Fans put too much pressure on incoming Division I college freshmen

Tara Jones and Tara Jones

Remember when you were an incoming freshman in college? Can you remember just how many emotions you were overcome with? Now, imagine having the fate of a major Division I college basketball team resting on your back on top of all that.

This is what top recruits in the world of Division I men’s college basketball deal with on a daily basis.

As a fan myself, it’s inevitable to get excited when your favorite team lands one of ESPN’s top-ranked prospects, but we have to all remember that these players are our age, if not younger. It’s nearly impossible to flip on ESPN for any college basketball coverage and not hear names like Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker. Analysts are constantly comparing the recruits, talking about how they are leading their teams and even debating their perceptions of how well they would do in the next NBA draft.

What everyone, whether it be the fans or the analysts, seems to forget, however, is that these players are only freshmen in college. Wiggins and Parker are 18 years old, and Randle is 19. Despite their immense talent and notoriety, these young men are still going through the life-changing moment of going away to college, often to universities far away from their hometown.

The University of Kentucky is almost always at the forefront of this freshman hype. The Wildcats nearly always have the top recruiting class in the country in today’s age, and this year they brought in five of the top nine recruits. The Wildcats were ranked pre-season number one in the Associated Press Top 25 because of this. In week five of the young season, Kentucky has already dropped to the third spot in the poll. With how early it still is in the season, could this prove that the hype was too much for the freshmen to handle?

The Wildcats faced the same song and dance last season, being named near the top of the polls with the anticipation of incoming freshman and top recruits Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress. However, UK gave a new definition to their ‘one-and-done’ program by losing in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) to Robert Morris. Noel was out for the season early on thanks to an ACL tear, which many would argue put Kentucky in the position where they were last year. The fact that the Wildcats banked so much on Noel that, as soon as he was out for the season, the team tanked, demonstrates just this issue: we are putting entirely too much pressure and hype on these freshman.

When the Blue Devils landed Jabari Parker for the 2013-14 season Blue Devil fans everywhere were ecstatic. However, Duke is slowly falling in the polls since they are not meeting the hype put on them this year. With the absence of last year’s senior leadership in Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee, the Blue Devils are clearly suffering. Since Parker has unmistakably put up the most outstanding numbers for the team, everyone expects him to take on that void. Not only is he faced with this pressure, but he is also expected to play in a new position at times. Since Duke cannot find a substantial center, Parker, who was recruited to Duke as a small forward, is now seeing increasing minutes at the center position. So, Parker is essentially supposed to come into one of the winningest programs in college hoops and put the team on his back as an 18-year-old. Talk about pressure.

Countless Blue Devil fans are counting down the days until newly-declared Devils, Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, take the court next season to help Duke in areas where they are lacking this season. As if relying on Parker to be the savior for Duke wasn’t enough, now fans are impatiently waiting for and relying on two people who are still seniors in high school to come in and revamp the program.

In a world of college basketball where the ‘one-and-done’ superstars are often the center of attention, it’s hard not to put so much hype on these youngsters. But, it’s very important to remember that these superstars are only freshman in college.