25 College Basketball Players to Watch in the 2013-14 Season
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
The 2014 NBA draft class is one of the most drooled over in recent memory. We're coming off an extremely entertaining NCAA title game. And some great players from last year opted to stay.
It's safe to say that there is tons of talent in college basketball this year.
There will be great teams to watch, teams comprised of awesome freshman and returning studs. So whom will you watch? Which players will pop out on TV?
That's where this list comes in. It has the 25 must-watch players that every college basketball fan should keep an on.
These are the most athletic guys, the most exciting freshman and the most NBA-ready prospects. Some are just plain solid college players. Either way, these are certainly the guys who offer the most entertainment value for this upcoming season.
Chris Walker, Florida
Chris Walker was the No. 6 overall recruit in the class of 2013, and he will be heading to an already-stacked Florida team this year.
He's a 6'10" big man with a 7'1" wingspan, and he led his high school to its first ever Florida state title.
Oh, I should also mention that he's a human highlight reel.
He's got crazy ups, and in the video above you can see him practically kiss the rim. He makes a living throwing down monstrous dunks, and you can be sure he'll get some of those next year. Also, using that length and that jumping ability, Walker has made a name for himself with spectacular blocks.
He's oozing with potential, and that's why he's currently at No. 10 on Chad Ford's Big Board.
The only reason he isn't higher on that board is because he doesn't have a super polished game. In high school he relied on his athletic gifts and some simple post moves to dominate.
But if you want to see some ridiculously athletic plays and some above-the-rim action from a top NBA prospect, this is a guy you want to take a look at.
Jabari Parker, Duke
Where Chris Walker isn't polished, Jabari Parker is the opposite. Here's a guy who can pass, shoot, drive, defend, rebound and handle. All with a high basketball IQ and winning pedigree.
Sounds like a Duke player to me.
According to Rivals Parker is the fourth-ranked prospect, and ESPN has him No. 2. His talent is undeniable, and he led Simeon Career Academy to four consecutive Illinois high school titles, which is practically unheard of.
Jabari Parker is listed at 6'8" and 220 pounds, and though he played inside a lot in high school he demonstrated great wing skills. So don't be surprised to see him doing both at Duke.
Parker is still very athletic, but don't tune in hoping to see him leap over a guy like Walker might.
What you will see is a potential top-five pick in the NBA draft, someone who has a very polished inside-outside game. With his size and skills, he has the ability to absolutely dominate the game.
And at Duke, he will have the opportunity to do so. Whether you hate the Blue Devils or are a die-hard fan, Parker's upcoming season will be one to keep an eye on.
Jahii Carson, Arizona State
Unless you're a Pac-12 basketball fan, chances are the name Jahii Carson doesn't ring any bells. Carson was an All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 18.5 points and 5.1 assists while shooting 47.3 percent from the field.
At only 5'10" and 175 pounds, he's not very big, but he holds the title as best point guard in the conference.
And if you're unfamiliar with Carson, take note that his best attribute is one that doesn't show up on the stat sheet. Carson is a world-class dunker. He might be less than 6'0" tall, but that makes his jams only more impressive. His elevation and athleticism are elite to say the least.
And to say he has flair would be putting it lightly. He will make a no-look pass or put a defender on skates with no hesitation. The best part is, he's not all flair. He was a first team All-Pac 12 selection, and obviously that selection is based on production, not potential or swagger.
Carson is a blend of an unreal athlete and a college star. So don't just write off Arizona State if they come up in prime time, the Sun Devils are well worth a look thanks to Carson.
Doug McDermott, Creighton
If you're someone who loves the fundamentals, then McDermott is the guy for you.
He's doesn't have an insane vertical, he's not super tall and he's not that fast or quick. On the other hand, he is an extraordinarily efficient shooter, uses his 6'8" frame well and has a soft touch around the basket.
The scouting video above gives a much better breakdown all the things McDermott does well. And trust me, it's a lot of things.
McDermott put up a season in which he averaged 23.2 points per game which was second in the country. He also grabbed 7.7 rebounds, shot 55 percent from the field and 49 percent from three.
See what I mean about efficiency?
