The 2012 NBA draft is looking to be one of the best drafts in years. Many of the prospects will be entering intriguing scenarios once the 2011-12 college basketball season kicks off.
With the NBA's 2011-12 season in serious jeopardy, basketball fans are turning to the next best thing, college basketball, in search of the next crop of stars.
There were quite a few surprises when a number of top players elected to return for another year of college ball rather than being anywhere from a lottery pick to a top five selection. It will be interesting to see whether their decision to stay will be for the best.
Considering the likelihood of there being no pro ball in the United States, at least these guys will be able to play here rather than head overseas.
Then there are the incoming freshmen, many of which will be entering favorable situations to showcase their skills.
Finally, there are the guys who have had tons of potential, but after waiting for a year or two, now will be asked to transform that potential into a dominant college season.
Here are 10 prospects, in order of class (freshmen come first), that everyone should be keeping an eye on this season. I know NBA scouts will be.
Adonis Thomas is regarded as one of the top small forwards in the 2011 class. He's a hard worker with tons of athleticism.
He elected to stay home in Memphis, and the Tigers should be grateful as it sets them up to be one of the top teams in the country.
With a nucleus of Thomas, sophomore Will Barton, and sophomore Joe Jackson, it wouldn't be a shocker if the Tigers ran the table in Conference USA and end up with a top seed come March.
As the top NBA prospect of the bunch, it will be interesting to see whether Thomas is the one carrying the load down the stretch, or if he defers to the "older" guys.
Regardless, expect to see a fair share of Adonis Thomas highlights this coming season.
Quincy Miller committed to Baylor along with good friend Deuce Bello (one of the best dunkers in the country) before his senior season even got started.
Then, in early December, Miller tore his ACL in a game and was out for the rest of the season, which is the only reason he wasn't a McDonald's All-American.
Miller still ended up ranking in the top five of most 2011 player rankings. At 6'9", he's one of the more versatile players in the class.
Miller, along with a teammate that's coming up, could form one of the most fearsome combos in recent memory at Baylor.
Arguably the purest scorer in the country (college included), Austin Rivers is entering a perfect situation for him to showcase his abilities when he arrives at Duke in the fall.
With Duke losing so much of its scoring with the departures of Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Kyrie Irving, Rivers will have a great opportunity to put up major numbers in his first season for the Blue Devils.
Of any incoming freshman, I think Rivers is the favorite to win Freshman of the Year and may be a dark horse candidate for Player of the Year if his scoring numbers are high enough. I would be shocked if he didn't average 20 points per game this season.
The story of Anthony Davis' meteoric rise up the rankings over the past year is well documented, but for those unfamiliar to it, he was a 6'2" guard being recruited by the likes of Cleveland State, grew eight inches in a year while maintaining his perimeter skills and became arguably the most versatile player in the country.
Believed to be the top recruit in the country, Davis comes to Kentucky as part of probably the best class coach John Calipari has ever brought in.
It's uncertain if he'll be a dominant force a la Kevin Durant even though he definitely has the talent to do so. He's still getting used to his body and will be going up against much stiffer competition while also playing with a few other incredibly talented players in Terrence Jones, Michael Gilchrist, and Marquis Teague.
Jeremy Lamb had a similar rise to national prominence during his freshman season at Connecticut. Lamb started out as a good, but not great, freshman on a young team that wasn't expected to do much in 2010-11.
That was before Kemba Walker began his season of dominance. His notoriety allowed the rest of the Huskies to gain some notoriety, most notably Lamb, as he became the second option offensively.
With Kemba gone, Lamb will be counted on as the top option for the defending champs. He played very well for the U-19 USA team this summer and showed he could score in bunches, so it will be interesting to see if he's able to continue his rise and be regarded as one of the top players in the country this season.
When Perry Jones announced his decision to return to college, most people, including myself, were blown away. This was a guy who didn't shine too much in his first season at Baylor, ran into some problems with the NCAA which will cause him to miss part of the 2011-12 season, and was regarded as a top 10 pick based on potential.
Doesn't sound like there should've been any reason for him to return, but he did, and now along with Quincy Miller, these two will be the most dominant combo in the Big 12.
Jones is a lot like Miller, tall and versatile. Many people attributed his lack of production last season due to Baylor not having a point guard. Well, they'll be getting one in JUCO Pierre Jackson, who's regarded as one of the better JUCO's this season.
Of all the players who elected to come back to school, I think Jones has the most to lose, but I hope he's able to showcase some of the unlimited potential everyone knows he has.
As a guy who was fortunate enough to see Jared Sullinger play when he was just a sophomore in high school, hearing that he was honoring a commitment to Ohio State and playing another year of college ball despite being arguably the best post player in the country and a potential top 10 pick brought an immense amount of joy to me.
No one would've blamed him for leaving. He was part of one of the greatest regular season Buckeye teams in history, and were knocked out by Kentucky because they finally had a bad shooting night and Brandon Knight played out of his mind. Neither of which had much to do with the big man.
Nevertheless, Sullinger is back, and the Buckeyes are once again viewed as a national title contender.
So, what makes him so intriguing this time around? I've read on many sites that Sullinger is cutting weight and is hoping to drop 20 pounds by the time the season starts. He's also trying to expand his game and become a better shooter.
As a guy who was absolutely dominant down low, adding this extra dimension to his game would make him pretty much unstoppable. I only worry that losing weight may not make him as effective in the paint, but I hope I'm wrong.
Harrison Barnes went through a roller coaster ride last season.
A preseason All-American (virtually unheard of for a freshman), Barnes struggled in the first half of the year. Then, by around mid-February, it was as if a light bulb clicked, and he started playing with an assertiveness fans had never seen. By the end of the year, Barnes was believed to be a top three pick.
And yet, he decided to come back to school along with teammates John Henson and Tyler Zeller to form arguably the most talented and deep UNC team in decades.
The question with Barnes will be if he's able to seamlessly transition to the new year and pick up his excellent play right from the start, or if like last year it'll take him awhile to get going.
Nevertheless, this is the top prospect on the best team in the country. Not watching this guy would be foolish to anyone who calls themselves a basketball fan.
We finally get to the upperclassmen, and the only junior on this list is Kansas forward Thomas Robinson.
Robinson drew attention last season after his mother passed away. Robinson elected to stay with the team and play the day after she passed before going to her funeral. It was a heart felt story that many people heard about and related to.
This season will hopefully be much different for the big man. Last year he played a supporting role for the Jayhawks, sitting behind the Morris twins on the depth chart for the entire season.
What's funny is that Robinson was regarded as the best NBA prospect on the team. He averaged 7.6 points and 6.4 boards per game. Oh yea, he averaged just 14 minutes per game.
With the twins now gone along with a few other contributors, Robinson will finally be given the opportunity to carry the team down low. He has the skill, athleticism, and heart to be the leader of a Jayhawk team that not many people feel is a threat to do much this season because of all their losses.
Do not be surprised if Mr. Robinson is one of the most improved players this season and a Player of the Year sleeper.
Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the only senior on this list, Xavier guard Tu Holloway.
Want to know who has the potential of being a Stephen Curry/Jimmer Fredette type player who combines an absolutely monster year into a lottery pick? It's Holloway.
Last year he averaged close to 20 points, five boards, and over five assists per game for the Musketeers while leading them to yet another NCAA tournament berth. He will be one of the best scorers in the country this season and hopefully he'll garner enough attention for common fans to know who this guy is.
He wasn't regarded as a sure-fire first round pick last season which is why Holloway probably decided to return.
If you're looking for a mid-major senior who could make some serious noise in March, then root for this kid.