Ranking the Top Foreign-Born College Basketball Stars in 2014-15
The Mutt and Jeff combination pictured above are two of the better college basketball players in America, despite the fact that neither was born in America.
International influence continues to expand in both the NBA and the NCAA game as players flock to the USA seeking the highest level of competition they can find. Assembling a crew of the top foreign-born players in college hoops this season could produce a strong top-10 team.
As a case in point, we present the following 12 players who were born within other countries' borders. Feel free to examine the list and picture these players joining forces as a world select team tipping off against, say, Kentucky or Arizona or North Carolina.
Now that would be must-see TV.
Players' heights and weights from official school bios. Recruiting rankings for freshmen from VerbalCommits.com player pages.
12. C Nnanna Egwu, Illinois
Born: Nigeria; 6'11" senior, 250 lbs.
2013-14 Stats: 6.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.1 blocks per game
Nnanna Egwu moved with his family to the United States at age six and didn't return to Nigeria until his junior year of high school. At the time, Egwu had only played competitive basketball for three years.
Now a senior at Illinois, he's become an experienced hand, one of the Big Ten's top shot-blockers and a highly capable rebounder. He was virtually the only post option the Illini could turn to last season, and his frequent offensive struggles were part of the team's slide into the NIT.
Egwu shot only 41.4 percent from the floor last season, and it's not like he was being hammered into missing shots, either. Compared to his 244 shot attempts, Egwu only drew a piddling 45 free-throw tries.
As he prepares for his final season, Egwu should have some painted-area scoring help in the form of touted freshman Leron Black. If Black concerns himself with the offense, it could free Egwu to focus on the glass and the defensive end. The Illini can't afford the empty possessions their center generated with iffy shot selection; only 71 of his 244 attempts were near the rim, according to Hoop-Math.com.
Egwu needs to attack the rim more regularly and spend more time at the foul line. He's improved from 46.2 percent free-throw shooting as a freshman to last year's 77.8. He can be much more of a weapon taking 15-foot unguarded shots than missing 15-foot jumpers with hands in his face.
11. G Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State
Born: Toronto, Ontario, Canada; 6'2" senior, 170 lbs.
2013-14 Stats: 16.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.9 SPG
Daniel Mullings has been a part of three straight NCAA tournament teams, and with the current state of the Western Athletic Conference, he's a good bet to finish his career four for four.
Mullings produced career-best numbers last season and clinched WAC Player of the Year honors, to say nothing of his All-Defensive team selection. Imagine what he could put up if he were allowed to play in a faster, more flowing system.
The Aggies were forced to play a slower style the last two seasons thanks to the presence of Mullings' behemoth countryman, 7'5", 355-pound Sim Bhullar. While Bhullar has taken his bulk to the professional ranks, his younger (don't call him "little") brother Tanveer is preparing to suit up this year. Tanveer goes 7'3" and 335 himself, so don't expect State to mash the throttle much during his minutes.
Late last season, Mullings took over at point guard for a few games. At his size, he'll need to play that position in the pros, but clubs will need to see him improve his ball-handling and outside shot before he'll be considered a viable prospect.
If he plays off the ball and the offense gives him a few more possessions per game, Mullings can contend for the WAC scoring title. As it is, though, he'll have to be content with the championships and trips to the Big Dance.
10. G/F Anthony Drmic, Boise State
Born: Melbourne, Australia; 6'6" senior, 196 lbs.
2013-14 Stats: 15.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG
Nearly everyone in the Mountain West Conference lost significant talents over this offseason. For that reason, it's hard to overlook Boise State as a contender for the league title, since the Broncos return senior stars Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic.
If Drmic returns at 100 percent, he's a certain contender for Mountain West Player of the Year. Injuries curtailed him late in the season, as he battled a stress fracture in his foot for most of the conference schedule. He averaged only 12.7 PPG over BSU's final 16 games after putting up 19.2 over the first half of the season.
