NCAA: The Top Lesser-Knowns
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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Even in today’s day and age where there are more NCAA games on TV than ever there are still some players who don’t get the publicity they deserve. With over 350 D-I programs it’s hard to keep track of all the talent. For example, we recently broke down the top ten players by class and position, and yet there are still some who definitely could end up in the NBA down the line that weren’t able to crack those lists. It’s time to give those guys some love because while they may not be known as well as some of college basketball’s stars, they can definitely play.
Tony Mitchell (North Texas, Fr.) – 6’8, 220 lbs. Power Forward
Originally a highly-ranked prospect in the 2010 recruiting class, Mitchell spent his first year of college academically ineligible at Missouri. He decided to transfer to North Texas in the Sun Belt Conference and is expected to be eligible sometime close to the start of the New Year.
Mitchell, solid for Team USA’s U19 squad this summer, possesses a pro’s body with the ability to impact a game without touching the basketball. He averaged 7.6 rebounds and nearly two blocks a game in FIBA play while playing just 15 minutes a contest. He’ll be one of the premier players in the Sun Belt and a huge addition for the Mean Green.
Aaric Murray (West Virginia, Jr.) – 6’10, 250 lbs. Center
For the past two years Murray’s solid production has gone largely unnoticed. The big fella from Philadelphia could have left for the NBA Draft after either season, but opted against doing so. Instead he transferred to West Virginia where he’ll no longer have to worry about a lack of exposure. Unfortunately, he won’t be eligible until 2012-2013 because of the NCAA’s transfer rules.
When Murray regains eligibility look for him to establish himself as one of the premier big men in the Big East and the country at large. He’s a versatile center who will play harder than he ever has for Mountaineers’ head coach Bob Huggins. He could be a lottery pick in the 2013 draft.
Keith Clanton (Central Florida, Jr.) – 6’8, 240 lbs. Power Forward
There are a lot of high major schools, especially in the Florida area, kicking themselves over missing out on Clanton. It didn’t take much time for Clanton to prove that he was capable of playing at that level and over the last two years he’s steadily developed into a future pro.
Clanton can work from inside and out. Along with being versatile, he’s very efficient. He connects on 52% of his looks from the field and can even shoot it from distance on occasion. Clanton started off his sophomore season on a serious tear then tailed off towards the end, so he needs to improve his consistency as a junior.
Reggie Johnson (Miami, Jr.) – 6’10, 303 lbs. Center
At the end of his sophomore season Johnson declared for the NBA draft, but did so only to test the waters without an agent. Blessed with the size to play in the league, Johnson understood he still wasn’t ready and had too much room to improve in college to justify leaving now. With former George Mason head coach Jim Larranaga taking over the same position the expectations were growing for the program and Johnson in particular to have a big year.
Then Johnson tore a ligament in his right knee during a pickup game earlier this month requiring surgery. It’s going to keep him out for 5-6 months, but he’ll have plenty of time after to show what he can do. NBA teams watch the most during conference play and tournament time anyway; he’ll just have to hit the ground running.
Arsalan Kazemi (Rice, Jr.) – 6’7, 205 lbs. Forward
Blazing a trail as the first player from Iran to play college basketball, Kazemi has been successful from day one. He flirted with a double-double as a freshman with 10 points and 9 rebounds a game, then eclipsed that mark as a sophomore by putting up 15 points and 11 rebounds nightly. An active and efficient player, Kazemi definitely has the potential to play at the next level.
What’s important for Kazemi to do over the next two years is mold himself into a position because right now he’s the textbook definition of a tweener. He doesn’t have the jumper or ball-handling skills to play the three, but gets overpowered regularly by fours. Luckily, he has ample time to fix that.
John Shurna (Northwestern, Sr.) – 6’8, 215 lbs. Forward
For a long time the Northwestern Wildcats’ basketball program struggled to get respect. Thought of more as an academic school, they rarely created much fear in the heart of their opponents. Shurna has helped change that. He’s been the team’s leading scorer over the last two years and has firmly placed himself on the NBA radar.
As a junior Shurna’s production dropped off slightly. He averaged less points and rebounds per game, but did up his shooting averages to 48% from the field and 43% from deep. Injuries are the main cause of the decline, though. With his full health intact Shurna is projected to have his best year yet.
Chris Johnson (Dayton, Jr.) – 6’6, 201 lbs. Guard/Forward
This is the year where Johnson is going to make or break his draft status. Chris Wright, Dayton’s leading scorer from last year, is gone, setting up Johnson to take over that role and show a little bit more of what he can do other than spot up and shoot.
For the last two years Johnson has been good for 11 points and six rebounds. In a more featured role those averages should go up, as should his assists. In order to make any drastic movements up the draft board he has to prove that he’s more well-rounded with some upside worth investing in.
Tyshawn Edmondson (Austin Peay, Jr.) – 6’3, 175 lbs. Point Guard
It took some time, but Edmondson found his home in Austin Peay and is coming off of a big sophomore season. Edmondson graduated from high school in 2008 and originally signed to play for Norm Roberts at St. John’s. That didn’t end up working out too well for Edmondson, so he left just before the program underwent a massive overhaul.
Edmondson is a scorer at the point guard position in a similar mold that Andrew Goudelock was at the College of Charleston. If he continues to up his scoring average and start making plays for his teammates more often, he’ll start drawing the attention of the NBA.
Bradford Burgess (VCU, Sr.) – 6’6, 225 lbs. Shooting Guard
Relatively unknown after two decent years at VCU, Burgess received an incredible increase in exposure as a junior after helping lead VCU on a magical run to the Final Four. Some people felt like they didn’t even belong in the tournament, but behind a strong senior class and Burgess they managed to shock everyone.
Burgess will have a lot of eyes on him as a senior. He has the build of a prototypical NBA shooting guard with an extremely reliable jumper from deep. He’s going to have to handle being the focus of opposing defenses on every night, though, and get by without guys like Jamie Skeen opening things up for him.
Doug McDermott (Creighton, Fr.) – 6’7, 210 lbs. Forward
There may not have been a bigger surprise in the 2010 recruiting class than McDermott. The 6’7 forward was one of the best freshmen in the country and a real steal for Creighton. He averaged 14 points and 7 rebounds a night on 52% shooting from the field and 40% from deep. Not bad for someone who was unranked nationally out of high school with no high major offers to speak of
McDermott played big minutes for Team USA’s U19 squad this summer and averaged 11 points and six rebounds during that tournament. His stock has really risen over the last year.
Honorable Mention: D.J. Cooper (Ohio), Deonte Burton (Nevada), Scott Machado (Iona), Drew Gordon (New Mexico) and Brandon Davies (BYU).
Yannis Koutroupis is a senior NCAA and NBA analyst for HOOPSWORLD. You can follow him on Twitter.