He's a smart, technically sound player who is an absolute beast in college ball. There are going to be plenty of guys on this list who pop off the screen because they're blazing fast, are going to be top picks or are much flashier.
McDermott is none of those things, but he is one of the best college players out there. And he has been for a while now.
It's also his senior season this year, so if you haven't gotten a chance to see him yet, you should probably get on that.
Glenn Robinson III, Michigan
Glenn Robinson III is a 6'8" monster of an athlete. According to a Mitch McGary tweet, Robinson's vertical has reached 44 inches. And Robinson's instagram says he can get up to 12'3" on a max jump.
Last year with Trey Burke at the helm, Robinson showed off his ups on a regular basis. It seemed every night he had a highlight jam.
And you're telling me his measurables have increased? Holy moly.
Look at his most recent dunk video. It seems his improved jumping ability has allowed him to add some unbelievable jams to his repertoire. But Robinson isn't just an athlete. He was a top 20 recruit according to both Rivals and ESPN, and has shown flashes of his abilities to be more than just a dunker.
Now the X-factor here is that Burke is gone, so Robinson won't have the Naismith Award winner feeding him every game.
So this season, he has to show more than flashes. And with that athleticism and pedigree, he should be quite the interesting player to watch.
Mitch McGary, Michigan
Another Michigan Wolverine is in a very similar situation to Robinson. Mitch McGary broke out late in the year and made a living finishing Trey Burke passes.
During March Madness, McGary had three double-doubles, including a double-double where he had 12 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks.
It's safe to say that great things are expected out of the Michigan big man. He always has brought unrivaled energy, but he will have to be a focal point on offense this year for Michigan to thrive again.
He showed some great offensive ability in high school, but it seemed to be missing in college.
He's got NBA potential, but you can bet scouts will be looking closely to see how well McGary does without Trey Burke.
McGary has the talent to be dominant, and his energy in itself is entertaining. So he'll be a good watch.
Marshall Henderson, Mississippi
Love him or hate him, one thing about Marshall Henderson is always true to himself. You will never be wondering how he's feeling.
Henderson has taken the phrase "wears his emotions on his sleeve" to an entirely different level. He screams at the crowd, at the court, at his teammates or whatever else he feels the need to.
And, oh, is he a gunner.
He took 10.9 threes a game and hit 35 percent of them. That means more than two-thirds of his 15.3 shots per game were threes.
And he has a penchant for taking some deep, contested, leaning shots that nobody has any business taking. But he's made a name for himself by hitting more than his fair share—and then celebrating crazily afterwards.
Drugs have been a problem for Henderson, as he has had a couple of issues involving cocaine in the past year and a half. And Ole Miss has called in experts to help Henderson with his problem.
Off-court issues aside, Henderson is the last of a dying breed. His brand of basketball is rare, and his personality on the court is even harder to find. If he's on the court, he's a must-watch.
James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina
The only problem is he hasn't produced up to his potential.
McAdoo averaged 14.4 points, and 7.3 rebounds on 44.5 percent shooting. Not exactly the look of a top recruit.
The frustrating thing was he showed flashes. One second he would show off his strength on a nice post move and finish in traffic, the next he would horribly brick a jump shot.
Last season he was supposed to be the focus, this year the Tar Heels have more of a balanced squad. But with P.J. Hairston facing a suspension, McAdoo will be the returning veteran.
He has all the physical tools he needs, an elite coaching staff and a team that will focus on him. If nothing else he will be good for a couple "wow" moments a game, but he could also emerge as the player everyone thought he would be coming out of high school.
Russ Smith, Louisville
Russ Smith was the leading scorer on last year's national championship-winning Louisville Cardinals. That fact is surprising, considering the talent on that team, but Smith did average 18.7 points a game.
Smith and Peyton Siva were a dynamic backcourt, and they averaged a combined 4.4 steals a game. Now Siva is in the NBA, and it will be up to Smith to pick up the slack.
Smith's play is like a roller coaster. Against Syracuse he scores 25 points and had four steals, but in the very next game he had eight points on 2-of-13 shooting against Villanova.
