Why you should care

What do you mean you haven’t started thinking about your March Madness bracket yet? Prep now, or despair later.

College basketball has become a game for freshmen. Especially this year.

Thank the “one-and-done” phenomenon. With players no longer allowed to jump straight from high school to the NBA, more and more future NBA stars spend one year at college. Between elite high schools, summer leagues and camps pitting the best against the best on a regular basis, these players are better prepared and better scouted than ever before.

And this year’s freshman class has revved up the hype to new heights. USA Today calls it “a potentially historic group of teenagers over whom NBA executives are salivating.” At top of the heap are the Big Three: Jabari Parker at Duke University, Julius Randle at the University of Kentucky and Andrew Wiggins at the University of Kansas. The trio grabbed the national spotlight on November 12 in a made-for-ESPN doubleheader of top-flight teams, delivering memorable performances way beyond what you’d expect from typical freshmen.

All three play for traditional powerhouses that are expected to contend for the Final Four and a national title this year; all three are projected as top NBA Draft picks in a year; and all three are praised for having solid character. What makes them different? Take a look.

Jabari going up for a layup wearing a white DUKE uniform

Duke’s Jabari Parker (1) drives to the basket

Source Gerry Broome/Corbis

HEIGHT: 6’8”Jabari Parker, Duke

STATS PER GAME (through 5 games): 22.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.0 blocks, 1.2 steals.

STYLE: Versatile. Can throw down a spectacular alley-oop and start his own coast-to-coast drive with a defensive play, but he’s also shooting out the lights from 3-point range: 13 of 20.

HIGHLIGHT: His alley-oop dunk against Kansas was eerily reminiscent of Duke alum Grant Hill’s dunk in the 1991 national final, also against Kansas.

ROOTS: Chicago. Played for public school titan Simeon, winning four state championships.

HOOP PARENTS: Parker’s father, Sonny, played in the NBA in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

SOCIAL MEDIA HIGHLIGHT: “I love it when someone tells me they’re from Chicago when they live 50/60 minutes from the city. Lol, Never gets old!”

UPCOMING: Duke has advanced to the Preseason NIT semifinals November 27 against Alabama in Madison Square Garden. The winner faces the Arizona-Drexel winner. If Duke and Arizona advance, Parker will face yet another talented freshman, Aaron Gordon. The Blue Devils then have more marquee matchups against Michigan and UCLA before starting ACC play in January.

NEED TO KNOW: Parker is a Mormon who may opt to go on a mission instead of going straight to the draft. His faith was a centerpiece of a Sports Illustrated cover story about him while he was still in high school.

Julius on left, dribbling ball in red uniform with defender on right trying to block

Julius Randle.

Source Robin Alam/Corbis

HEIGHT: 6’9”Julius Randle, Kentucky

STATS PER GAME (through 5 games): 20.8 points, 13.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 blocks.

STYLE: Power. One of his goals at Kentucky is to develop his outside game. There’s nothing wrong with his inside game — just check those rebound totals. Left-handed.

HIGHLIGHT: What happens when you double- or triple-team Randle? He kicks it out to an open man. Or just scores anyway.

ROOTS: Texas. Went to a small school, Prestonwood Christian, and won three state titles.

HOOP PARENTS: Randle was raised by a single mother, Carolyn Kyles, who played basketball at Texas-Arlington. (Coincidentally, Kentucky recently beat Texas-Arlington.)

SOCIAL MEDIA HIGHLIGHT: Blogged about his recruiting, ”Now all of the visits are done and I’ve got to really start to think about what I want to do.”

UPCOMING: Kentucky has interesting matchups with Baylor and North Carolina before its high-spirited, in-state clash with Louisville and the start of SEC games.

NEED TO KNOW: Randle is the standout in what may be the best recruiting class ever — five players were in ESPN’s top nine of the Class of 2013, with a sixth not far behind. Little wonder the Wildcats recently put forth an all-freshman starting lineup.

Color upclose photo of Wiggins about to throw a basketball

Andrew Wiggins

Source Orlin Wagner/AP/Corbis

HEIGHT: 6’8”Andrew Wiggins, Kansas

STATS PER GAME (through 3 games): 17.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.7 steals.

STYLE: Perimeter. Despite his height, he’s listed as a guard. He can slash his way through the defense, and he’s spectacular when airborne.

HIGHLIGHT: Showed off his devastating transition game and quick cuts to the hoop against Duke, including a dunk off a long outlet pass and a game-sealing dunk on which Parker fouled out of the game.

ROOTS: Canadian but spent the past two years at an elite high school basketball program, Huntington Prep, in West Virginia. Wiggins wrote a gracious note of thanks to the Huntington community as he left.

HOOP PARENTS: Wiggins’s father, Mitchell, played in the NBA in the ’80s and early ’90s. His mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, ran track for Canada in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics.

SOCIAL MEDIA HIGHLIGHT: More Twitter followers (126,000-plus) than Randle and Parker combined, but like the others, he doesn’t say much. Several of his tweets are simple updates on whether his phone is working.

UPCOMING: Kansas will play in the Thanksgiving weekend Battle 4 Atlantis, an eight-team tournament in the Bahamas. The Jayhawks open November 28 against Wake Forest. In December, Kansas travels to face Florida and returns for a home game against Georgetown. Big 12 conference play starts in January.

NEED TO KNOW: Wiggins had been looking toward high school graduation in 2014 but changed his mind and opted to finish by 2013. ESPN then put Wiggins atop its 2013 rankings, displacing Parker.

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