Is it too early to hail Omar Calhoun as the program’s next great freshman?
Absolutely. But I’m going ahead with this anyway.
I’ve seen Calhoun practice and play in two exhibition games. I watched him go blow-for-blow with Kemba Walker during an offseason workout. In the preseason, I’ve seen him score 44 points in 53 minutes (against inferior competition). I’d imagine Calhoun — mentally and physically mature beyond his years — will, at the very least, be a double-digit scorer for UConn this season.
Since 2000, seven UConn freshmen — Andre Drummond, Ryan Boatright, Jerome Dyson, Rudy Gay, Ben Gordon, Jeremy Lamb and Caron Butler — have averaged double figures. If Calhoun joins them, he’ll probably find a spot on this list. Below, I rank the program’s 10 best freshmen since 2000.
10. Josh Boone, 2003-04: Unlike his freshman counterpart, Charlie Villanueva, Boone improved as the 2003-04 progressed. Although he was alongside Emeka Okafor, the 6-foot-10 center still managed some monster games, including a nine-point, 14-rebound performance against Duke in the national semifinal.
9. Andre Drummond, 2011-12: No, Drummond didn’t match the hype nor did he justify his No. 2 national ranking in the 2011 class (Anthony Davis was No. 1). But still, his 10 double-doubles set a freshman record at UConn.
8. Kemba Walker, 2008-09: At the time, no one would have imagined that he’d soon become the nation’s best player. There were glimpses, though: A passing of the UConn point guard torch occurred in the 2009 Elite Eight when Walker picked up A.J. Price‘s slack and toasted Missouri for a career-high 23 points. Kemba’s major downfall as a freshman: He shot just 27 percent from 3-point range.
7. Ryan Boatright, 2011-12: Unfazed by the big stage, Boatright buried three consecutive free throws to force overtime against Florida State in his first collegiate game. Then, in his second, he sliced up the Arkansas defense (a la Kemba Walker) for 23 points. An eligibility saga cost him eight games, and probably cost UConn a few wins.
6. Jerome Dyson, 2006-07: Aside from Caron Butler (more on him later), Dyson is the only freshman on this list to lead his team in scoring. He finished the season on a tear, averaging 19.9 points in the final seven games. But his numbers — 13.8 points per contest — may have been a little inflated because he wasn’t forced to share the spotlight with any veterans, not the case for most Husky newcomers.
5. Rudy Gay, 2004-05: A natural talent always destined for the NBA, Gay had far more big games (a season-high 20 points in a late-season rout of Georgetown) than freshman duds (four points on 1-for-5 shooting in UConn’s NCAA tournament loss to N.C. State). For the year, he averaged 11.8 points while shooting 47 percent from 3-point range.
4. Ben Gordon, 2001-02: Gordon, who started just two games, was big-time in the Big East tournament even as a rookie. He averaged 17.6 points in UConn’s three-game run to the title, a sign of things for the rest of his career.
3. Jeremy Lamb, 2011-12: A pack of freshmen aided Walker during UConn’s improbable championship run, and Lamb emerged as the clear sidekick. During the Big East and NCAA tournaments, Lamb averaged 16.2 points while shooting a 58 percent from the field, a ridiculous stat for a guard.
2. Emeka Okafor, 2001-02: Underdeveloped offensively, Okafor was always a terror on the other end. His 19-point, 15-rebound, 9-block stat line versus Arizona still remains one of the best in school history.
1. Caron Butler, 2000-01: No UConn freshman shouldered such responsibility, and quite frankly, no freshman was so prepared for high-major basketball. Butler scored 20 points in his collegiate debut and never looked back. He hit double-figures in all but one game as a freshman, finishing the season with averages of 15.3 points and 7.6 rebounds.