The 2013 NBA draft is still over three months away, but several marquee prospects will have the golden opportunity to showcase their talents on college basketball's biggest stage.
The NCAA tournament's second round gets underway on Thursday, and those who rise to the occasion in the midst of March Madness will almost assuredly raise their stock.
Here are the top pro hopefuls in the Big Dance who have a great shot at solidifying their statuses as stellar, future pros.
Kelly Olynyk, F/C, Gonzaga
The Bulldogs' big man is in the running for many high-profile individual awards, as he has been the key to Gonzaga's No. 1 AP ranking to end the regular season.
Concerns linger about Olynyk's rebounding ability and physicality given that he only has 235 pounds on his seven-foot frame. However, the finesse he has to his game and matchup problems he creates with his three-point range mostly outweigh those shortcomings.
Olynyk has the chance to finally get Gonzaga over the hump and into the Final Four. There is inherent pressure with being the bracket's No. 1 seed in the West region, especially with the team's strength of schedule ranking just 96th in the nation, according to ESPN's RPI.
That fact makes a deep run by Gonzaga impressive. Unlike some of the other studs in this tournament, the onus is on Olynyk to display some toughness and grit to grind Gonzaga to Atlanta for the Final Four.
Well before that occurs, though, DraftExpress.com's Jonathan Givony pointed to a prospective Round of 32 matchup between Gonzaga and Pittsburgh.
Steven Adams vs Kelly Olynyk anyone? Sounds good to me. Pitt vs Gonzaga in the second round could be great if both teams advance.— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) March 17, 2013
Steven Adams is a talented freshman center, and despite his inexperience he has already established himself as a physical presence in the paint.
If Olynyk can dominate against him and continue that momentum throughout the Zags' run, he could vault himself into the discussion as a top 10 pick.
Jamaal Franklin, SG/SF, San Diego State
The Aztecs' guard has had to be the catalyst for this recently struggling Mountain West squad. Franklin and Co. are a No. 7 seed, but are entering the Big Dance with a mediocre 6-6 record over their past 12 games.
Franklin leads the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals—the only player in the country to do that, as mentioned by Seth Davis on Selection Sunday.
There is no questioning the athleticism and leaping ability of the supremely talented 6'5" wing player. Such skills are evident in this highlight reel dunk from earlier in the year against Fresno State:
Franklin has great size for a shooting guard at the next level, but some believe he may be playing a bit too small at the 3. Those who believe that likely haven't seen Franklin rebound, though, as he pulls down 9.5 per game for the Aztecs.
His jumper could use a bit of work, but there is no questioning Franklin's strength with the ball as he crashes into the paint and finishes well at the rim.
Combine all those skills with elite defensive ability on the perimeter, and there's no question that Franklin is worth a first-round selection. The question is simply how high he will go, and he could really help himself with a strong performance against Villanova and subsequently facing the prolific Georgetown Hoyas.
Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
The only freshman out of this trio is the relentless Spartans guard, who is only 18 but already boasts a 6'4", 210-pound frame. That gives him an NBA-ready body, even if he is a touch shorter than the average 2-guard.
Harris has cooled off a little bit in March, shooting 40 percent from the floor and under 32 percent from beyond the arc (h/t sports-reference.com). That helps confirm the evaluation of ESPN draft expert Chad Ford, who believes Harris is a bit of a streaky shooter that needs to improve his range.
However, Harris did fight through shoulder and back injuries that had to have contributed to his decline in production on the offensive end. So shooting may not be as much of a problem for Harris after all.
Ford has him listed as a top 10 pick (subscription required), although he does report that Harris is strongly considering returning to East Lansing. That could change, though, if Harris drives Michigan State to a deep run in March Madness.
It has been a wonderful freshman campaign for Harris overall, as he embodies the mentally tough, hard-working prototype that head coach Tom izzo develops within the Spartans' program.
Those intangibles should be attractive to struggling NBA squads atop the draft should Harris declare.
The natural hustle Harris has, supreme effort on defense and upside should guarantee him a lottery slot, but look for him to have a massive remainder of March.
The Spartans have a No. 3 seed in the Midwest region. They are likely to face the more finesse teams such as Creighton and Duke on the way to the Elite Eight, where a matchup with Louisville should loom.
Such matchups are the perfect time for Harris to shine, as he can use his attacking style to put opposing guards on their heels and get to the rim. He should be sensational until possibly facing the Cardinals, where Big East Defensive Player of the Year Gorgui Dieng will be a force to be reckoned with if Harris wants to score inside.
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