NC State's Dennis Smith's massive dunk in victory at Duke
Like hot dogs on a basketball rotisserie, one set of high-profile ACC freshmen just rotated out, another rotated in. Four went early to the NBA in June, three drafted in the first round. Meanwhile, observers are handicapping which campus newcomers will join the pros after a single season, the NBA’s appetite for talented youngsters unabated.
Predictions are sometimes little better than the internet paper they’re written on. Recall that big men Omer Yurtseven of N.C. State (now Georgetown) and Duke’s Marques Bolden were touted as shoo-ins for the NBA lottery, only to be slowed by injuries, squad dynamics, and their own limitations. The Blue Devils’ superlative Kyrie Irving, the only league freshman selected first in the NBA draft, played just 11 games during the 2011 season due to foot woes.
Based on draft position and pro career, you could argue Irving was the best of the ACC’s one-and-gone contingent. But it’s unfair to rate a temporary collegian based on his professional afterlife, in many instances more consequential than the games we saw him play.
So exactly how should we rank the ACC’s 33 drafted one-and-done players?
Limiting judgments to a single college season defines a manageable universe, and allows achievements within a team and league setting to be factored in. Simplifying matters, ACC one-and-doners have grown progressively easier to compare. Ten played in the last two seasons; the majority who hit the road early appeared since 2015.
By contrast, from 1975 through 2005 there were only seven very-early departures. Among them was Duke’s Corey Magette, the first of 15 Blue Devil freshmen to jump ship. Only two from that group, guards Frank Jackson (2017) and Gary Trent Jr. (2018), missed selection in the NBA’s opening round. Also in 1999, Dion Glover was the first of six freshmen to go early from Georgia Tech, more than any ACC program except Duke.
In the end there’s an obvious starting point for narrowing the field of talented freshmen jumpers to a top 10: one in three were voted ACC Rookie of the Year, an honor given in comparison with peers.
A top-10 list:
10. Austin Rivers, Duke – 2012 ACC Rookie of the Year, First Team All-ACC
Rivers launched a blizzard of shots, had more turnovers than assists, and unsettled team unity. But he was the first freshman since Johnny Dawkins in 1983 to lead the Blue Devils in scoring (15.5-point average). The 6-4 guard also made a breathtaking 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (First round, 10th pick in 2012, New Orleans Pelicans)
9. Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State – 2017 ACC Rookie of the Year, Second Team All-ACC
Big men particularly starved for touches when Smith ran the offense and, with the 6-3 guard as a focal point, the Wolfpack plummeted in the league standings. Still, his 18.1-point average led the Wolfpack and his 6.2 assists per game paced the ACC. (First round, 9th pick in 2017, Dallas Mavericks)
8. Marvin Williams, UNC – 2005 ACC Rookie of the Year
Williams wasn’t a starter, averaged 22.2 minutes per outing, and ranked fifth in scoring (11.3) for Carolina. He was, however, UNC’s best free throw shooter (.847), second-best rebounder (6.6 average), and essential to capturing the ’05 NCAA championship. The smooth forward is perhaps best remembered for his winning follow shot against Duke at the Smith Center. (First round, 2nd pick in 2005, Atlanta Hawks)
7. Jabari Parker, Duke – 2014 ACC Rookie of the Year, First team All-ACC
Consensus First Team All-American Parker, a forward uncommonly good at court-length rushes after grabbing a defensive rebound, became the third freshman to pace Duke in point production (19.1). He also topped his team with .458 accuracy on 3-pointers. Parker’s matador defense hurt, most notably in a loss to Mercer in the Blue Devils’ NCAA opener. (First round, 2nd pick in 2014, Milwaukee Bucks)
6. Stephon Marbury, Georgia Tech – 1996 ACC Rookie of the Year, First team A-ACC
Marbury took awhile to click with teammates as Georgia Tech started the year 6-7. Once he blossomed, so did Bobby Cremins’ last great squad, finishing first during the ACC regular season. The polished guard was second in the league in minutes played (37.4 per game), third in scoring (18.9) and fifth in assists (4.5). (First round, 4th pick in 1996, Milwaukee Bucks)
5. Skip Wise, Clemson – 1975 First Team All-ACC
A 6-2 guard, Wise led the Tigers with 18.5 points per game, tied for fourth-best in the league. The rookie of the year award wasn’t established until the following season, but Wise was so good he made first team All-ACC ahead of fellow freshmen and future stars Phil Ford (UNC) and Kenny Carr (N.C. State). In fact, not until 1990 was another freshman, Georgia Tech’s Kenny Anderson, chosen first team. (Signed with Baltimore Claws of the ABA in 1975)
4. Brandan Wright, UNC – 2007 ACC Rookie of the Year, ACC tournament MVP, Second Team All-ACC
Wright was the Case Award winner as the ACC tournament’s top player, leading North Carolina to its first official league title in nine years. The rail-thin forward’s .646 field goal percentage was best in the conference and his 1.8-block average paced the Tar Heels. (First round, 8th pick in 2007, Charlotte)
3. Chris Bosh, Georgia Tech – 2003 ACC Rookie of the Year, Second Team All-ACC
Bosh led Georgia Tech in scoring (15.6) and rebounding (9.0, second in the league). The fluid forward also topped the ACC in blocked shots (2.2 average) and field goal percentage (.560) -- only the second freshman to lead in shooting accuracy after UNC’s Antawn Jamison in 1996. (First round, 4th pick in 2003, Toronto Raptors)
2. Marvin Bagley III, Duke – 2018 ACC Player of the Year, 2018 ACC Rookie of the Year, First Team All-ACC
Consensus First Team All-American Bagley, propelled by a remarkable combination of skill and athleticism, became the third player to lead the ACC in the same season in scoring (21.0), rebounding (11.1) and field goal shooting acumen (.614). The others were league greats, seniors Horace Grant (Clemson, 1987) and Tim Duncan (Wake Forest, 1997). (First round, 2nd pick in 2018, Sacramento Kings)
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke – 2015 ACC Player of the Year, 2015 ACC Rookie of the Year, First Team All-ACC
Consensus First Team All-American Okafor, an old-fashioned center, dominated the low post and was fifth-best in ACC history with a .664 field goal conversion rate. Conversely, he played middling defense and made barely half his free throws. What set the 6-11 Okafor apart from every other ACC freshman flash was his role as the hub around whom a yearling-rich NCAA championship squad, Mike Krzyzewski’s fifth, was built. (First round, 3rd pick in 2015, Philadelphia 76ers)