Under-the-Radar 2021 NBA Draft Prospects in Men's College Basketball
The first round of the NBA draft is typically overrun with highly touted players from programs such as Duke and Kentucky. A Ja Morant from Murray State or an Obi Toppin from Dayton will sneak into the lottery every now and then, but the power conferences rule the roost early.
But the real college basketball fans like to stick around until the end of the draft to watch "the little guys" get some recognition.
Just in the past three years, players from Boise State, Charleston, Dayton, Hofstra, Missouri State, Nevada, San Diego State, Texas-Arlington, Utah State and Yale were selected in the Nos. 50-60 range.
Who fits that bill this year?
To come up with this list, I scoured at least a dozen 2021 mock drafts and big boards in search of anybody who plays for a team (aside from Gonzaga) from outside college basketball's seven most noteworthy conferences: the American, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC.
These were the only 10 players I could find.
(I would add Winthrop's Chandler Vaudrin and Coastal Carolina's DeVante' Jones to this list. The former is averaging 12.0 points, 8.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds per game for the 11-0 Eagles. The latter is sitting at an astounding 22.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.8 steals and 3.8 assists per night for the 9-2 Chanticleers. But I'm not a draft guy, and none of the draft writers mentioned either of those players.)
Derrick Alston Jr., Boise State
2020-21 Stats: 16.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.4 APG, 38.2 3PT%
One of the biggest surprises of the first seven weeks of this season is 11-1 Boise State, which is comfortably ranked in the NET Top 25. The Broncos have not been to the NCAA tournament since 2015 and have never won a game in seven trips to the Big Dance, but Derrick Alston Jr. could help put an end to those droughts.
Alston is a lesser version of Brandon Ingram, which, to be clear, is a compliment. He's a wiry 6'9" wing with ample range. And he has grown much more efficient and impactful with age.
Alston barely played as a freshman. He flashed potential as a sophomore, but he was somewhat of a one-trick Bronco on a team loaded with upperclassmen. Last year, he branched out and had a much higher usage rating, but that resulted in diminished shooting percentages and a sharp uptick in turnovers. Now as a redshirt senior, he has become the total package.
He did have an absolute dud in a season-opening loss to Houston (zero points on six shots with two turnovers), but he has been potent since then—albeit against much worse competition. If he fares well later this year against Colorado State, Utah State and San Diego State, some team is going to deem him worthy of a second-round flier.
Charles Bassey, Western Kentucky
2020-21 Stats: 16.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 3.3 BPG, 25.0% 3PT
Though he's at a mid-major school, Charles Bassey has never flown under the radar.
He was the No. 6 recruit in the 2018 class and was a presumed one-and-done prospect despite his atypical choice of Western Kentucky. And, really, it's a surprise he didn't go pro after averaging 14.6 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game as a freshman.
After suffering a season-ending knee injury just 10 games into his sophomore year, he is back and thriving in Year 3.
In a win over Memphis in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic, Bassey torched the Tigers for 21 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks. In a surprising mid-December win at Alabama, Bassey again led the way with 27 points and 12 boards. He has tallied at least 10 points and eight rebounds in each of his 12 games.
The big man is continuing to test the limits of his shooting range, too, which should help his draft stock. He's only averaging 1.7 three-point attempts per game at a 25.0 percent clip, but if he can develop to the point where NBA opponents need to at least respect his deep ball, he could be a star. And he has always been a respectable free-throw shooter, sitting at 76.7 percent for his career.
If anyone on this list is going to be picked in the first round, it has to be Bassey.
Kessler Edwards, Pepperdine
2020-21 Stats: 17.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.3 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 41.5 3PT%
Kessler Edwards is the first of two players from Pepperdine on this list, which is hard to comprehend for a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2015-16. But Lorenzo Romar is the coach of the Waves these days, and getting guys to the NBA without actually winning many games was pretty much his trademark over his final half-decade at Washington.
Team success aside, Edwards is the prototypical do-it-all wing-forward built for the modern-day NBA. He struggled in Pepperdine's final two games before it went on a COVID-19 pause, but he scored at least 17 points in each of his first seven games—which included facing UCLA, San Diego State and California.
His rebounding and block rates are down from last year, but he has become a more assertive and efficient scorer to make up for it. That should be a long-term improvement for the 6'8" Edwards, who is much more likely to be a three-and-D wing than any sort of imposing post presence in the NBA.
