Scouting the NCAA’s best

While Michigan State, Butler, Duke and West Virginia prepare to tie the bow around the 2009-10 campaign at this weekend’s Final Four, players from across the country are already preparing for next season.

Not in college – but in the pros.

Kansas junior Cole Aldrich on Monday became the first high-profile player to declare for the NBA draft. While Aldrich’s decision seemed like an easy one – he’s expected to be a lottery pick – there are others who are still debating the direction they want to take with their future.

I spoke with three NBA scouts Monday about the seniors in this year’s draft as well as a handful of underclassmen who, like Aldrich, would likely be selected if they chose to leave school early.

The scouts, speaking on the condition of anonymity, provided some interesting opinions on the players expected to be drafted. Their evaluations follow.

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Aldrich

C Cole Aldrich, Kansas, junior, 6-11, 245 – He’s got a chance to be more than just a shot-blocker. His weakness is the mechanics on his shot. It’s terrible. It’s an ugly sight. His free-throw motion is hard to watch. But he’s got a decent touch around the rim and, of course, he’s got a very good wingspan. His shot-blocking … when I saw him the last two years, he didn’t get into foul trouble all the time like a lot of other big men so often do, especially on the road. So many times I’ll travel somewhere to watch a guy on the road and he’ll get his second foul before the first TV timeout and end up sitting the rest of the first half. Even though guys are always trying to attack him and come after him, he manages to keep his cool and play really smart. He’s obviously figured out that, in order to stay in a game, you’ve got to be smart about things. He changes ends really well and he’s got good feet for a guy his size. He’s got upside to him. I don’t think he’s become what he’s going to be yet. I think he’ll probably get picked between No. 8 and No. 12.

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Anderson

G James Anderson, Oklahoma State, junior, 6-6, 210 – He was a prolific scorer in high school and that just carried over to Oklahoma State. He has good length and size. During the last year he’s really improved his ability to put the ball on the floor so he can help make a play for someone else. That’s one thing that was lacking last year. That will be the biggest question mark: Can he do things other than score? Can he rebound and get other guys involved? Can he be a guard instead of just a designated shooter? If he gets going, he can really get into a zone.

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Bledsoe

G Eric Bledsoe, Kentucky, freshman, 6-1, 190 – I see a lot of upside in him. I’m sure a lot of people are wondering why he’s projected to go so high after just one year, but one of the reasons he’s up there is because of the weak point guard class in this year’s draft. If he was in last year’s point guard class he wouldn’t sniff the top 15. But with this year’s class, when you get past John Wall, who is No. 2? He might be it. If you’ve got a team that’s drafting in need and they need a backup point guard, Bledsoe is going to be in the mix. He’s got great speed and athletic ability and he’s good at finishing around the rim. He’s got the ability to play in one-on-one situations and create shots for himself without a pick.

F Trevor Booker, Clemson, senior, 6-7, 240 – Booker is definitely a high-motor guy. He’s a great rebounder and he’s tough. He’s undersized but he plays really hard. Someone will take him in the first round.

F Craig Brackins, Iowa State, junior, 6-10, 230 – I feel for him. He’s a great kid and a solid guy, but he probably should’ve left last year while his name was hot. One thing everyone should realize is that he had no help at Iowa State this season. He decided to go back, and they had no players to go with him. His entire career he’s played without a guard, so every play he’s made has been on his own.

G Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia, senior, 6-7, 230 – He’s tough. He’s had an excellent season and is obviously the leader of his team. He’s shown an ability to score the basketball. He’s got a good size on him. There are going to be some concerns about quickness, ballhandling … those would be the two areas that could hurt him. It’s kind of hard to project where he’d be picked until he starts working out with teams, if he indeed chooses to go that route.

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Collins

G Sherron Collins, Kansas, senior, 5-11, 205 – Coming back for his senior year helped him, but only mildly. Being the leader of a team that was at the top of the standings for most of the year takes a lot of toughness. There’s a lot of weight on your shoulders and he handled that as well as anyone I’ve seen in a long time. But there are issues with him that aren’t going to go away – mainly his weight. It’s been a problem almost every year with the way it goes up and down. I’m not saying the kid doesn’t work hard. Everyone I’ve talked to there says he practices hard and gets after it. But in the offseason, some people have the natural tendency to pick up some weight. He’s one of those guys. He’s got the heart and the toughness, though. At the end of the day, I see him as a solid backup in the league. I don’t see him as a starter, because I don’t know if he can match up night in and night out with star point guards in our league. He doesn’t have the quickness to get past anyone. He doesn’t have the burst to play with some of these big-name guards.

