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Can One Recruit Reverse the Fortunes of a College Basketball Program?

Over the last few weeks, Hoosier Nation has shifted from hoping that one of the best high school players in the history of the state of Indiana would “stay home”, to dreaming about what he might be able to accomplish in Bloomington.

Some will say that Romeo Langford is just one guy, and he will likely only be on Indiana’s campus for months, not years.  How much can he really accomplish?

Others will say that he is a once-in-a-generation talent.  Even if he is a so-called one-and-done, he will have one big year and create momentum for the future.

How much difference can a freshman really make?  To try to answer that, we take a look at some of the more influential freshman seasons in the history of college basketball.  This is a one-sided take, as we focus on those freshmen who helped engineer a significant reversal of fortunes for their respective teams.  There have been plenty of other high profile freshmen whose impact barely caused a ripple on their team.

So this shouldn’t be read to mean anything conclusive.  Instead, it just highlights what is possible, and perhaps why IU fans were so fervently interested in Lanford’s recruitment.

And before you say it — no, we are not saying that Romeo is the next Larry Bird or Magic Johnson.  This is just meant to be a fun look back at some of the more influential freshmen that facilitated major college basketball turnarounds.


You might as well start with the current model for a major turn around.  Villanova was 13-19 in the 2011-12 season.  Led by Arcidiacono, Villanova went 20–14 in the 2012-13 season and reached the NCAA Tournament where they were seeded ninth.

While he wasn’t individually as influential as some of the others discussed here, Arcidiancono averaged 12 points and 3.5 assists as the floor general and helped change the culture at Villanova.


This one requires no introduction.  The Hoosiers were 12-20 in the 2010-11 season.  In Zeller’s first year as a Hoosier during the 2011–12 season he led the team with 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, while shooting 62.3 percent from the field.  IU finished the year at 27-9 and made the Sweet 16.


Perhaps Georgetown was already on the rise under John Thompson, but they weren’t that good.  The Hoyas were 20-12 in the 1980-81 season.  For Ewing’s freshman year, the Hoyas improved to 30-7 and advanced to the National Championship game.  Ewing averaged 12.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.2 blocks.


Cal finished the 1991-92 season at 10-18.  Kidd had a significant year one impact.  Cal finished 21-9 in his freshman year, and the Golden Bears advanced to the Sweet 16 after a victory over Duke in the round of 32.  Kidd averaged 13 points, 7.7 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 3.8 steals per game.


The Spartans were a dismal 10-17 for the 1976-77 season.  Johnson led the Spartans to a 25-5 overall record and the 1978 Big Ten title.  He averaged 17 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.4 assists.  Of course the following season he would lead the Spartans to a national title.


Oh what could have been.  Bird originally committed to IU but left the program before ever playing in a game.  Indiana State was 13-12 before his arrival in 1976.  The Sycamores improved to 25-3 in his freshman year, and Bird averaged 32.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.


Perhaps this is the model Hoosier fans can hope for in the one-and-done era.  Syracuse finished the 2001-02 season at 23-13.  Led by Anthony, the Orange improved to 30-5 and won the 2003 national championship.  He averaged 22.2 points and 10 rebounds per game.

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