Dane’s Miller’s Top Returning Men’s Hoops Freshmen

The best Pac-12 freshmen from last season who will be returning for their sophomore years

Posted on June 7, 2022


  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

Now that college players have finalized their decisions to leave for the 2022 NBA Draft, it’s time for my annual ranking of the top Pac-12 freshmen from last season who will be returning for their sophomore years.

The 2021 Conference recruiting Class produced several surprises.

Highly-regarded players such as Nate Bittle, Enoch Boakye, and Jackson Grant fell short of expectations, while Harrison Ingram and Mouhamed Gueye arguably exceeded their hype.

And somewhat out of nowhere, Lazar Stefanovic and Glenn Taylor Jr. emerged on the scene.

Even though Peyton Watson bolted for the NBA after his single year in the league, the lion’s share of the class returns for the 2022-23 season, providing an opportunity to rank the returning players from the class.

So without further ado, I present The Top Returning Freshman in the Pac-12 as I see them today.


1.  Harrison Ingram, Forward, Stanford
Harrison Ingram | Darren Yamashita/USA TODAY Sports
2021 Freshman Stats, Rankings & Notes

• 10.5 points per game
• No. 1 freshman in rebounds per game (6.69); 7th overall in Pac-12
• No. 1 freshman in assists per game (3.03)
• No. 1 freshman in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.35 to 1); 15th overall in Pac-12
• No. 1 freshman in defensive rebounds per game (4.88); 5th overall in Pac-12
• No. 1 freshman in minutes played per game (31.1)

The numbers don’t lie. Harrison Ingram is built different.
Leading the way among the returning freshmen in several offensive and defensive categories, the Stanford forward made the surprising decision to forego the NBA Draft and return to school.

The reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year is poised to have an even stronger sophomore campaign, and likely ends up as a lottery pick in the 2023 Draft.


2. Mouhamed Gueye, Forward, WSU
Mouhamed Gueye | Associated Press
2021 Freshman Stats, Rankings & Notes

• 8.0 points per game
• No. 1 freshman in field goal percentage (49.1 percent); 10th overall in Pac-12
• No. 1 freshman in blocked shots per game (0.94); 10th overall in Pac-12
• No. 1 freshman in offensive rebounds per game (2.03)
• Career-high 25 points against Washington
• 3 career double-doubles

A native of Senegal, Mouhamed Gueye’s status as a returning freshman in the Pac-12 has been resolved.

After testing the waters in the NBA Draft and transfer portal, the forward returned to Washington State on June 7th.

Former teammate Noah Williams had made a pitch for Gueye to join him at Washington, and there were whispers of potential interest with UCLA floating around as well.

Now that he’s back with WSU, the 6-foot-11 forward is undoubtedly one of the top returning freshmen in the league.


3. K.J. Simpson, Guard, Colorado
K.J. Simpson | CU Athletics
2021 Freshman Stats, Rankings & Notes

• 7.5 points per game; tied for No. 3 freshman in PPG
• shot 37.9 percent from the field (77-for-204)
• 2.7 assists per game
• Only one start
• Road Warrior: averaged more points per game (8.9) away from Boulder
• 1.2 assist-to-turnover ratio

Hands down the truth, K.J. Simpson is elite. Saddled behind Keeshawn Barthelemy for part of the season, the reins to the program have been handed over to K.J.

His ability to penetrate, drive, and finish around the rim is unmatched among the returning freshmen.

And with an edge to his game, Tad Boyle has himself a program-building guard in Simpson.

Averaging 21.1 minutes per game last year, the Buffs’ 2022-23 season will rise and fall with his play.


4. Lazar Stefanovic, Guard, Utah
Lazar Stefanovic | Utah Athletics
2021 Freshman Stats, Rankings & Notes

• 7.5 points per game; tied for No. 3 freshman in PPG
• shot 83.3 percent from free throw line (40-for-48)
• two-time Pac-12 Freshman of the Week
• made the All Pac-12 Freshmen Team
• 18 starts
• career-high 18 points against UCLA

The heart and soul of Utah basketball and the future of the program, Lazar Stefanovic is one of the top returning freshmen in the league.

