UCLA’s Lonzo Ball (2) quites the crowd with a 3-pointer for some of his 14 points against Kentucky on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. UCLA won, 97-92. (Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)

Who’s got next? The latest crop of freshman basketball talent is already having a significant impact in college basketball.

We’re still in the early stages of the 2016-17 season. Conference play is a little less than a month away. But UCLA and Kentucky are living proof of how beneficial these new additions have been.

Here are the 10 freshmen making the biggest difference for their teams so far this season.

1. Lonzo Ball – PG, UCLA

Points: 14.6
Assists: 9.3
Rebounds: 5.0
USA Today recruiting ranking: No. 4

No incoming recruit is facing more pressure than Ball. He was expected to be the second-coming of Jason Kidd – a tall, play-making guard from California. Can he resurrect a blueblood program that underachieved last season? So far, Ball has delivered for the No. 2 Bruins (9-0).

The 6-foot-6 guard leads the nation in assists. In his debut, Ball stuffed the stat sheet with 19 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds in a 119-80 win over Pacific. He was close to recording a triple-double – which has only happened four times at UCLA. Ball also set the freshman single-game assists record with 13 in a rout of UC Riverside. Ball’s most impressive feat was leading UCLA’s 97-92 win at Kentucky with 14 points, 7 assists.

Coach Steve Alford: “I’ve watched him for the last two and a half years in the L.A. area and it didn’t matter who they played. We’ve seen it. The game before last he took one or two shots and we won by 40. He can beat you by taking a lot of shots or no shots.”

2. De’Aaron Fox – PG, Kentucky

Points: 15.9
Assists: 7.8
Rebounds: 5.3
USA Today recruiting ranking: No. 5


At Kentucky, John Calipari has coaches some quality NBA point guards – John Wall, Brandon Knight, Tyler Ulis. None of them achieved what Fox did against Arizona State. He became the second player in school history to get a triple-double (14 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) in a 115-69 rout. (Chris Mills had the other in December 1988.) Yes, it was disputed, but it still stays in the record books.

KenPom.com rates Fox as the nation’s top freshman and a national player of the year candidate. Fox’s speed and athleticism have allowed him to dominate. He’s third in the nation in assists and is on pace to set a single-season school record.

Coach John Calipari: “There are times he can look as fast as John Wall.”

3. Lauri Markkanen – F, Arizona

Points: 17.8
Assists: 1.6
Rebounds: 7.6
USA Today recruiting ranking: N/A


You can make an argument that the Finnish import has been the nation’s best player. Lauri Markkanen is already being compared to New York Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis. He made a strong impression during last summer’s FIBA U20 Euro Championship and will likely be an NBA lottery pick.

The 7-footer is mobile with the ability to play inside and outside. He is the only Pac-12 player in the league ranked in the top 10 in scoring (fourth), 3-point field goal percentage (.429 – 10th) and free throw percentage (.886 – 3rd). Markkanen is the son of former Kansas player Pekka Markkanen, who played for Roy Williams.

Coach Sean Miller: “He’s a very talented player. He’s very skilled. A lot of times when you’re a skilled frontcourt player, you’re 6-8. Lauri, his size is striking.”

4. Markelle Fultz – G, Washington

Points: 22.7
Assists: 6.6
Rebounds: 6.7
USA Today recruiting ranking: No. 6


Fultz, the highest ranked recruit to ever play for Washington, has been as great as advertised, but….

Last year, Ben Simmons was the No. 1 overall draft, but couldn’t get LSU to the NCAA Tournament. Could it happen again? Fultz has been statistically brilliant, but the Huskies are 4-3 with losses to Yale and TCU (twice). Fultz is the only player in the NCAA averaging over 20 points, six rebounds and five assists. He’s 14th in the nation in scoring – leading all freshmen. He also leads all freshmen in field goal percentage (54.0).

If Washington doesn’t get to the NCAA Tournament, you have to wonder what it will mean for Lorenzo Romar’s future.

Coach Lorenzo Romar: “He’s immensely talented. He’s learning, too. He’s having a heck of a year for us right now and as our team gets better, he’s going to continue to get better.”

5. T.J. Leaf – F, UCLA

Points: 17.2
Assists: 2.8
Rebounds: 9.4
USA Today recruiting ranking: No. 17


T.J. Leaf is the other half of UCLA’s dynamic freshman twosome. Both were McDonald’s All Americans, but Ball understandably had more hype. This might be the best UCLA combination since Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love in 2007-08.

