A look at how Illinois' Class of 2023 fared as college basketball freshmen

Two Illinois products impacted in a big way, more than any other freshmen and did so at the highest level in the Big Ten: Minnesota’s Cameron Christie and Iowa’s Owen Freeman.

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Minnesota guard Cam Christie (24) looks to pass as Northwestern center Matthew Nicholson (34) and guard Ryan Langborg (5) defend during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024.

Minnesota guard Cam Christie (24) looks to pass as Northwestern center Matthew Nicholson (34) and guard Ryan Langborg (5) defend during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024.

Abbie Parr/AP Photos

Today’s college basketball world is not made for freshmen. Fewer first-year college players are making an impact than ever before due to the transfer portal and the NCAA granting players an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic.

Two Illinois products impacted in a big way, more than any other freshmen and did so at the highest level in the Big Ten: Minnesota’s Cameron Christie and Iowa’s Owen Freeman.

Here is a look at the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top dozen ranked prospects in the Class of 2023 coming out of high school and how their freshman seasons fared.

1. Cameron Christie, Minnesota (Rolling Meadows)

A player vastly underrated nationally coming out of high school, the 6-6 guard declared for the draft and after just one season is projected as a late first-round or early second-round pick. He averaged 11.3 points while shooting 40 percent from three and was on the Big Ten’s All-Freshman Team.

2. Jeremy Fears, Jr., Michigan State (Joliet West)

After playing in 12 games for the Spartans, averaging 3.5 points in 15 minutes of action, his season was cut short. Fears was shot in the leg while home visiting family over Christmas break and spent the rest of the season recovering from the injury.

3. Dai Dai Ames, Kansas State (Kenwood)

The 6-1 guard, who started 15 games and played 21 minutes a game, averaged 5.2 points and two assists a game. Ames then hit the transfer portal and is now headed to Virginia.

4. Owen Freeman, Iowa (Moline)

The Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year was a head-turning big man in his first college season. The 6-10 Freeman averaged 10.6 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. He returns as one of the top players in the conference next season.

5. Brock Harding, Iowa (Moline)

A bigger opportunity awaits for the point guard after playing a backup role as a freshman. Harding played 11 minutes off the bench and contributed 3.4 points and 2.6 assists a game.

6. Macaleab Rich, Kansas State (East St. Louis)

The big, strong, athletic 6-6 forward played in just 16 games for the Wildcats, averaging 3.4 points a game.

7. Miles Rubin, Loyola (Simeon)

An impressive first season for the 6-10 defensive menace included 6.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and a whopping 2.3 blocks a game for the Ramblers. Rubin started 30 games and was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team.

8. Drew Scharnowski, Belmont (Burlington Central)

The skilled, still-developing 6-9 big man redshirted as a freshman this past season.

9. Sam Lewis, Toledo (Young)

While the athletic 6-5 guard played more minutes down the stretch of the season, overall it was a small role off the bench for a talented Toledo team. Lewis averaged 3.6 points a game in 12 minutes a game.

10. Dalen Davis, Princeton (Young)

Davis was a valuable backup for a loaded Princeton team. In his 15 minutes a game, Davis did produce, averaging 6.6 points a game while knocking down 31 three-pointers.

11. Wes Rubin, Northern Iowa (Simeon)

A late-blooming prospect while at Simeon, the 6-8 Rubin redshirted this past season at Northern Iowa.

12. Ahmad Henderson, Niagara (Brother Rice)

The 5-9 point guard has returned home, transferring to UIC after making a significant impact at Niagara where he landed on the MAAC All-Rookie Team. Henderson played 26 minutes a game and averaged 11.2 points.

Five other notable freshmen from the Class of 2023

Quentin Jones, Cal-Poly (Marian Catholic)

The City/Suburban Hoops Report’s No. 21 ranked prospect was vastly overlooked in recruiting. He went out and averaged 9.7 points and 4.4 rebounds a game while shooting 40 percent from the three-point line as a freshman. Jones entered the portal and was a big portal recruiting win for Northern Illinois.

David Douglas, Wisconsin-Green Bay (Yorkville Christian)

A late find who proved to be a recruiting steal for UWGB. Douglas, who averaged 8.5 points and buried 52 three-pointers this past season, was named the Horizon League’s Freshman of the Year. He entered the transfer portal after his head coach, Sundance Wicks, left for Wyoming.

Mekhi Cooper, Miami-Ohio (Bolingbrook)

It was a rock-solid debut season as he became the starting point guard and played 25 minutes a game, averaging 6.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists a game.

DeAndre Craig, Denver (Mount Carmel)

The No. 17 ranked player in the class contributed immediately at Denver. Craig played major minutes off the bench while averaging 6.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists a game in 23 minutes of action.

Brayden Fagbemi, Johns Hopkins (Benet)

The most overlooked player in the Class of 2023 parlayed a big season at the Division III level into Division I interest and offers once he hit the transfer portal. The 6-0 point guard is off to Central Arkansas after being named D3hoops.com Region V Rookie of the Year. He put up 13.4 points and 3.7 assists a game.

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