SB Nation

Mike Rutherford | November 13, 2014

The Preseason All-Americans

SB Nation's network of college basketball writers name the best players heading into the 2014-15 season

Fifteen players were honored by being named either first-, second- or third-team AP All-Americans at the end of the 2013-14 season. All 15 of those players then either graduated or made the decision to start playing basketball for money. This being the case, it should come as little surprise that SB Nation's college hoops experts had a little more difficulty than usual when it came time to decide which players should be included on the network's preseason All-American team.

For the first time in four years, the network could not agree on a single consensus first-team All-American. Thirty-seven SB Nation writers cast ballots, 11 different players received Player of the Year votes (none more than eight), and  45 players received votes for either first- or second-team inclusion.

First team preseason All-Americans
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Jahlil Okafor, Duke, freshman, center

Earlier this month, Jahlil Okafor became the third freshmen in five years to be named a preseason first-team All-American by the Associated Press. The previous two honorees -- Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and North Carolina's Harrison Barnes -- did not finish their first year of college ball as first-team All-Americans.

Okafor isn't your typical "high-ceiling," "unlimited potential," "possible future No. 1 draft pick" freshman. All of those things have been used to describe him, sure, but he's a player who comes to Duke already remarkably polished. He has the same man-child body we're used to seeing from the top-rated player out of last year's recruiting class, but he also has tremendous fundamentals and a level of maturity that will blend in perfectly with the culture in Durham. Basically, Okafor is Jabari Parker playing the center position. That's probably why, despite having not played a single college game, he received more votes than any other player and one more preseason Player of the Year vote than Wisconsin senior Frank Kaminsky.

Marcus Paige, UNC, junior, guard

Paige was North Carolina's most explosive player as a sophomore, averaging 17.5 points and 4.2 assists while logging minutes at both the point guard and the two guard positions. The two-headed Tar Heel point guard monster of Joel Berry and Nate Britt should allow Paige to play off the ball and focus more on what he does best this season.

Paige became the first UNC sophomore point guard since 1976 to earn first-team All-ACC honors, but there were times where he seemed reluctant to fully embrace the role as Roy Williams' go-to-guy. An offseason full of awards and Tar Heel preview pieces mentioning him in their opening lines should have Paige better adjusted to the spotlight by the time the first ball is tipped on Carolina's 2014-15 season.

Montrezl Harrell, Louisville, junior, forward

In a season where the flood of postseason staying/going announcements were far more predictable than usual, no one's decision to return to school was more of a surprise than Montrezl Harrell's. The 6'8 forward had an NBA-ready frame before he arrived at Louisville, he won a national championship in his first season with the Cards, and then effectively showed the basketball world that he could be a do-it-all power forward as a sophomore.

Known more for his ferocious dunks than anything else, Harrell has spent a solid chunk of Louisville's preseason on the perimeter showing off his improved jump shot. The revelation has even led to some speculation that Harrell could spend some time playing the three this season. Still, it's hard to envision Rick Pitino letting his best player getting too far away from doing what he does best: skying for rebounds and cramming on fools.

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin, senior, center

From virtual unknown to preseason Big 10 Player of the Year and first-team All-American, it's been quite the 12 months for Frank Kaminsky.

A year ago at this time, Kaminsky was consistently referenced as a center with a decent outside shot who didn't have the body or the game to compete with the other big men in his conference. All that changed for good on Nov. 19. That night, he set a school record by scoring 43 points against North Dakota with a performance that, at the time, appeared to be among the most improbable in the history of college basketball. You see, Kaminsky came into that evening having scored in double figures just five times in 74 games as a Wisconsin Badger. Hours later, he was just the second 7-footer in the last 15 years to score 40 or more points in a game (Chris Kaman was the other). The breakout game would prove to be a sign of things to come, as Kaminsky wrapped up his junior season averaging 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, and led Wisconsin to within two points of a trip to the national title game.

Georges Niang, Iowa State, junior, forward

Niang was a force last season as a sophomore, averaging 16.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and an impressive 3.6 assists per game out of the post before a broken foot in Iowa State's round of 64 win over North Carolina cut his season (at least) one game short. Still, there were times when he looked slow and out-of-shape on the court, an observation that was backed up by the otherwise inexplicably long stretches he'd spend on the Iowa State bench. Niang took it upon himself to changed that in the offseason, shedding 30 pounds and appearing virtually unrecognizable to friends returning to Ames after spending their summers at home. "Gorgeous Georges" is no longer the only thing standing in his own way, and that's a troubling thought for the rest of the Big 12.

Second team preseason All-Americans
Fred VanVleet, Wichita State, junior, guard

The reigning and preseason Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, VanVleet's stats don't jump off the page, but he was likely the biggest reason Wichita State became the first team since 1991 to enter the NCAA Tournament with an unblemished record a season ago. He finished his sophomore year one assist shy of WSU's all-time single-season record with 193, and ranked fourth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.02-to-1).

