If you’re making a list of college basketball’s top freshmen and you don’t include Lauri Markkanen, consider that list to be a “complete joke,” according to Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller.
“For him not to be considered as one of the best freshmen in college basketball is a complete joke,” Miller said Thursday after Markkanen had 16 points and 13 rebounds in Arizona’s win over Washington State.
“I will put him up against anybody, not just freshmen, toe-to-toe the quality of player he is. I don’t care if you’re from Russia, China, Finland, Japan, North Dakota, Florida, or New York City. If you have eyes and have seen Arizona play, there aren’t many players that play the way he plays. Tonight he had 13 rebounds, 16 points. The three 3s he hit in the first half were 3s that you don’t often see a guy make in college.”
It’s hard to disagree with Miller. The 7th-ranked Wildcats are 19-2 this season (8-0 in Pac-12 play) and Markkanen leads the team in both scoring (17.0) and rebounding (7.7).
You can find several players in college basketball averaging similar numbers, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one that scores at the efficiency that Markkanen does.
The 7-footer is shooting 52-of-103 (51 percent) from behind the arc this season, including an even more absurd 25-of-41 (61 percent) mark from 3 in Arizona’s eight Pac-12 games.
Markkanen is also making 84 percent of his free throws and has the fifth-highest offensive rating — an estimated number of points produced per 100 possessions — in the entire country at 137.4, according to KenPom.com.
“He’s a very good player, he’s a great teammate, and he has other guys that he’s playing with that are very good as well, but once in a while you just pay attention even if you’re not trying to and you take a look at ‘here are the best freshmen in the country’ and I’m looking there and I’m saying ‘are you serious? It’s not even close,’” Miller said.
“And Rawle (Alkins) and Kobi (Simmons) are also outstanding but just watching Lauri play, I think he deserves a little bit more credit than he’s getting.”
Markkanen (finally) did get some credit this past week, as he was the Pac-12 Player of the Week as well as the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week.
But when all is said and done, Markkanen should be in the running for many more awards than that — and not just those designated for freshmen.
“This spring, no one’s going to limit him to being a freshman,” said Miller, who characterized Markkanen’s future as “extraordinarily bright.”
“The thing about him that stands out is he loves the game, he works as hard at the game as any player that we’ve had. And although he’s very talented, he’s a great teammate and unselfish. Those three things usually don’t accompany somebody you’re talking so glowingly about. He helps team chemistry. He’s a winner and his teammates enjoy being around him and playing. He’s willing to do anything that you ask him to do as a coach.”
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