Incoming College Basketball Freshmen Most Likely to Stay for Multiple Seasons
To go pro or stay and play—that is the scenario that most of the top incoming freshmen in college basketball face on an annual basis nowadays.
As the highest-rated players in their class, they're already on the radar of NBA scouts and executives, who have been attending their high school and travel games for years. Rules require players to wait a year after high school before entering the NBA draft, which means spending at least one season in college (or heading overseas for a professional gig in Europe or Asia, as top point guard recruit Emmanuel Mudiay chose to do).
Nine of the top 51 players from the 2013 recruiting class ended up turning pro after one year, including six of the 11 highest-rated prospects, and all nine were taken among the first 18 selections in the 2014 NBA draft. More of the same should happen next year, as NBADraft.net's latest 2015 mock draft has seven incoming freshmen (along with Mudiay) slotted to enter the draft and go in the first round.
College coaches have to plan for the likelihood that their best freshmen won't ever become sophomores, but it's nice to dream of such a concept, right? And while so much attention gets paid to the top tykes, plenty of notable newcomers will stick around for two or more seasons for various reasons.
Here are the best 10 incoming freshmen who seem most likely to stick around for multiple years of college basketball.
Joel Berry, PG, North Carolina
Class of 2014 ranking: 30th
Height, weight: 6'0", 188 pounds
Why he will stay more than one year: Joel Berry has a chance to be one of the best point guards North Carolina has ever had, but as a freshman he's very likely to play an understudy role.
Carolina already has Marcus Paige, a junior, who was the team's do-everything player in 2013-14. He handled the ball most of the time and did most of the scoring from the perimeter, so it's not as if Berry will be able to supplant him enough to be pro-ready. The more likely scenario is that Berry will serve as a backup to Paige at the point and play alongside him when coach Roy Williams wants to have two ball-handlers on the court at the same time.
Once Paige goes pro, possibly after this season, it will be Berry's ship to sail. Until then, he's Paige's apprentice in the backcourt.
Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky
Class of 2014 ranking: 22nd
Height, weight: 6'6", 206 pounds
Why he will stay more than one year: There's no question that Devin Booker is an immense talent who on nearly any other team would be the primary offensive weapon. But the numbers game at Kentucky looks like it could suck him up more than any of the other freshmen in the 2014 class, and he could be the odd man out in terms of playing time this season.
Booker has looked good and bad during Kentucky's Bahamas exhibition trip, but after a solid start in the first game (seven points, two assists in 22 minutes) he struggled in the next two contests. In three games he's scored 12 points but has made just four of 17 shots from the field.
Booker has a team-high seven steals, which could be his way into the rotation through defensive pressure on the perimeter. But much like Marcus Lee in 2013-14, he won't play enough minutes for him to be truly ready to go pro after one season.
Montaque Gill-Caesar, SG, Missouri
Class of 2014 ranking: 36th
Height, weight: 6'5", 200 pounds
Why he will stay more than one year: Two months ago it looked like a lock that Montaque Gill-Caesar would still be in college during the 2015-16 season. That's because the wing who's known as Teki was officially a member of the 2015 recruiting class and wouldn't be eligible for the NBA draft until 2016.
But then a series of events went into motion over the summer—starting with Missouri's hiring of Rob Fulford, the former coach at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, as an assistant coach in late June—and suddenly Gill-Caesar was in play as a possible 2014 class prospect. He officially reclassified in early August and then signed on with the Tigers to join his old prep coach as the crown jewel of a recruiting class that now ranks No. 13 nationally.
The fact that Gill-Caesar waited so long to shift into the 2014 class should be an indication that the move was meant to give him extra time to develop into a pro player rather than to speed up the process. He graduated in the spring and therefore would be eligible for the 2015 draft, but he looks to be at least a two-year player at this point.
Daniel Hamilton, SG, Connecticut
Class of 2014 ranking: 17th
Height, weight: 6'8", 178 pounds
Why he will stay more than one year: Daniel Hamilton is in line to be one of the longest perimeter players in Division I, whether he plays at the 2 or 3. But where he'll come in lacking is in strength, as he's lean and in need of bulking up before he'll be ready for the pros.
Using his current weight as a barometer, only one player who was drafted in the first round in June was lighter. That was former Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier, who stands all of 6'0". Players in the 6'7" and 6'8" range who were drafted all weighed 200 to 220 pounds, though ex-Huskies forward DeAndre Daniels weighed in at 195 as a second-round choice.
Dimensions aside, Hamilton will need more seasoning than what he can get from a single season of college basketball. Though he could break out and parlay a monster year into a huge stock boost, chances are he'll need to return for at least his sophomore year before being truly NBA-ready.
Terry Larrier, SF, VCU
Class of 2014 ranking: 34th
Height, weight: 6'7", 172 pounds
Why he will stay more than one year: The most prized recruit in VCU history has aspirations to be a professional as much as any other top player, but by choosing to play for the Rams, he's already shown that his goals are as much about team performance as individual merits.
VCU has risen to national prominence under coach Shaka Smart and his "havoc" style of pressure defense, which requires all five guys on the court to contribute in order to be successful. Larrier has strong defensive skills, but he'll need to ramp them up to contribute well on that end with the Rams.
