Primarily thanks to Kentucky, the 2014 Final Four is littered with NBA prospects who will surely be the focal point of pro scouts in attendance in Dallas.
The Wildcats steal the spotlight in this regard through John Calipari's controversial one-and-done approach—the rules are a discussion for another time—but each team has players set to take their talents to the next level.
Opinions wildly vary on the order of the top prospects who remain in the Big Dance, but the following are three names to observe closely come Saturday.
|2014 Final Four|
|4/5/14||Florida vs. UConn||6:09 p.m.||TBS||Florida|
|4/5/14||Wisconsin vs. Kentucky||8:49 p.m.||TBS||Kentucky|
Julius Randle, Kentucky
There is no argument—of all the top NBA prospects on the Kentucky roster, Julius Randle has seen the biggest improvement in his stock over the course of the tournament.
An NBA scout concurs, via Adam Zagoria of NBA.com:
Randle is a double-double machine who averages 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. He's scored a minimum of 13 points and 10 boards in all four tournament games while acting as the key spark who powered the Wildcats past No. 1 Wichita State, No. 4 Louisville and No. 2 Michigan in one of the most stacked regions in recent memory.
Not only that, Randle has managed to rewrite the records books, as illustrated by Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy:
A big performance in the Final Four is simply icing on the cake at this point, as Randle's overall body of work and high ceiling speak for itself. He's likely a top-five pick already, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth observing one of the NBA's next star players.
Patric Young, Florida
After Randle, things get a bit dicey.
But take comfort in knowing that Patric Young has a bright NBA future ahead of him, regardless of actual draft position (CBS Sports' Matt Moore has him going No. 26 overall).
As a senior, Young averaged 10.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game with a stellar 54.1 shooting percentage. His 6'9", 240-pound frame is ideal, and his character is even a positive addition to the pro package.
Young elected to set aside his pro pursuits to chase another title with his teammates, according to Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel:
I just felt right away that I didn't want to leave school yet and I'm not going to get this opportunity again to play for a Final Four, to play for a national championship. I'm not going to get another chance to play with these guys I love, Casey Prather, Scottie (Wilbekin), Will (Yeguete). It was a no-brainer for me.
Young stepped his game up in the Elite Eight against Dayton with 12 points, and will have to do so again in the Final Four against Connecticut. His draft stock rides on his performance.
Shabazz Napier, UConn
Let's dip into the NBA scout well once more, this time for UConn's star point guard Shabazz Napier:
At 6'1", height is an issue for Napier—but it has made little difference in the tournament, as he has been without a doubt the best player as he has carried the Huskies on his back. CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein illustrates this point well:
His tournament averages—23.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals—do the talking.
I don’t think there’s anything bad with staying four years, though a lot of guys think there is because I guess you can lose money that way. I just feel like the more you understand that education’s going to be key in your life, the more you mature.
The Napier show seems far from over, as not one player has been able to stop him this March. Heck, he even owns a victory over Florida already this season—and the Gators have lost two games all year.
Height means little on Saturday, as all scouts will be transfixed on the Huskies' general in what may be his last collegiate game.