NCAA: Biggest Impact Juniors
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
Follow @Yannis KoutroupisYannis Koutroupis
By now most of the stars from the 2009 recruiting class, like John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors are long gone. The players who have stuck around needed more time to develop and gain confidence that they are ready to make the jump to the NBA.
The class remains talented, though, with some late bloomers who are really going to make their impact felt this season. The freshmen and sophomores may be loaded with star power, but the juniors are nothing to shake your head at. Here’s a look look at the top ten:
John Henson (North Carolina) – 6’10, 210 lbs. Power Forward
Firmly on the NBA radar since his senior year in high school, Henson has made the right choice to stay in college. He’s slowly starting to justify all of the hype that once surrounded him. He’s definitely a pro prospect, and an intriguing one at that, but at no point over the last two years has he looked ready to play with the best players in the world.
Henson has gotten stronger and is becoming a better player offensively. His jump shot still leaves a little to be desired, but he’s a real nuisance for the opposition around the rim and a good rebounder. At this early stage of the process, he’s projected as a lottery pick. That could easily change, though, if he doesn’t continue to make strides.
Thomas Robinson (Kansas) – 6’9, 237 lbs. Power Forward
When you play basketball at the University of Kansas it’s important to be patient and efficient with the time that you do get. Robinson has been both and is expected to have a real breakout year this season. With the Morris twins in the NBA Robinson will take over as the Jayhawks’ top low post option.
In 14 minutes of action a night Robinson posted up seven points and six rebounds last year. He’ll likely be seeing twice as many minutes and touches. He’s been playing very well at high-profile camps this summer and appears ready for the featured role that awaits him.
Mason Plumlee (Duke) – 6’10, 230 lbs. Power Forward
One of the more pressing questions regarding the Duke Blue Devils last year was what happened to the younger Plumlee? Blessed with great size and absurd athleticism, the table was set by Lance Thomas and Bryan Zoubek’s graduation for him to have a big year. Rather than living up to expectations, he was nowhere to be found for the majority of the season.
He definitely missed Kyrie Irving’s playmaking skills, but that doesn’t excuse the way he failed to show up nightly. He was particularly disappointing down the stretch, when his team needed him the most. He’s got a lot of improving to do to get his stock back to where it once was.
Mouphataou Yarou (Villanova) – 6’10, 250 lbs. Power Forward/Center
As of right now all indications point towards Yarou having a big junior season for Villanova. The big man from Natitingou, Benin has steadily been improving throughout his first two years with the program and has earned a much more prominent role in the Wildcats’ attack.
Nova is still going to be who they’ve always been: a team led by their guard play. Yarou gives them an added dimension, though. He’s become much better at utilizing his size and making his presence felt on both ends. After averaging eight points and seven rebounds as a sophomore, Yarou should be aiming for a double double this season.
Khris Middleton (Texas A&M) – 6’7, 215 lbs. Small Forward
Things are going to be much different at Texas A&M next year with Billy Kennedy taking over for Mark Turgeon, who replaced Gary Williams at Maryland. Turgeon’s system was slow paced and defense oriented, Kennedy will have the Aggies playing up tempo and being much more offensive minded.
It will be curious to see how that impacts Middleton, who seriously improved from his freshman to sophomore year. As a Turgeon recruit, he obviously fit well and thrived in his system. Making a smooth transition to Kennedy’s and upping his averages again could cement him as a first round pick.
Alex Oriakhi (UConn) – 6’9, 240 lbs. Power Forward
With Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb taking most of the spotlight during the UConn Huskies’ run to the national championship, Oriakhi’s contributions really went under the radar. However, he was definitely the team’s unsung hero as his inside play was vital to their success.
Oriakhi is strong on the low block and willing to do the dirty work. His impact is primarily felt on the defensive end where he’s very physical with nice shot blocking instincts. He hasn’t been much of an offensive threat, but could be ready for more touches this season.
John Jenkins (Vanderbilt) – 6’4, 215 lbs. Shooting Guard
Coming off of an extremely productive sophomore season in which he averaged 19 points and three rebounds a game, Jenkins has set the bar high for what is expected of him as a junior. NBA scouts are going to want to see him shoot the ball at least as well as he did last year when he hit at a 46% clip from the field and 40% from distance.
Jenkins has a lot of work ahead of him if he’s going to shake the label of a shooter. Without ideal athleticism and just decent size he’ll have to do more of the little things to go as high as he’d like to. Rebounding and creating for teammates more should be priorities in 2011-2012.
Rodney Williams (Minnesota) – 6’7, 200 lbs. Small Forward
Few players in the country underwhelmed like Williams did in 2010-2011. Coming off of a freshman campaign where he showed some real flashes of excellence, Williams didn’t really take much of a step forward in his development. Despite playing double the amount of minutes that he did in his first year, Williams only managed to average six points and three rebounds on 46% shooting from the field, 21% from deep and a putrid 49% from the free throw line.
What earns Williams a spot on this list is the fact that he’s a standout defender with pro skills on that side of the court. He’s also a ridiculous athlete. But if his offensive game doesn’t catch up to his athleticism, he’s going to continue on his freefall down the draft boards.
Arnett Moultrie (Mississippi State) – 6’11, 225 lbs. Power Forward/Center
On Tim Floyd’s first day as head coach at UTEP he told everyone on the team that if their goal was to go to the NBA they need to go find somewhere else to play. So, Moultrie did so immediately, transferring to Mississippi State where he’ll be in the same frontcourt as Renardo Sidney. That’s potentially a lethal low post combination that few teams in the country will be able to match up with.
When we last saw Moultrie he was having trouble fitting in alongside now Los Angeles Lakers power forward Derrick Caracter. He’ll have to play off of Sidney much better if he’s going to put himself in a position to leave after this season. With his combination of offensive skill and athleticism NBA teams will be keeping a close eye on him.
Renardo Sidney (Mississippi State) – 6’10, 275 lbs. Power Forward/Center
Up to this point Sidney’s collegiate career has been filled with much more negativity than production. He was suspended for his freshman year by the NCAA. Then, after finally becoming eligible as a sophomore, he got in a fight with a teammate in public that was videotaped and viewed by millions.
Still, the potential is there for Sidney to turn things around in his junior year. He’s very gifted with the ability to be unstoppable when he puts his mind to it. His conditioning hasn’t been the best in the past and that’s taken a toll on his consistency. If he can start dominating in longer stretches, he’ll climb up draft boards significantly.
Honorable Mention: Maalik Wayns (Villanova), Peyton Silva (Louisville), Elijah Johnson (Kansas), Hollis Thompson (Georgetown) and Reggie Johnson (MiamI).
Yannis Koutroupis is a senior NCAA and NBA analyst for HOOPSWORLD. You can follow him on twitter.