Incoming 5-Star Freshmen Most Likely to Stay in School for Multiple Seasons
Though it may seem like every 5-star freshman is just using college basketball as a five-month stepping stone into the NBA, they stay for multiple seasons of collegiate hoops more often than not.
According to 247Sports, there have been 69 5-star recruits in college basketball over the past three years. Only 31 of those players (44.9 percent) left for the NBA after one season. And only 36 percent of last year's 5-star freshmen bolted after one year.
If those numbers hold to form for another season, there will be 14-17 top-notch recruits in this year's batch who stick around for multiple years.
Which ones fit the bill, though?
Based on a combination of individual expectations and projected roster fit, these are the 10 studs from the 2016 class that are most likely to still be in college for the 2017-18 season.
10. Sacha Killeya-Jones, Kentucky
Kentucky is at the epicenter of the one-and-done generation. (Sorry, John Calipari. We mean the "succeed and proceed" generation.) Conventional wisdom is that 5-star players who sign with the Wildcats will declare for the NBA draft as soon as possible.
But did you know that in six consecutive recruiting classes, Kentucky has had at least one 5-star player return for at least a second season? In fact, nearly 40 percent (nine out of 23) of Calipari's 5-star guys have opted for multiple years: Terrence Jones (2010), Kyle Wiltjer (2011), Alex Poythress (2012), Andrew Harrison (2013), Aaron Harrison (2013), Dakari Johnson (2013), Marcus Lee (2013), Tyler Ulis (2014) and Isaiah Briscoe (2015).
By that math, two of Coach Cal's five 5-star players in this year's class will be back in 2017-18, and we expect Sacha Killeya-Jones to be one of them.
It's tough to forecast where and how much this 6'10" power forward fits into this year's mix. In terms of playing style, Killeya-Jones is a slightly shorter version of Skal Labissiere. He'll block some shots and rebound relatively well, but he's not a bruiser in the paint by any means. He's more of a finesse player who would likely be put to best use as a stretch 4 with either Bam Adebayo or Isaac Humphries at the 5.
He has a good motor and a ton of room for potential, but Killeya-Jones is far from a finished product. He needs to either add the necessary strength to play center at the collegiate and professional levels, or become more consistent with his mid-range jumpers in order to fit better into the Tim Duncan mold of power forwards. Either way, it will be a development that figures to take more than a year before an NBA team is ready to entrust him with a first-round pick.
9. Wenyen Gabriel, Kentucky
Wenyen Gabriel is in the same boat with Sacha Killeya-Jones. He's a raw big man with a ton of potential for development, but it's unclear how much opportunity for in-game development he'll actually get on this roster.
With a projected starting five of De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis and Bam Adebayo with Isaac Humphries heavily involved in the frontcourt mix, Gabriel might not play nearly as many minutes as his versatility and energy would have commanded elsewhere.
What Gabriel needs to add before making the leap to the NBA are consistency and strength. He can score and defend on the perimeter and has the footwork and basketball IQ to get around big men in the paint. However, he's neither a reliable enough shooter to be a full-time stretch 4 nor strong enough to survive the wear and tear of being a primary center.
A late bloomer during the high school recruiting process, he could improve significantly in both of those areas this season. But he might be best suited sticking around for a second year with the hope of becoming a starter in 2017-18.
8. Omer Yurtseven, NC State
European stars that come to America to play college basketball have made a habit of staying for multiple years. Jakob Poeltl (Austria) and Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania) both played two seasons before becoming 2016 lottery picks. Svi Mykhailiuk (Ukraine) is about to enter his third season of collegiate ball at Kansas.
Perhaps Omer Yurtseven (Turkey) will follow in their footsteps?
"Fenerbahce is a really good club and they play at a high level," Yurtseven told Scout's Evan Daniels in February. "I haven't been playing that much, so I need to go some place that I can to play more and to improve. That's why I want to go to college."
He could have simply stayed in Turkey for one more year before potentially becoming a 2017 lottery pick, but he's joining the Wolfpack to prove his mettle and improve his level of competition.
According to Sports Illustrated, he had 91 points and 28 rebounds in a Turkish U18 game this past May. There's no one his age in his country to challenge him, but playing a differently officiated game against the likes of Duke, North Carolina and Virginia may come with a learning curve.
