It's basketball season. Finally.
Over the next few days, coaches will dress up in mascot costumes and rent expensive cars to drive into arenas, and fans will descend en masse to many of the hallowed halls of college basketball. For what? A chance to see the next group of stars our game has to offer, of course.
So, who are the next stars and characters of the freshman class of 2010? No need to stress; we will do our best to lay it all out for you.
The guy everyone wants to see is Harrison Barnes, North Carolina's prized wing. Those who know Barnes well can attest that he likes to keep a hit list of players he thinks are better than him. Despite being the hunted one last year, he is cast in the role of hunter this season. His Heels need only look eight miles down the road for motivation.
Over in Durham, as Duke raises another championship banner, the Blue Devils also raise expectations for their new point guard. All Kyrie Irving has to do this season is listen to comparisons of himself to Jason Williams and Chris Duhon. Just in case that isn't enough pressure, maybe folks will mention Bobby Hurley occasionally and really make him feel welcome!
Here is a little cheat sheet to help you understand what the newbies are all about:
The Fabulous One
Jim Boeheim is going to have stories. The Hall of Famer has no idea what kind of character Fab Melo truly is. Think a softer, cuddlier version of Glen "Big Baby" Davis. Melo is 7 feet tall and 244 pounds of huggable Big East center. Fab is our pick for freshman most likely to misplace his jersey before the game. Aside from his welcoming persona, he's a significant prospect not to be taken lightly.
If you are an SEC fan worried about where your favorite team will finish this year, say this out loud with us: Kentucky signed three consensus Top 10 players (Enes Kanter remains ineligible), and John Calipari's fourth-best recruit, guard Doron Lamb, was Oak Hill Academy's leading scorer last season. Yikes. Psst, next year's UK class is just as good.
This is a serious question: Will Texas play the Canadian national anthem this weekend to open the season? Rick Barnes has two Canadian-born All-Americans, Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson. A third, elite senior Myck Kabongo, is on the way next year. Playing the anthem is the least Barnes can do since he's treating our northern neighbor like she is a suburb of Austin.
Mid-Major Watch List
These are the guys who passed the initial smell test as midlevel steals or down-the-road head-scratchers. Remember the names Jordan Clarkson, G, Tulsa; Juvonte Reddic, PF, VCU; Jordan Downing, SF, Davidson; Rayvonte Rice, F, Drake; Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton; Derrick Williams, C, Richmond; Jonathan Arledge, PF, George Mason.
It's A Bird, It's A Plane
Don't worry about taking off your 3D glasses and adjusting the set. There's nothing wrong with your tube. That big, hulking, above-the-rim post player you see at Florida is not Dwight Howard -- but he looks like him. Patric Young, Billy Donovan's secret weapon from Jacksonville, isn't Superman or Howard, but he's gonna be a great Gator.
Can't Bust Us
With all this talk about the NCAA cracking down on schools for recruiting violations, there are two head coaches who can purchase a new car for a star freshman and never have to answer inquires. Ray McCallum and Trey Zeigler each will play for his dad at Detroit and Central Michigan, respectively.
What's The Buzz About?
Vander Blue didn't play big-time AAU basketball for one of those barnstorming outfits. As top prospects go, he was often difficult to find. However, he drew strong reviews with his play for USA Basketball this summer and is one to watch for Buzz Williams' Marquette crew.
Full Pack Attack
Quick, name the third ACC team ranked in the Top 10 of ESPN's final class rankings last year. Time's up: Its Sidney Lowe's Wolfpack, and boy are they athletic. C.J. Leslie is one of America's best athletes, and he's flanked by contortionist Ryan Harrow and point producer Lorenzo Brown.
Joe Jackson didn't want to leave home; he's Memphis through and through. The word out of Josh Pastner's camp is that this will be his team and, in turn, his city. By the way, he's sub-6 feet tall and does a mighty fine Allen Iverson impersonation.