The 6-foot-10 Leaf is more than holding his own with four double-doubles. His latest came at Kentucky with 17 points and 13 rebounds. He also added five assists prompting Kentucky coach John Calipari to say: “Leaf … basically dominated the game.” Leaf probably helped himself in the eyes of NBA scouts with his performance.

Leaf will likely be a stretch four in the pros (He’s 9-of-18 from beyond the arc).

Coach Steve Alford: “He’s very good and very comfortable taking the ball to the rim.”

6. Josh Jackson – G, Kansas

Points: 14.6
Assists: 3.6
Rebounds: 6.1
USA Today recruiting ranking: No. 1


Josh Jackson has been exactly who we thought the No. 1 overall recruit would be. He’s the best recruit Kansas has brought in since Andrew Wiggins in 2013, who went on to be the No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft. Jackson is one of the best two-way players in the country. He covers a lot of ground defensively with his 6-foot-8 frame and ability to guard the perimeter, as well as the post. Jackson is tied for the team lead with 15 steals and second with 10 blocked shots. He was voted MVP of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic after averaging 17.0 points and 7.3 rebounds as Kansas went 3-0.

Jackson, who is shooting 51 percent, has scored in double-digits in all but one game. His weakness: he has struggled from the perimeter (28 percent) and at the free-throw line (56 percent).

Coach Bill Self: “He’s got great vision. He can pass and can alter (shots) and is getting more active defensively.”

7. Malik Monk – G, Kentucky

Points: 19.9
Assists: 2.4
Rebounds: 2.9
USA Today recruiting ranking: No. 9


You know the drill. Every year Kentucky since Calipari took over the Kentucky program in 2009, he brings in an armada of talented freshmen. Monk and Fox have highlighted this group so far. Monk is third in the Southeastern Conference in scoring and leads the league in 3-point baskets and attempts. Monk could set a school record for 3-point field goals (Jodie Meeks made 117 in 2008-09). The freshman had his best effort in Kentucky’s 69-48 destruction of Michigan State by going 7-of-11 from 3-point range.

However, the most jaw-dropping play by Monk has been this pass:


Coach John Calipari: “He is one of the most athletic kids that I’ve coached.”

8. Miles Bridges – G-F, Michigan State

Points: 16.6
Assists: 2.0
Rebounds: 8.8
USA Today recruiting ranking: No. 12

First, the bad news. Miles Bridges is expected to miss the next few weeks due to an ankle injury. He has been the biggest bright spot for the Spartans, who are off to a 6-4 start against a challenging non-conference schedule.

Bridges is an athletic freak who will remind some of former Michigan State stars Jason Richardson or Shannon Brown. He’s challenging Magic Johnson (17.0 ppg in 1977-78) for the best-ever scoring average for a Spartan freshman. He also might eclipse Greg Kelser (9.6 rpg, 1975-76) for the school freshman rebounding record.

Coach Tom Izzo: “I honestly think he’s only scratched the surface. I know that sounds ridiculous when you’re averaging 17 and nine, but there’s so many lapses in games and things that I think he can do better.”

9. Jonathan Isaac, F, Florida State

Points: 15.1
Assists: 1.1
Rebounds: 7.3
USA Today recruiting ranking: No. 10

There was speculation that Jonathan Isaac might skip college and go right to the NBA. Due to a loophole, the forward could have applied as an early entrant for the 2016 draft because he spent five years in high school. He would have been the first to do so in 11 years. However, Isaac stayed true to his commitment and Florida State is reaping the benefits.

He is the only freshman in the ACC who ranked in the top 25 of the scoring (22nd, 15.1) and rebounding (15th, 7.3). He is also the only freshman ranked in the top 10 of the field-goal shooting percentage (sixth, 58.8). Isaac missed Tuesday night’s game against Southern Mississippi with a hip flexor injury.

Coach Leonard Hamilton: “He’s a talented player … But he’s humble. He’s a good teammate. He’s not a guy who forces (things). He has a high IQ.”

10. Michael Weathers, G, Miami of Ohio

Points: 20.5
Assists: 4.6
Rebounds: 5.4
USA Today recruiting ranking: N/A

Michael Weathers is one of the biggest surprises in college basketball. He wasn’t on any recruiting service’s radar. Out of nowhere, the 6-foot-2 guard from Kansas is the second-highest scoring freshman in the country behind Fultz. He had 21 in his debut and 31 in his fifth career game. He has scored over 20 points in all but three games this season. Weathers makes his living by driving to the basket and getting fouls. He already is 61-of-79 from the free-throw line – his attempts and makes are among the top 10 in Division I.

Coach John Cooper: “He looks like he’s 10 years old out there. With some of the numbers he’s put up, there aren’t a lot of freshmen (who are doing that).”

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.