Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer 712d

UConn pair tops American's best newcomers

Men's College Basketball, Connecticut Huskies, SMU Mustangs, Cincinnati Bearcats, South Florida Bulls

Newcomers don't take long to impact college basketball -- not in this world of one-and-dones and transfers. Over the next two weeks, we will look at the top five newcomers in each of the 10 biggest conferences. Next up is the American.

As the American Athletic Conference tries to build the depth of its conference, the reality is the rich just continue to get richer. With the exception of one outlier, the best new blood in the conference belongs to what have traditionally been the best teams in the league. And even more interesting, the flagship team, the one with the most recent national championship, is very much on the upwardly mobile move.

Alterique Gilbert, UConn Huskies
The prize of a heralded class for Kevin Ollie, Gilbert is one of the best playmakers in the Class of 2016 (No. 30 in ESPN 100). He averaged 16.5 points, 5.6 assists, 4.5 steals and 4.5 rebounds at Miller Grove High School in Georgia, where he led his team to three state titles. Gilbert played in the McDonald's All-American game and gave UConn fans a scare during the Jordan Brand Classic-- while going for a steal, Gilbert fell to the floor and was helped off the court. The diagnosis? A dislocated shoulder, which Gilbert has suffered before. This time he opted for surgery, which will keep him out of action until later this month. But he's already on campus, rehabbing with the UConn athletic training staff and is expected to be ready for the season, where he will join Jalen Adams in what figures to be an electric backcourt.

Semi Ojeleye, SMU Mustangs
Caught in a logjam of frontcourt players, Ojeleye wisely decided to transfer from Duke in 2015. He had averaged just 10.5 minutes per game for Coach K, and with Chase Jeter still to come, Ojeleye figured he'd be better served elsewhere. He wound up at SMU and would have been eligible in the second semester of last season, but former coach Larry Brown elected to redshirt him. Now the 6-foot-8 forward finally will have a chance to play. How good will he be? That's the big question. Ojeleye has never really been able to show his stuff as a collegiate player, but he was once the Parade Magazine National Player of the Year, a Kansas high school scoring record holder and ranked as the 40th-best player in the Class of 2013. With Markus Kennedy gone, one thing Ojeleye should know for certain -- he'll at least get his chance at SMU.

Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati Bearcats
Hot shooters aren't exactly the first thing you think of when you think of the Bearcats; blue-collar workers and defenders are more like it. Cumberland, a freshman from Ohio and the No. 55 player in his class, may change that. He averaged 24.5 points, and recruiting analysts say he simply knows how to score. That he's built like a linebacker doesn't hurt, and it certainly puts him in line with the typical Bearcat look and mentality. Of course, if he's going to play for coach Mick Cronin, he's going to have to learn how to defend a little bit, too. But with second-leading scorer Farad Cobb graduated, there will be ample opportunity for Cumberland to get his points.

Juwan Durham, UConn Huskies
Durham hasn't played since the final game of his junior season of high school. Back then, in the state playoff game for his Tampa Prep team, he collided with another player. What looked like a typical bang-bang play in a basketball game left Durham with a torn ACL. Seven months later, Durham was working on a treadmill, looking forward to his senior season, when he felt a tweak in his then-good knee. A few minutes later, during a shooting drill, it gave out altogether: He had torn his other ACL. Goodbye, senior year. That UConn stuck by Durham (No. 52 in ESPN 100) shows what the word commitment means to coach Kevin Ollie. A number of other schools stopped recruiting Durham after the first injury. But provided he he returns healthy, Durham is worth it. He averaged 22.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game in high school. With Amida Brimah and Rodney Purvis alongside him, Durham also has the luxury of time.

Troy Baxter, South Florida Bulls
Expect to see Baxter on a few highlight reels and maybe at a future dunk contest near you. The Florida native won the American Family Insurance High School dunk contest this year, even earning a perfect mark from the usually stingy Shaquille O'Neal. The lanky forward ranked 90th in his class and figures to be a big part of an injection of new energy for the Bulls' rebuilding project under head coach Orlando Antigua, alongside Texas Tech transfer Isaiah Manderson and former Penn Stater Geno Thorpe. The coach, in fact, has stressed that Baxter is much more than a dunker, pointing out that the 6-foot-8 forward can shoot from the outside and is quick enough to even defend smaller guards. With a team that finished only 8-25 last season, Baxter ought to get plenty of playing time and could make a big splash for a team in dire need of some oomph.

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