A two-time winner of the Conference’s Freshman of the Week Award, the Utes’ success in 2022-23 will largely rest on the Serbian’s shoulders.

Stefanovic is a strong ball-handler and a willing passer who has all the tools Craig Smith could ask for in a point guard.

And with the experience of 18 starts in his first year, the future appears to be bright in Salt Lake City.


5. Glenn Taylor Jr., Forward, Oregon State
Glenn Taylor Jr. | Stephen Brashear/USA TODAY Sports
2021 Freshman Stats, Rankings & Notes

• 6.9 points per game
• averaged 22.3 minutes per game
• shot 48.2 percent from the field (68-for-141)
• made the All Pac-12 Freshmen Team
• career-high 16 points against Oregon in First Round of Pac-12 Tournament
• Double-double against Arizona State (14 points, 10 rebounds)

As the lone bright spot in Oregon State’s 3-28 season, Glenn Taylor Jr. is a legitimate weapon.

His career-high in the Pac-12 Tournament indicates that he turns it up a notch when the lights are brightest, signifying his leadership and professional future.

His high mark in minutes played was partially due to OSU’s roster situation, but the experience he gained will serve him well during his sophomore year.

And with the departure of Jarod Lucas to Nevada, the primary scoring duties will fall directly into Taylor’s lap.


6. Reese Dixon-Waters, Guard, USC
Reese Dixon-Waters | USC Athletics
2021 Freshman Stats, Rankings & Notes

• 4.8 points per game
• only averaged 13.8 minutes per game
• shot 46.0 percent from three (23-for-50)
• shot 86.4 percent from free throw line (38-for-44)
• scored 16 points in First Round of NCAA Tournament against Miami
• zero starts

The 6-foot-5 freshman guard came on towards the end of the year. His steal at the end of the UCLA game at the Galen Center and his performance in the NCAA Tournament were the highlights of his season.

But his sophomore year promises to be more impactful.

Still behind Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson in the rotation, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Dixon-Waters start several games in 2022-23 and have the largest “sophomore jump” on this list.


7. Adama Bal, Guard, Arizona
Adama Bal | Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
2021 Freshman Stats, Rankings & Notes

• 1.5 points per game
• only 4.5 minutes per game
• shot 48.1 percent from field (13-for-27)
• shot 47.1 percent from three (8-for-17)
• 6-foot-6 wing/guard hybrid
• three-point specialist who hit two pivotal threes in Pac-12 Championship Game

Tommy Lloyd’s secret weapon, Adama Bal is geared up for a monster sophomore season.

Entering his freshman year as a 17-year-old, the Frenchman didn’t crack the rotation until the very end of the season.

A workaholic dedicated to his craft, Bal was consistently seen getting up shots after home games when McKale Center cleared out.

His contribution in the Pac-12 Championship helped tip the scales in Arizona’s favor, while his non-appearance in the Sweet 16 matchup against Houston was a coaching mistake.


8. Maxime Raynaud, Forward, Stanford
Maxime Raynaud | Darren Yamashita/USA TODAY Sports
2021 Freshman Stats, Rankings & Notes

• 4.5 points per game
• shot 54.1 percent from the field (53-for-98)
• shot 42.3 percent from three (11-for-26)
• five starts
• Double-double against Santa Clara (16 points, 10 rebounds)
• 7-foot-1, 235-pound forward who shoots the three

With one of the most unique skill sets in the entire Pac-12 regardless of class, Frechman Maxime Raynaud is oozing with potential.

At 7-foot-1, the forward is a consistent three-point shooter who can spread the floor and create matchup nightmares.

Mix in his consistency inside the arc, and Jerod Haase has himself an under-the-radar weapon.