By March, Drmic didn't have much left. He slumped to less than 10 PPG over his final six games and sat out a win over Wyoming. In that late span, he made only four of 29 three-point shots, pitiful efficiency for a player who had stuck 38 percent of those shots to date.
Drmic will need help to regain his sophomore form, as the Broncos must find a replacement for rebounding machine Ryan Watkins. The extra possessions Watkins produced on the glass were invaluable for BSU, and all the shots may not be available if no group of players can adequately mimic his production.
9. C Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga
Born: Torun, Poland; 7'1" junior, 296 pounds
2013-14 Stats: 10.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.7 BPG
Over Przemek Karnowski's first two seasons, he's had veteran big men to learn from. Two years ago, it was All-American Kelly Olynyk. Last season, burly forward Sam Dower helped carry the load.
This season, Gonzaga's low-post game will almost totally revolve around the giant Pole. It's a burden that he was certainly unprepared to carry two years ago.
By the end of last season, though, the signs of his growth were difficult to ignore. The Gonzaga blog The Slipper Still Fits broke down Karnowski's improvement in GIF form. The numbers reflect his increasingly consistent play, especially the pair of double-doubles that he notched against Oklahoma State and Arizona in the NCAA tournament.
Karnowski does need to maintain his defensive improvement, reflected in his scaling back his fouls in the middle games of last season. He recorded five games of four or five fouls in the Zags' first nine. He managed to keep himself out of trouble in early West Coast Conference games, but he ended with four or five fouls in five of the team's final nine games as well.
Gonzaga hasn't missed the NCAA tournament since 1998, and the streak isn't likely to end this season. The Bulldogs' chances of finally getting back to the Sweet 16, however—they haven't been since 2009—will be heavily dependent on their monstrous pivot man. If he can stay on the court, averaging a double-double should be well within reach.
8. G Justin Edwards, Kansas State
Born: Scarborough, Ontario, Canada; 6'4" junior, 195 lbs.
2012-13 Stats: 16.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.9 SPG (for Maine; sat out 2013-14 as transfer)
Justin Edwards' statistics are impressive enough, even if they were amassed in playing for an America East school. Expecting him to duplicate that sort of production for a Big 12 school sounds like complete foolishness.
Then the stories start to come, the ones that Ken Corbitt of the Topeka Capital-Journal alluded to in an April feature on Edwards. Kansas State teammates are excited about Edwards' athletic ability. They credit him with a 42" vertical leap. If all of it's true, the Big 12 will have a fight on its hands with this escapee from the snowy Northeast.
Edwards was no flash in the pan at Maine, averaging 13.9 PPG as a freshman before making a marked improvement as a sophomore. His biggest issue was ball security, as he coughed up 4.1 turnovers per game in 2012-13, but that shouldn't be as much of a problem with other capable scorers and handlers at K-State.
7. G Olivier Hanlan, Boston College
Born: Aylmer, Quebec, Canada; 6'4" junior, 184 lbs.
2013-14 Stats: 18.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 81.1 FT%
Boston College harbored legitimate postseason aspirations entering last season, but the Eagles instead ended up sinking like the Titanic. While other players bolted for the lifeboats, Olivier Hanlan decided to stay and play for new coach Jim Christian.
He may not make any All-American teams—or even experience a single ACC win—this season, but Hanlan should certainly earn respect from anyone who musters up an indignant lather about college hoop's transfer "epidemic."
But for a play here and a play there, it could have at least been a .500 season for the Eagles. BC finished a dismal 3-9 in games decided by four points or less. The loss of playmakers like Ryan Anderson and Joe Rahon won't help in that regard, but Hanlan showed he could make plenty of plays himself last season. Oddly, though, his best games didn't often result in victories.
Hanlan put up 15.5 PPG in BC's four conference wins, compared to 19.2 per game in the 14 losses. Of his eight 20-point ACC games, the only victory was the stunning road upset of top-ranked and undefeated Syracuse.