Sam Dekker, Wisconsin, junior, forward

Dekker averaged 10.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game during Wisconsin's run to the Final Four last season, and he's expected to be even more lethal after reportedly growing two inches during the offseason. The 6'9 Sheboygan native spent a solid chunk of his summer wowing scouts and executives during the skills camps hosted by LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

Caris Levert, Michigan, junior, guard

Levert's 6'7, 200-pound frame makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing shooting guards, and he's not one to back down from exploiting the advantage on either end of the court. After averaging just over 2.0 ppg as a freshman, Levert took his minutes boost last season and turned himself into a second-team All-Big 10 performer in 2013-14. He shot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc, and scored 20 or more points on eight different occasions. Now John Beilein will be asking Levert to make the leap from reliable performer to team star.

Juwan Staten, West Virginia, senior, guard

The Big 12's preseason Player of the Year, Staten is coming off a season in which he both led the conference in scoring and ranked second in assists. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Staten is that he plays more minutes than anyone in the Big 12, scores more than anyone in the Big 12, distributes (almost) more than anyone in the Big 12, and yet he's still averaging less than two turnovers per game over two seasons as a Mountaineer.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona, sophomore, forward

A season after adequately fulfilling the modest freshman role he was assigned, RHJ is poised to become one of the sport's biggest names on an Arizona team that needs him to shine. The insanely-athletic forward gave a preview of what's to come during Arizona's 2014 NCAA Tournament run, as he came off the bench to hit 18-of-27 shots and average 14.0 ppg over the Wildcats' four contests.

Third team preseason All-Americans
Stanley Johnson, Arizona, freshman, forward

The 2014 McDonald's All-American Game MVP, Johnson is widely-regarded as the best two-way prospect in the country, and figures to be right in the middle of the No. 1 draft pick discussion for the duration of his short stay in college. In addition to appearing capable of dunking from any spot across mid-court, Johnson is already a proven winner. He went 135-7 and won four state championships at Mater Dei High School in California, and also captured a pair of gold medals with the USA Basketball U16 and U17 teams.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky, freshman, forward

It's easy to assume John Calipari has seen it all when it comes to five-star freshmen, but I'm not sure he's ever had a first-year player as uniquely talented as Karl-Anthony Towns. Despite standing 6'11 and weighing somewhere in the vicinity of 250 pounds, Towns has the ability to play as many as three positions. Despite having a legitimate shot at being the first player selected in the next NBA Draft, Towns is spending his time at Kentucky studying kinesiology, and says he plans to become a doctor when his basketball career is over.

Delon Wright, Utah, senior, guard

The 6'5 combo guard played nearly 92 percent of the time in his first season as a Ute, and shot a ridiculous 63.3 percent from inside the three-point line. He's arguably the best defender in the Pac-12, and has reportedly improved his perimeter game heading into his senior year.

Terran Petteway, Nebraska, junior, forward

In his first season as a Cornhusker, the 6'6 Petteway led the Big 10 in scoring (18.6 ppg) and carried Nebraska to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 16 years. He's not going to surprise anyone this season, which means his game will have to evolve even more if he wants to lead the Huskers to their first win in the big dance since 1998.

Ron Baker, Wichita State, junior, guard

Pigeonholing Ron Baker is a mistake. First, he was the walk-on who couldn't really play, then he was the spot-up shooter. Next, it was the guy who did everything sufficiently but nothing extraordinarily, and now he's the guy some people are predicting will leave school a year early so he can be selected in the 2015 NBA Draft. His next-level potential was on full display during Wichita States lone loss last season, when he connected on 7-of-12 shots and dropped 20 points on a Kentucky team littered with future pros. He'll have plenty more chances to showcase himself on yet another Wichita State team that will have the nation's attention.

Preseason player of the year and freshman of the year
Jahlil Okafor, Duke, freshman, center
Others receiving votes

Chasson Randle, Stanford | Perry Ellis, Kansas | Wayne Selden, Kansas | Tyus Jones, Duke | Olivier Hanlan, Boston College | Aaron Harrison, Kentucky | Brandon Ashley, Arizona | Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara | Chris Walker, Florida | Nic Moore, SMU | Jerian Grant, Notre Dame | Myles Turner, Texas | Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky | Yogi Ferrell, Indiana | R.J. Hunter, Georgia State | Angel Rodriguez, Miami | Tyler Haws, BYU | JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova | Ryan Harrow, Georgia State | Andrew Harrison, Kentucky | Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia | T.J. McConnell, Arizona | Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga | Cliff Alexander, Kansas | Aaron Thomas, Florida State | Branden Dawson, Michigan State | Buddy Hield, Oklahoma | D'Angelo Harrison, St. John's | Ryan Boatright, Connecticut | Keifer Sykes, Wisconsin-Green Bay

Producer: Chris Mottram | Photos: Getty Images

About the Author

Mike Rutherford is a college basketball contributor for SBNation.com as well as the manager of Card Chronicle. He lives in Louisville, KY where he's still best known for a runner-up performance in the 1997 city spelling bee.

Mike likes most things, but not exclamation points. He hates exclamation points.

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