Muggsy Bogues Alert
If you can't appreciate these tiny titans, well, you're heartless. These kids are winning guys. These are the types of players who have been told they're too small and all they do is get better. Meet John Loyd (5-9), Oregon; Juwan Staten (5-10), Dayton; Maurice Jones (5-7), USC; Ahmad Starks (5-8), Oregon State.
Best Shooter With Size
Roy Williams had a front row seat for Wayne Ellington. Could 6-6 Reggie Bullock, who is much taller, be even better? Watch and see for yourself. If Bullock is the top shooter with size, we'd be remiss not to mention the best undersized shooter. So keep your eye out for 5-10 Andre Stringer, LSU's smaller yet very effective deep threat.
Wake Forest's J.T. Terrell is wired up to be a great sniper. In his mind, he's open all the time and can't miss. "Somebody told me he was shooting it from one step past half court off a ball screen," Wake assistant Jeff Battle said. "Who would shoot that? They said he makes them, too. I don't know if coach will let him shoot 50-footers, but he can do it."
Forget what anyone's telling you about the Big Ten Player of the Year. We'll go old-school Tiger Woods prognostication and give you the field while we take Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger. He was born to play in the Big Ten.
Best Finisher, Guard
Kansas freshman Josh Selby is electric. If he can gain eligibility, set the DVR to watch him play. Selby can flat-out sky and is fearless. He is the guy the other kids on this list make it a point to watch.
Best Finisher, Big
The Georgetown Hoyas are going to get a lot of mileage out of power forward Nate Lubick. He's a blue-collar guy with a big motor. You can't go wrong with a guy like this.
The South Carolina Gamecocks don't mind having an abundance of long-armed forwards who guard the rim. Though Damontre Harris isn't fully developed physically, he's super-long with Inspector Gadget arms that extend well above the rim. Check back in a few years and see how he pans out.
Just a few years ago, wasn't everybody lamenting the lack of elite players in the SEC? Not anymore. Tobias Harris has the keys to the Tennessee offense and he's a super mix of perimeter and paint. Terrence Jones could make his mark early for UK as a defender and board man while keeping defenses honest with his offense.
Keep your eyes on Dion Waiters of the Cuse, Will Barton of Memphis and Brandon Knight of Kentucky. These three are totally different guys, but at the end of the day, they can scorch it. Waiters is thick-bodied in an Austin Freeman-ish way. Barton, who is now 175 pounds and 6-6, likes to describe himself as "wiry strong." Knight scored over 3,500 points in high school.
There's no denying the pro-tential of Baylor big man Perry Jones. Jones is exactly what you'd want a guy to look like if you were drafting in the lottery. Now, the key for him is turning potential to production under the watchful eye of the Big 12 and front-office types alike.
Circle Feb. 15 on your calendar for the class' first reunion. One of the most successful AAU teams of the past decade is All-Ohio Red. Sullinger guesstimated that his club won something like 210 games and lost just seven times when together. The good news for OSU is that Sullinger brought teammates Aaron Craft, J.D. Weatherspoon and Jordan Sibert with him to the Horseshoe. When the Buckeyes play Michigan State, Adreian Payne, a starter from the All-Ohio club, gets to see his boys again.
You Want The Truth? Can You Handle The Truth?
• Guard Ian Miller is going to get enough buckets at Florida State to be in contention for the ACC all-rookie squad.
• Dion Waiters of Syracuse will put up numbers early in the Big East.
• South Carolina has a speed merchant in Bruce Ellington. He's not Devan Downey, but he's a converted football standout.
• There are so many good point guards in this class. Phil Pressey of Missouri means as much as anyone to his team.
• Pittsburgh is deep, but J.J. Moore meets two criteria for a successful career under Jamie Dixon -- he's tough and he's from New York.
• Keep your eye on the development of Illinois 7-footer Meyers Leonard.
• Xavier's Jay Canty made big strides as a high school senior. Bet they continue for the X.
Dave Telep is the senior basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN.com. His college basketball scouting service is used by more than 225 colleges and numerous NBA teams. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.