In this era of “one and done” college superstars, much attention is paid to the recruiting rankings of players out of high school. Who will be the next John Wall or Kyrie Irving that will come in and make an instant impact for a team? These players with four and five stars after their names are expected to be major contributors as soon as they set foot on campus. The feeling is that they had better be as most of these players will be in the NBA draft after their freshman or sophomore seasons. Riding the pine is considered a disappointing and wasted year for many of these players, and for the fans.
But let’s not forget these players do have four years of eligibility in college. And some of these players, for a variety of reasons, are not, like North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, preseason All-Americans before ever playing a minute. The number is diminishing, but there are still high quality college basketball players who languish a year or two on a team’s bench only to emerge once they’ve “matured” to become major contributors for their teams. Chandler Parsons was the #19 rated recruit according to Rivals in 2007. He contributed some off the bench for Florida as a freshman, but was stuck behind Mareese Speights and Dan Werner for major minutes. Parsons stuck around for four years and was the SEC’s player of the year this past season.
Four players have an opportunity to emerge from the shadows this season for teams contending for championships. These are players who were heavily recruited Top 100 prospects who, either by having a difficult time adjusting to college or being stuck behind talented upperclassmen in the rotation, haven’t yet shown their true potentials. Moreover, these four players play on teams that are the consensus picks for having number one seeds come next March and having a chance to cut down the nets in New Orleans.
Jon Hood, Junior, Kentucky Jon Hood was a Top 100 afterthought in John Calipari’s first class at UK. John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, and Daniel Orton all went on to be drafted in the first round after a season at Kentucky. Hood played mop up minutes. This season, Hood again was stuck behind freshman Doron Lamb and upperclassmen Darius Miller and Deandre Liggins at the shooting guard/small forward position. With Liggins gone, Hood will have an opportunity to compete for time with incoming freshman Michael Gilchrist. Hood, a 6’7″ dead-eye shooter in the mold of OSU’s Jon Diebler, could step in and provide valuable minutes for what promises to be a very deep Kentucky team this season. Both Liggins and Miller were bit players in Calipari’s system their sophomore seasons and emerged as major components of this year’s team. With Hood’s experience, the same could happen with him.
Stacy Poole, Sophomore, Kentucky While Hood sat behind more athletic players, Poole, 2010 Rivals #33 player, is an athletic specimen. Son of the former Gator star by the same name, Poole was expected to provide depth at guard behind classmates Lamb and Brandon Knight. Poole never quite got out of John Calipari’s doghouse his freshman year, hardly ever seeing the floor even in blowouts. If he can buy into playing defense all the time and staying within the structure of the offense, Poole will provide UK with a player who can both knock down the perimeter shot and finish at the rim.
Deshaun Thomas, Sophomore, Ohio State Thomas was the #22 ranked player in the class of 2010. His combination of athleticism and perimeter shooting combined with fellow freshman Jarred Sullinger’s inside presence made Ohio State fans harken back to Lucas and Havlicek. Thomas shot selection, however, left much to be desired, and Thad Matta was reluctant to use him for meaningful post season minutes despite having a short bench. Thomas often provided a spark in his 14 minutes per game, averaging 7.5 points in his brief court appearances. His shooting at Illinois helped spur a Buckeye comeback in that game and he led all scorers with 22 points against his home state Hoosiers. With Diebler and David Lighty gone, Thomas will no doubt start for the Buckeyes this season. His ability to play within the system will largely determine how far the Buckeyes are able to advance this coming season.
Reggie Bullock, Sophomore, North Carolina Perhaps no player was more highly touted and produced less for his team than Bullock, Rivals #10 ranked prospect in 2010. Bullock averaged just 14 minutes and 6 points per game for the Tar Heels this season. Bullock, a 6’7″ shooting guard/small forward, shot just 30% from beyond the arc this season. If he reaches his potential, along with returning Harrison Barnes, the Heels would have a balanced scoring attack from either wing. That combined with the inside presence of returning big men John Henson and Tyler Zeller would make North Carolina the team to beat in 2012.