Tournament title victory over Belmont. Broome’s 13 double-doubles tied for 11th nationally and helped transform Morehead State from a middling OVC team into a winner.

247Sports Composite ranking: N/A

Warrick earned the Horizon League’s Freshman of the Year award after averaging 15.8 points per game. Some freshmen struggle as the rigors of conference play wear on, but Warrick actually got better as the season progressed. The 6-2 guard reached double figures in NKU’s final 10 regular-season games. He also made an impressive 42.9% of his 3-pointers on 5.7 attempts per game during that stretch while demonstrating the ability to score at multiple levels.

247Sports Composite ranking: N/A

Omier earned the Sun Belt’s Freshman of the Year award and first-team all-conference honors after leading the league with 12.3 rebounds per game. As an undersized center at 6-foot-7, Omier recorded 15 double-doubles in just 23 games and was incredibly consistent offensively while averaging 12.6 points per game. He’ll be a key building block moving forward for coach Mike Balado as the Red Wolves try and get traction after four straight losing seasons in Sun Belt play.

247Sports Composite ranking: N/A

Like Omier, Lofton’s standing as a prospect may have been restricted due to size. At just 6-foot-7, Lofton lacked the height to attract high-major attention but showed as a freshman that he can be a great college player. Lofton earned Conference USA’s Freshman of the Year award and was a third-team all-league performer while averaging 12.2 points and 7.5 rebounds for a team that finished 24-8. Lofton was particularly strong during the Bulldogs’ third-place NIT run as he averaged 20 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks during four games in the tournament.

247Sports Composite ranking: N/A

Harrison toiled outside the spotlight for a Presbyterian team that finished 7-15, but his freshman season was outstanding nonetheless. The 6-4 guard was fourth among all players in the Big South in scoring at 17.3 points per game while winning the league’s Freshman of the Year award and landing second-team all-conference honors. Harrison’s other offers were from American, Morgan State and South Carolina State, but Presbyterian scored an overlooked gem.

Nelly Joseph, Iona

247Sports Composite ranking: N/A

The 6-foot-9 big man earned unanimous MAAC All-Rookie team honors after helping the Gaels reach the NCAA Tournament in coach Rick Pitino’s first season. As a prospect from NBA Academy Africa, Joseph took on a full-time starting role early in Iona’s season and thrived on the interior. The 6-9 forward averaged 11.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. Joseph finished with a double-double in four of 18 games, including a 12-point, 11-rebound effort in the MAAC title game victory over Iona.