BYU Basketball has a pair of promising freshman in Gavin Baxter and Connor Harding. The two youngsters have striking similarities to two other Cougar stars.
It’s never wise to compare young players, whether in college or the pros, with other young players from previous years. Different players progress differently, so there’s no way to guarantee that similar early stats will lead to similar careers.
Well, we’re going to do it anyway.
BYU Basketball has two freshman who have become key parts of the rotation. Connor Harding has been a fixture in the rotation from the start of the season, and has started more than half of the Cougars’ 22 games.
Gavin Baxter, on the other hand, has slowly earned more minutes and will likely find his way into the starting lineup sooner rather than later.
Both young players had plenty of hype before coming to BYU, and they’ve both drawn comparisons to other Cougar greats. Harding has been compared to Kyle Collinsworth, while Baxter draws comparisons to teammate Yoeli Childs with his size and athleticism.
So how accurate are those comparisons?
If you compare Harding and Baxter’s seasons so far with Collinsworth and Childs’ freshman seasons, they actually look pretty similar.
Harding vs. Collinsworth
This season Connor Harding is filling roughly the same role as Kyle Collinsworth did as a freshman in 2010-11. He’s a starter that can do a little bit of everything without demanding the ball. Collinsworth took a backseat to Jimmer Fredette, Brandon Davies, and Jackson Emery, while Harding has been in a supporting role to Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws, and Jashire Hardnett.
Harding is getting roughly the same amount of playing time as Collinsworth did, and outscoring him 6.7 points per game to 5.8. Their shooting percentages are nearly identical (Harding – 48.6%, Collinsworth – 48.1%), and Harding is a better three-point (33.3% to 25.9%) and free throw (70.7% to 56.8%) shooter than Collinsworth was as a freshman.
Connor Harding will likely never be the triple-double threat that Kyle Collinsworth was, since Collinsworth was both a better rebounder (5.1 to 3.2 rpg) and distributor (2.08 to 1.5 apg) as a freshman, but Harding actually has a better assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7 to 1.3).
Even if Harding doesn’t become a triple-double machine like Collinsworth, his basketball IQ and complete skillset gives him the potential to turn into the same reliable go-to player that Collinsworth evolved into.
Baxter vs. Childs
It’s harder to compare Gavin Baxter with a freshman Yoeli Childs, since Childs played vastly more minutes than Baxter has. As a freshman in 2016-17, BYU’s current star played 25.9 minutes per game alongside Erik Mika, while Baxter has come along more slowly and averages just 9.6 minutes per contest so far this year.
Shooting stats can be compared, though, and Baxter has a better field goal percentage than Childs did as a freshman (61.4% to 55.0%). Childs had a slightly better mid-range jumper in his first season than Baxter does, but he was nowhere near the shooter than he’s become. Neither player hit a three-pointer as a freshman (so far).
If you take both players’ per-game averages and extend it out for 30 minutes per game, Childs averaged 10.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks. Baxter’s stats would translate to 9.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks.
Their scoring outputs are similar, and while Childs’ bigger body gave him the rebounding edge, Baxter’s long arms have given him the edge in blocks.
If Baxter can continue to improve his post moves and develop a passable jump shot, he’ll become a dangerous weapon in the post, even if he doesn’t become the dominant force that Childs has become.
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Harding and Baxter certainly won’t be alone in the coming years. They’ll have Kolby Lee, another promising big man who’s seen limited action this year. Then there’s Jesse Wade, the sharpshooting guard who’s redshirting after a transfer from Gonzaga.
Another sharpshooting freshman, Trevin Knell, will return from his mission to join two freshman big men, Shengzhe Li and Bernardo Da Silva, next year, then Nate Hansen and Hunter Erickson will join the program the following season.
We’ve already documented the troubling lack of player development over the past few seasons, and if that continues most of this talent will go to waste.
But if the Cougars can right the ship in that regard, there will be plenty of talent in the coming years, led by Connor Harding and Gavin Baxter.