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Cousins

C DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky, freshman, 6-11, 270 – He’s obviously a high-level talent. He’s got great hands and a big body. At this time there are some maturity questions and some questions about his intangibles. He didn’t have any major incidents. It was more just based on body language and things you saw that went on between him and [John] Calipari. It’s not like the kid is a criminal or anything. He’s probably a really good guy. I just think it’s a maturity issue, from the standpoint of is he mature enough to handle a coach that gets in his face? Is he mature enough to handle the grind of playing 82 games without bugging out? There are a lot of teams that are willing to take a chance that he is. He hasn’t blown me away athletically. He’s a decent athlete considering his size and his strength. But his athleticism doesn’t blow you away in the same fashion as someone like Chris Webber. He’s not the kind of guy that’s going to pick up a loose ball off the floor and turn around and dunk it before someone can get there to challenge the shot.

G LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor, junior, 6-4, 205 – He’ll probably go back to school for his senior year, but there’s definitely a place for him in the NBA. He reminds me of Marcus Thornton – similar size and he’s got a thirst to score the basketball. The NBA loves players who come down the floor with an aggressive state of mind. He’s only about 6-foot-3, which some people might say is too short for a shooting guard. But our league has changed a little bit, and you’re seeing smaller guys such as Eddie House step up at that position. The officials are so quick to blow the whistle these days that you can’t guard those guys quite as close as you could in the past. You have to back off just a little. It’s given little guys new life.

G-F Devin Ebanks, West Virginia, sophomore, 6-9, 215 – A lot of people are in love with him, but I just don’t see it. I know the guy is long and he’s got athleticism. And he can defend, I’ll give him that. But I’m not all that sold on Ebanks. He passes the look test, but I just think there are some things missing. There are still plenty parts of his game that need fine-tuning. He’s been too underwhelming for the talent that he has and I’m not sure why. He may get taken in the first round, but I think he’s a risk at this point. He needs to show me more.

F Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech, freshman, 6-10, 246 – I really like his upside. He’s got an NBA-caliber body. He’s an NBA-caliber athlete. He brings that to the table right off the bat, his size and athleticism and the knack for rebounding the basketball. His offensive game is still developing. He’s only spent one year in school. He’s got excellent hands. It’s all about getting more minutes on the floor. They didn’t play through him a lot this year – at least not to the last three or four games. People still wonder how he’s going to do when he has to step away from the basket every now and then. His [shooting] form doesn’t look bad. He just needs some more basketball hours.

F Luke Harangody, Notre Dame, senior, 6-8, 246 – I think he’s going to find a way to play in the league. I just don’t think a guy can play in the best league in the nation – the Big East – and do what he’s done and not be legit. He’s got limitations but he also has heart. He’ll be a second-round pick and probably on someone’s roster next year. I wouldn’t count him out.

F Lazar Hayward, Marquette, senior, 6-6, 225 – He’s a lot like Harangody in that he has such a good feel for the game. He makes plays in different ways. He’s got to figure out a way to be one those tweener forwards. He’s only 6-foot-6 or 6-7, so he’s an undersized four. But he can step away and make jump shots. He’s good at the pick-and-pop. Defensively, he’s too small to defend a four-man. But is he quick enough to chase a three? At this point I just don’t know if he’s in that boat, athletically.

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Henry

G Xavier Henry, Kansas, freshman, 6-6, 220 – He’s got an NBA-caliber body already and he’s proven he can shoot the basketball. Some people may not think he’s ready, but this is the classic case of a guy getting drafted on potential. It doesn’t matter that his body or work in college hasn’t been all that impressive. The fact that he can knock down shots will keep him in the lottery. Plus, you know the kid works hard. You can tell that by looking at his physique. It’s obvious he’s been pushing himself for a long, long time, and the fact that he comes from such an athletic family is also a good sign.

Darington Hobson, New Mexico, junior, 6-7, 205 – He’s a point-forward who handles the ball a great deal in New Mexico’s offense. He’s a very adept rebounder. For his size and physical build, he gets a lot of things done on the court that you wouldn’t think he would. He’s got a good feel for the game. He burst onto the scene this year as a junior college transfer. But this may be his only year at New Mexico. If he comes out he’d probably go between No. 18-25.

