Time to Shine

March Madness remains to be one of the most exciting and relevant sporting events in this country. No matter who you are or where you work, people get invested in it. It’s also because there are thousands of different pools all around us, so taking a $5 or $10 chance to win a bunch of money is usually worth it. Unless you hate sports entirely; in that case, you probably stopped reading this already.

While the tournament showcases colleges from all over the country competing against each other in order to come away with one final winning school (the champion), it’s also a great chance to see the NBA’s top prospects play on the biggest stage of their collegiate careers before they enter the ensuing draft. Since there’s been a lot of hype around this year’s upcoming draft, this year’s tournament has a lot of potential to be even more competitive than usual, and so far it’s been typically exciting.

Most of the top prospects are pretty much a lock to be among the first picked, no matter how they play in the tournament. Not to say that it doesn’t matter how they play, because it certainly does, but just because Duke lost in the first round doesn’t mean that teams are going to pass up on Jabari Parker come draft day. Despite the loss, he’s still a lock to be a top-3 pick.

What’s even more interesting to see are the players who rise from anonymity to gain recognition after they play well in the tournament, but sometimes it’s misleading. In the 2005-2006 season, Tyrus Thomas from the LSU Tigers was proving to be a potentially good player all year as a freshman. Averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds a game and playing for one of the best teams in the country, his draft stock was looking good for the future. That year in the Tournament, he had modest numbers for the first 3 games, and in the Elite 8 game he scored 31 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. They would lose in the next round, but that Elite 8 game was all that some NBA scouts needed in order to be convinced. He would become the 4th pick in that summer’s draft, play a few meaningful seasons for the Bulls, and where is he now? He was cut by the Charlotte Bobcats last year, where he was earning $8 million a year. At 28 years old, the 2006 #4 draft pick isn’t in the NBA right now.

On the other hand, in the 2009-2010 season, the Butler Bulldogs were one of the better mid-major teams all year. While fans were becoming aware of what they were doing, no one could name a player from that team until that year’s tournament, where they shocked everyone by making it to the championship game, where they lost to Duke by only 2 points. The team had several quality players of course, one of which was sophomore Gordon Hayward. After a strong season of averaging 15 points and 8 rebounds, he put up nearly the same numbers (16 & 7) in the tournament, and since he was able to play 3 weekends in a row, he became known to fans and critics everywhere. After the tournament, most fans could recognize the pasty white boy with the crew cut. Hayward would become the 9th pick in that year’s draft, and putting faith in him has paid off. He has gotten better in his 3 years in the NBA, and is currently averaging 16,5 and 5 for the Utah Jazz.

It’s hard to say who (if anyone) will play well enough in this year’s tournament to become a recognizable prospect, but we already know who the top prospects are, and luckily each of them had a chance to show everyone what they can be like on the game’s biggest stage.

Julius Randle: University of Kentucky, Forward – Freshman

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Julius Randle has been on the radar all year, and now that Kentucky has advanced to the Sweet 16, expect his draft stock to rise even more. He’s had two impressive games, scoring 19 and grabbing 15 rebounds in the first round, followed with an impressive stat line of 13, 10 and 6 assists over the previously undefeated and #1 seeded Wichita State Shockers. Unless he plays poorly and/or Kentucky gets knocked out badly, expect his name to be called a little earlier than expected. I see him being a good contributor in the NBA, given he plays for the right team. I could also see him getting lost on a bad team like the Bucks or Kings and becoming irrelevant in a few years, but I think he will be the kind of player who’s always able to contribute.
My comparison: Jason Maxiell
What he should do: Stay in school

Andrew Wiggins: Kansas University, Forward – Freshman

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Wiggins was the most hyped player coming out of high school since LeBron. The consensus was that he would be the #1 draft pick in the 2014 draft, but then the season started, and people started to calm down. Yes, he is good, he is athletic, but I’m not completely sold. He’s still very raw, but he will continue to get better, and after a pretty impressive first (and I imagine only) year at Kansas, expect him to be taken in the top 3, even though Kansas lost in the 2nd round of the tournament while Wiggins scored only 4 points. I wouldn’t pick him #1, but if I had the 4th pick and he was still available it would be a no-brainer to take him.
My comparison: Jeff Green
What he should do: Stay in school

