College Hoops Preview: 15 Players with Breakout Potential

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of The Lists we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

There are a handful of different ways to predict what players are destined for breakout seasons. Were their minutes eaten up by players that have graduated or headed to the NBA? Did they produce high-efficiency numbers while playing limited minutes? Are they finally healthy? Was it simply a matter of a freshman becoming a sophomore or a player legitimately spending a summer improving?

The answer, simply, is yes. To all of the above.

So without further ado, here are 15 guys (plus a few extra) whose name we believe you will become familiar with by the end of the season:

Wayne Blackshear, Louisville: Blackshear, a sophomore, entered Louisville with a fair amount of hype, but spent the majority of last season dealing with a shoulder injury that, originally, was thought would end his season. He put together a couple of promising performances late in the season. A 6-foot-5 scorer on the wing, Blackshear gives Louisville a weapon that they were missing last season. He may not put up huge numbers next year — with how many bodies Louisville has, there may not be anyone that does — but he will be one of their biggest assets.

Michael Caffey and James Ennis, Long Beach State: Long Beach State was one of the nation’s best mid-majors last season, but lose five of their top seven scorers from last season. The two guys that do come back — Caffey and Ennis — should keep the 49ers atop the Big West this year. Caffey, a sophomore, is a dynamic back court presence who should fill the void left by Casper Ware while Ennis, a senior, is a rangy, 6-foot-6 wing whose athleticism is already drawing NBA scouts to Long Beach.

Michael Carter-Williams and CJ Fair, Syracuse: Carter-Williams is a perfect fit for Syracuse on both sides of the ball. A talented scorer in high school, Jim Boeheim recruited the 6-foot-5 guard with the intention of molding him into more of a play-maker. With Dion Waiters and Scoop Jardine gone, there will be plenty of minutes and touches available for the sophomore. Fair wasn’t as highly-regarded in high school as MCW, but the long and athletic — and lefty — 6-foot-8 forward has shown flashes of greatness in his two seasons with the Orange. As a primary option in the front court this season, don’t be surprised to see Fair become the best face-up power forward in the Big East.

Quinn Cook, Duke: As we wrote in our preview, Duke has a lot of potential this season, but whether they reach that potential is dependent of a number of factors. The most important is Cook, now a sophomore. The Blue Devils have some weapons offensively, but what they are missing — what they were missing last season — was a play-maker that could break down a defense. That’s precisely what Cook, who finally had a healthy summer to improve his game, is.

Sam Dower, Gonzaga: Despite playing limited minutes for the Bulldogs in his first two seasons in Spokane, Dower was actually quite a productive player. Last season, he scored 8.3 points and grabbed 3.7 boards despite playing a little more than 18 minutes a night. With Robert Sacre graduating, Dower will slide into a starting role as a junior alongside Elias Harris in Mark Few’s front court.

Anton Grady, Cleveland State: Cleveland State head coach Gary Waters has called Anton Grady his future, and he’s right. He was incredibly productive — 8.5 points, 6.4 boards, 1.4 blocks, the team lead in offensive and defensive rebounding percentages — in limited minutes as a freshman, and with so much of Cleveland State’s production from last season graduating, Grady will have plenty of opportunities. Even without Butler in the league, the Horizon has quite a bit of talent. Grady might be the best player in the league.

Treveon Graham, VCU: The Rams bring back the majority of their roster as they move to the Atlantic 10, but the piece they lost was arguably their most valuable: Brad Burgess. Graham, a sophomore, has the tools to fill his role. He’s a bigger wing that has proven that he can shoot the three and rebound the ball, both of which are important as he’ll play as a four in VCU’s pressing system.

Myck Kabongo, Texas: Kabongo entered his freshman season as one of the top point guard recruits in the country, but it took him a while to really learn how to be a point guard at the collegiate level. With J’Covan Brown gone, he’ll be responsible for running the show, and with a core of young talent around him, he’ll need to embrace that leadership role if Texas is to be a contender in the Big 12. All of this is pending a positive outcome to the current agent issue he’s dealing with.

Alex Len, Maryland: Len is an interesting case. He’s a legitimate seven-footer who has put on 30 pounds of muscle during the offseason. He also now has a season under his belt to get used to American basketball. With a full offseason of practice with the team and a chance to spend a full season playing games (he was suspended for the first ten games last year), Len should be on track to become an integral part of Maryland’s offense. Oh, and he’s now able to communicate with his teammates, which is always a plus.

James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina: McAdoo had a chance of being a first round pick if he had left school after his freshman season. Instead, he decided to return, where the former top ten recruit will become the star of the North Carolina front court. And if the 15 points he scored against Thomas Robinson in the Elite 8 last season are any indication, McAdoo is in for a big season.

Otto Porter, Georgetown: Porter is a serious talent. A terrific rebounder and defender, the 6-foot-8 sophomore spent the offseason developing his offensive repertoire. Georgetown’s offense thrives on big men that are able to play on the perimeter and be a threat when facing the basket. That’s Porter. He may not be Jeff Green on the offensive side of the ball just yet, but he’s getting there. That, combined with the threat his imposes in the other aspects of the game, will make him a popular prospect among NBA scouts.

LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State: Ross was once the No. 1 recruit in the country, but a series of injuries and conditioning issues dulled the hype. As a freshman at Ohio State, he wasn’t cleared until December and then spent much of the season glued to the bench, playing a grand total of 35 minutes. The talent is still there, however, and with more minutes available as a sophomore, Ross is a guy who could thrive alongside Deshaun Thomas this season.

Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee: Stokes joined the Tennessee program last December, helping lead the Vols to a second place finish in the SEC despite the fact that he was supposed to be preparing for his high school prom. He finished with averages of 9.6 points and 7.4 boards last year. Don’t be surprised if turns into a 15 and 10 performer this year.

Gelaun Wheelwright, Weber State: Wheelwright was a pretty highly regarded prospect coming out of high school in California, as Weber State was able to beat out San Diego State and USC, according to his ESPN profile, on the recruiting trail. He averaged 5.6 points as a freshman backing up Damian Lillard. With Lillard gone to the NBA, the Wildcats offense will be his to commandeer.

Aaron White, Iowa: As a freshman, White averaged 11.1 points and 5.7 boards for an Iowa team that snuck up on some people. With quite a bit of talent returning on that team, Iowa is a sleeper in a loaded Big Ten. White is one of the more promising sophomores in that conference.

Five more breakout candidates to keep an eye on: Anthony Collins, USF; Cory Jefferson, Baylor; Ian Miller, Florida State; Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa; Brad Waldow, St. Mary’s

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Report: Western Kentucky’s Lamonte Bearden staying in 2018 NBA Draft

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Western Kentucky guard Lamonte Bearden will stay in the 2018 NBA Draft after hiring an agent, according to a report from ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-3 Bearden just completed his redshirt junior season with the Hilltoppers as he averaged 11.8 points, 3.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game. A slippery guard with good size, Bearden shot 47 percent from the field and 82 percent from the charity stripe while also getting in the passing lanes for 1.7 steals per game.

Although Bearden has good size and athleticism at lead guard, his perimeter jumper has been inconsistent during his college career. He was 31 percent from three-point range (a career high) this past season. Starting his college career at Buffalo, Bearden helped lead the Bulls to the NCAA tournament before opting to play in Conference USA for Western Kentucky.

The Hilltoppers will certainly miss Bearden’s presence in their backcourt as the program has seven new players signed for next season.

USC makes a statement landing Class of 2019 four-star forward Isaiah Mobley

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USC ended a strong week of recruiting with another major statement on Friday afternoon as four-star Class of 2019 forward Isaiah Mobley pledged to the Trojans.

The second major Class of 2019 commitment for USC during the week, the 6-foot-9 power forward joins five-star big man Onyeka Okongwu. The Compton Magic teammates should be able to help replace the loss of Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, with Mobley playing the skilled, floor-spacing Boatwright’s role and Okongwu providing the interior energy of Metu.

Having two highly-touted big men commit in the same week is huge for USC. And it looks like the start of even bigger things in a continually-evolving SoCal recruiting war against Pac-12 rival UCLA.

Landing both Mobley and Okongwu is significant for the Trojans for a number of reasons. As previously mentioned, both come from the famous Compton Magic grassroots program that runs on the adidas Gauntlet. While landing AAU teammates from a regional program is common for high-major programs of USC’s stature, the commitments signify that the Trojans are the ones with the biggest pull with the Magic at the current moment.

And the Magic used to get raided by UCLA.

In the past few years, the Bruins signed T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Jaylen Hands and Jalen Hill from the Compton Magic. Now, it’s USC who looks to be in the driver’s seat recruiting the program.

The Trojans aren’t done, either.

Newly-hired USC assistant coach Eric Mobley is the father Isaiah Mobley, as well as five-star Class of 2020 big man Evan Mobley. As Rivals national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi noted in his story about Isaiah, “Barring something strange happening, look for the younger Mobley to join his brother and father by committing to USC within the next two weeks.”

That would mean the Trojans would have landed three top-30 caliber big men in the span of a few weeks. That allows the USC coaching staff to recruit other positions extremely hard. Outside of Kentucky, USC has arguably the best future recruiting status of any program in the country.

The Trojans have taken full advantage of UCLA letting go popular assistant coach David Grace. The Bruins are still pulling in top-100 prospects, as evidenced by Grant Sherfield and Jaime Jaquez’s commitments in the Class of 2019, but losing two Magic kids in a week to a rival has to sting.

Considering where USC was last fall with the FBI investigation, who saw this type of recruiting swing coming? Other programs involved in the investigation like Arizona, Auburn and Oklahoma State have landed solid recruits. They also haven’t pulled in nearly the high-level talent that the Trojans currently have committed.

Even amidst the uncertainty surrounding the FBI investigation, USC is still pulling in elite talent while beating local rivals. It’ll be fascinating to see if the Trojans can continue to recruit at this level as they try to fill out the rest of an important recruiting class.

USF signs Oklahoma State transfer Zack Dawson

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USF landed a major addition on Friday as the school announced the signing of Oklahoma State transfer guard Zack Dawson.

