As I skim the preliminary ACC basketball predictions of everyone from national prognosticators to casual fans of conference schools, I generally notice one trend when it comes to Wake Forest: People are forgetting (or do not know enough) about Ari Stewart. As someone who spends far too much time reading college basketball forums, I have observed that even a majority of Wake's own fans do not seem to understand the kind of player that Stewart will likely be early on in his Wake Forest career.
Throughout the past few years the media and fans bubbled with preseason excitement about players such as James Johnson, Jeff Teague and Tony Woods. Ari Stewart is rated higher (39th overall) than all of them by one of the best indicators of incoming recruits, the RSCI, which takes into account rankings from the seven best college basketball recruiting services. Even more promising is that he appears to be headed in the right direction at the right time, jumping up 24 spots since the last ranking. Stewart played for one of the top teams in the nation, the Wheeler Wildcats, and finished his career with a championship at the highest level of basketball in the state of Georgia (Just like Al-Farouq Aminu in his senior year). The best part for Demon Deacon fans is that he possesses the skills to slide right in where James Johnson left off. Now I'm not saying that he will put up the same stats that Johnson did last year, but Stewart should be able to pick up a lot of the slack left behind by Johnson's departure. At 6'7" 190, Stewart is much slimmer and more guard-oriented than Johnson at the small forward position. As one of the most athletic players in the class of 2009, he has the ability to slash though the lane and finish strong, as well as get out on the break. He is also a solid shooter and has range out to the three-point line. In my opinion, averaging close to double figures and grabbing four to five boards per game is a realistic set of expectations for Stewart coming into the season.
Coach Dino Gaudio had this to say about him: "Ari Stewart can come in and be an impact player in his first year for us. He's a big guard who can not only shoot, but rebound. He is also a terrific on the ball defender with his size and is an excellent rebounder."
Slam Magazine caught his MVP performance in the Reebok All-American game and wrote:
"One of the better small forwards in the country, Stewart has outstanding size and length for the position at the collegiate level. He put down several impressive flushes in the lane with traffic in his way, while also displaying a first step that will have him beating defenders off the bounce even as a newcomer to the ACC.... this athlete will be a player early on for the Demon Deacons."
Taking the departures and remaining roster for Wake Forest into account, it seems very likely that Ari Stewart will be starting at small forward by at least December, although it would not surprise me if he earns it from day one. It will be very exciting to see point guard Ish Smith run the floor with freak athletes Al-Farouq Aminu, L.D. Williams and Stewart alongside him. If Stewart performs anything like Aminu or Johnson did in their freshmen campaigns, which I think he will, many analysts and message board warriors will be proven wrong about the 2009-2010 Demon Deacons. Yes I'm talking to you, J.P. Giglio.