In a perfect world, Hanlan would be rewarded for his loyalty with a surprising flight up the standings for the new-look Eagles. Of course, there's nothing perfect about college basketball. It will be highly appropriate if Christian names Hanlan a captain, because it appears the skilled Canadian guard may be going down with the ship in 2014-15.
6. G Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Born: Freeport, Bahamas; 6'4" junior, 209 lbs.
2013-14 Stats: 16.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 38.6 3-pt. FG%
As a freshman, Buddy Hield looked like a conscience-free gunner, failing to shoot even 40 percent from the floor or 25 percent from three-point land. Perhaps he just needed one more year to get used to playing in shoes?
The Tulsa World's Guerin Emig drew out an interesting story about the Oklahoma guard's development in the Bahamas, with Hield telling him, "I played in slippers for a while, just killing everybody. I didn't have any shoes."
In the 2013-14 season, Hield had shoes and he was back to killing (nearly) everybody. Texas Tech was the only Big 12 opponent to hold him to single digits. Meanwhile, he carded 52 points in two meetings with Iowa State, a combined 36 against Texas and a total of 34 against Kansas.
Unfortunately, when Hield was bad, he was very bad, including at the most inopportune time. His 1-of-9 three-point shooting was a factor in the Sooners getting bounced by North Dakota State in the NCAA tournament.
Most of Oklahoma's production returns, including the guard trio of Hield, Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins. If coach Lon Kruger finds a capable frontcourt scorer to replace the departed Cameron Clark, the Sooners will threaten to repeat last season's second-place Big 12 finish. Even if he doesn't, it's not unreasonable to expect Hield to rank among the league's top scorers.
5. PG Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Born: Holland Landing, Ontario, Canada; 6'2" senior, 180 lbs.
2013-14 Stats: 14.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 41.2 3-pt. FG%, 87.3 FT%
It seems like a long time ago that Kevin Pangos threw down 33 points in his second collegiate game. In his three seasons, Pangos has been part of 87 Gonzaga wins, but only three of those have come in the NCAA tournament. To hear him tell it, there was a lot more that he could have done to help the Bulldogs reach the tourney's second weekend.
“I was playing at 60%,” Pangos said to NBC Sports' Rob Dauster, discussing a season that was even more painful physically than emotionally. Pangos spent the year dealing with a sprained ankle on one foot and turf toe on the other, injuries that severely limited his off-ball movement and his jump shot, two of the strengths of his game.
Even considering the physical ailments, Pangos' shooting efficiencies remained consistent with his first two years. If he can still sink 43 percent from the floor and 41 percent from the arc with throbbing feet, what can he do when healthy?
With potential impact transfers Byron Wesley, Kyle Wiltjer and Eric McClellan joining the Zags next season, Pangos may not need to markedly increase his scoring. That's saying nothing of returnees like Przemek Karnowski, Kyle Dranginis and Gary Bell.
However, if he's healthy, he'll be even more likely to sink the shots he does take. Defenses will have major headaches trying to rotate and cover all these scorers.
4. PG Kenny Chery, Baylor
Born: Montreal, Quebec, Canada; 5'11" senior, 180 lbs.
2013-14 Stats: 11.5 PPG, 4.7 APG
Right now, it doesn't seem likely that former junior college transfer Kenny Chery will light up the Big 12 in his senior season the way Baylor predecessor Pierre Jackson did, but we can't rule anything out.
After all, he hit a rich vein of form after Valentine's Day, when he stopped having to navigate campus in a walking boot to heal a case of turf toe. Chery put up 14.4 PPG over the Bears' final 14 games, starting the run with one of the 10 triple-doubles in college basketball last season.
Chery victimized the Kansas State Wildcats again in the regular season finale, putting up 29 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals in a win at Bramlage Coliseum. His return to health was instrumental in Baylor's rally from a 2-8 Big 12 start to an NCAA Sweet 16 trip.
