When the NBA began requiring that high school players play at least one year of college basketball, fans everywhere began to think about what talented players such as Kobe Bryant or LeBron James could have accomplished at the college level.
Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis are all players that could have been drafted right out of high school. Instead, these players all dominated the college game and led their teams into March Madness.
This season features another incredible recruiting class that is filled with future scoring champions and defensive stoppers.
More intriguing than this group of incoming freshmen, however, is the number of highly talented players who did not declare for the NBA Draft after great freshman seasons.
Both groups of underclassmen have one common goal in mind.
They both want nothing more than to lead their teams to an NCAA Championship.
Indiana sophomore Cody Zeller
Indiana sophomore Cody Zeller was easily one of the best players in the nation last year, and he is certainly the most talented player to turn down a guaranteed first round selection in the NBA Draft.
Zeller gives validity to the USA Today Coaches Poll No. 1-ranked Hoosiers. While Indiana has a deep roster this season, Zeller is their anchor, and they will live and die with his success this season.
CBS College Basketball Insider Jeff Goodman recently praised Zeller, saying “He's a skilled seven-footer who averaged 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game as a freshman for a team that won 27 games and advanced to the Sweet 16.”
Zeller shot 62 percent from the field last season. He showed incredibly maturity and excellent shot selection as a freshman. These are the kind of traits that team leaders must exhibit if they are going to contribute to the team’s overall success.
Last season’s Big 10 Freshman of the Year Award winner has been credited with helping to turn Indiana’s dismal program around from the form that had become expected after Kelvin Sampson’s recruiting violation nightmares.
Zeller made the Hoosiers relevant again. He has helped them bring in top recruits once more.
Now he will look to make them champions.
Kentucky freshman Nelens Noel will look to be a defensive stopper this season
Nerlens Noel will look to fill the incredible void left by Player of the Year and first overall NBA draft pick Anthony Davis.
This is no easy task. How can someone replace one of the most talented and decorated one-and-done collegiate basketball players of all time?
One area that Noel can try to match Davis in is as a shot-blocking enforcer in the paint.
Noel is the top defensive prospect at the center position. His ability to block shots comes from excellent awareness around the rim.
Bringing in Noel will allow Kentucky to compete for the national championship again this season.
The Wildcats can attribute a lot of their success to their incredible offense last season. It is their defense, however, that deserves the majority of the credit.
Kentucky led the nation in opposition shooting percentage. The Wildcats only allowed opponents to shoot 37.2 percent from the field.
Kentucky also led the nation in blocked shots with a staggering eight blocks per game.
If Noel can fill the role of defensive leader and stopper, Kentucky will have an excellent chance to run the tables in March.
UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad will look to electrify and lead his teammates this season
Shabazz Muhammad will look to lead the UCLA Bruins to reclaim their lost greatness this season.
After a rough stretch of seasons that included the dismissal of Reeves Nelson, an exodus of talented players to different programs and a string of sub-standard records, Ben Howland appears to have found a player talented enough to turn it all around.
Muhammad has the upside and physical gifts to play in the NBA in the near future, and for this reason, he will likely declare for the NBA Draft after his freshman season.
The Las Vegas native leads an impressive recruiting class that also includes top rated small forward Kyle Anderson and center Tony Parker.
If this group of young talent has the ability to form a cohesive unit under Ben Howland, they could do special things in the coming season.
This cohesion will almost certainly come down to whether or not Muhammad can step up as a leader.
Muhammad has the ability to electrify crowds and teammates with his ability to finish above the rim. He is a leader by example, and according to an ESPN recruiting analyst, “he's a winner and has that desire to be the best”
As much as UCLA need his scoring and athleticism, they need Muhammad for his leadership and energy even more.
If Muhammad can lead by example in this coming season, there is nothing that these talented young Bruins cannot accomplish.
UNC sophomore James Michael McAdoo will look to utilize his added minutes this season
North Carolina’s sophomore power forward James Michael McAdoo is looking to show his incredible talent this season.
Last season, McAdoo was stuck behind Tyler Zeller and John Henson in the rotation.
Many thought McAdoo could follow the example set by former Tar Heel Marvin Williams. Williams was given limited minutes in his freshman year under Roy Williams. However, scouts thought he had enough upside to declare for the NBA Draft and be chosen on his projected skill level alone.
McAdoo did not follow this path, though.
Instead, he has returned to lead UNC through what promises to be a very competitive season.
McAdoo and UNC will face heavy competition from ACC favorite NC State, Duke, Florida State and the numerous tough non-conference opponents they will face.
The returning forward is not concerned. McAdoo recently said, “We’re not worried about any preseason rankings or preseason accolades that other teams might be getting over us”.
He would go on to say, “Coach Roy [Williams], he coaches … championship teams, and that’s what we are this year. We’re going to go out every day in practice and work”.
McAdoo will need to step into the starting role left to him by Zeller and Henson if UNC is to have any shot at a championship this season.
This is not your prototypical UNC team. In recent years, they have been built on a plethora of young talent.
This year, however, UNC’s title hopes will likely come down to the play of McAdoo as he attempts to prove to the world that UNC can still win on the biggest stages.
NC State freshman Rodney Purvis will look to add to NC State's already solid squad
Rodney Purvis has already given NC State fans a lot to be excited about this season.
The exciting shooting guard out of Raleigh, N.C., was recently cleared by the NCAA to play this season without any penalty.
Purvis was ranked the 20th best player in the class of 2012 by ESPN. His ability to score the basketball is almost unmatched. He is a solid athlete with a good frame.
Purvis will look to team up with junior guard C.J. Leslie.
Purvis and Leslie have the upside and opportunity to become one of the most explosive back courts in the nation. It is not impossible to think that by the end of the year, the two could average a combined 30 points per game.
Purvis might very well be the missing piece of the puzzle for NC State. His presence on this team make them the favorite to win the ACC.
With talented teams like Duke and UNC in their division, NC State will have to play lights out each and every game if they are to live up to this expectation of success.
If Purvis can live up to the expectations placed on him by fans and media, there is no reason to think that NC State cannot make a deep run in this year’s tournament.
Louisville sophomore Chane Behanan is set to have a breakout season for the Cardinals
Chane Behanan had a very successful freshman year for Louisville.
Behanan played a major role in Louisville’s Big East Championship win and their run to the Final Four.
He scored nearly 10 points a game and registered a little over seven rebounds per game.
The power forward is expected by many to have a breakout season for the Cardinals in this his sophomore year.
Behanan is in an enviable situation this season.
He is surrounded by talented returning players and highly touted incoming freshmen.
His coach is highly invested in his development, and recently drew comparisons between him and Charles Barkley.
Louisville is stacked with talent this season. They will be in just about everybody’s top five teams this preseason.
That being said, if they are going to make another deep run in March, they will need Behanan to make his expected leap from freshman talent to sophomore star.