Ever since the one-and-done rule was instituted, the landscape of college basketball has undoubtedly changed. For better or worse, players are now required to play in college or abroad for a year prior to jumping to the NBA. This undoubtedly means that some players who believe they're better suited for the highest level will be jumping to the pros after only one year on campus.
Previous cases like Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose and John Wall show exactly how players can benefit from making the leap. But as players like Brandan Wright and Spencer Hawes will tell you, big money and bright lights aren't always the best option.
Now, the question is who will be the freshmen that make the leap in 2012?
Everyone knows that John Calipari's teams have a tendency to refresh every year. It's not without cause, however. The players that are brought into Coach Cal's programs are generally outstanding players, and he only develops their talent.
That trend is especially prominent with guards. In the past four seasons, Calipari has sent three guards into the draft that got picked fourth or higher (Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Derrick Rose) and one that looks like he'll be picked among the top six or seven players in this year's draft. Teague is probably going to continue that trend.
He'll be playing on a team full of superstars, and he'll have plenty of room to distribute and showcase his talents as a point guard. He's a top-flight prospect, but the scary thing is he's probably going to be the fourth option on a team full of potential stars.
However, the fact is that the Wildcats will be outstanding, and he'll be one of the important pieces. When some of his teammates jump ship at the end of the year, as some will certainly do, it will be a very likely option that Teague will join them.
Nash is one of the top recruits in the nation, and his choice of a less than elite program is a bit of a surprise. However, if anyone can bring the recently struggling Cowboys back to the forefront, it's Nash. He'll be joining potential star Marshall Moses to help propel OSU back to the dance.
The reason Nash is such a likely candidate for an early trip to the draft is his physical gifts. He's got the perfect NBA body for his position. At 6'7" and weighing in at 230 pounds, Nash seems poised to dominate anyone attempting to guard him. If all his weight is muscle already, then be prepared to see a dominating force in the Big 12.
The temptation to jump may end up being too much for Nash. Many believe that Nash's attitude isn't the best in the world and can be detrimental to his team and himself as a prospect. However, if he can pull it together mentally, he can be a true talent at the next level.
If he snaps into a rhythm and shapes up his act, Nash could be a top-10 pick in what seems to be a loaded 2012 NBA draft class—a true testament to his ability.
Quincy Miller may be listed as a power forward, but he could just as easily be marked as huge wing player. For a 6'10" player, his perimeter skills are off the charts.
Miller is just as comfortable spotting up from outside as he is pounding it in down low. He can drive to the basket as well, exhibiting great playmaking ability. On top of all of this, his basketball IQ is tremendous, making him a truly outstanding prospect.
At Baylor he'll join Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III, who's back for a sophomore season in Waco. Although it missed the big dance last year, Baylor looks very adept this year, and it seems like it may be headed back to the NCAA tournament. If the Bears have a good season, I don't think it is likely that Jones will stay again, especially given that he passed on being a top-three pick once already.
If Jones departs, I don't think Miller will stick around either. However, his basketball IQ may change my opinion. Many of the freshmen from last season that were touted because of their IQs stuck around (see Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes), so we'll see if that is a motif amongst prospects or just a one-time fluke. I do know that after one year of development, Miller will certainly be ready for the next level.
One of the prized jewels of Kentucky's supernaturally talented 2011 recruiting class, Gilchrist provides everything that NBA scouts want in a prospect, with the exception of a jump shot. Outside of that, Gilchrist is everything anyone could ask for. He scores like it's nothing, rebounds like a maniac and is one of the best defenders in the 2011 class.
However, the thing that fuels all of this is his Kevin Garnett-esque drive. He plays as if opponents have insulted him personally and it's his responsibility to oversee their punishment by scoring on them or stopping them from scoring. Let's not forget he's a top-shelf athlete as well, making all of these tools much more frightening.
I would be very surprised if Gilchrist didn't hop on to the NBA after his freshman year. He's an elite talent that could be devastating in the NBA if he puts on some weight (and improves his jump shot). The scary thing is that Gilchrist is a top-10 talent that could be fighting for a starting spot on the Kentucky roster next season.
Bradley Beal has all the tools to be a great 2 guard at the next level, much in the mold of Ray Allen. He has the athleticism to play with the best guards in the nation, but above all else, he's an electrifying shooter.