Smart told The Associated Press (h/t USA Today) that players like Larrier have to get used to the intensity of VCU, saying that "it's a shock physically and a little bit mentally too because it's a lot more demanding than what they are used to."
On offense he'll joined a crowded backcourt that features top returning scorers Rob Brandenberg, Treveon Graham and Briante Weber. Larrier is more about the future than the present for VCU, so he'll get a chance to develop into a great player over time.
Dwayne Morgan, SF, UNLV
Class of 2014 ranking: 23rd
Height, weight: 6'8", 190 pounds
Why he will stay more than one year: Part of the best recruiting class UNLV has had in possibly two decades, Dwayne Morgan might end up being the best of the lot in the long run. But at the outset he'll be overshadowed by 5-star shooting guard Rashad Vaughn and shot-blocking big man Goodluck Okonoboh.
CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein tweeted that Morgan might best fit into the Runnin' Rebels lineup as an undersized power forward so that he can use his "high motor" and athleticism. He'll get his chances to contribute, but with Vaughn likely to be the primary scorer on the perimeter and Okonoboh eating up the paint opportunities, Morgan might be the odd man out.
Two or three years from now, though, he could be the one causing other standouts to get overshadowed.
Theo Pinson, SF, North Carolina
Class of 2014 ranking: 15th
Height, weight: 6'6", 180 pounds
Why he will stay more than one year: All signs point to Theo Pinson finding his way onto the court quite a bit as a freshman for North Carolina, but not in the ways that will have him properly prepared for an immediate jump to the NBA.
Pinson has already developed a reputation as a defensive specialist, which is a rarity for a high-level recruit. He was explosive on offense as well in high school, but what grabbed scouts and coaches' attention was the way he'd disrupt passing lanes and work to terrorize ball-handlers and take them out of their comfort zone, according to Aaron Beard of the AP (h/t The Herald-Sun).
Those skills should come in handy this fall for a Carolina team that was not good on the defensive perimeter. Though Pinson isn't likely to start—fellow freshman Justin Jackson plays roughly the same position and has a better shot at a starting gig—he'll get his minutes as a guy who can help spark offense through defense and transition. But it will take more than that to get him ready for the NBA, so look for Pinson to stick around beyond his freshman year.
Melo Trimble, PG, Maryland
Class of 2014 ranking: 31st
Height, weight: 6'2", 190 pounds
Why he will stay more than one year: There will be fewer freshmen in the country with more riding on their shoulders than Melo Trimble, and while he appears ready and willing to take on that burden, it might be too much for him to handle while also progressing toward the pros.
So much has happened to Maryland since Trimble initially committed in November 2012. After reaching the NIT semifinals in 2012-13, the Terrapins slumped to 17-15 last season and then saw a wave of key players transfer from the program. Most notable was point guard Seth Allen, whose departure means that Trimble will likely start right away as Maryland moved from the ACC to the Big Ten.
Trimble has been very upfront about what he's facing, telling Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post that the loss of Allen made him "want to enter school right now" but also saying that he was disappointed he'd be handed the starting job instead of having to earn it. While it's refreshing to see such humility, it also means that Trimble might not be ready to take on so much responsibility right away and could struggle early.
But that could also be a great thing for Maryland's future, because slower development would increase the chances that Trimble isn't a one-and-done player.
Tyler Ulis, PG, Kentucky
Class of 2014 ranking: 19th
Height, weight: 5'9", 155 pounds
Why he will stay more than one year: Early returns on Tyler Ulis point to his potential to be an amazing college player. But whether that will translate into a successful professional career remains to be seen, and it most certainly won't be determined from just one year of college.
College basketball media members who have watched Kentucky's first few games of its Bahamas trip have raved over Ulis' play, as the speedy, little guard has already shown he can overcome his lack of size by doing everything else great. ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman tweeted that Ulis "just makes his teammates better," which is about the best compliment you can ever give a point guard.
Generously listed at 5'9", Ulis has to play much bigger in order to compete at the college level. He'll need to improve even more to make it in the NBA—something that will take more than one year. With the likelihood that the Harrison twins will be gone after this season, he'll have the Kentucky point guard job all to himself in 2015-16.
Justise Winslow, SF, Duke
Class of 2014 ranking: 14th
Height, weight: 6'6", 210 pounds
Why he will stay more than one year: As the highest-rated player on this list, Justise Winslow is also as close to NBA-ready as any of the more probable one-and-done freshmen of 2014-15. The difference is that he doesn't face the same opportunity to star as those ranked above him, and that more than anything could keep him in school another year.
The general rule for one-year college players is that they leave in hopes of being a lottery pick—which is where seven of them ended up in the 2014 NBA draft—but Winslow isn't even in the top 50 on NBADraft.net's latest 2015 draft big board (he's 51st). Fellow freshman teammate Jahlil Okafor is third on that list.
Plenty of experts predict Winslow to go pro after one season, but that's based on an expectation that he'll be able to develop more on the offensive end to go with his defensive skills and overall floor energy. Duke is the perfect place for him to hone those skills—but over the course of more than one year.
All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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