Each year around this time, we start paying close attention to the top 10-20 names in the next year’s recruiting class. We add players to our wish list and put our faith in Coach Cal that he will sign a group of them to join Kentucky in the future. Other teams across the country watch the rankings with the same level of interest. Each year, the top players coming out of high school enter the college basketball season with a certain level of expectations. Now, nearly a year later, let’s catch up with the class of 2012’s top 10 players to see how they panned out…
*Arrows indicates whether a player is trending up or down after the season/draft in comparison to the ranking out of high school.
1. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
14th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft (Timberwolves)
Perhaps no player in the country entered college basketball last season with as much hype as Shabazz Muhammad. Muhammad wound up leading UCLA in scoring, averaging 17.9 points per game to go along with 5.2 rebounds. Maybe it was because he was tucked away on the west coast at UCLA, or maybe it was because of unrealistic expectations– but Muhammad never quite lived up to the hype. He had a good freshman season, but it wasn’t great. UCLA was bounced in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Minnesota, and Muhammad’s collegiate career quietly ended.
Muhammad was once projected to be in a race with Nerlens Noel for a claim on the #1 pick in the NBA Draft. Instead, Muhammad once again quietly slipped away with the 14th pick. In fact, so quietly that he didn’t make it up to the stage on the first go round. Muhammad came out later to shake hands with David Stern. It was bizarre, much like the path of Muhammad following the buzz of being the #1 recruit in America.
2. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
6th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft (76ers)
Nerlens Noel entered college with nearly as much hype as Shabazz. Everyone was excited about Noel’s ability to block shots, comparing him to Anthony Davis before he even arrived on campus. His offensive ability was the biggest question mark, and we saw both of those things play out over the course of the season. Noel was an absolute force on the defensive end for Kentucky, averaging 4.4 blocks per game to go along with 2.1 steals per game. Noel’s effort and work rate acted as one of the few positives for an under-achieving team. Noel contributed some on the offensive end, though his production was limited. Noel averaged nearly a double-double with 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. Noel’s season was cut short when he tore his ACL against Florida in the middle of the SEC season. Noel still finished the season being named SEC Freshman of the Year, First Team All-SEC, and SEC Defensive Player of the Year, despite the shortened season.
Despite the injury, Noel’s draft projections remained essentially the same. Leading up to the draft, all of the buzz was that he had a very good chance to be selected first overall by the Cavaliers. Injury worries, red flags with his “entourage,” and questioning of offensive ability culminated in a last minute fall during the NBA Draft as Noel watched name after name called in the Green Room. Noel fell to the 6th overall pick, which was undoubtedly disappointing when the hope was for #1.
3. Kyle Anderson, UCLA
Returning for Sophomore season at UCLA
Kyle Anderson had a solid freshman campaign for UCLA, starting in 34 of 35 games while averaging a stat stuffing 9.7 pts, 8.6 rbs, 3.5 apg and 1.8 spg. Anderson earned 2nd team All-Pac-12 honors. The team never seemed to put it all together though under Ben Howland. The result was a first round exit in the NCAA tournament and a fired head coach. With the departure of Muhammad, Anderson might have the opportunity to become “the guy” for the Bruins this season. Whenever Anderson feels ready to make the leap for the NBA, his advantage will be his ability to play 3 positions with his size. He can handle the ball and is privy to playing guard, but his 6’9″ frame allows him to play on the wing as well. Anderson could be poised for a breakout season if the chemistry with the new coaching staff is established. Anderson could sky rocket up the draft boards by next spring.
4. Isaiah Austin, Baylor
Returning for Sophomore season at Baylor
Most everyone assumed that 7’1″ big man Isaiah Austin would be headed for the NBA after his freshman season in Waco. Austin was projected to be a mid-to-late first round pick and seemed in position to take the leap. An MRI revealed a torn posterior labrum in one of his shoulders though. With the uncertainty of being a legit top 10 pick, the risk of the injury didn’t seem worth it. Austin worried he might see his stock fall, landing him in the 2nd round. The injury was almost certainly the only thing holding Austin back from leaving college.
Austin’s return will give a boost to a Baylor team who underachieved a bit last season by not making the NCAA tournament. Austin, a legit 7-footer, should find himself in position to leave for the NBA’s first round after next season if he can stay healthy. Austin averaged 13.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in his freshman campaign.
5. Steven Adams, Pittsburgh
12th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft (Thunder)
There’s a decent chance you forgot who Steven Adams even was (or maybe you never knew him in the first place). Adams had a rather average freshman season for Pittsburgh, averaging 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game . When Adams decided to declare for the draft, many people were shocked. Adams is still very raw on the court, and probably will still need a few years before he’s ready to contribute right away. Or at least, that was the general consensus. Adams is 6’11” though, and possesses a natural feel for the game. The Oklahoma City Thunder are thrilled with their pick and think the skilled big man actually WILL contribute right away. Sometimes being an extremely effective and productive college player does not translate to the skill set that NBA teams want. In Adams’ case, an average college career didn’t take away from the raw talent that NBA teams saw in him.
6. Ricardo Ledo, Providence
43rd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft (Mavs)
One of the most talented guards to come out of high school in 2012, also considered a bit of a playground legend, Ricky Ledo plummeted all the way into the 2nd round. The Mavs feel as if they got a “steal” with Ledo falling to them so late. Ledo has had a rocky journey to this point though. He has been described by former coaches as a “program killer.” Ledo still remains a bit of a mystery. There’s no doubt that he has talent. But we also never got to see him play in college. He was ruled academically ineligible and had to sit for his entire freshman season. What will become of Ricky Ledo is still a giant mystery.
7. Anthony Bennett, UNLV
1st overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft (Cavaliers)
No one had a better draft night than Anthony Bennett. Bennett was a highly coveted power forward coming out of high school. Count John Calipari among those who wanted Bennett at one point or another. Bennett had a good freshman year at UNLV, but like Muhammad– wasn’t spectacular. Questions about his health and weight heading into the draft made it look like he could fall anywhere from a top 5 pick to a late lottery pick. Few people, if any, could have predicted that the Cavs would use the #1 pick on Bennett. And yet, the #7 ranked player coming out of high school was the headliner for the whole night.
8. Alex Poythress, Kentucky
Returning for Sophomore season at Kentucky
Alex Poythress had moments and stretches during last season when he looked like a 5-star stud and a potential NBA lottery pick. For the most part though, Poythress was inconsistent and lacked the motor and work ethic that drives players to greatness. By some standards, Poythress was productive in his freshman year. But for a player who was once projected as the #1 pick in the NBA draft, his overall performance was disappointing. Poythress probably still could have declared for the draft anyway. And judging by how bizarre this year’s draft was, probably could have gone anywhere from a lottery pick to the 2nd round. Poythress realized that he wasn’t ready yet and still had work to do on his game while in college.
Poythress could be poised for a breakout season this year for Kentucky. He will have to compete day in and day out just to see the floor, and that’s probably just what he needs. Only time will tell if Poythress will reach the potential he carried with him as an elite prospect coming out of high school.
9. Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona
Returning for Sophomore season at Arizona
Kaleb (I’m not trying to type his last name multiple times) didn’t exactly have a breakout or standout freshman season for Arizona. Kaleb contributed solidly off the bench with 6.6 points and 6.1 rebounds. Upon his arrival at Arizona, many had pegged the 7-footer to be a one-and-done prospect. Kaleb struggled to find his rhythm and comfort zone in the college game though. He was not a go-to offensive threat and he was turnover-proned, as well as a fouling machine at times for the Wildcats. The second half of his season was much better than the first though, and he hopes to build upon that with a much more productive sophomore season. The NBA Draft was not an option for Kaleb after this season, and he hopes to fulfill a much bigger role for the Wildcats next season.
10. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Returning for Sophomore season at Oklahoma State
Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, assumed that Marcus Smart would take the next step and enter the NBA Draft. Smart was projected to be a distinct possibility for the #1 overall pick. Smart had a brilliant freshman year for Oklahoma State, leaving many to wonder what was left to prove by returning? The NBA was salivating over Smart, with a host of teams hoping he might fall into their laps. Instead, Smart shocked the world when he decided to return for another season. Looking back, many believe Smart would have been a guaranteed top 5 pick, maybe even the overall number one pick had he declared. Orlando wanted him badly and they had the 2nd pick. It’s hard to imagine he would have fallen any deeper than that. Hopefully it turns out okay for the young man, but next year’s draft is LOADED. Andrew Wiggins is considered almost a lock for the #1 pick. Smart should still find himself off the board quickly, but one still has to wonder what he has left to prove? Smart wanted to spend another year in college though, and that is his decision– and one that he seemed confident in making.
Smart still thinks he can improve himself before making the leap. Business decision? Probably dumb. Personal decision? Maybe he knows something we don’t and he knows he wasn’t truly ready.
Best Freshman Season Individually: Marcus Smart
Best Team Performance : Arizona (Kaleb Tarczewski)
Most Disappointing Freshman Season Individually: Ricardo Ledo, Runner-up: Kaleb Tarczewski
Most Disappointing Team’s Season: Kentucky (Nerlens Noel)
Most to Gain by Choosing to Stay: Alex Poythress
Most to Lose by Choosing to Stay: Marcus Smart
Biggest Draft Winners: 1. Anthony Bennett 2. Steven Adams
Biggest Draft Losers: 1. Ricardo Ledo 2. Shabazz Muhammad 3. Nerlens Noel