A few players who would have been selected very high in the recent NBA Draft elected to return to school, and there are some incoming freshmen that have the potential to be perennial all stars at the next level. The following players are sure to be visited by professional scouts in the coming months:
ANDREW WIGGINS – This highly-touted Canadian prospect has stood out throughout his young career due to his off-the-charts athleticism. Wiggins has very few holes in his game as he has a steady jump shot, the ability to handle the ball under pressure and a great understanding of the game. Kansas instantly became a national title contender the second the projected No. 1 pick in next year’s draft announced he would play his home games in Allen Fieldhouse in 2013-14. With all due respect to Anthony Bennett, Wiggins would be starting for the Cleveland Cavaliers if the NBA didn’t have any age minimum. The opportunity of becoming the second Canadian player selected first overall is his to lose.
JABARI PARKER – While Wiggins is entering college as the top incoming freshman, he only has a slight edge over the next great player to come out of Simien, which has one of the elite high school programs in not only Chicago, but the entire nation. Parker is a polished player and due to his 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame, will be able to play up to four different positions next year for Duke. Once considered the best prospect in his class, he has plenty of motivation to make an impact right away and he couldn’t have picked a better coach to help him find success. Dating back to 2003, 12 of the 15 McDonald’s All-Americans that elected to play for coach Mike Krzyzewski have gone onto play in the NBA, not including Ryan Kelly, who was recently a second round pick by the Los Angeles Lakers.
MARCUS SMART – It is rare to see a freshman who is projected to be a lottery pick return to school for his sophomore campaign. This unique Big 12 Player and Freshman of the Year did just that in April when he announced he would be back in Stillwater for 2013-14. Smart almost exclusively played point guard for Oklahoma State this past year, which silenced the critics who considered him too much of a “tweener”. The 6-foot-4 guard resembles a young Baron Davis due to his fearless approach, physicality and explosive first step. Smart and the Cowboys could ultimately end up being a road block for Wiggins and the Jayhawks in the battle for Big 12 supremacy.
JERAMI GRANT – Wesley Johnson, Jonny Flynn and Donte Green are the most recent examples of Syracuse players struggling to reach their potential in the NBA. Grant, who will be a sophomore next season, already has an idea of what it takes to excel at the next level being the son of Harvey Grant and the nephew of former World Champion Horace Grant. The Orange reached the Final Four this past season with Grant contributing in a reduced role off the bench. Jim Boeheim will need someone to step up to replace a lot of the offensive production that was lost with the departures of Michael Carter-Williams, James Southerland and Brandon Triche. Grant and C.J. Fair are going to be a devastating combination at forward for the Orange in their inaugural tour of the ACC. Grant would have started right away had he went to a less reputable program. Instead he spent his freshman year learning and developing, which often times ends up being a beneficial move. A breakout season is on the horizon for the DeMatha product, and it could shorten his stay in upstate New York.GARY HARRIS – Tom Izzo has led Michigan State to the NCAA Tournament in each of the past 16 seasons. Despite the program’s unstoppable winning tradition, there hasn’t been a Spartan drafted in the top-20 since 2001. That streak is going to be concluded in the near future thanks to Harris, who emerged as one of the top shooting guards in the country as a freshman in 2012-13. MSU was very competitive in one of the toughest conferences in college basketball, and Harris played a huge role with his marksman-like accuracy from beyond the arc. He also exhibited toughness at the defensive end. Harris will need to show he is capable of taking on taller guards as his 6-foot-4 frame is not quite ideal for wings at the next level.
DOUG MCDERMOTT – The only walk-on appearing on the list has already been selected as an All-American twice entering his senior year at Creighton. After announcing he would be the leader for the Blue Jays in their first year of Big East competition, McDermott gave up his scholarship for his point guard Grant Gibbs, who was granted a rare sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. The unselfish moves by the coach’s son indicate his loyalty and commitment to winning. McDermott is virtually unstoppable at the offensive end at the collegiate level because of his nearly flawless decision making and undeniably effective jump shooting. After next season, it will be interesting to see how he plays when he isn’t the first option offensively and the top priority of the defense he is facing. McDermott’s stock is going to rise if he maintains his stellar level of play against top-tier competition.
ANDREW HARRISON, JAMES YOUNG, and JULIUS RANDLE – John Calipari is king when it comes to recruiting. He coached Derrick Rose for one year at Memphis before migrating next door to the Bluegrass State. Kentucky has produced 13 first round picks, including a pair of No. 1 overall selections over the past four drafts. Calipari’s newest crop of freshmen is going to rival the Anthony Davis-led group that took home a national title. At 6-foot-5, Harrison has tremendous size for a point guard which allows him to survey the floor for open teammates while creating mismatch problems for the opposition. He is also an efficient scorer from just about anywhere on the court.
Harrison should have no problem getting into the lane with a lights-out shooter like Young on the wing. The lefty swingman showed he can put up points in a hurry during his high school days in Michigan. Young is thought to be a deadly threat from long range, but he may garner Manu Ginobili comparisons when his skill of creatively finishing at the tin is on center stage at Rupp Arena.
Randle, who is also a lefty, is a perfect complement on the inside for Kentucky’s rookie backcourt. The 6-foot-9 power forward has the strength to overpower weaker defenders and likes facing up to show off his accurate jumper as well. Sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein is also considered one of the top prospect for next year’s draft, which means all four Wildcats will seldom have to face double teams.
ISAIAH AUSTIN – Baylor is one of the few teams in the country to finish on a winning note as it left Madison Square Garden this past spring with the NIT title in tow. Austin had a huge showing in the postseason tournament as he played a vital role for coach Scott Drew’s squad. The seven-footer is already a terrific shooter, rebounder and shot blocker at just 19 years of age. Austin’s skill set is perfect for a pick and roll offense because his precision from the field will keep his defender from offering too much help at the rim. He could end up being one of the top picks in next year’s draft if he matures physically as his lack of strength limits his effectiveness on the interior.
OTHERS TO WATCH: Mitch McGary (Michigan), Semaj Christon (Xavier), James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina), Kyle Anderson (UCLA), Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado), Juvonte Reddic (VCU), Russ Smith (Louisville), Patric Young (Florida).
Lucas Gulotta is an associate editor and college basketball analyst for The Sports Network.