Fabulous freshmen return for super sophomore seasons in Pac-12 Men's Basketball
SAN FRANCISCO — The 2021-22 season saw plenty of freshmen make their mark across the Pac-12 Men's Basketball landscape. Harrison Ingram won Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors after averaging 10.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game, while Washington State forward Mouhamed Gueye showed plenty of flashes of why he is the second highest-rated recruit in Cougar history.
Luckily for Pac-12 fans, Ingram and Gueye are back for their sophomore seasons, as are other top freshmen from last season.
You would think that at least one or two members of an All-Freshman team from a power conference would make the jump to the professional ranks, but all five members of the 2021-22 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball All-Freshman Team are back for Round 2, with Colorado guard K.J. Simpson, Utah guard Lazar Stefanovic and Oregon State forward Glenn Taylor Jr. rounding out the list.
Ingram is the first Pac-12 Freshman of the Year to return for his sophomore season since Arizona State’s Jahii Carson did so in 2013, while this is the first time all five members of the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team have returned since the Pac-12 expanded to 12 schools more than a decade ago.
“I think it’s a testament to the strength of our conference. Guys being a little more patient and listening to the people they entrusted to go to college and play for when their time is right,” said Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle. “It’s going to make for a very exciting season for our conference.”
Sure, there is a lot of talent that left the conference — Bennedict Mathurin is already making an early case for NBA All-Rookie consideration and the Pac-12 had six players drafted in 2022, including UCLA's Peyton Watson, who was an honorable mention All-Freshman Team pick last season— but the cupboard is far from bare with the return of these super sophomores and six other All-Pac-12 performers from a season ago.
“We say this to our guys all the time. We’re not only in one of the best conferences or leagues in the country, it’s one of the best conferences or leagues in this world,” said Utah head coach Craig Smith. “I don’t recall all the members of that All-Freshman team, but I remember some really, really good ones out there.”
Ingram was probably the closest to leaving. At different points last season, he was projected to be a first-round draft pick. He declared for the 2022 NBA Draft last March and attended the NBA Draft Combine before deciding to return to Stanford in May. While another year of development could certainly help his cause, Ingram also had team goals in mind when choosing to come back.
“My dream is the NBA, but another dream is making March Madness, and I feel like we have a great chance to do it this year,” Ingram said. “I trust Coach, trust Spencer [Jones], trust my teammates to get it done.”
After an impressive freshman season, Gueye has been entrusted with being a team captain. WSU head coach Kyle Smith did not want to put too much pressure on him as a freshman but was pleased with how Gueye consistently showed up early to practice and topped the charts in Smith’s analytics and hustle stats.
Smith and staff want to take advantage of what they believe will be Gueye’s final year playing college basketball.
“We assume this is his last year too, so might as well get a crack at being a captain,” Smith said. “He’s done a great job and just really looking forward to the great things he’s going to do.”
Great upperclassmen returners like UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell and Arizona’s Kerr Kriisa and Ąžuolas Tubelis will rightfully earn a lot of the headlines this season, but don’t forget about the Pac-12’s impressive batch of sophomores in 2022-23.