Five Freshmen to Watch in the AAC: Hamilton, Magee, Clark, Holston & Enechioniya

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 3rd, 2014

In the coming week or two, we will be posting as much preview content as possible. We are continuing today with five freshmen to watch, coming on the heels of five players and five coaches to watch last week. There is still plenty more to come.

This whole preview post could have been a tribute to the talents of one Emmanuel Mudiay, who originally committed to hometown SMU but, much to the dismay of SMU and college basketball fans, opted to get paid to play professionally in China. Without his presence, this list lacks the star power evident in other conferences like the ACC and Pac-12. The dearth of top prospects in the AAC is so notable that, according to Rivals, only one of the country’s top 20 and two of the top 75 recruits committed to play for league schools this season. The silver lining, on the other hand, is that there is still very good talent coming into some of these programs, and because so many schools have question marks, many of those freshmen will get an immediate chance to make an impact.

Daniel Hamilton, forward, UConn

The conference’s best freshman may also be its most important, as the Huskies are not only expecting the multi-talented Hamilton to contribute right away, they are expecting him to play an important role in replacing the production of stars Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels. The 6’7″ Hamilton may be the team’s starting small forward from the opening tip and if he can play passable defense and avoid poor decisions, he has more than enough talent to run away with Freshman of the Year honors in the AAC.

Daniel Hamilton Is Not Only The Conference’s Best Freshman, He Is Also A Key Piece For UConn. (247)

Daniel Hamilton Is Not Only The Conference’s Best Freshman, He Is Also A Key Piece For UConn. (247)

Hamilton doesn’t just have great talent; he also has great pedigree. His oldest brother, Gary, played at Miami and professionally overseas. His other brother, Jordan, was a star at Texas and currently plays for the Utah Jazz. A third brother, Isaac, is a former five-star recruit looking to start his collegiate career at UCLA this season. Daniel is the last in line among his brothers and he could be the best of the bunch thanks to his length, athleticism, and ability to score from anywhere on the floor. A smooth shooter with deep range, he is an intelligent player who is also slippery and quick with the ball in his hands. Minutes will be difficult to come by in UConn’s crowded backcourt, but Hamilton should have the edge because his size and athleticism will allow him to defend multiple positions and grab the occasional rebound. If the Huskies are even going to consider defending their national title, Hamilton will need to figure it out sooner rather than later.

Dominic Magee, guard, Memphis

If Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson hadn’t been granted immediate eligibility at Memphis, Magee might have been handed the keys to the Tigers’ offense from the minute he stepped on campus. Johnson’s eligibility should have a positive impact on Magee, who won’t feel as much pressure to immediately perform even though he will still be a key player from the jump. The Louisiana native is the Tigers’ highest-rated offensive recruit and the only other top 75 recruit suiting up for an AAC program this season. It’s not hard to see why he received such prep acclaim. He is a physical and athletic 6’3″ combo guard who can bully his way to the rim and finish strong. He will be a terror in transition and has all the tools to be a difference-maker on the defensive end as well. Josh Pastner might feel a bit better if Magee’s jump shot wasn’t so erratic, but he will play a lot out of necessity and the Tigers hope he can hold his own. Much has has been made of the fact that Memphis lost pretty much every noteworthy member of last season’s terrific backcourt, and aside from Johnson, none of this team’s potential backcourt options has any collegiate experience. Magee should compete with junior college recruit Avery Woodson and redshirt freshman Markel Crawford for minutes at shooting guard, and could spell Johnson at the point if Pookie Powell can’t hold up. Needless to say, he will be crucial to the Tigers’ success this season.

Gary Clark, forward, Cincinnati

Both Clark and fellow incoming freshman Quadri Moore will see plenty of opportunities for the Bearcats early this season, but Clark is the freshman to watch because he has more tools to become a desperately-needed scorer. The team lost the majority of its offensive production when Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles graduated, and now the lithe and versatile small forward will be asked to play a role in replacing those points and rebounds. The North Carolina native is a highly skilled forward who is a threat both on the perimeter and with his back to the basket. He plays with a lot of energy, which will make him a competent rebounder and defender, especially in a program that teaches both of those things very well. The only question will be whether he has the strength required to make an immediate and continued impact.

Gary Clark Is Charged With Helping Rebuild The Cincinnati Offense. (Dean Strickland/Charlotte News-Observer)

Gary Clark Is Charged With Helping Rebuild The Cincinnati Offense. (Dean Strickland/Charlotte News-Observer)

He isn’t alone in his quest to replace all of the lost offensive production. The aforementioned Moore will get minutes in the post and head coach Mick Cronin also brought in what seems like an interchangeable group of large and athletic junior college players to ease concerns as well. Moore will either have the chance to thrive without much pressure on him or he could just as easily get lost in the shuffle and struggle to stay in Cronin’s rotation. His talent and scoring ability should force the coach to give him a long leash, though, and we expect him to become a meaningful contributor as the season goes on.

Troy Holston Jr., guard, South Florida

Even if he surpasses all expectations, you probably won’t hear a lot about Holston this year and that is because South Florida is going to be bad. New head coach Orlando Antigua has only three returning players on the roster and the Bulls are going to struggle as Antigua finds a rotation he can trust and acclimate to AAC play. One of the newbies who shouldn’t have trouble cracking a thin rotation is Holston, thanks to his size and shooting ability. He originally committed to play for the Bulls when Stan Heath was still the coach, but the combo guard honored his commitment even after Antigua was hired and he could end up challenging Hamilton as the top freshman scorer in the conference. The freshman averaged 23 points per game at a high school in Tampa and held offers from dozens of high-major programs as he was coming out of high school. He should already be one of the team’s best shooters and should get a lot of open looks off of penetration from guards Anthony Collins and Corey Allen. In fact, the only thing that may keep Holston from making an even bigger impact is that that guard duo comprises the team’s best two players and they will play heavy minutes. If Holston is on the floor with both of them, that will mean three players shorter than 6’5″ will be on the floor at the same time, which may not be something Antigua is comfortable with. Then again, he may not have a lot of better options this season, and without a lot at stake, he is free to experiment and cut some of his better offensive players loose, including Holston.

Obi Enechioniya, forward, Temple

If you could point to only one thing that went wrong last season for Temple (and it shouldn’t be hard to point to more than one thing), it’s that the team’s defense was atrocious. The Owls’ defense has backtracked nearly every season under head coach Fran Dunphy, but after a few seasons of passable defensive efficiency, it cratered last season. The result was an abysmal 9-22 record for a program so used to success. One of the main reasons why the Owls’ defense was so bad last season is that Temple was woefully undermanned in the frontcourt after Daniel Dingle was lost for the season to injury,. The hope is that, with reinforcements like Enechioniya on board, the team will be more athletic and physical defensively this season. The 6’8″, 220-pounder was courted by dozens of high-major programs on the East Coast, but he chose Temple in large part because he recognized an opportunity to make an immediate impact. He isn’t the only arriving reinforcement in the frontcourt this year, as Texas transfer Jaylen Bond also figures to see significant minutes, but Dunphy is already on record in saying that Enechioniya will get his shot to prove that he can rebound and play good positional defense. He added that he expects the freshman to hit a wall at some point, but before he does, Dunphy wants him to play a role in Temple’s resurgence.

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