The Big Ten may have just one five-star recruit and two players in ESPN's 2017 top-50, but don't count out their potential to produce impact freshman. Last year Miles Bridges broke onto the scene for the Spartans and took home conference Freshman of the Year Honors, but Minnesota's Amir Coffey, Penn State's Tony Carr and Iowa's Jordan Bohannon also made meaningful contributions in their inaugural campaigns. Coach Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans enter the season as the favorites due to the return of Bridges, but they'll also be getting a potential difference maker via the recruiting class.
Jaren Jackson Jr. -- PF/C -- (6-10, 225)
Jackson is the son of Jaren Jackson Sr., who played 13 years in the NBA with several teams until landing with the Spurs for the twilight of his career. While his father was a shooting guard, Jackson Jr. is six inches taller and plays power forward. He also boasts a 7-foot-4 wingspan and a standing reach greater than nine feet. Jackson will make an immediate impact at Michigan State, and will likely be the starting power forward alongside sophomore Nick Ward at center and the always-explosive Miles Bridges at small forward.
Jackson’s strengths are many, including elite athleticism and versatile defensive abilities due to his size and length, but he also brings a strong all-around offensive game. Jackson has solid post skills but is also quite confident with his range, and will be another outside-inside threat for the Spartans if need be.
Some things Jackson will need to work on before he starts his collegiate career come on the defensive end, such as rebounding fundamentals as well as a comprehensive understanding of his assignments. He’ll also need to work on becoming a more physical player for the duration of a collegiate length game. Despite these weaknesses, the range of skills he possesses and immediate impact he will have make Jackson a very strong freshman fantasy pick, as he’ll likely fill up a large range of categories on both sides of the ball and get a lot of minutes to produce.
Watch Tom Izzo’s next one-and-done prospect here:
Isaiah Washington -- PG -- (6-1, 175)
Coach Richard Pitino landed his point guard of the future in New York Mr. Basketball Isaiah Washington. While slightly undersized at 6-1, 175 pounds with a 6-5 wingspan, Washington has respectable range and plenty of speed and athleticism. The future Gopher exhibits strong floor vision and has the potential to be an elite passer. He also brings some new swagger to Minnesota’s team, especially with his large social media following and a finger roll move he calls a “jelly”.
Washington will need to improve in some areas; adding bulk to his frame will be pertinent to his success against stronger players, and defensively he is not as polished. He’ll also need to compete with a couple of incumbents, Nate Mason (15.2 ppg, 5.0 apg) and Dupree McBrayer (11.0 ppg, 2.7 apg), for a starting backcourt spot. This makes his chances of having instant fantasy value somewhat smaller. If he doesn’t start it’s likely he’ll get quality minutes as the sixth man off of the bench, but it’d be better too see how his role is expected to grow before picking him up for your team, especially in broader formats.
Watch his nifty passing and footwork here:
Nathan Reuvers -- PF -- (6-10, 220)
Reuvers is the top recruit in Wisconsin’s class this year, but is closely followed by both Mr. Minnesota Basketball Brad Davison and Wisconsin Mr. Basketball Kobe King. The Lakeville, Minnesota native is the most highly-rated recruit Wisconsin has had since now-Los Angeles Clipper Sam Dekker came to town. At 6-10 and 220 pounds, Reuvers has fantastic size for a power forward and fits the stereotype of the prototypical Wisconsin big man: big, slow, crafty, and rangy. Reuvers also shows an ability to do a lot of things on the floor, including passing in the post, which will complement junior center Ethan Happ very well.
His weaknesses include lack of athleticism and explosiveness on both ends of the floor. There are also questions about how much he will play as a freshman, as Wisconsin isn’t well known for letting freshman start immediately. Luckily for him, Nigel Hayes graduated and left a huge opening. In order to get on the court, he will have to compete with players who were reserves for the past couple seasons, such as Alex Illikainen and Andy Van Vleet. Even if he doesn’t start right away, Reuvers should work his way into meaningful minutes.
Even with Reuvers’ weaknesses, there’s no better system known for developing its players up than the Badgers. All three freshmen have huge potential, but their fantasy value will be contingent on how quickly they can adapt to coach Greg Gard’s swing system and tough brand of defense. Gard is a little more liberal about playing freshman than predecessor Bo Ryan, but any incoming talent will still have to earn their keep.
Reuver’s best video also showcases new Badgers’ point guard Kobe King in a Minnesota/Wisconsin border battle: