College Basketball: Top NBA Prospect for Every Big 12 Team
Despite a decade-long domination in the Big 12 by the Kansas Jayhawks, the entire conference regularly produces elite NBA prospects, many of which are high lottery selections.
With two new member institutions in TCU and West Virginia, the now 10-team conference possesses five coaches either in their first or second year in the Big 12 but still has two highly successful and respected coaches in Bill Self and Rick Barnes. Both of these men have had impressive recruiting success and have shown the ability to develop student-athletes into future NBA draft picks.
Four of the five new coaches also have sent players to the next level but lack the consistency that Self and Barnes have provided for over a decade apiece, thus leaving uncertainty in the near future for NBA scouts making travel plans.
The Big 12 had nine players selected in 2012 NBA Draft but only one in the Top 15—Thomas Robinson. While there are nearly two dozen players that could hear their name called by David Stern over the next four years, only a couple have a chance of becoming lottery selections.
As we prepare for another glorious season of college hoops, here is the top NBA prospect from every Big 12 team.
Baylor Bears: Isaiah Austin
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The 7'0" Arlington native arrives in Waco as yet another blue-chip prospect for Bears savior Scott Drew.
Isaiah Austin was a consensus top-three recruit for 2012 and could become a consensus top-three pick in next year's NBA Draft as well. His size and mobility alone have scouts drooling but improved ball-handling and defensive aggressiveness make Austin a rare talent.
Senior Pierre Jackson should only further assist in his development, and barring a sudden drop-off in college, Austin will be a hot commodity come June.
Iowa State Cyclones: Georges Niang
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Ames native and Iowa State alum Fred Hoiberg has brought the Cyclones program back to relevance, and he did not even need a miracle comeback from Marcus Fizer to do so.
He has relied heavily on high-profile transfers in his first two years at ISU—see Royce White—but welcomes possibly the most highly regarded recruit in the last decade to Hilton Coliseum: Georges Niang.
Niang only stands at 6'7", but he can match up with anyone and compensates for any size discrepancy with incredible quickness and one of the best pivot arsenals in his class. There is no chance that Niang is ready for the NBA next season or in 2014, but a couple of development years with Hoiberg and assistant T.J. Otzelberger will help tremendously.
West Virginia Mountaineers: Juwan Staten
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Fred Hoiberg is not the only Big 12 coach reeling in impactful transfers as Bob Huggins welcomes in Juwan Staten for his return trip to the conference.
Staten, a 6'1" sophomore point guard, transferred from his hometown school Dayton and sat out last season due to transfer rules. He immediately brings an added dimension to the Mountaineers with excellent decision-making and efficient perimeter play.
Three consistent seasons as the distributor in Morgantown while he continues to develop a smoother stroke on mid-range jumpers should land him comfortably in the second round of the NBA Draft in 2014 or 2015.
Texas Longhorns: Myck Kabongo
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Without an elite point guard expected to be eligible in the 2013 NBA Draft, the Longhorns' Myck Kabongo could slide into the top 10 with consistent, well-disciplined performances this season.
As a freshman on a young Texas team in 2011-12, he did not take many shots but quickly established himself as one of the most efficient ball-handlers in the country despite a subpar assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.8.
With quick hands and adequately tight defense along the perimeter, he has the tools to become a floor leader for any NBA team. Another young team with only two upperclassmen but an abundance of athletic talent, Kabongo will have the opportunity to guide his Texas team to the Dance as he looks to improve his current draft stock of a mid-late first round selection.
Texas Tech Red Raiders: Jordan Tolbert
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Texas Tech sophomore Jordan Tolbert has NBA talent, but he made waves this offseason not for his development but for his blunt opinion on then-head coach Billy Gillispie.
At 6'7" with excellent ball-handling skills, he will be the Red Raiders' go-to player regardless of any changes that interim head coach Chris Walker makes in 2012-13. Without a doubt, he possesses a good all-around game and moves as well as any similarly sized forward in the Big 12, but inadequate talent around him may hinder his NBA potential.
His 52 percent shooting from the floor allowed him to efficiently average 11.5 points per game, but he also showed impressive patience around the rim when looking for a feed down low or anticipating boards.
Oklahoma State Cowboys: Le'Bryan Nash
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Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford knew exactly what he was getting in 5-star recruit Le'Bryan Nash, and despite a less-than-ideal field goal percentage and turnover margin, Nash has delivered for the Cowboys.
Following a successful 2011-12 campaign in which he averaged 13.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game with an uninspiring supporting cast, the talented sophomore guard/forward looks to develop his all-around game with more patience offensively and become an NBA lottery selection in 2013.
Marcus Smart, a 6'4" freshman 2-guard will significantly help to relieve defensive pressure on Nash as he was routinely double-teamed on inside penetration, forcing him into two or three foolish turnovers per game. Without a front-runner, look for Nash to be considered for Big 12 Player of the Year honors and lead the Cowboys to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009-10.
Kansas Jayhawks: Ben McLemore
Ben McLemore might be a little rusty out of the gate, but an early matchup with Michigan State will force the redshirt freshman to grow up quickly and prove his potential. Without playing a minute last season, McLemore leaped into the top three to five in NBA Draft discussions for 2013.
With Travis Releford expected to take pressure off of McLemore on the defensive end, he could be the beneficiary of an elite big man in Jeff Withey and improving ball-handler in Elijah Johnson. McLemore could not have walked into a better situation as a redshirt freshman this season looking to improve his draft stock.
The 6'5" swingman must prove that he can produce for all 40 minutes and not succumb to defensive adjustments that force him to disappear in the second half similarly to former Jayhawks Josh Selby and Xavier Henry.
TCU Horned Frogs: Amric Fields
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Trent Johnson walks into one of the most difficult coaching jobs in the country with mid-major talent in an elite conference.
Johnson's most talented player, junior Amric Fields, presents the greatest opportunity to give Johnson some offensive consistency and creativity. Fields, a lanky 6'9", 210-pound forward did not stuff the stat sheet in either of his first two seasons at TCU, but an improving field goal percentage and improved rebounding makes Fields the Horned Frogs' best all-around player.
Fields has a long way to go to become an NBA draft choice or even to receive a free-agent contract, but increased exposure and the opportunity to match up with the big 2-guards of the Big 12 could become the perfect storm for him.
Kansas State Wildcats: Rodney McGruder
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Rodney McGruder will be new head coach Bruce Weber's most valuable asset, and following a 50 percent increase in field goal attempts in 2011-12, he will become an even bigger part of a raw offense.
McGruder has a supporting cast that includes big man Jordan Henriquez and guard Will Spradling, but a near-empty recruiting class and a lack of additional playmakers that can help relieve pressure for a penetration-hungry McGruder will significantly hurt his opportunities to create.
It is obvious that he will take the majority of shots for the Wildcats, upwards of 13 to 15 per game, but unless Henriquez finally becomes more physical down low, the senior McGruder's draft stock will take a major hit, and he could fall well into the second round.
Oklahoma Sooners: Andrew Fitzgerald
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Andrew Fitzgerald was one of the very few bright spots in a forgettable 15-16 season. Fitzgerald, a 6'8", 240-pound senior forward has NBA talent and, along with fellow senior Steven Pledger, has provided the Sooners' most consistent scoring punch for the last two seasons.
Increased agility around the basket and better defensive recovery speed along the baseline will go a long way in attracting NBA scouts as he has the awkward size in between a true power forward and oversized small forward. He has no perimeter game, therefore his future lies in the lane as undersized reserve forward.