With his sleek offensive moves, honed work ethic and projected status as the No. 1 pick in next year's NBA Draft, North Carolina freshman Harrison Barnes is the odds-on favorite to be voted the ACC's Preseason Rookie of the Year come October.
"But after seeing a lot of these new guys playing this summer - they're all going to battle for it," Duke senior guard Nolan Smith said.
Unlike last season, when Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors ran away with the end-of-season rookie award, expect Barnes to be pushed for the prize, particularly by several other ACC rookies in the Triangle.
The freshmen expected to make the biggest impacts in the league:
1. Barnes, UNC, 6 feet 6, 205 pounds - The Tar Heels struggled to a 5-11 finish in ACC play last season in part because they couldn't hit shots, didn't defend, never really found a go-to guy and didn't work as hard as coach Roy Williams wanted in practice. Barnes does all of those things. And while no one in Chapel Hill wants to put pressure on the Iowa native by calling him a savior, don't be surprised if he's putting that pressure on himself.
2. Kyrie Irving, Duke, 6-1, 170 - If any rookie can blow by Barnes for top-frosh kudos, it's Irving. He plays like a young Chris Paul with his speed and court savvy and is projected as an early first-round pick if he goes pro after one year, as well.
As the heir apparent to the graduated Jon Scheyer, Irving will have the Blue Devils playing as a more up-tempo team. And if the defending national champions are to repeat, he'll have to catch on to coach Mike Krzyzewski's system as fast as he can dribble.
3a. Lorenzo Brown, N.C. State, 6-4, 175 - After a year in prep school, Brown leads a group of incoming Wolfpack players which could push State back to the upper tier of the ACC if they live up to expectations.
The four-star recruit will be particularly key because he can handle the ball and create his own shot. And since he's a year more experienced than his classmates, he's more physically ready to face the rigors of a long season.
3b. C.J. Leslie, N.C. State, 6-8, 190 - If the Wear twins had told UNC's coaches a month before they left town that they planned to transfer, might Leslie have ended up a Tar Heel? After the Raleigh product picked the Pack in April over UConn and Kentucky (and before Williams had the scholarship slots available to make a desperate run at him) fans may never know. But the result should be some intense battles between Barnes and Leslie - an athletic go-getter who likes to block shots when he's not creating them.
5. Reggie Bullock UNC, 6-6, 185 - The Tar Heels' outside shooting was laughable last season. But the Kinston native showed during the summer league that he can not only hit 3-pointers, but he can get to the basket as well. If he can meet Williams' expectations on defense, he could start the season at shooting guard.
6. Ian Miller, Florida State, 6-2, 175 - The five-star guard from Charlotte would be higher on the list if he were slated to start.
But he will be a key backup and should play important minutes on a team that has to prove it can score if it wants to contend for one of the top slots in the league.
7. K.T. Harrell, Virginia, 6-3, 170 - With Sylven Landesberg, the team's leading scorer (17.3 ppg), gone to the pros after failing out of school, and wings Jeff Jones and Tristan Spurlock transferring, there's plenty of opportunity for this four-star recruit to get shots.
8. Jarell Eddie, Virginia Tech, 6-6, 185 - The Charlotte wing's jump shot should earn him a place in the rotation. He likely won't start this season, but he's building up to it.
9. Tony Chennault, Wake Forest, 6-1, 170 - Although not ranked as highly as some of his classmates, Chennault's play will be key, because he's the only real ballhandler on the Deacons' roster.
As the Jeff Bzdelik era begins in Winston-Salem, the three-star recruit has a tough task following in the footsteps of former point guards Paul, Jeff Teague and Ish Smith. Can he be an effective floor leader?
Others to watch: Kendall Marshall, North Carolina, 6-3, 180; Ryan Harrow, N.C. State, 5-11, 155; James Johnson, Virginia, 6-8, 210; Jason Morris, Georgia Tech, 6-4, 190; Josh Hairston, Duke, 6-8, 215; Mychal Parker, Maryland, 6-6, 190; Rion Brown, Miami, 6-5, 190; Carson Desrosiers, Wake Forest, 6-11, 225.
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