With Chery's fellow Eh-Teamer, Ontario product Brady Heslip, exhausting his eligibility, Chery will need to break in a new backcourt partner. The likely candidates appear to be redshirt freshman Allerik Freeman or true frosh Kobe Eubanks. We can expect Chery to take a few more shots as a senior, but a Big 12 scoring title a la Jackson two years ago would be a surprise.
3. G Tyler Haws, BYU
Born: Belgium; 6'5" senior, 200 lbs.
2013-14 Stats: 23.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 40.4 3-pt. FG%, 88.1 FT%
BYU guard Tyler Haws lacks a catchy nickname like "The Jimmer," and he doesn't make 40-something-point games nearly as much of a habit as former teammate Jimmer Fredette did. But they do happen. Just ask the Portland Pilots, who ate a 48-point outburst from Haws last January.
Problem is, Portland won that game in triple overtime. Haws hit key shots to extend the game in each of the first two bonus frames, but his rare three missed foul shots helped send the game to OT in the first place.
The big games may need to come more frequently from Haws, especially if point guard Kyle Collinsworth can't make a rapid comeback from a torn ACL. The Cougars' other two double-digit scorers from last season are gone, with guard Matt Carlino transferring to Marquette and center Eric Mika leaving for his church mission.
The always-high-scoring Cougars will still be fun to watch because of their propensity to both score and allow big numbers. Haws' 48 against Portland is the third-highest total in school history, behind only The Jimmer. BYU could use a few more assaults on the record book to assure a return trip to the NCAA tournament.
2. F Trey Lyles, Kentucky
Born: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada; 6'10" freshman, 255 lbs.
Class of 2014 Rankings: ESPN 6, Rivals 13, Scout 11
He hasn't played a collegiate game yet, but Trey Lyles will play for Kentucky. That automatically makes him more of a superstar than any of the 10 players who came before him on this list.
The former McDonald's All-American steps onto a roster unlike any other in the game, one where his credentials blend in seamlessly with everyone else's rather than stand out like Jack Nicholson in a high school play. There's no guarantee that Lyles will even start for the Wildcats, as everyone has their own projected top five or suggestions on how the rookies can ratchet up their minutes.
Still, who's a bigger household name right now: Trey Lyles or Buddy Hield? And Hield's a star on an NCAA tournament team from a power conference. Don't even bother comparing the Q ratings of Lyles and Anthony Drmic or Daniel Mullings.
No matter how many minutes Lyles plays this season, he's on NBA scouts' boards for the 2015 draft until he says he's coming back for his sophomore year.
1. PG Emmanuel Mudiay, SMU
Born: Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; 6'5" freshman, 200 lbs.
Class of 2014 Rankings: ESPN 5, Rivals 2, Scout 2
Emmanuel Mudiay could have joined Trey Lyles and the rest of the galacticos at Kentucky, becoming just another transient prospect in John Calipari's assembly line. Instead, he chose to stay close to his adopted Dallas home and become the most important recruit in SMU basketball history, with the possible exception of his new coach Larry Brown.
Mudiay is guaranteed to be an integral part of the Mustangs' attack from day one, which is about the only thing that separates him from Lyles, who'll have to fight hard for his playing time. Whether Mudiay or Nic Moore becomes SMU's primary ball-handler, they'll still form a tremendously talented backcourt, potentially one of the nation's best.
During the McDonald's All-American game, Mudiay scored 15 points, dished six assists and proved that he was elite even among the elite. He'll lead the Mustangs in their duel with defending national champion UConn atop the American Athletic Conference—a battle that may turn out to be that league's only compelling storyline all year.
Mudiay and Lyles could both only be with us one season before bolting for pro riches. But it could be a fun season, especially if the postseason gods deem us worthy of a matchup between their two teams.