Freshmen rule the NBA draft with five more coming from Duke and UNC on Thursday

Joe Giglio, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) on

Published in Basketball

Jay Bilas was talking about the struggles of a freshman who is a potential lottery pick in the NBA draft and he stopped himself.

"It's one year," said Bilas, who is ESPN's top college basketball analyst and will work his 17th NBA draft on Thursday night.

One year is just about all the NBA gets to judge the top talent in college basketball. There are five freshmen, from Duke and North Carolina, who could go in the lottery on Thursday night.

Duke's Zion Williamson will almost certainly be the No. 1 overall pick, by the New Orleans Pelicans, and will be followed in some order by Duke teammates R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish and UNC's freshmen stars Coby White and Nassir Little.

The NBA created the "one-and-done" rule in 2006, but the number of freshmen taken in the lottery (the first 14 picks) has exploded the past two years and likely will be in a similar numerical range this year.

Twenty-one of the 28, or 75 percent, of the lottery picks in the 2017 and '18 drafts spent one season in college basketball. There were 10 last year and 11 in '17, the only two years (out of 13) with double-digit freshmen in the lottery.


There were five freshmen taken in the lottery in 2016 and eight in '15. There were fewer than five freshmen taken in the lottery in six of the first eight years of the rule.

A one-and-done player has been the No. 1 overall pick for the past nine years (and 11 of the 13) and Williamson would continue the streak. Bilas, who had a conference call Monday ahead of the draft, had high praise for the Duke supernova.

"There's never been a player like him that's ever played basketball at any level," Bilas said, noting Williamson's combination of size (6-7 and 285 pounds) and explosive athletic ability. "Nobody."

Williamson averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks per game in 33 games for the Blue Devils. The defensive numbers and effort impressed Bilas as much -- if not more -- as the incredible highlight dunks.


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