Most underrated players in college basketball
You probably won’t find them on any preseason All-American teams, and it’s unlikely they’ll be lottery picks in next summer’s NBA draft. Still, for every highly publicized star such as Jared Sullinger, Terrence Jones or John Jenkins, there are players across the country who make similar contributions but don’t receive nearly as much hype.
Most folks would call them “underrated.”
Maybe it’s because they don’t play for a high-profile program. Or perhaps they’re in the shadow of a more-talented teammate. Whatever the case, here is a list of players who don’t receive nearly as much credit as they deserve.
Reggie Johnson, Miami, forward – The 6-foot-10, 300-pound center entered the NBA draft before withdrawing his name last month. He averaged 11.9 points and 9.6 rebounds as a sophomore in 2010-11. He’s expected to be one of the top big men in the ACC this season.
Jae Crowder, Marquette, forward – Crowder was one of the country’s top junior college transfers last season, when he helped the Golden Eagles to the Sweet 16 by averaging 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds. Not bad for a forward who stands just 6-foot-6. Crowder is capable of scoring from anywhere on the court.
Rodney McGruder, Kansas State, guard – With Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly gone, McGruder will likely become the Wildcats’ go-to player. McGruder hinted last season that he’ll be up for the challenge. He led Kansas State in rebounds (5.9) and finished second on the team in scoring (11.1).
Yancy Gates, Cincinnati, forward – The 6-foot-9, 265-pound Gates was the leader in points (11.9), rebounds (6.9) and blocks (1.3) for one of Big East’s more pleasant surprises last season. Gates scored in double figures in the Bearcats’ final nine games and should do even better in 2011-12, when he’ll be one of the Big East’s top post players.
Erick Green, Virginia Tech, guard – Malcolm Delaney was the face of the program, but the Hokies wouldn’t have finished fourth in the ACC last season without Green, who averaged 11.6 points and reached double figures in 10 of his last 12 games.
Mark Lyons, Xavier, guard – The glue-guy for the Atlantic 10 champions scored 13.6 points per contest and helped take some of the pressure off of star guard Tu Holloway. The best thing about Lyons? He still has two years of eligibility remaining.
Nasir Robinson, Pittsburgh, forward – Robinson’s silly foul against Butler in the NCAA tournament soured what had otherwise been a solid season for the 6-foot-5 forward. Robinson averaged 9.4 points and 4.9 boards despite playing just 24.1 minutes per game. He’ll be counted on heavily in 2011-12.
Melsahn Basabe, Iowa, forward – Basabe was one of the country’s most productive freshmen last season, but his play didn’t receive much national attention because of the Hawkeyes’ struggles. He averaged 11 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds for the Hawkeyes and also blocked 1.3 shots per game.
J’Covan Brown, Texas, guard – Brown is an excellent playmaker who seems to perform best when his team is losing and needs a spark. He’s had problems with his consistency and is still improving his work ethic. If his attitude gets better he could blossom into one of the Big 12’s top players.
Khris Middleton, Texas A&M, small forward – Middleton has the skill set of an NBA player. The 6-foot-7 wing can handle the ball extremely well for his size, and his soft shooting touch makes him a threat from anywhere on the court. Middleton still needs to play with a little more fire and assertiveness.
Laurence Bowers, Missouri, forward – Bowers was one of the Big 12’s most improved players last season, when his 11.6-point scoring average ranked second on the team. Bowers is a midrange threat who reached double figures in nine of his final 10 games.
Keith Clanton, Central Florida, forward – Fans who watched the Knights to see Michael Jordan’s son, Marcus, had to walk away equally impressed with Clanton, who ranked second on the team in scoring (14.2 points) and first in rebounds (7.7). At 6-foot-8 and 240 pound, Clanton has an NBA body.
Maurice Jones, USC, point guard – Jones is just 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds, but he played a big role for the Trojans as a freshman last season. Jones averaged 34.5 minutes per game for USC, which squeaked into the NCAA tournament. Along with a 9.9-point scoring average, Jones was vital in getting the ball to standout forwards Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson.
Reeves Nelson, UCLA, forward – Considering he led the Bruins in scoring (13.9) and rebounding (9.1) last season, Nelson doesn’t receive nearly enough credit. He also shot 56 percent from the field. This season he’ll be part of one of the country’s top frontcourt rotations along with Josh Smith and the Wear twins.
Harper Kamp, Cal, forward – After missing the 2009-10 season with an injury, Kamp returned and averaged 14.2 points for a Golden Bears team that was much better than expected. He made 52 percent of his field goal attempts and gave fans reason to hope for even better things in 2011-12.
Doron Lamb, Kentucky, guard – Although he tapered off a bit at the end of the season, Lamb still played a vital role in the Wildcats getting to the Final Four. He averaged 12.3 points and shot 48.6 percent from 3-point range – not bad for a freshman coming off the bench.
Christian Watford, Indiana, forward – A 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward, Watford was a bright spot during a frustrating season for the Hoosiers, who finished last in the Big Ten. He averaged 16 points and 5.4 boards and reached double figures in all but three games. Watford has two seasons remaining.
JaMychal Green, Alabama, forward – Green scored in double figures in all but two games last season for the Crimson Tide, who reached the championship game of the NIT. Alabama could be a top 25 mainstay if Green enjoys a similar season in 2011-12.
Dee Bost, Mississippi State, guard – Bost is good enough to start for almost any school in America. The question is whether he can step up and lead an ultra-talented team that has the potential for chemistry issues.
Matthew Dellavedova, St. Mary’s, guard – The Gaels won a share of the West Coast Conference title last season thanks, in part, to Dellavedova, an Australian who averaged 13.4 points, 5.3 assists and 1.2 steals. He’ll have to step up even more this season now that team leader Mickey McConnell is gone.