Yurtseven is a gifted big man who should be difficult to contain at both the college and NBA levels once he adjusts to them. Keep an eye on his foul situations early in the 2016-17 season to get a hint at whether it'll take two years to make a full impact at NC State.
7. Rawle Alkins, Arizona
Rawle Alkins is a bowling ball of scoring and rebounding aggression. If you could put Julius Randle in a dryer and have him come out a couple of inches shorter and a few pounds lighter, you would have Alkins. Fair warning to Arizona's opponents: let this guy get a head of steam in transition at your own risk.
But will he be able to stand out in a backcourt that also features Kadeem Allen, Allonzo Trier, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Kobi Simmons?
Even with former Arizona signee Terrance Ferguson opting to play internationally, head coach Sean Miller almost has too many talented players to choose from. In addition to the aforementioned perimeter guys, the Wildcats also have Ray Smith, Lauri Markkanen and Dusan Ristic. And with Trier already well-established as this team's go-to scorer, that leaves seven guys fighting for 65-70 percent of the pie.
Alkins will inevitably wind up on some highlight reels throughout the season, but it probably won't be until next year that we get see him shine. If he improves as a three-point shooter, a freshman-to-sophomore year leap on par with what Grayson Allen did at Duke is feasible, provided Kadeem Allen (senior) and Trier (NBA draft) are out of his way.
6. Frank Jackson, Duke
Even if the Blue Devils fulfill expectations by dominating the regular season before winning the national championship, someone is bound to stick around, right?
Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones are both seniors, so it can't be either of them. Harry Giles (No. 1), Jayson Tatum (No. 3) and Marques Bolden (No. 8) are projected lottery picks at DraftExpress, so let's rule them out as options, too. Maybe it's Grayson Allen and/or Luke Kennard that attempts to defend the title, but in a draft class overrun with high-quality point guards, Frank Jackson is our guess.
Point guards Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, De'Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith are all ranked in the top seven of this year's crop of recruits with combo guard Malik Monk not far behind at No. 11. There's also Frank Ntilikina—a standout point guard expected by some to be the first international player selected in the 2017 lottery—and seniors such as Monte Morris, London Perrantes and Frank Mason who might be worthy of a draft pick.
Jackson is an outstanding player and an electric scorer, but he's going to have a ton of competition in the 2017 draft class. Conversely, the 2017 recruiting class is almost devoid of point guards, as Trevon Duval is the only one rated by 247Sports as one of the top 18 players. As long as Jackson doesn't get worse as a sophomore, his draft stock would skyrocket in 2018 simply due to supply and demand.
5. V.J. King, Louisville
While most titans of the coaching industry have embraced the one-and-done state of the college game, Rick Pitino hasn't had a freshman declare for the draft yet in his 15 seasons at Louisville.
That isn't to say it won't ever happen, but aside from the graduate-transfers that he has signed over the past two offseasons, Pitino seems to primarily target players who are willing and able to help his program for more than one season.
V.J. King certainly has the talent to do so. An electric scorer from anywhere on the court, the Cardinals desperately need him to help fill the scoring voids left by Damion Lee, Trey Lewis and Chinanu Onuaku.
It's King's all-around game that might necessitate an extra year or two of collegiate seasoning before moving on to the NBA. Though he can score with the best of them, he's not much of a rebounder, defender or passer. But he has the body and the potential to excel in those areas if he commits to them.
In a nutshell, King is a slightly taller version of Devin Booker, though slightly less lethal from three-point range. If he opts for the NBA after one year, he would probably be worthy of a mid-to-late first-round pick. However, he seems like the type of player who could be a star in the pros if he takes a couple of years in college to hone his skills and commit to becoming a well-balanced wing.
4. Josh Langford, Michigan State
For Josh Langford, it's a perfect storm of reasons for a player to stay in college multiple seasons.
First, there's the program. Deyonta Davis notwithstanding, players don't leave Tom Izzo after one season. Prior to Davis, the last freshman from Michigan State to declare for the NBA draft was Zach Randolph in 2001. Even 5-star shooting guard Gary Harris came back for a second year after averaging 12.9 points per game as a freshman.
There's also the current roster situation. Though the Spartans lost six of their eight leading scorers from last season, they still have Eron Harris and Matt McQuaid potentially blocking Langford's path to a starting gig. With Lourawls Nairn and Cassius Winston also in the picture at point guard things are a bit clogged on the perimeter. Langford will probably play 20-25 minutes per game, but he might get lost in the shuffle like Harris did last season (20.9 minutes, 9.3 points per game.)