Marcus Smart: Oklahoma State, Guard – Sophomore

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After a strong freshman year, Marcus had the chance to enter last year’s draft, but chose to stay in school. He followed it up with a solid season, averaging 18 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists a game, and proved that he has the ability to turn it up, having games of 39 and 30 points. His shooting can definitely improve, but he shot a respectable 42% for the season, so that should increase as the years go on. Most importantly, he knows how to play, he’s tough, unselfish, and seems like the perfect kind of player to lead one’s team. He won’t and shouldn’t be the first pick, but whatever team lands him will be getting a very valuable player.
My comparison: A bigger Chris Paul. Maybe not as good, but I think he can be a great leader for the right team.
What he should do: Enter the draft

Joel Embiid: Kansas University, Center – Freshman

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Joel came nearly out of nowhere as he rose to become one of the top prospects in this year’s draft. At seven feet tall, he’s a tremendous athlete with a lot of upside, but I’m very weary, especially since he already has back problems. I know it’s something that he can overcome, and for all we know he can become the next Hakeem Olajuwon, so only time will tell. In other drafts I might take him right away, but I’d rather go with some of the other proven players. It doesn’t help that he missed the 2 games in the tournament due to back issues, either.

It’s typically risky to pass up the chance to enter the draft when a player is a potential lottery pick, but centers, especially 7 foot ones, are always going to be a hot commodity in the NBA. Even if his numbers don’t improve much over the next year or 2 if he stays in school, no one will forget about him. Stats may possibly diminish, but his height never will. I think height is overrated, but carrying the ’7 feet tall’ label does wonders for prospects. Whether it’s this year’s draft or one in the future, expect Joel to be taken very early.
My comparison: Roy Hibbert
What he should do: Stay in school

Jabari Parker: Duke University, Guard/Forward – Freshman
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Jabari Parker has been on the radar for the past few years. Much like Wiggins, there was a lot of hype around Parker’s eventual first season at the storied Duke program, and he didn’t disappoint. Averaging 19 points and nearly 9 rebounds a game, Jabari was the most impressive player in the country in my opinion. He carries himself well on the court and already has the feel of an NBA player. Every time I was able to watch a Duke game, he stood out the most every time. He can shoot the 3, hit the midrange shot, he’s got great hands, and has a solid body that can endure the kinds of hits he’ll eventually be taking in the NBA.

He may not have the kind of athletic upside that Wiggins has, and he may be better off if he stayed in school, but I would take Parker #1 in this year’s draft, no question. He’s a natural basketball player and he proved he can handle the hype that comes with being a high-profile athlete. There’s an Andrew Wiggins on nearly every team, but players with Jabari’s talent and ability to score don’t come around as much. My hope is that the 76ers get the first pick, take Parker, and turn things around in Philly.
My comparison: Paul Pierce/Grant Hill
What he should do: Stay in school

Yes, Jabari should stay in school for at least one more year, as should most of these prospects. There hasn’t been any definite decisions, but odds are most of these guys will be leaving school early. The general thinking is that if a player has a chance to be a lottery pick, he should take it, and I can’t blame the player for doing so. There are tons of people who think otherwise, and think that players should be staying longer than just one season, but that’s the reality of the situation, and until the rules change I don’t see it being any different. Sure, the college game has changed dramatically over the years, but it’s not just the amount of players leaving school early, either. What about all the conference changes? What about the addition of play-in games for the Tournament?

The NCAA cares way more about making money than it does keeping its athletes in school. Yea, it would be nice to see Wiggins and Parker and Smart stick around for at least another year and see if they can improve their games a little bit more before entering the NBA, but for what? The integrity of college basketball? Please.

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