The 6-foot-3 Dawson is a former consensus top-100 prospect coming out of high school as he’ll have to sit out the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules. A native of the region, Dawson will have three years of eligibility remaining once he’s able to play again.

Dismissed from Oklahoma State on Dec. 14 for violating team rules, Dawson averaged 4.4 points and1.6 assists per contest as he only suited up in five games for the Cowboys. Once Dawson is eligible to play for USF, he gives the Bulls a potentially dynamic backcourt along with rising sophomore guard David Collins.

“We are excited to welcome Zack back home to Florida as a member of the Bulls family,” USF head coach Brian Gregory said in a release. “He is a dynamic and versatile guard who can impact the game in a variety of ways. Zack comes from one of the best high school programs in the state, South Miami High School, so he immediately brings a championship attitude here to the University of South Florida.”

This is a really nice pickup for the Bulls, as they utilized a local transfer to help bolster the roster. Landing top-100 kids out of high school is going to be tough until USF boosts its basketball credibility. But getting a former top-100 player on the transfer market is a solid approach to building the Bulls into a respectable threat.

Michael Porter Jr.: ‘I’m the best player in this draft’

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The more I think about it, the more that Michael Porter Jr. is becoming the most interesting prospect at the top of the 2018 NBA Draft.

As a high school senior, he was considered by many to be the top player in the class, a 6-foot-10 combo-forward with a lethal three-point shot, NBA dunk contest athleticism and the versatility to, one day, be a multi-positional defender that would seamlessly fit into fit into the modern NBA.

But his one and only season at Missouri was derailed by back surgery, and that has allowed the rest of the class of 2017 to shine while we have focused on everything else that comes with drafting Porter. The reputation that he had for the majority of his high school career of being soft. The intel that was coming out of Missouri, that he was cocky and arrogant and something of a bad teammate. Questions about whether or not he is truly a wing or a four, more like a more athletic Lauri Markkanen.

When the only thing that we’ve had a chance to see this season is an out-of-shape Porter struggling in postseason games, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that his hype train has derailed.

“I know without a doubt that I’m the — I played against all these guys, they’re all great players — but I’m the best player in this draft,” Porter told ESPN. “And I just can’t wait to show what I’m capable of.”

And therein lies the conundrum for any team drafting him.

I have little doubt that Porter is going to be able to score and score a lot in the NBA. I think he and Bagley are the safest bets to average 20 points at the NBA level before their rookie contract runs out.

But putting up points and playing on winning basketball teams are not one and the same. For a ten-year stretch after his rookie season, Rudy Gay averaged at least 17.2 points while making the playoffs once during that stretch. Is that what Porter is going to turn into at the next level? Or will be find a way to become the kind of NBA defender his athleticism says he should be and, by the time he signs his first contract extension, end up the player that Paul George is?

The mitigating factor here is that Porter is going to do a fantastic job in every interview he has. He’s an intelligent, charismatic and articulate kid that is going to be able to sell himself. The red flags that he has aren’t going to show when he’s sitting down in front of NBA general managers.

They would have shown up — or been written off — if there was a season’s worth of game-tape available, but there isn’t. What that means is that scouts are going to have to decide whether or not Porter, who by all accounts had a very impressive senior season in high school, is that player or the one that had the reputation for being soft for years before that.

And all of that is going to come after the doctor’s have a chance to examine his back to see if the surgery he underwent fixed what was wrong, or if this is the kind of situation where a recurrence is likely.

The result is the widest range for any player at the top of the draft.

He could sell someone on taking him as a top four pick. He could also slide his way down to the Knicks at No. 9 or the 76ers at No. 10.

Which is what makes him the most interesting prospect at the top of this draft.

P.J. Washington ‘definitely going back to school’ without first round guarantee

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Kentucky forward P.J. Washington is one of the handful of players that currently finds themselves in the tenuous position of having their name in the NBA draft pool without having a clear picture of where, exactly, they are going to end up getting picked.

Will they be a late-first round pick? Will he be an early second round pick? Will he even be drafted at all?

Washington told reporters at the NBA combine this week that, if he’s a first round pick, he’ll be heading to the NBA. If he only gets a second round guarantee, he’ll be returning to school.

As we detailed last week, getting selected in the second round does not mean a player is destined to end up being broke his first year out of school. In the last six drafts, only one college player picked in the top ten picks of the second round (31-40) did not receive a guaranteed contract. In the 2017 NBA Draft, every college player selected in the top 50 received a guaranteed deal of at least one year, and Thomas Bryant was the only player whose one-year guaranteed deal was at the league minimum.

That doesn’t mean that Washington should leave Kentucky if he’s going to be a second round pick. If he returns to school, becomes a 42 percent three-point shooter (and can make free throws) and proves that he’s more versatile defensively than he was his year, then he could move up into the first round in a weaker 2019 draft.

It’s a risk for him, financially, to leave after this year if he doesn’t get that first round guarantee. It’s also a risk to return to school, where the best-case scenario isn’t always what happens.

I don’t envy the decision he has to make, but I am glad that Washington will have every chance in the world to be informed about the decision.