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July 16, 2008

Not all freshmen arrive on campus as teens

Tyler Hansbrough will celebrate his 23rd birthday shortly before North Carolina's 2008-09 season begins Nov. 3. That will make Hansbrough two years older than classmate Danny Green, who turned 21 last month.

But the big man teammates refer to as "Psycho-T" isn't necessarily that old by today's standards in college hoops. A handful of sophomores in college basketball already have celebrated their 22nd birthdays, and others will do so in the middle of next season - putting them on pace to be 24 during their senior years.

It's part of a growing trend in college basketball, where players in their 20s are arriving as freshmen.

"In recent years, more prospects are going the prep route instead of the junior college route when either they can't qualify academically or are not happy with their scholarship offers," recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer said. "Going to prep school allows them to still have four years of eligibility although they are older than most other freshmen."

The Seton Hall roster had two 21-year old freshmen last season: 6-foot-5 shooting guard Jeremy Hazell and 6-11 center Mike Davis. Both now are 22, making them a year older than Pirates senior John Garcia.

"It's becoming more common," said Pirates coach Bobby Gonzalez, who is entering his third year at the school. "Sometimes you have kids who started school late or were held back, but I think there are two main reasons.

"The first is academics. The APR (Academic Progress Report) has changed things and obviously standards have become more stringent. There have also been some new rules on junior college transfers needing more courses. That's all led to more kids going to prep schools to become eligible. The second is kids who just missed out on the boat or are late-bloomers. They need more exposure so they go to prep school."

After playing at Christ the King High School in New York City, Hazell headed to one of those prep schools, the Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C., which has produced a number of Division I players in recent years. Hazell initially committed to Oral Roberts, but returned to Patterson for a second year, and that's when he made the switch over to the Pirates.

ELDER STATESMEN OF COLLEGE HOOPS
While North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough turns 23 Nov. 3, he's a relative youngster when compared to these four seniors who turn 24 either before or during the 2008-09 season:
Player Team
Lee Cummard BYU
Lester Hudson UT-Martin
Josh Shipp UCLA
Robert Vaden UAB
Hazell, the No. 136 prospect in the 2007 class, emerged as one of the Big East's most promising young players this past season, averaging 12.8 points per game and earning a spot on the league's all-rookie team. Hazell's season was highlighted by a 29-point outburst in the Pirates' 92-82 victory over Louisville. He finished with 26 and 28 in losses to Notre Dame and Connecticut, respectively, and had a career-high 30 in a loss to West Virginia.

Davis, who also played at Christ the King and a prep school called Brooklyn Academy, didn't have that kind of impact. But the big man did see action in 31 of the Pirates' 32 games, averaging 2.7 points and 2.5 rebounds in 9.6 minutes.

Gonzalez is convinced the extra seasoning helped both players and believes the pros outweigh any cons when it comes to being a 19-, 20- or even a 21-year-old freshman.

"The more physically ready you can be, the more of a positive it is, especially in a league like the Big East," Gonzalez said. "I've heard the theory that it could have less upside and less room to improve. Maybe that is terms of their pro potential. I think there are more positives. It sure doesn't hurt."

THE 20-SOMETHINGS

Here's a look at some of the oldest sophomores in college basketball (the following is how old each player will be by the end of the 2008-09 season):

Mamadou Diarra (23), USC

Tweety Carter (22), Baylor

Jeremy Hazell (22), Seton Hall

James Johnson (22), Wake Forest

Dominique Sutton (22), Kansas State.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.



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