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The year of the freshman in college basketball

One reason to get excited about this college basketball season is a freshman class that should continue the tradition of fielding several one-and-done players.

One reason to get excited about this college basketball season is a freshman class that should continue the tradition of fielding several one-and-done players.

"There are a little bit more [top freshmen] than usual," said Jonathan Givony, the owner of draftexpress.com, a website that rates NBA prospects. "This is considered such a strong NCAA freshman class compared to last year and what you will see next year."

In its 2017 NBA mock draft, Draftexpress.com has the top five picks, seven of the top eight, and 12 of the top 14 being freshmen. Even the projected No. 6 pick is of freshman age, 18-year-old point guard Frank Ntilikina of Belgium.

The website's top two prospects are point guards - University of Washington freshman Markelle Fultz and North Carolina State freshman Dennis Smith Jr.

Fultz is a 6-foot-4 player out of DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Md. Givony put him at the top after seeing him compete for the U.S. under-18 team.

"We like his size and versatility and how smooth he is," Givony said. "He is intelligent, extremely athletic, has a nice jump shot, and shows a lot of versatility."

Temple freshman Alani Moore began his career at DeMatha and was a teammate of Fultz's. He has also played with and against him in AAU competition. His scouting report corresponds with Givony's.

"He's a great player, lanky, about 6-4 and very athletic," said Moore, expected to be an immediate contributor at point guard for the Owls. "He shoots the ball well and has a great all-around game."

The 6-3 Smith has been named the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason rookie of the year and a first-team all-ACC choice.

"Although he's a freshman, he's ahead of the game as far as being a student of the game," North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried said in an email. "His desire to learn is off the charts. He is a great point guard and he is a competitor at the highest level you'll see. I believe he is the best guard in the country."

The rest of Draftexpress.com's top five are Duke small forward Jason Tatum, Kansas small forward Josh Jackson, and Duke power forward Harry Giles, who is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery.

After Ntilikina at No. 6, the next two prospects are freshmen - Florida small forward Jonathan Isaac and 6-11 Duke center Marques Bolden.

When asked about a potential sleeper in the draft, Givony mentioned another freshman, Arizona's 7-foot center, Lauri Markkanen, who hails from Finland.

"He is exceptionally skilled, a great shooter, and a guy to keep an eye on," Givony said. "He can play anywhere from [small forward to center]."

Markkanen is rated the No. 13 draft prospect by Draftexpress.com. The players from Nos. 10 to 14 are all freshmen.

They are: Kentucky center Bam Adebayo at No. 10, Texas center Jarret Allen (11), Kentucky point guard De'Aaron Fox (12), and UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball (14).

At No. 15 is another 18-year-old, small forward Rodions Kurucs of Latvia.

Of course, freshmen are often rated highly before the season starts, and before their warts are exposed on the college level, but Givony believes this is an exceptional group.

"There is a lot to be excited about," Givony said. "Between the freshmen and the international players, this is a deep, powerful class."

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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