NBA Draft 2011: Jimmer Fredette and 10 Top Small School Prospects
So-called "mid-majors" have been pumping out more NBA talent in the last few years than ever before. These players used to be considered steals or feats of scouting genius, but now, we know better. The small school prospects are as important to NBA teams as ever.
Larry Bird is perhaps the most famous small school prospect, an alumnus of Indiana State. His match-up in the 1979 NCAA Finals against Magic Johnson's Michigan State Spartans was really the first time a legitimate mid-major got its deserved press coverage.
Fast forward 30 years to the present day.
Four of the top 20 picks were players from small schools in the 2010 NBA Draft. This year, ESPN's Chad Ford has four top players in his Top 20 Big Board. If small schools are beginning to make up one out of every five picks in the annual draft, it's important to know who they are.
We all know who BYU's Jimmer Fredette is. He caught everyone's eyes with his deep three-point range and ability to lead a thin Cougars team. He beat out many worthy large school prospects for 2011 National Player of the Year.
Here are 10 other small-school prospects to go along with Fredette.
10. Gary Flowers, Southern Mississippi
Where would Southern Miss be without their star forward, Gary Flowers?
Flowers arrived as a junior college transfer in 2009 and gave two solid years to the Golden Eagles.
As soon as he set foot on the court, he became the leader and beat player on the roster, leading the team in points, rebounds, and blocks during his two years.
At 6'8", Flowers has the size to play the post at the next level, but he also is capable of stepping back and hitting the open three-pointer.
He led Southern Miss in three-point attempts last season and shot 40 percentage from that range.
9. Keith Benson, Oakland
Keith Benson was the best player on a very talented Oakland team in 2010.
In 2010, the Golden Grizzlies' star averaged a double-double with 17.9 points per game and 10.1 rebounds per game.
Benson is a 6'11" center with a 7'2" wing span. That kind of size should help him alter a lot of shots in the NBA.
That kind of size led to Benson racking up an astounding 3.6 blocks per game last season, good for second in the nation.
He needs to continue to build his core strength. His height leaves little doubt that he'll be bodying up down low for most of his career.
8. Willie Reed, St. Louis
Willie Reed is an interesting draft story.
He missed all of 2010 not with an injury, but with a suspension from the St. Louis Billikens basketball team due to allegations relating to a sexual harassment case.
Reed has denied any wrongdoing, but that's not the conversation I care about having right now.
As a sophomore in 2009, Reed averaged 12.9 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game.
His field goal percentage was an impressive 58.7 percent, and he didn't attempt a single three the entire season. You have to like it when a big man—Reed is 6'9" and a wiry 220 pounds—knows where his bread is buttered.
His unfortunate season-long suspension might be a blessing in disguise for some NBA team.
7. Andrew Goudelock, Charleston
I can attest to Andrew Goudelock's skills first hand.
He absolute torched my Volunteers as a member of the Charleston Cougars. Playing in front of 20,000 away fans, Goudelock scored 31 points, including six threes.
The sharp shooter averaged 23.4 points per game in 2010, ranking him No. 5 in the country for points. As reference point, Kemba Walker was just slightly better at 23.5 points per game.
Goudelock is undersized as an NBA guard at 6'2", which means he has limited potential in the paint at the next level.
But if he can learn to use his speed and move off the ball, Goudelock can be a lights off shooter to come off the bench in big situations.
6. Shelvin Mack, Butler
After their back-to-back NCAA Finals appearances, I hope that Butler's Shelvin Mack needs no introduction.
What impressed me most about Mack was the way he grabbed the torch from former Bulldog Gordon Hayward.
Few experts thought that Butler would be able to replicate their 2009 performance, but that's exactly what they did. Mack showed tremendous leadership and heart that cannot be taught or measured.
His numbers as a point/shooting guard are not gaudy. He averaged 16 points per game and only 3.4 assists. His 40.8 percent field-goal percentage borders on ugly.
