UConn freshman guard Stephon Castle understands the benefits that come with joining a team coming off a national championship.
“Just being able to go grab a rebound and push the ball and know that I’ll probably have at least three shooters around me running the court with me, that’s a blessing,” Castle told reporters recently. “I feel like anybody who has the ball in their hand in college basketball would want that.”
Castle arrives at UConn regarded as a potential NBA lottery pick after being ranked as the nation’s No. 9 overall prospect in his class according to composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports. The 6-foot-6 guard from Covington, Georgia, averaged a team-high 16.7 points along with 4 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 2.3 steals on UConn’s three-game international summer tour.
He figures to make up for some of what the Huskies lost with Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson Jr. both going to the NBA. UConn’s backcourt also returns point guard Tristen Newton and adds Rutgers transfer Cam Spencer.
“They already have a veteran backcourt, which means Castle should have every chance, just like Jackson did a year ago, to be a facilitator and playmaker for others and utilize his passing but not necessarily have the burden of being the sole point guard 100% of the time,” said Adam Finkelstein, the director of college scouting for 247Sports. “I think it’s a really good situation for him.”
It’s also a situation that comes with plenty of pressure as Castle begins his college career on a team with such high expectations. Castle believes he’s ready for the challenge.
UConn coach Dan Hurley has called Castle the most ready freshman he’s had in terms of being able to contribute right away.
Castle says he’s prepared to provide the intensity Hurley’s staff expects on defense.
“If you choose to come to UConn, you really don’t have a choice,” Castle said. “Being here, you have to play with that kind of passion and that kind of energy every day, especially with the coaches you have. They bring it every day, so if you don’t bring it every day, it’s like you don’t want to be here. I chose this school for a reason. So I don’t have a problem locking in and bringing that passion to that side of the ball.”
Some other freshmen who should make an immediate impact this season.
ISAIAH COLLIER, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Collier was the nation’s No. 2 prospect in his class according to the 247Sports Composite and was ranked behind only Ron Holland, who joined the NBA G League Ignite. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Collier is the first college player taken in next year’s draft. The 6-5 guard was named the Naismith boys high school player of the year. He scored 25 points in the McDonald’s All-American Game.
“He’s also mature in the fact that he doesn’t need to score points to impact the game,” Finkelstein said. “In fact, he’s probably most effective as a passer and playmaker for others. When you put him alongside a veteran like Boogie Ellis, I think they’re going to complement each other really, really well.”
JUSTIN EDWARDS, KENTUCKY
Kentucky has three of the nation’s top prospects according to the 247Sports Composite in Edwards (3rd), center Aaron Bradshaw (5th) and guard DJ Wagner (6th). Bradshaw won’t be ready for the start of the season as he recovers from foot surgery. Edwards, a 6-8 guard, looks like the most complete player in the trio. He had 23 points and seven rebounds when Kentucky beat Team Canada in the GLOBL Jam this summer.
ELMARKO JACKSON, KANSAS
Ranked 20th in the 247Sports Composite, Jackson enters a situation that should allow him to thrive as he joins the top-ranked Jayhawks. The 6-3 guard averaged 10.6 points during Kansas’ three-game tour of Puerto Rico this summer.
“He’s not going to have the burden of being the primary or the only point guard from day one because they have Dajuan Harris there, who’s a very proven point guard,” Finkelstein said. “It’s a really good situation for Elmarko to come in and be able to play minutes and impact winning but not have the burden of having to put up huge stats from day one.”
JARED McCAIN, DUKE
There’s no doubting McCain’s talent. The 6-3 guard was rated 14th in the 247Sports Composite, making him the top prospect in a Duke class that ranked second nationally. He will likely face competition for playing time at Duke, which returns four starters and is ranked second in the preseason AP Top 25. McCain was named the Gatorade state high school player of the year each of his last two seasons at Centennial in Corona, California.
JA’KOBE WALTER, BAYLOR
The 6-5 guard was selected by Big 12 coaches as the league’s preseason freshman of the year. Walter broke his nose in practice but should be ready for the start of the season. He was the nation’s No. 8 prospect in his class according to the 247Sports Composite. He spent his senior year at Link Academy in Branson, Missouri, after previously playing at McKinney (Texas) High School. Baylor would love to see him match the success of Keyonte George, who performed well enough as a freshman guard at Baylor last season to get selected 16th by the Utah Jazz in this year’s NBA draft.
CODY WILLIAMS, COLORADO
This 6-foot-8 forward from Gilbert, Arizona, is the first five-star recruit to sign with Colorado since David Harrison in 2001. Williams, the younger brother of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jalen Williams, was the No. 4 prospect in his class according to the 247Sports Composite. Williams played 26 minutes and had eight points and five rebounds in Colorado’s exhibition victory over Metropolitan State-Denver.
AP Sports Writer Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this report.
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