Freshmen are playing a bigger role in NCAA basketball than ever before, and many of the best enter school expecting to go one-and-done to the NBA. With nearly two months of the 2012-13 season in the books, some of those would-be first-year stars have found the going rougher than expected, while others are playing even better than their teams had hoped.
UCLA’s Jordan Adams was among the least-hyped members of Ben Howland’s top-ranked recruiting class. While some other Bruin frosh are slogging through disappointing seasons, though, Adams is lighting it up as the team’s surprise scoring weapon.
Read on for more on Adams and the rest of the 15 freshmen most likely to consider jumping to the NBA, ranked according to whether they will (not necessarily whether they should) go pro in 2013.
Ben McLemore would be one of the top prospects on this list but for one thing: he’s not really a one-and-done.
The Kansas guard is a redshirt freshman, and he had the benefit of practicing with last year’s Final Four squad throughout last year’s second semester.
He’ll still be listed as a freshman when he’s being picked by some lucky lottery team next spring, but McLemore’s age and experience mean that he’s not really in the same category as the other first-year standouts on this list.
6’0” point guard Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell is hardly a typical one-and-done candidate, but if Indiana wins the national title, don’t be surprised to see him throw his hat in the ring.
After all, his stock would likely never be any higher than after running a championship offense.
Ferrell needs a lot of work as a shooter, but his passing skills (4.7 assists per game) have impressed. As he gets more comfortable with the pace of the college game over the course of the season, expect his numbers to improve in kind.
None of the Wildcats’ freshmen have lived up to the team’s preseason hopes, but Kaleb Tarczewski has an advantage the rest of them don’t. At 7’0”, 255 lbs, Tarczewski already has the build to bang with NBA centers.
Although he’s leading the No. 4-ranked Cats with 6.3 rebounds a night, his other numbers aren’t anything to brag about.
He might learn from Meyers Leonard and stay for what could be a monster sophomore year. Still, there’s certainly a chance that some scout will convince him to take his unpolished game to an NBA bench next season.
If Steven Adams hadn’t been so highly regarded as a recruit, he wouldn’t even be on this list. Then again, not even the most disappointing start could erase a 7’0”, 250-lb frame.
Adams, a New Zealand native, has struggled mightily to adjust to the pace of the American game, but things may be looking up. Over his last three contests, he’s averaged 10 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks a night.
Glenn Robinson III isn’t having the splashiest freshman year, but he won’t mind if that earns him a trip to the Final Four. The son of the former NBA All-Star is averaging 11.3 points per game for undefeated Michigan.
At 6’6”, the athletic Robinson is leading the Wolverines with 6.5 rebounds a night, even if he's only their No. 4 scorer. With his three-point shooting limping along at .348, though, he’s at least as likely to stay in Ann Arbor as to go pro.
The good news for T.J. Warren is that he’s already shooting free throws like an NBA star. The bad news is, the NBA star in question is Dwight Howard, because Warren’s percentage from the line is 48.0.
Even without converting those chances, though, the 6’8” Warren is scoring 14.6 points a game and shooting nearly 70 percent from the field.
In the likely event that No. 25 N.C. State turns things around after a shaky start, scoring leader Warren may well decide that he’s shown enough to declare in June.
Don’t blame Jordan Adams for UCLA’s horrendous start. In the Bruins’ losses to Georgetown and San Diego State, Adams poured in a combined 45 points.
The under-the-radar freshman ranks No. 2 on the roster with 16.9 points per game for the year. He’s been especially impressive getting to the rim—witness the 16 free throws he earned (and sank) against UC Irvine.
With his 6’5” frame and attacking mindset, he’s more likely than not to head to the pros—ahead of celebrated classmates Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker.
At 6’7”, 239 lbs, Alex Poythress doesn’t have an ideal build for either forward spot at the NBA level. If it weren’t for that shortcoming, he’d be a lot higher on this list.
Poythress has shown impressive scoring instincts in averaging 15 points per game for Kentucky. He’s also posted a solid 6.3 rebounds a night despite playing alongside Nerlens Noel.
