Last year, it was Jimmer Fredette.
In 2008, it was Stephen Curry.
Each year, an already strong player is able to take his profile to the next level with just a weekend's worth of magic in the NCAA tournament. They're the guys who turn from being simply known into household names among college hoops fans.
Here are 10 guys with the potential to make that leap, beginning this weekend, in no particular order ...
The 6-foot-7 rebounding machine is known by most fans on the West Coast, but due to SDSU's usual late-night tip-offs and limited TV deal in the Mountain West, many around the country will catch their first glimpse of the Aztecs' top performer this weekend. If it wasn't for that Fredette guy, Leonard would have run away with MWC Player of the Year honors. In the shadows of The Jimmer, he averaged 15.4 points and 10.4 rebounds a game, posted 20 double-doubles this season and expanded his offensive game out to beyond the 3-point line. SDSU coach Steve Fisher calls Leonard the best rebounder he's ever coached. Considering that Fisher had Chris Webber in the Fab Five years, that's saying something. Leonard is likely to bolt for the NBA following the tournament, as he could be a lottery pick this June.
Want to know how Penn State made its out-of-nowhere run to the field of 68? Look no further than the production of the only first-team All-Big Ten performer who many have heard of. At a wispy 6-feet and 170 pounds, Battle has averaged 16.4 points per game over his prolific four-year career, including 20.1 as a senior. In the win that likely punched the Nittany Lions' dance ticket — Saturday's 61-48 victory over Michigan State in the Big Ten semis — he had 25 points, and averaged 19 a game in three meetings with top-seeded Ohio State this year.
Another little guy who is listed at a generous 6-feet, Jackson had modest numbers in an up-and-down freshman season (9.9 ppg, 3.1 apg, 3.2 TOpg). However, the former McDonald's All-American is one of the nation's fastest point guards and can accelerate quickly with the ball in his hand. Plus, he appears to be figuring it out at the right time. In three wins to wrap up the Conference USA tourney title last weekend, he averaged 18.7 points, had 10 assists and only five turnovers. Most encouraging, though, may have been his 20-of-23 showing at the free-throw line.
The name should ring a bell if you've followed basketball at all in the last 20 years. The son of former NBA star Tim Hardaway, this 6-foot-5 frosh has come up huge in Michigan's late push for its second NCAA tourney berth in three years. While his old man excelled as a point guard, Junior is more of a pure scorer. He's second on the team with 13.9 points per game, is the perfect back-court complement to 6-foot-4 sophomore Darius Morris and is shooting 50 percent (22 of 44) from 3-point range in the team's last six games.
Another guy who is peaking late in the season, the 6-foot-4 Leslie is not just scoring, but using his exceptional leaping ability to become a dominating force on the glass. He's posted three double-doubles in the Bulldogs' last five games, but what could make him memorable in March, on top of the spiked production of late, is his penchant for providing highlights well above the rim.
Holloway is an NCAA tournament triple-double waiting to happen. He only posted two of them this season, but has flirted with several more. He put himself on the national map with a 26-point outburst in last March's 101-96 double-overtime Sweet 16 loss to Kansas State. With Jordan Crawford now in the NBA, the Musketeers are Holloway's team, and if they make a run in the East region — which looks pretty possible — he'll be the reason why.
Louisville has gotten to this point — a surprising No. 4 seed — without the services of a true star player. Siva is the closest thing it has to it, though, and he's just started to scratch the surface of his vast potential. A dynamic athlete at just 5-foot-11, he's done it all this season on the offensive end, from 360-degree dunks to ridiculous game-winning shots. Averaging 10.1 points and 5.3 assists per game, he's earning more and more trust from coach Rick Pitino as the season progresses and has found a nice balance between scoring and facilitating.
Some may remember the dread-locked rebounding machine from Morehead State's brief scare of No. 1 Louisville back in 2009's opening round. Two years later, he's distinguished himself as the all-time leading rebounder in college basketball's modern era, is averaging 14.5 boards a game and well on his way to a strong NBA career. He combined to post 30 rips in back-to-back losses to Florida and Ohio State earlier this season, and if the Eagles can pull off an upset of Louisville this time around, his unique story could continue to spread quickly.
If you know nothing about the Trojans, who snuck into one of this week's First Four contests in Dayton with a notable finish to the regular season, just remember that Vucevic is the main reason why they're here. Though Fordham transfer Jio Fontan proved to be a major difference-maker in turning USC's season around after becoming eligible following the fall semester, Vucevic has been its rock all year. He's posted 20 double-doubles this season and is the Pac-10's best big man not named Derrick Williams.
The diminutive reserve has gone from hardly recruited out of high school to a walk-on at the alma mater of his famous father — NBA all-time assists leader John Stockton — to a full-fledged scholarship player and catalyst down the stretch for the Zags. The turning point in Gonzaga's season came right around the time that Stockton saw a bump in minutes, going from averaging 10.5 in the first 19 games to 23.5 over the last 13. In the current stretch, he's averaging 6.2 points and 3.2 assists a contest, and seems to get his teammates into another gear every time he steps on the floor.