The Pac-10 toiled in mediocrity the past two seasons, and it's certainly not difficult to understand why. In 2008 and 2009, a total of 13 players from the league were selected in the first round of the NBA draft. The conference has yet to recover.
Last season the conference produced just three first-rounders (Derrick Williams, Nikola Vucevic and Klay Thompson). And the website www.nbadraft.net predicts that only three players (Terrence Ross, Josiah Turner and DeWayne Dedmon) from the revamped conference will be selected in the first round next summer. Turner and Dedmon have yet to even play a Division I game.
Even though the Pac-12 – which it will be called for the first time this season – may be lacking when it comes to NBA-caliber talent, there are still plenty of exciting players who should make the race for the conference crown an entertaining one. Here are Pac-12's top 10 players heading into this season.
G Josiah Turner, Arizona, freshman – The addition of Turner – who some believe is the top point guard prospect in the country – will make the loss of All-American forward Derrick Williams a little easier to absorb. Don't be surprised if the 6-foot-3 Turner is the best player on Arizona's team next season. He's a big-time scorer, although he has a tendency to force things that aren't there.
C Josh Smith, UCLA, sophomore – The 6-foot-10, 300-pound Smith improved his conditioning throughout last season and had turned into a beast by February in March. He averaged 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds. It's scary to think of how much may improve now that he has a full year under his belt. He'll combine with Travis and David Wear and Reeves Nelson to form one of the country's top frontcourts.
G Tony Wroten, Washington, freshman – The 6-foot-4 Wroten arrives at just the right time for the Huskies, who lost Isaiah Thomas to the NBA draft. Wroten is a left-hander whose power and size (206 pounds) helps him absorb contact and finish around the rim. Wroten – the 14th-ranked player in the Class of 2011 by Rivals.com – still needs to work on his outside shot.
G Terrence Ross, Washington, sophomore – Ross averaged eight points a game as a freshman last season, which is impressive considering he played just 17 minutes a contest. With leading scorers Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning no longer on the team, Ross' role should be greatly enhanced.
F Harper Kamp, Cal, senior – Kamp returned from injury and averaged a team high 14.2 points last season and ranked second on the squad in rebounds (5.6). He also shot an impressive 52.8 percent from the field. Kamp, Allen Crabbe and Jorge Gutierrez will form one of the top trios in the Pac-12 this season.
F Reeves Nelson, UCLA, junior – The 6-foot-8, underappreciated scrapper almost averaged a double-double last season with 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds. Nelson also shot an impressive 56.7 percent from the field. He and his teammates in UCLA's vaunted frontcourt will have to handle much of the scoring load this season for a team that appears weak on the perimeter.
G Jio Fontan, USC, senior – Fontan totally changed the complexion of the Trojans' team after transferring from Fordham. He may not have been the best player on the court – that label belonged to Nikola Vucevic – but he was clearly the leader and the guy who ran the show. Look for Fontan to significantly improve his 10.5-point scoring average from last season.
G Jared Cunningham, Oregon State, junior – Cunningham is regarded as one of the top defensive players in the country. He averaged 2.8 steals per game last season and also contributed 14.2 points. The 6-foot-4 Cunningham is also one of the Pac-12's most athletic players. He became a YouTube sensation last season because of some his ferocious slam dunks.
G Faisal Aden, Washington State, senior – Aden was one of the top junior college transfers in the country last season, when he averaged 12.4 points playing alongside standout Klay Thompson. With Thompson and forward DeAngelo Casto no longer in the picture, the Cougars will lean heavily on the 6-foot-4 Aden to keep them in the postseason hunt.
C Dwayne Dedmon, USC, sophomore – Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill is convinced the 7-foot Dedmon, who redshirted last year, will be one of the nation's most talked-about big men by the end of the season. Dedmon averaged 6.6 points and 7.8 rebounds at Antelope Valley College the previous year.