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College Basketball's Top Impactful Freshmen for 2021-22 Season

Paolo Banchero, Duke Blue Devils Basketball

All eyes will be on Paolo Banchero, who could be Duke's best player as a true freshman

Plenty of first-year college basketball players will have a chance to shine on their own and have major roles on their team. As part of our preseason coverage, Athlon Sports is ranking these freshmen.

Related: Athlon Sports' 2021-22 College Basketball Preseason All-America Team

This will closely resemble the Class of 2021 recruiting rankings, but it's not a list of the 15 top freshmen in the nation. It's our prediction of the 15 freshmen who will have the biggest impact.

1. Paolo Banchero, Duke

Banchero is a 6'10", 250-pound monster of a prospect who should be the best player on what will be Mike Krzyzewski's last team at Duke. He is, heading into the season, projected by most to be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.

2. Patrick Baldwin Jr., Milwaukee

Prospects like Baldwin don't usually turn down offers from Duke and Kentucky to enroll at a Horizon League school. Baldwin only did it because his dad is the coach at Milwaukee, where the father-son duo should have a chance to lead the Panthers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014.

3. Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga

Holmgren is a super-unique talent — a 7-foot center who protects the rim but is equally comfortable floating on the perimeter and creating scoring opportunities with drives and long jumpers. If Gonzaga wins its first national title in history this season, Holmgren will be one of the biggest reasons.

Related: Athlon Sports' Top 100 College Basketball Players for 2021-22 Season

4. Kennedy Chandler, Tennessee

Chandler is a run-the-team point guard with blazing speed and an insatiable appetite for winning. He helped USA Basketball earn a gold medal this summer and could help Rick Barnes' Vols win the SEC title come March.

5. JD Davison, Alabama

Davison is an athletic point guard who is tall enough and strong enough to finish at the rim. He's one of three five-star primary ball-handlers who are enrolling at SEC institutions.

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6. TyTy Washington, Kentucky

Washington initially committed to Creighton but eventually decommitted and enrolled at Kentucky. He'll play in the backcourt alongside Sahvir Wheeler and ensure that the Wildcats can have two gifted ball-handlers on the floor at all times.

7. Kendall Brown, Baylor

Brown is an athletic wing with size who should help offset the early departures from the Baylor team that won the national championship. The idea that the five-star prospect might come off of the bench speaks to the talent that remains in Scott Drew's program.

8. Jabari Smith Jr., Auburn

Smith, a five-star prospect from the Class of 2021, will combine with Walker Kessler, a five-star prospect from the Class of 2020, to give Auburn one of the nation's best frontcourt duos. The 6'10" athlete will likely be Bruce Pearl's latest one-and-done standout.

9. Caleb Houstan, Michigan

Houstan is the most heralded prospect in Michigan's top-ranked recruiting class. The 6'8" wing is expected to be the kind of legitimate 3-point threat that provides room for sophomore Hunter Dickinson to dominate around the rim.

10. Peyton Watson, UCLA

UCLA was close to winning its 12th national title in program history last season. Perhaps Watson, a five-star wing from Long Beach, will be the addition the program needs to get it this season.

11. AJ Griffin, Duke

Griffin is the son of former NBA player (and current Raptors assistant) Adrian Griffin. The 6'6" wing will join Banchero in Duke's starting lineup and is talented enough to end up being Coach K's final NBA Draft lottery pick.

12. Max Christie, Michigan State

Christie is a 6'6" guard who can really shoot it. He's a welcome addition to a Michigan State program that shot just 32.1. percent from 3-point range last season.

13. Aminu Mohammed, Georgetown

Mohammed grew up just minutes from Georgetown's campus and announced last December that he would stay home and play for Patrick Ewing. He's the highest-rated prospect to enroll at Georgetown since Greg Monroe in 2008.

14. Hunter Sallis, Gonzaga

Sallis is one of three top-30 prospects from the Class of 2021 enrolled at Gonzaga. He's a 6'5" combo guard who should benefit from playing beside an experienced and accomplished backcourt mate like Andrew Nembhard.

15. Harrison Ingram, Stanford

Stanford hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2014. If the Cardinal make it this season, Ingram, a five-star prospect who can play multiple positions, will likely have to lead them there.