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James

F Damion James, Texas, senior, 6-7, 225 – He definitely made a wise decision by coming back for his senior year. A lot of kids could learn a lot from him. He handled the whole process the right way by working out for a number of teams. He didn’t get the feedback he was hoping for, but he didn’t get all emotional about it. He just wasn’t comfortable with what he was hearing at the time, so he went back to school and played himself into the first round. He’s so much steadier now. He showed that he could shoot the ball consistently from the 16- to 17-foot range. Last year he was trying to prove to people that he could do it, but that’s a tough thing to do when you haven’t developed the ability yet. Now, probably because of the work he put in during the offseason, his confidence level is much higher and it’s made him a much better player. He’s always had the mental toughness and the willingness to defend. He just used this last season to polish things up.

G-F Wesley Johnson, Syracuse, junior, 6-7, 205 – He’s on everyone’s top 10 list and I’m sure a number of teams have him in the top five. I think he has the ability to get his own shot, but I don’t think he’s shown too much of that yet. It’s not a huge concern or weakness, but it’s something that gets mentioned every now and then by people who want to nitpick. He shoots the basketball really well and he’s a good enough athlete to excel in our league. Plus, from everything I hear, he’s a really great kid and a great teammate that would be good for any team.

G Dominique Jones, South Florida, junior, 6-4, 205 – He doesn’t do much for me. He had some really nice games. I’ve seen him play a few times, but I still don’t know exactly where he fits. I don’t think he’s a point guard and I don’t know that he has the frame to be a two-guard. He’s real stocky. He’s strong enough but I just don’t know if he’s tall and long enough.

F Gani Lawal, Georgia Tech, junior, 6-9, 234 – He’s a steady, solid player. He’s a little on the mechanical, robotic side, but I like his work ethic. He’s mature. He plays hard and brings energy to the floor. At the worst you’re going to get a guy that’s a rotational big in this league. He’s probably not a starter, but when you bring him off the bench he’s going to block out and rebound and hustle. You’ve got to have guys like that. I’ve got to think he’ll come out, especially after testing the waters last season. He’s an impressive kid. He speaks very well. He’s a professional-type guy, a guy that could hang around for a long time.

C Greg Monroe, Georgetown, sophomore, 6-11, 247 – From a weakness standpoint, sometimes you want more from him. You want to see more fire and desire on the court. His overall activity level isn’t all that good. Some of it may be because he plays for Georgetown, where he gets pulled away from the basket while they’re running that Princeton offense. But he’s a highly, highly skilled big man. He’s got a great feel for the game and he’s easily the best passing big man in the nation. He’s a totally different kind of center than Cousins and Aldrich. But I think he’s a guy whose intensity level will be questioned.

F Patrick Patterson, Kentucky, junior, 6-9, 235 – Obviously he wasn’t featured as much as he had been in prior years. But you got a chance to see him not be the biggest guy on the floor any more. He was playing with other good players. He got to prove that he can face up and shoot the basketball a little bit and that he could put it on the floor. He’s a lot like Gani Lawal in that he’s always going to be a steady basketball player. Nothing flashy, but he’s going to show up and come to work every day and be a solid pro. He’ll probably go in that late-lottery range. A lot of it depends on who comes out, and a lot of it will depend on the teams that are doing the drafting. Will it be a team that is willing to take a kid with a lot of upside and potential that may have to ride the bench for a few years? Or will they want someone like Patterson, who can probably play some sort of secondary role for you right off the bat?

C Dexter Pittman, Texas, senior, 6-10, 290 – I think he’s on people’s radar. He’s on the board. But I don’t think he’s in the first-round discussion. With him, you’re always going to have the weight issue in the back of your mind. Can he keep it off? When the season ends in April or May and he goes home, is he going to be disciplined? Basketball wise, he lacks some explosiveness off the floor and he’s not always as aggressive as he should be. But he’s got great hands and a nice touch.

F Quincy Pondexter, Washington, senior, 6-6, 215 – Everyone thought he was coming out after each of his first three seasons. He was a hyped guy after his freshman year. He was supposed to come out after his sophomore year and then he had a disappointing junior year. Still, he averaged 18 points this year. He had a good season and took them to the Sweet 16. He could be a late first-round guy.

G Scottie Reynolds, Villanova, senior, 6-2, 195 – Reynolds might be a victim of being scouted too much over the years. His weaknesses have been magnified so much. He’s small but he doesn’t have the speed or skill set to be a point guard. He’s actually a scoring guard in a point guard’s body. He’s too little to be a scoring guard. He was a solid college player. I just don’t see him transitioning to the NBA level very well.