Smith won't have the luxury this year of being so inconsistent.
As a senior, Smith will be relied on for leadership and a steady hand. Two things he struggled with last year. He's a gifted scorer, a tough shot-maker, and his lightning quickness allows him to be an aggressive defender. And as such, he's fun to watch.
But if Rick Pitino can get Smith to the next level, he'll be much more than simply a fun player to watch. He'll be a Naismith Award candidate.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Andrew Wiggins is the buzz name around college basketball this year. He's being compared to LeBron James and, as of now, is the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
Watch his senior-year highlights and you'll see why so much praise is being heaped upon him. And according to his ESPN Recruiting Profile, his only weaknesses appear to be issues passing out of double teams and, perhaps, his willingness to dominate every game.
He's got the stroke from three, a mid-range game, unbelievable athleticism, ability to take contact and finish...and on and on and on. He has anything and everything someone would want from a prospect.
But of course, he could be the next Harrison Barnes. Not to say Barnes was bad, but he was a preseason All-American heading into his freshman season at North Carolina and didn't live up to that lofty billing. Barnes was the No. 1 overall recruit on ESPN and given a higher rating than Wiggins. So the comparison is a valid one.
Wiggins obviously has the talent and the pedigree, and he'll be going to an already great Kansas team. He'll have every opportunity to succeed.
So will we see Harrison Barnes...or Kevin Durant?
Julius Randle, Kentucky
It depends whether you prefer Rivals or ESPN, but it's either Julius Randle or Jabari Parker who holds the title as 2013's next-best prospect behind Andrew Wiggins.
In a word, Randle is powerful. He's 6'9" and 240 pounds, according to Rivals, and he isn't afraid to use that beast of a body.
And when he dunks, it's ferocious. But that's not to say he's all power. He has nice moves, a good jumper and is a great driver. Not to mention he's going to Kentucky, where they will take full advantage of all Randle's strengths. And just watch the video above, his strengths are many.
One of his strengths is that left hand. And though that assessment might be subjective, it seems that being a southpaw helps him out a lot.
If all goes to plan, Randle will be a terror on the glass and a matchup nightmare wherever he goes. And there will be plenty of highlight plays to go around.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Before Smart opted to come back to Oklahoma State for a sophomore season, he was quickly climbing up NBA draft boards. Chad Ford even said he could have gone No. 1 overall.
And it makes sense, after Smart averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists as a true freshman. He also led Oklahoma State to an NCAA Tournament berth and a 24-9 record.
But what really makes him a player to watch isn't so much the points he scores as it is how he gets them.
I mean look at the dunks he's putting down this offseason. If he can bring that to the court this year, he'll be more than just a top-five pick. He'll be must-watch TV.
Basically this is a bonus season. He had every reason to go to the pros last year, but decided to stay in college. If you somehow missed him last season, make sure not to do the same thing this year.
C.J. Fair, Syracuse
Michael Carter-Williams is gone, Brandon Triche is gone and James Southerland is gone.
Enter CJ Fair. The 6'8" do-it-all forward was a stud for Syracuse last year, and now it's his show to run.
He has shown the athletic ability and productivity to be something special. Last season he averaged 14.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. And that was all as an auxiliary piece.
This year he will be the focus. We'll get to see more of his silky jumper, athletic drives and hopefully more posters.
He's also a beast in Syracuse's 2-3 zone, and he shows a great understanding of how to play it.
Add it all up and you have a player who's set for an entertaining breakout year at a storied basketball school. Count me in.
C.J. Wilcox, Washington
C.J. Wilcox is a shooter, and a great one. Just watch the video above. He can hit pull-ups, he can come off screens, he can fade or he can hit from deep.
He can do it all.
He needs to work on getting into the lane, but he was still very effective last year, averaging 16.8 points per game and shooting 36.6 percent from three. Now that might not seem like a great percentage for a shooter, but consider that he had a nagging foot injury last year that was not corrected until May.
So expect that percentage to go up, and watch for him as a senior to improve on last year's second team All-Pac-12 selection.
Wilcox might be the best shooter in the country next year, and he will be in the running for best player in the Pac-12. He's definitely worth a look.
