ESPN announcer Dick Vitale coined the phrase to describe the best young talent in college basketball. This year, without question, the freshman that has caught America’s stare is Duke’s Zion Williamson. From high-flying 360 jams to swatting shots into the third row, Williamson has been an absolute treat. He’s the best thing to happen to college basketball in awhile, and it would be a shame for him not to finish out his splendid season before he departs for the high seas of professional basketball.
While the Atlantic Coast Conference certainly has its own group of talented freshman, what about the Southeastern Conference (SEC)?
Heading the list of SEC “Diaper Dandies” is Kira Lewis Jr., the starting point guard at Alabama. Lewis, still only 17-years old, paces the Tide and all SEC freshmen with 14.2 points per game and has emerged as an adequate replacement for the NBA-departed Collin Sexton.
Another freshman phenom is Mississippi State’s 6’10” power forward Reggie Perry. After spotty scoring to begin the 2018-19 season, Perry has now scored in double figures in eight of the last nine games. This past Saturday, he tossed in a career-high 21 points and helped the Bulldogs to avenge an earlier season loss against South Carolina. Six times in his young career has Perry posted a double-double, and expect him to do nothing but get better as the season progresses and Mississippi State accepts a bid to the Big Dance for the first time in a decade.
Overall, LSU has the best freshman crop, as three of its players make the Top 50 in the conference in scoring. Naz Reid, an inside-out threat, has been one of the main factors in the Tigers’ 22-5 record. Although he stands 6-foot-10, Reid isn’t scared at all to launch one from behind the arc. In fact, he’s hit 24 this season. He is averaging 13.4 ppg and has already scored 29 twice in his young career (against UNC Greensboro, he was 4-for-6 from long distance). In an overtime win at Arkansas, he blistered the Razorbacks for 27 and was a perfect 4-for-4 from downtown.
Reid’s teammate and fellow freshman, Ja’Vonte Smart, is worth mentioning as well. Smart, a Baton Rouge native, is averaging 10.9 points per game. Most recently, he pitched in a career-high 29 in an overtime win against Tennessee. Rounding out LSU’s best frosh is Emmitt Williams, a 6’7” freshman from Fort Myers, Florida, who is chipping in 7.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg.
Florida’s Noah Locke is putting up 10.7 ppg, but he wreaks the most havoc behind the 3-point line. This year, he’s hit 71 3s, good for third in the SEC behind Arkansas’ Isaiah Joe (93) and Auburn’s Bryce Brown (92). Locke’s 15 points and three 3-pointers helped the Gators knock off LSU recently in an 82-77 overtime thriller.
Vandy’s 6’6” forward Aaron Nesmith is proving his versatility and ability to step out and sink the trey as well. Nesmith has hit 51 3s and is averaging 11.6 ppg. He posted a career-high 26 in a 77-67 loss at Florida.
The upshot about a conference boasting great freshmen is that you’ve got good basketball to look forward to for years to come. That is, if you can keep them. Diaper dandies aren’t in diapers for very long. H&A
Cover photo: Kira Lewis Jr. | Courtesy Alabama Athletics
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