Though his lack of a perimeter game is sure to hurt his draft position, Poythress was extremely highly touted entering school. It’s likely (though hardly certain) that he’ll follow the hype to an NBA roster next year.
The 2012 freshman class has an abundance of seven-footers, but only one who was also a wide receiver in high school. Willie Cauley-Stein has put his absurd combination of size and agility to good use off the Kentucky bench.
Despite having defensive whiz Nerlens Noel ahead of him on the depth chart, Cauley-Stein has put up solid numbers. He’s averaging 7.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and an eye-opening 1.9 blocks per game as a reserve.
With his physical tools, even a bench role for Kentucky will likely be enough to make him a first-round pick. He’s a good bet to make the jump this spring.
While other freshmen are having their weak points revealed by college competition, Archie Goodwin has discovered a hidden advantage. The hard-charging shooting guard has become Kentucky’s best passer, dealing out 4.4 assists per game.
Goodwin isn’t a three-point threat, but his mid-range game and terrific penetration ability have him leading the Wildcats with 15.8 points a night.
He’s shown some similarities to Austin Rivers as a combo guard, and like Rivers, he won’t be back for his sophomore year.
Rasheed Sulaimon is the rare player whose season averages are less informative than his individual game stats.
The combo guard is doing exactly what Duke needs from him on any given night.
That means stepping into a point guard’s role against Kentucky (10 points and five assists) while lighting it up as a scorer against Ohio State (17 points but zero assists).
That versatility will be welcome at the next level, and Sulaimon surely knows it. He’ll be headed to the pros next year, likely in a similar jack-of-all-trades role as a sixth or seventh man.
Marcus Smart isn’t the best point guard in the country, but he’s got a great case for being the most athletic. At 6’4”, 225 lbs, he’s leading Oklahoma State in rebounding with seven boards a night.
Smart has also impressed in more traditional categories. At 5.2 assists and 2.4 steals per game, he’s up there with the Big 12’s best floor leaders.
His size for the position—and his 13 points per game—will have scouts salivating. Count on the Cowboy star to be running an NBA offense next season.
Anthony Bennett has ordinary size for a power forward (6’8”, 240 lbs) and good but not jaw-dropping athletic ability. All Bennett does is produce, and he does that so well that it will be remarkable if he doesn’t go pro at season’s end.
No freshman in college hoops has played as well as Bennett in 2012-13. He’s averaging 20.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game for the No. 21-ranked Rebels.
If it weren’t for Mason Plumlee, Bennett would be the best post player of any age in the college ranks this season.
If Isaiah Austin were playing any defense, he’d be a top-five pick in June. Even at a paltry 0.6 blocks per game, though, Austin has too much talent to turn down the draft—or to miss the lottery.
The 7’1” Baylor standout doesn’t have much weight on him at 220 lbs, but he’s still pulling down 8.4 boards a night. Although his attempts to flash a perimeter game on offense have met with mixed results, he’s scoring 14.1 points per outing regardless.
His prodigious athleticism hasn’t translated to his defense yet, but Shabazz Muhammad is still looking like a top-five draft pick. The 6’6” SF is leading UCLA with 17.3 points a game, shooting .471 from beyond the arc in the process.
Muhammad has taken a back seat to classmate Kyle Anderson on the glass, though his 4.6 boards per contest aren’t exactly a liability.
The fact that the Bruins have careened off their prospective Final Four track just provides one more reason for Muhammad to take his scoring punch to a more lucrative venue next year.
Kentucky has had its problems, but star recruit Nerlens Noel has done little to change the perception that he’s a top-three draft pick. Noel is playing Anthony Davis-like defense, averaging 3.6 blocks and 2.7 steals per game.
At 6’10”, Noel isn’t an ideal NBA center, and his 10.7 points per game won’t help his draft position any. Still, given his stellar defensive stats and 9.0 rebounds a night, it's virtually impossible to imagine him staying in Lexington for a second season.