Justin Cobbs, California
Speaking of the Pac-12, Justin Cobbs is another player to keep an eye on.
The Cal point guard earned second team All-Pac-12 honors this past season, and he will have the opportunity to be even better this year.
His running mate Allen Crabbe is now in the NBA, and Cal is now Cobbs's team to run. Last year he averaged 15.1 points and 4.8 assists per game, but don't be surprised to see the floor general improve upon those numbers this year.
He did suffer a setback this summer with a broken foot, but he shouldn't miss any games because of the injury.
Cobbs is a solid point guard, who knows how to run a team. In other words, he's part of a select group of college players. He's a complete point guard, one who can pass, shoot and defend. And based on the video above, it looks like he's added some serious moves this summer.
Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
Let's put it this way. Andrew Harrison's main weaknesses are a lack of a jump stop in the lane, and a bit of an inconsistent three. In other words, he's already a complete point guard prospect without having played a minute of college ball.
He's an athletic 6'5", 210-pound player who has a polished offensive game. He's the point guard of the future, a big body who possesses all the skills of someone three inches shorter.
And these are all big reasons he's currently seventh on Chad Ford's Big Board. Now all we're waiting on to cement him as an NBA star is a productive freshman year at Kentucky.
People around the country will be curious to see if he's the next John Wall, or the next Marquis Teague. All indications point to the former, but we won't know till we see some game action.
Also, if you tune in to watch a Kentucky game this year you might think you're seeing double. It will look like there are two Andrew Harrison's running around.
That would be Aaron Harrison, Andrew's twin brother. Both possess the same skill set, only Aaron plays shooting guard. So when you go to watch Harrison, you're going to get two of him for the price of one.
CleAnthony Early, Wichita State
He may play for a nontraditional school, but that doesn't make him any less exciting. CleAnthony Early is a man to watch.
He broke out in the NCAA tournament for Wichita State, averaging 16.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. It was really his coming-out party. People started to realize that this guy who goes to a mid-major school in Kansas is actually good and capable of some highlight plays.
He showed that he has skills, and that his 6'8" frame is capable of taking flight. Just look at the monster jam he threw down during the Final Four. If he can build on the momentum he got going during the tournament run, Early can be a big-time player this coming year.
He certainly has the tools to do so.
Olivier Hanlan, Boston College
Playing for Boston College, Olivier Hanlan might fly under the radar of many college basketball fans. But you should remember his name.
Hanlan had a huge ACC tournament, including a game where he went off for 41 against Georgia Tech. He was also the ACC Rookie of the Year.
He averaged 15.4 points per game and 2.3 assists as an off-guard. He also plays smothering defense and uses his 6'4" body well on that end.
Hanlan is another young player who caught fire at the end of the year and is hoping to build on that success.
And just like Early, Hanlan has the talent to be special. He was a 3-star recruit, according to an ESPN profile which included the caveat that he needs to improve his shooting.
But after hitting 50 percent or more from deep in his last five games of the year, he seems to have made a vast improvement. Which means we could be seeing Hanlan make a huge sophomore leap this year.
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
This one might be a bit surprising seeing as Yogi Ferrell scored only 7.6 points per game. Might be a bit of a head-scratcher.
But it's not so much the stats as how Ferrell plays the game.
Ferrell may be only 5'11" and 165 pounds, but he plays with a heart that belies his physical stature. He's a guy who pushes the pace, hustles, attacks the rim and is the quintessential hustle guard off the bench.
But this is also a guy with real talent; it's not like he's a walk-on. Coming out of high school, Ferrell was given a grade of 96 and ranking of 24 overall at ESPN's recruiting database.
So with a lot of turnover on this Indiana team, look for Ferrell to step up and start playing more like the top prospect he is.
And I doubt he'll lose the energy he brought this past season, meaning he'll be as entertaining as ever.
Shabazz Napier, UCONN
Speaking of smaller point guards, Shabazz Napier is a little guy who can light up a scoreboard. He averaged 17.1 points per game last season and approached 30 points on a number of occasions.
