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The Freshmen To Watch In Tonight’s Champions Classic

In tonight's Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden, the college hoops season revs up in grand style with Kentucky squaring off against Michigan State at 7 p.

In tonight’s Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden, the college hoops season revs up in grand style with Kentucky squaring off against Michigan State at 7 p.m. ET, followed by Duke vs. Kansas at 9:15.

They might as well call this one “The Freshman Classic”, because the best players on the court are simply fulfilling a one-year apprenticeship before jumping to the NBA in the upcoming draft.

This high school class of 2016 is widely regarded as the best ever. If you haven’t seen these guys yet, you’ll know why after taking a sample of the featured first-year players in tonight’s game. 

Here are the Diaper Dandy’s from tonight’s matchups that you better get a glimpse of as soon as you can. Because after a few months, they’ll Keep on Movin’ like Soul II Soul. Hate it or love it, today’s biggest stars are here today and gone tomorrow, so you should take some time to get to know them while they briefly inhabit the NCAA stage.


MICHIGAN STATE vs KENTUCKY


Miles Bridges, Michigan State: Bridges scored 21 points in his debut for the Spartans against Arizona. Built like a grown man already, he’s powerful with great feet and body control. He’s got a vicious first step, a flight game reminiscent of Blake Griffin, and will battle it out down low for space and rebounds. 

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De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox has end-to-end speed in the transition game that is tailor-made for the NBA. He can get to the rim with his handles and quickness off the bounce in the half-court, along with being a willing distributor. In order to fully appreciate what he brings to the table, you have to pay attention to his defense. 

Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: “Bam I AM!!!” is very skilled and athletic for a young man that is so big, powerfully-built and stronger than an ox. He is a physical interior presence that is rarely seen on the college stage. He has a tremendous motor that will make his impact felt on the glass. And when he goes up for a dunk, you better watch yo’ head, because he’s trying to rip the rim down! 


Malik Monk, Kentucky: This young brother is more explosive than a moron at a Trump rally. I’ve seen all of these guys up close during their high school years, and Monk, in terms of his sheer explosiveness and athleticism while running the floor, was the most impressive. Most people will get so enamored with his quickness and fluidity that they’ll miss his vision as a passer. Both off the break and in the halfcourt, he’ll lace his teammates with some bucknasty funk from his assist repertoire. 

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KANSAS vs DUKE


Frank Jackson, Duke: The other Duke freshmen, Harry Giles, who is inactive tonight due to injury, and Jayson Tatum, are getting all of the hype, but Jackson will make you believe that your eyeballs have the capacity to lie. 

Frank’s nickname in my circles is The American Gangster, which is funny because the young man is actually a Mormon. But his skills on the court are so insane that they border on being criminal. Frank is an old school player. Youll never see any wasted motion whether hes pushing tempo on the break and cracking ankles on the perimeter.

Built like a linebacker, he cannot be pushed around and can finish with either hand in traffic. I ain’t gonna lie, he’s my favorite freshman to watch out of this entire splendid class. His handle is subtly brilliant and his ability to shoot the ball is next-level. But just when youre marveling at how funky and smooth his game is and the dynamite thats laced in his first step, Frank shocks you when he takes off for a ridiculous 360-degree dunk.

This kid right here, maaaaan listen!!! 

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Jayson Tatum, Duke: The St. Louis native is the best small forward in the country in terms of his overall skill set and understanding of the game. An excellent athlete who will continue to add muscle to his lean frame, Tatum excels in both the transition and half-court game. An exceptional ball-handler for a player of his size, his footwork is excellent. Very fluid, his mid-range and post moves would work on the NBA level right now.



Josh Jackson, Kansas: Considered to be one of, if not the best player in the class of 2016, Jackson, a Detroit native, is most impressive on the defensive end right now. At 6-foot-8, his offensive skills and athleticism have already placed him in the discussion to be among the top picks in the 2017 NBA Draft. He can guard points, shooting guards and small forwards and is the New-Jack version of Scottie Pippen. Jackson plays with an edge and hunger that can’t be taught. He’ll ignite the fast break off of his defense and rebounding and is a beast finishing in transition. He’s a slasher/passer/defender extraordinaire. If he’s able to polish a suspect jumper, as Aunt Esther was fond of saying, “You better watch out, Sucka!!!


Ali

Alejandro “Ali” Danois is the Editor-in-Chief of The Shadow League. His features “Humble Beginnings”, and “Rocky Flop” were mentioned in the Best American Sports Writing Anthology as among the country’s most notable stories of 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Ali is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Boys of Dunbar, A Story of Love, Hope and Basketball, and he served as a Producer on the ESPN Films 30-for-30 documentary “Baltimore Boys”.

Follow him on twitter @alidanois