Lastly, what position does Langford play in the NBA? A good-but-streaky shooter who isn't explosive or shifty enough to be a lead guard or big enough to be a next-level small forward, he's kind of stuck in no man's land. Unless he suddenly grows a couple of inches or blossoms into a dominant ball-handler, his draft stock won't hit its apex until he displays a consistently lethal jumper from 24 feet out.
Whether he can get to that point this season as part of a five-man backcourt rotation remains to be seen, but all things considered, expect to spend next summer reading about Langford as one of the top sophomores to watch in the 2017-18 season.
3. Omari Spellman, Villanova
Like Rick Pitino at Louisville, Villanova head coach Jay Wright doesn't even know what it's like to lose a freshman to the NBA.
Heck, Villanova hasn't even had a sophomore declare for the draft since Kyle Lowry decided to join seniors Allan Ray and Randy Foye after the 2005-06 season. This is a program that has capitalized on four-year players for more than a decade, culminating in the 2016 national championship.
Why should Omari Spellman be any different than those who came before him?
Moreover, are we even sure he's going to get enough playing time to make a significant impact?
Daniel Ochefu graduated, but the Wildcats still have Darryl Reynolds and redshirt freshman Tim Delaney vying for the limited playing time in a frontcourt that also features Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Mikal Bridges and Eric Paschall.
And though it's arguably a product of Wright recruiting players who are far from finished products, this isn't a program where freshmen typically flourish. Dante Cunningham has been a quality sixth man in the NBA for the past seven years, but he averaged 2.2 points per game in his first season at Villanova. Darrun Hilliard was the only other Wildcat drafted in the past decade, and he wasn't much more proficient as a freshman, shooting 29.2 percent from three and averaging 4.8 points per game.
Maybe Spellman breaks the mold, starts from day one and dominates in the paint for a title contender. A big man who rebounds and defends at a high level and has some touch on his mid-range jumper, we would have higher immediate expectations for Spellman at just about any other school. That isn't to say that Spellman or Villanova will struggle. It's simply uncommon for freshmen to shine in this system.
2. T.J. Leaf, UCLA
From an offensive standpoint, T.J. Leaf is probably ready for the NBA.
An athletic 6'9" forward with three-point range and the footwork to get around most big men that attempt to guard him away from the hoop, Leaf is a nightmare to contain. If he spends his freshman year at UCLA improving his ball-handling skills, he would be the most unique offensive weapon in the college game since UCLA's 6'9" point-forward from three years ago: Kyle Anderson.
What's going to keep him from jumping to the NBA after one season is his defense. Leaf is neither quick nor particularly strong, so getting around or through him is of little difficulty for a dedicated scorer.
That makes his fit on the 2016-17 UCLA roster a bit of a conundrum. Between Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton, Aaron Holiday and Prince Ali, the Bruins should have three guards on the court at all times. That makes Leaf the de facto 4 when he's in the game, even though he probably won't be able to hold his own defensively against college power forwards.
Fortunately for UCLA, head coach Steve Alford has never been shy about playing zone defense, which should help mitigate the damage of Leaf's D. However, it won't do much to help him make the necessary improvements as a defender to make the jump to the next level.
1. Tony Bradley, North Carolina
Almost every 5-star freshman is either guaranteed a starting job or heavily in the mix to get one.
Tony Bradley, however, is all but guaranteed to not be a starter with Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks still on North Carolina's roster.
It's a shame, too, because Bradley is one of the most college-ready frontcourt players in this year's class. Though not quite as tall as most dominant, conventional centers (6'10"), he's a strong, old-school big man who rebounds well and can finish with either hand. He can shoot a little bit away from the hoop, but he's hardly a mid-range specialist and might not bother to attempt a three-pointer in his career.
For most teams, that would make him a starter from day one and a player almost expected to average a double-double. But it just makes him one of three similarly wired Tar Heels this year.
Even with Luke Maye and (to a lesser extent) Theo Pinson also in the frontcourt picture for UNC, Bradley should play close to 20 minutes per game as a freshman. Barring injury to a starter or another trip to the national championship game, that probably won't be enough for him to stand out as a NBA prospect.
Just wait until 2017-18, though. Once Hicks and Meeks graduate and Bradley becomes the go-to guy down low, he should have a sensational sophomore season.
Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.