CHICAGO -- This isn't a normal class of freshmen.
Julius Randle nearly single-handedly lifted No. 1 Kentucky past No. 2 Michigan State before eventually succumbing to the experience of a Spartans team that knew how to handle late-game situations in early November a tad better.
In the second game of the Champions Classic at the United Center, Duke's Jabari Parker was the dominant player for the No. 4 Blue Devils over the first 20 minutes against No. 5 Kansas. Andrew Wiggins had his turn in the second half, propelling Kansas to a 94-83 victory over the Blue Devils.
Randle, Parker and Wiggins lived up to their hype and were every bit worth the trip for all those representative of all those NBA teams in attendance.
But there is so much more to Kansas' class than just Wiggins. Frank Mason showed he has the ability to go in the lane, draw contact and convert at the free throw line. Joel Embiid was a force at times, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists in 20 minutes. And Wayne Selden Jr. buried timely buckets for 15 points.
This is not the norm for first-year players. But get used to it. The freshmen in this class, not just the three or four biggest (for which we need to include Arizona's Aaron Gordon here), isn't normal.
"It's remarkable that a kid who is 18, in his second game, can come in here, come to his hometown and play against Kansas and he was sensational,'' Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Parker, who finished with 27 points before fouling. "Imagine the emotion that you use. He wasn't just worn out toward the end because of the way the game was played, he was emotion-ed out. He was terrific. That's how you grow. He handled everything really well.''
Krzyzewski added that growth doesn't take place unless there is experience. That's exactly what Kansas got Tuesday.
The Jayhawks had no idea what kind of team they were, or could be, going into the game. Earlier Tuesday, coach Bill Self said he was anxious to see how his team handled a game of this magnitude so early in the season. No offense to Louisiana Monroe, but the Jayhawks had no clue how talented they were after the opener. They had to deal with adversity to find out.
Kansas had to wait until Wiggins could pick his spots. That came much later in the game. He ended up with 22 points. He also saw how Mason could make plays and got a glimpse of the untapped potential that exists in Embiid and Selden once they get comfortable. Certainly, the freshmen weren't the only reason the Jayhawks prevailed. They don't win this game if sophomore Perry Ellis didn't heed Self's demands to be more assertive and aggressive inside. Ellis finished with a team-high 24 points and scrapped for each bucket. The contribution of returnee Jamari Traylor earlier in the game set a defensive tone that Self covets.
But the Jayhawks, much like Kentucky earlier in the evening, will ultimately be defined not just by Wiggins, but by the bevy of freshmen who make up one of the richest first-year classes college basketball has seen in the past 10 years.
"All three [Randle, Parker and Wiggins] have a chance to be special, but it's also one week into our season,'' Self said "We get too giddy about certain guys because of the unknown. When guys are seen and studied and figured out, there will be a roller coaster for all these kids. It's a great freshman class, without question. We're fortunate to have one that's talked about a lot. But I also think our other guys have a chance to be pretty good, too. I don't think it's limited to those three freshmen in terms of quality freshmen.''
Self said Wiggins wanted to play Parker, but Self didn't want Wiggins to be in foul trouble, so he wouldn't allow it. So Wiggins just took Parker himself late in the game. That kind of assertiveness speaks volumes about Wiggins.
What was on display Tuesday night was clear: This is a special class.
"I think this is going to be an unbelievable year in college basketball,'' Self said. "There are more hyped players, an unbelievable freshmen class and there appears to be the potential to have more great teams than what we've had in the past.''