Forthcoming games against Gonzaga—the first of which comes Thursday night—will be the big opportunities for Edwards to get some attention. Draft scouts will tune in to watch Jalen Suggs, Drew Timme and Corey Kispert, but Edwards could shine even in a blowout loss.
AJ Green, Northern Iowa
2020-21 Stats: 22.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 40.7% 3PT
AJ Green played only three games this season before undergoing season-ending hip surgery.
Green was already a fringe NBA prospect, though. He declared for the 2020 draft before withdrawing and opting to return to Northern Iowa to become a more well-rounded player.
Green's shooting has never been a concern. He averaged 19.7 points per game in 2019-20, making 39.1 percent of his 7.5 three-point attempts per game. Not quite Markus Howard figures (41.2 percent on 10.1 attempts per game), but Green was one of the better volume shooters in the country. In his limited action this season, that was no different. He shot 11-of-27 from deep in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic.
How would he fit in the NBA, though?
Green is 6'4" on a good day, but he's not a good passer (more turnovers than assists in his college career), and he's not a good defender. And while his stroke is solid, it's not like anyone expects him to become a shorter version of Kyle Korver, who can live on threes and little else.
It seems safe to assume Green will return in 2021-22 to get healthy and address some of the questions he was hoping to address this year. If he does, he just might become the first Northern Iowa alum to play in the NBA.
Nah'Shon Hyland, VCU
2020-21 Stats: 18.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 1.5 APG, 36.4 3PT%
Nah'Shon "Bones" Hyland was a huge pickup for VCU in the 2019 recruiting class. Save for Terry Larrier (2014) and De'Riante Jenkins (2016), Hyland was the highest-rated recruit the Rams have ever landed.
He was fine in his first season, averaging 9.0 points per game and shooting 43.4 percent from three-point range. However, he went through spells where he vanished in an otherwise veteran rotation.
But Jenkins, Marcus Evans, Issac Vann and Mike'l Simms all ran out of eligibility, and Marcus Santos-Silva transferred to Texas Tech, leaving Hyland as the only returning player who averaged so much as 5.0 points per game.
He has risen to the challenge.
Hyland was scorching hot in December, shooting 20-of-40 from three-point range with 11 steals and 90 points during a four-game stretch against Mount St. Mary's, North Carolina A&T, Old Dominion and Western Carolina.
And, yes, the level of competition is relevant. If he had put up those numbers in the first four games of the season against Utah State, West Virginia, Memphis and Penn State, he wouldn't be flying under the radar. Still, Hyland is blossoming in his much expanded role. I'm looking forward to seeing what the sophomore does against Richmond's experienced backcourt next month. Hyland vs. Jacob Gilyard will be quite the battle.
Taevion Kinsey, Marshall
2020-21 Stats: 21.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 50.0 3PT%
Taevion Kinsey was a pleasant surprise two years ago. While scouts were tuning in to see if maybe Jon Elmore—who averaged better than 20 points, five assists and five rebounds in each of his final two seasons—was worthy of a late flier, there was a 6'5" freshman scoring in double figures and routinely pulling down offensive rebounds.
After Elmore and C.J. Burks graduated, Kinsey became Marshall's go-to guy last year, and he often struggled with efficiency in that role. He did score 16.4 points per game, and his assist rate more than doubled from the previous season, but his turnover rate also spiked while his shooting percentages went in the tank.
I wouldn't call it a sophomore slump; just a classic case of someone who was asked to play more minutes with a much higher usage rating and a considerably worse supporting cast.
But now he has combined that freshman efficiency and sophomore volume into a spectacular junior season.
Kinsey is shooting 62.7 percent from the field and averaging 2.2 assists per turnover. Mighty impressive for a player who isn't even the point guard. (Senior Jarrod West holds down that position.) Kinsey has scored at least 17 points in eight of nine games. And according to KenPom, he ranks in the top 30 in the nation in percentage of minutes played and offensive rating.
Jason Preston, Ohio
2020-21 Stats: 17.8 PPG, 7.5 APG, 6.1 RPG, 46.7 3PT%
Jason Preston already had a sophomore year for the ages in 2019-20, joining Jason Kidd and Denzel Valentine as the only players since 1992-93 to average at least 16 points, seven assists and six rebounds per game.