If Raynaud makes a jump in his second year, Stanford will be significantly better than expected.


9. Sam Alajiki, Forward, Cal
Sam Alajiki | Cal Athletics
2021 Freshman Stats, Rankings & Notes

• 3.1 points per game
• shot 45.6 percent from the field (31-for-68)
• shot 50.0 percent from three (20-for-40)
• four starts
• made Honorable Mention for All Pac-12 Freshmen Team
• ended season cold: 5-for-19 over final nine games

Hailing from Ireland, the 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward had a positive freshman season.

An efficient shooter, Alajiki is a legitimate threat from three and has the size and strength to score within the arc.

Only averaging 12.5 minutes per game, his ceiling appears to be high and his development in 2022-23 figures to play a substantial role in the trajectory of Cal’s program.

Alajiki ended the year on a down-slide but should be back to form by the start of the year.


10. Enoch Boakye, Center, Arizona State
Enoch Boayke | Sun Devil Athletics
2021 Freshman Stats, Rankings & Notes

• 2.0 points per game
• No. 2 freshman in blocked shots per game (0.94); 11th overall in the Pac-12
• just 12.4 minutes per game
• shot 52.8 percent from field (28-for-53)
• three starts
• career-high nine points against Loyola Chicago

A defensive specialist in his first season, Enoch Boakye has the potential to develop into an NBA-caliber player.

His minutes waned in the final part of the year, totaling just 44 total minutes over the last six games. And during that stretch, he attempted just one shot and scored zero points.

But with a full offseason to develop his offensive game, the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Canadian should make a jump during his sophomore year.


Honorable Mention: Isa Silva, Guard, Stanford

Isa Silva | Bob Drebin/isiphotos.com
2021 Freshman Stats, Rankings & Notes

• 3.5 points per game
• 50 percent from three (19-for-38)
• 13.9 minutes per game
• one start
• more TOs (52) than assists (38)
• uneven minutes played

Isa Silva’s three-point shooting was elite in his first season. Knocking down half of his attempts from beyond the arc, his shooting garnered him appearances in 32 games.

But his playing time was too uneven to develop properly, with some games posting 20+ minutes and a handful of others less than 10.

Taking better care of the ball during his sophomore year should keep his playing time more consistent, and could even lead to starts if his three-ball remains hot.


Honorable Mention: Julian Hammond III, Guard, Colorado
Julian Hammond III | David Zalubowski/Associated Press
2021 Freshman Stats, Rankings & Notes

• 2.9 points per game
• 12.4 minutes per game
• 1.2 assist-to-turnover ratio
• shot 41.5 percent from three (13-for-18)
• went 4-for-4 from three against Washington
• five starts

Carving out a role as the season wore on, Julian Hammond III is a dead-eye, but occasionally streaky, three-point shooter.

His nine points in the quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 Tournament against Arizona tied his second-highest scoring output of the season, while his career-high of 14 was set against Washington at the CU Events Center.

From February onward, there was only one game where he played less than 10 minutes. Hammond’s contribution in 2022-23 will be pivotal to Colorado’s expectation of returning to the NCAA Tournament.


Honorable Mention: Nate Bittle, Center, Oregon
Nate Bittle | goducks.com
2021 Freshman Stats, Rankings & Notes

• 1.7 points per game
• 1.9 rebounds per game
• 0.7 blocks per game
• 6.9 minutes per game
• shot 50 percent from the field (15-for-30)
• 7-foot, 215-pound center

There’s no sugar-coating it, Nate Bittle had the most underwhelming year of the top-rated Pac-12 freshmen in the Class of 2021.

Expected to at least be in the rotation, his 6.9 minutes per game were a far cry from his potential.

His sophomore year should be a different story, though, with both Franck Kepnang and Isaac Johnson transferring out.

Even in the limited minutes, his efficiency from the field, rebounding, and shot-blocking are all positive signs for 2022-23.

*Not considered due to injury: Will McClendon




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