He is a fun scorer. What I mean by that is he has no problems with taking any kind of shot. It can be an NBA-range three, a floater with three guys on him or a fading jumper at the end of the shot clock. Wherever and whenever, Shabazz is not afraid of hoisting, as evidenced by his 6.1 three-point attempts per game.
But he also averaged 4.6 assists a game. So he's not a black hole by any means. And he shot 44 percent from the field, so he's not a total chucker either.
His speed, willingness to gamble on defense, penchant for highlight plays and some serious handles make him a one-man show.
Chaz Williams, UMASS
If you think Napier and Ferrell are small, you might have overlooked Chaz Williams. If there's a college player who was ever generously listed at 5'9", it's Williams.
But he more than makes up for his height with his unbelievable quickness and speed. His shot selection also makes guys like Russ Smith and Napier look restrained.
Being as short as he is, in order to get a shot off he has to throw fakes or loft crazy floaters or contort his body into awkward positions. And best of all he hits 43.3 percent from the floor, so that means all these unique and crazy shots aren't all destined to miss.
Basically Williams is fearless. He throws around his 175 pounds valiantly, and he is a joy to watch as he's hounding ball-handlers all around the court.
He's a novelty that you only find in college, where guys his size are actually given a chance.
He might not be the biggest guy, but you can bet he'll provide entertainment that far outweighs his size.
Gary Harris, Michigan State
He was known for his mid-range game and aptitude for attacking the rim. He was also a solid defender coming out of high school, who played the passing lanes well.
Harris' real weakness then was shooting the three, something he wasn't yet consistent in doing.
On an upperclassmen-laden team last year, and one that focuses its offense in the post, Harris was a second or third option, which seemed to be great for his development as a shooter. He ended up shooting 41.1 percent from three.
So much for a weakness.
Michigan State graduated big man Derrick Nix and will be looking for someone to pick up the scoring slack. Harris is ready, and he has the skills to more than make up for Nix's departure.
He was reined in last year, but head coach Tom Izzo should let Harris off the freshman leash this year.
Watch out Big Ten.
Nick Johnson, Arizona
If you want athleticism, Nick Johnson's got it. He's a 6'3", 200-pound Arizona basketball player with springs for legs.
His highlight package contains everything you'd expect from an athlete of his caliber—chasing down blocks, slamming put-backs, weak-side swats and posterizing dunks.
What it doesn't show are the improvements he's made to his overall game. In fact, he's emerged into quite the defender.
He uses his length and athleticism to hound ball-handlers; he collected 1.9 steals per game this past season.
His offense also isn't all dunks. He averaged 11.5 points per game on 44.8 percent shooting from the field and 39.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
So tune in to see a premier athlete, and don't be surprised to see a complete basketball player was well.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State
If you want to see crazy dunks, this isn't your man. If you want to see lots of points this isn't your man. If you want to see blazing speed, this isn't your man.
So what exactly does Aaron Craft do? He plays defense.
Aaron Craft is the best defender in college basketball. His on-ball defense is superb. He is rarely, if ever beaten. He knows how to move his feet, has catlike reflexes and keeps his body between his man and the rim.
For his career he averages more than two steals a game, and seems to take pride in shutting down the opponent's best perimeter player.
He's also no slouch on offense. He's fundamentally sound and makes the right pass. He averaged 10 points per game to go along with 4.6 assists. So don't think he's completely one sided.
Just don't start watching Craft play and hope to see him go off for 25. If you appreciate a stellar defender, this is man for you.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona
But when he gets compared to Blake Griffin, that's when people start to take notice. And that comparison isn't as outrageous as it sounds.
Coming out of high school, Gordon and Griffin both were tremendous leapers, ran the break well, rebounded hard and played with energy. Essentially they were both top-flight athletes whose other skills lagged behind their physical attributes.
Even if Gordon's offensive game doesn't fully mature this year, we'll get to appreciate his unbelievable athleticism in full. And it truly is something to behold.
Gordon is someone that makes the most athletic plays look easy. His offensive skills should start to catch up, and if they do he will be a must-watch player this season. Even if they don't, he'll still be an incredibly entertaining, high-flying player.