Lo and behold, he's on pace to do it again this year.
Preston had a big moment in the spotlight earlier this season, going off for a career-high 31 points with eight assists, six rebounds and zero turnovers in a near upset at Illinois. He went toe-to-toe with Ayo Dosunmu and arguably won that battle. If Preston had a Kofi Cockburn at his disposal, Ohio would have won the game.
He has scored in double figures and amassed at least 10 combined rebounds and assists in each of his eight games. Preston also did that in each of his final 10 games last year—a streak that began in February with the lone triple-double of his career.
He'll get at least one more this season. He's too good and too versatile to go a full season without a triple-double.
Neemias Queta, Utah State
2020-21 Stats: 12.3 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 3.2 APG, 2.8 BPG, 1.3 SPG
Sam Merrill (now with the Milwaukee Bucks) was Utah State's biggest star over the past two seasons, but Neemias Queta was one heck of a running mate in the paint. Some might say Queta was actually the most important player for the Aggies because his contributions as a shot-blocker and rebounder anchored the team's biggest strengths.
And now that Merrill is gone, everything runs through Queta.
Utah State ranks in the top 10 in block percentage, according to KenPom, and that's all Queta. The 7'0" center has 34 blocks, while the rest of the team has 24. He's also leading the team in rebounds, as you'd expect. What's surprising is that he's tops in assists and steals as well.
Queta's year-to-date numbers are impressive enough, but just in the last six games, he is averaging 11.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.2 blocks and 3.7 assists. He isn't quite at these numbers, but the only players since 1992-93 to average at least 10 rebounds, three assists and three blocks per game were Tim Duncan and Bo Outlaw—each of whom averaged more than 35 minutes per game. Queta is close to that club despite playing only 26.3 minutes per night.
He's not much of a scorer, but he impacts the game in so many other ways that he could be a major asset down low for a team with a ball-dominant lead guard.
Orlando Robinson, Fresno State
2020-21 Stats: 18.1 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.1 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 54.5 3PT%
A seven-footer averaging a double-double and shooting better than 50 percent from three-point range?
Orlando Robinson, you have our attention.
Granted, he has merely canned six of his 11 attempts this season, so it's not like he's making it rain from distance. All the same, it's enough of a sample size to show the big man can shoot.
And, really, that's just the icing on the cake.
In a recent win over Wyoming, Robinson put up 33 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks and two steals while attempting only one triple. In just eight games, he already has six double-doubles and three games with at least 19 points and 13 boards.
In fairness, the competition has been lacking. San Jose State is one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. Wyoming isn't that far behind. Colorado State's top interior presence is 6'5". And those are the only Division I opponents Fresno State has faced.
In due time, though, the Bulldogs will play Boise State, Utah State and San Diego State. If the schedule holds, the two games against the Aggies on Feb. 4 and 6 will be intriguing. The Robinson vs. Neemias Queta faceoffs might determine who gets the first crack at an NBA roster.
Colbey Ross, Pepperdine
2020-21 Stats: 19.0 PPG, 7.2 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 36.0 3PT%
Colbey Ross is the second of Pepperdine's aforementioned two NBA prospects, and he is arguably the more likely to have an impact in the Association.
Not only is Ross averaging 19 points and seven assists per game, but it's also his third consecutive year doing so. Excluding this season, there have only been six instances in the previous five years of a player with those numbers: Ja Morant, Trae Young, Denzel Valentine, Kay Felder and Ross twice.
That's quite the list. Morant and Young are stars, Valentine is getting regular playing time, and even the 5'9" Felder appeared in 58 games between three franchises. And each of them had only one such season while Ross is headed for his third.
The only player to do it twice since 1992-93 was J.J. Barea, and that undersized point guard from Northeastern spent the past 14 seasons in the NBA.
So why not Ross?
Pepperdine's 6'1" senior leader had 33 points in a triple-overtime loss to UCLA and a season-high 11 assists in a win over California. He also averaged 23.5 points and 8.0 assists in two games against Gonzaga last year and finished the 2019-20 campaign with 43 points, eight rebounds and five assists in a West Coast Conference tournament loss to Saint Mary's.
As we noted with Kessler Edwards, Ross will have a major opportunity to showcase his talents against Gonzaga on Thursday night. If he can hold his own against Jalen Suggs and the No. 1 team in the country, scouts are bound to be impressed.