G-F Kyle Singler, Duke, junior, 6-8, 230 – Whenever he decides to come out I think he’ll be a first-round pick. He’ll get picked between No. 18 and 30. He’s got a great feel for the game. He’s not a great athlete. He’s also known as a better shooter than he really is. I don’t think he’s a dead-eye shooter. In order to play in the NBA he’s going to have to be a little bit like Ryan Anderson … kind of like a spread four-man. He’s going to have to shoot it real consistently in that role.

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Turner

G-F Evan Turner, Ohio State, junior, 6-7, 210 – You’re looking at a well-rounded basketball player who does a little bit of everything. He passes well, he rebounds well, he’s got good length and has the capability to score whenever he has the ball in his hands. He’s a guy who can play with other good players because he has versatility in his game. I actually thought he’d come out last year. He reminds me a little bit of Brandon Roy. They’re similar in size. He probably doesn’t shoot it as well as Brandon did at this stage, but he’s probably a little bit longer than Brandon in terms of his arms. He played point guard at Ohio State this year, but I’m not sure he’s a guy that can fill that role for 82 games in the NBA. Some of the smaller guys might wear him down. But he can definitely give you minutes there, and he can give you minutes at the two and, as he gets a little stronger, he’ll be able to play some at the three, too. He’s a basketball player. He’ll be on the court somewhere. Coming into the league, I’d just call him a guard and leave it at that.

C Ekpe Udoh, Baylor, junior, 6-10, 240 – I think he’s going to come out. He’ll be a first-round pick. When he was at Michigan you never really got to see his skill set because they were running that Princeton offense. But now we’re seeing a 6-10 kid bring the ball up the court and take people off the dribble. It’s amazing how loose and nimble he is for his size. He’s long and he blocks shots. And he’s a great kid. Everyone has good things to say about him.

C Jarvis Varnardo, Mississippi State, senior, 6-9, 230 – I’ve been watching him for a few years now, and he did the same thing as a sophomore that he did this season, which is blocking all sorts of shots. He’s a very thin guy who doesn’t have a great offensive package. But there’s usually a spot somewhere for guys who can block shots. If he can do it in the pros at a similar rate that he did in college, he’s going to find a place to land. He’s probably an early second-round pick.

G Greivis Vasquez, Maryland, senior, 6-6, 200 – I think he’s a second-round pick. He’s brash and bold and obviously has a lot of moxie to him. Sometimes he can go a little over the top. I don’t think he’s a great athlete. I don’t think he’s a special shooter. If he makes it, it will because he found the perfect, ideal opportunity.

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Wall

G John Wall, Kentucky, freshman, 6-4, 195 – I’m assuming he’ll be the No.1 pick just like everyone else, but it’s probably going to depend on which team gets that pick. What if New Orleans gets it? They’ve got Chris Paul. Why would they need John Wall? What if it’s Minnesota, which has Rubio overseas and Jonny Flynn in Minneapolis? Why would they take Wall? We’ll just have to wait and see who gets that pick. Still, I think it’s likely he’ll get swapped up with the first pick. He’s an elite athlete. He’s excellent in the open court, but I also think he needs to get stronger. He struggles when he gets it in traffic and he struggles when it becomes a half-court game. As long as the court is open he’s going to be tough to deal with. But part of him struggling in traffic has to do with his strength. He needs to add muscle. A lot of people try to compare Wall to Derrick Rose. Rose came into the league much stronger, and he had a better feel for the game when it got into the half-court in terms of making decisions in traffic and in crowded situations. Wall will get there, though. I was impressed with the leadership he displayed this year. He didn’t have an ego. It was obvious that winning was important to him. There was a lot of pressure on him because of all the expectations placed on him. He handled it as well as anyone could’ve – and, remember, he was only a freshman.

G Willie Warren, Oklahoma, sophomore, 6-4, 199 – I’m not sure where he’ll go, although I’m guessing it’ll be in the second round. I wasn’t a big Warren fan last season, so I’m really not this year. His attitude has obviously been a problem, but let’s not forget the fact that he really didn’t produce this year, either. With Blake Griffin gone, his impact on winning was minimal. The program at Oklahoma didn’t exactly spring forward.

F Hassan Whiteside, Marshall, freshman, 7-0, 235 – He has extreme upside potential. He really has the physical tools to be special. But he’s raw. He has a ways to go as far as skill level goes. If you walked into a gym and saw him, you’d say, ‘That guy is a pro.’ He just looks like an NBA player. He’s got really long arms and a decent-looking shot. But he’s young and he’s got a lot to learn.

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Mar 30, 2010