Beal's game is centered on his ability to shoot the ball, and he's especially scary without the ball. Just like Allen, he moves extremely well around screens and shoots the ball the best when he's catching and shooting.
He doesn't handle the ball extremely well, but he's a good enough passer to be the second ball-handler on the floor and can pass the ball well enough. He needs to improve in those areas, but his ability to take over the game with his shooting ability is easily enough to compensate. He's extremely clutch and wants to have the ball with the seconds winding down.
There will always be room in the NBA for players like Beal who can shoot the lights out. As evidenced by the longevity of Reggie Miller and Ray Allen, those who can shoot the ball with the ability that Beal does are invaluable assets, and I expect he'll easily be a first-round pick next season.
Bello may be the surprise on this list. Although he's not an elite prospect (53rd in ESPN100), Bello's skill set will translate very easily to the NBA.
Bello is among the top five best athletes in the class and one of the springiest players I've seen out of high school in a long time. While he's not an elite shooter, and his-ball handling isn't the greatest amongst guards, his motor and ability to finish are perfect for the next level.
The biggest comparison I can draw to an NBA player is Shannon Brown. While he may never have the elite skill set that the other players on this list and in the NBA have, his leaping ability is second to none in the 2011 recruiting class, and he isn't afraid to take the ball straight to the hole.
Playing on the Baylor team full of stars may increase his chances of going to the NBA as soon as possible. Like I said with Quincy Miller, if Baylor and its stars have great seasons, we may see a collective bounce straight to the limelight. If Perry Jones III or Quincy Miller jumps, Deuce may follow suit.
Kabongo, along with Marquis Teague of Kentucky, is in the elite tier of point guards in the 2011 class. He is the epitome of a floor general, with the ability to be an extension of the coach on the floor.
He may have the best decision-making, passing and ball-handling in the class. But just when you think that he is a pass-first player, he shows off his scoring ability. He shoots well from long range, and his first step is among the best in the country.
However, the biggest complement to Kabongo's game is his apparent lack of weaknesses. He manages to control the game with such command that he avoids putting himself in a vulnerable situation. He's had many games where he did not turn the ball over.
He did draw the short straw with returning talent. The three best players on the Longhorns all bolted to the NBA after last season, so much of the burden will be on Kabongo to carry his team next season. If Texas doesn't add some talent to complement Kabongo, he could bolt next season for fame and fortune.
James McAdoo commands respect in a much different way than most forwards in the country. He's a mechanically sound and fundamentally driven post man that works the angles and uses footwork to succeed on the offensive end. He's a great rebounder, and his hands are as good as any big man in the country.
The real driving force I see behind McAdoo leaving is his timing with a great UNC team. The Tar Heels return an inordinate amount of talent. In fact, despite McAdoo's impressive post game, he'll be giving the Tar Heels support off the bench next season.
North Carolina is one of the favorites for a title next year, and if it does win it, it's pretty safe to say there should be a mass exodus at least from the top-tier players, which definitely includes McAdoo.
Austin Rivers is the best offensive player in the 2011 class, hands down. He is a seasoned NBA veteran packaged into a 18-year-old's body. Rivers has every move in an MVP's arsenal down and can score whenever or wherever he wants to.
To top it all off, he has ice water in his veins. He must have the ball at the end of a game or whenever his team needs a big shot.
There are very few weaknesses in his game, as he's almost as good defensively as offensively.
The true test for Rivers will be when he has to lead the Blue Devils next season alongside the Plumlees and Seth Curry. I have no doubts he will be the best leader on the team and the go-to player in crunch time. If he has a good season, he should jump to the NBA and possibly be a top-five pick in the draft.
Davis is a very unique player due to extenuating circumstances regarding his development. Before he hit a high school growth spurt, Davis was a 6'3" guard. Then he grew to 6'10" and now has a guard's mindset in a power forward's body.
He has plenty of potential for his post game, and he'll continue to discover it as he realizes exactly what he's capable of doing.
As for the intangibles, Davis has them all. He is an extremely intelligent player, and he knows where the ball will be when. This translates to a tremendous defensive presence in the post and a great rebounder with his newfound height. He can attack off the dribble and pass very well too.
However, he still needs to improve his strength and power inside. At the next level, Davis will be pushed around a little inside. Regardless, Davis will surely be one of the prospects competing for the top draft spot come June 2012.