But Mack's true value should be considered in what we see without eyes when he plays. He is a spark plug, a team leader, and leaves it all on the floor.
5. Justin Harper, Richmond
Richmond owes a lot of its 2010 success to combo-forward Justin Harper.
Harper led the team with 17.9 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game. His value really comes from his great shooting stroke as a forward.
He boasted lofty percentages from three-point land and the free throw stripe last season, 44.8 percent and 79.7 percent, respectively. When taking into account his 6'9" frame, it's even more impressive.
He does leave a lot to be desired as a big man, though. He gets pushed off the block too easily, and because of this, tends to be too much a roamer.
That kind of play sometimes suits the NBA style, but it never hurts to beef up your low post game as a big man, and that is what Harper needs to do.
4. Norris Cole, Cleveland State
Jack of all trades, master of none. That's Norris Cole for you.
The 6'1" point guard led Cleveland State to a 27-9 record and a birth in the NIT in 2010. He compiled 21.7 points per game and 2.2. steals per game.
Cole knows how to draw foul shots, averaging over seven of them per game last season, and he made an excellent 85.3 percent of them. That kind of ability works well in any basketball league.
The main knock on Cole is his small size. He weighed less than 175 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine.
In my opinion, that kind of concern should hold less water now than in past years. Kevin Durant is as lanky as they come and does okay.
3. Kenneth Faried, Morehead State
If you're looking for the Rudy Gallagher of this list, look no further than Morehead State's forward Kenneth Faried.
Faried led his team in points per game with 17.3 and in rebounds per game with 14.5. In fact, he led the entire nation in rebounding.
Current NBA players that once led the nation in rebounding include Blake Griffin, Michael Beasley, and Kevin Durant. You might concede that Faried is in good company.
His rebounding prowess is not a recent discovery, either. Faried as been in the top three in boards per game for three consecutive years.
He, like many big men, needs to improve his 57.7 percent free throw percentage, but let's be honest: Whatever NBA team picks him isn't taking him to shoot free throws.
They're looking for the next Kevin Love.
2. Marshon Brooks, Providence
The only player to score points per game in 2010 than Marshon Brooks was Jimmer Fredette.
At 6'5", the Providence shooting guard is a perfect physical specimen for the shooting guard position in the NBA. He swished 24.6 points per game, and his height helped him get seven rebounds per game.
He is a very good ball handler and has the ability to create his own shot, which is constantly harped on by NBA analysts. Brooks can get to the rim when given a second to breath, which bodes well in the more spread pro game.
Brooks can get a little bit too selfish with the ball, not wanting to get his teammates involved. That often leads to some bad shots, seen in his mild 34 percent from behind the arc.
Getting on a team with other capable players will help Brooks move the ball more and choose better shots.
1. Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State
Like Shelvin Mack, Kawhi Leonard is far from an unknown from a mid-major conference.
According to Chad Ford, Leonard is going to be a lottery pick in next the fast-approaching draft. His play was a big reason that San Diego State stormed onto the scene in 2010.
At 6'7", he is a prototypical swing man and spends a lot of his time on the perimeter. He is able to play on the block with the big men, though, as he showed by snagging 10.6 rebounds per game last season.
On a talented Aztecs team with more than one scorer, Leonard manged to score more than 15 points per game to lead the team.
His natural ability and work ethic paired with his tenacious style of play will be a benefit to whatever team gets him.
Side note: I never knew how enjoyable three BYU-San Diego State games could be until last year.
The Next Larry Bird(s)?
The top small school prospects often have a high national ranking in their statistical category.
This happens because of the fewer number of top-level players to both share the ball with on the same team and to beat to the rim on the opposing team.
Some analysts say this is detrimental to their development since they aren't used to the higher level of play on a consistent basis.
I, on the other hand, think that the heavy burden each player on this list carried as the main man on his team helps them when it's crunch time in the NBA. They're used to the spot light and can get it done.
Let's think of a different name for these "mid-majors."