What this isn’t a list of: Guys who will project as the best pros. Things I kept in mind while compiling this list: Does he make his teammates better? Does he go hard at both ends? Is he the kind of guy who sacrifices stats for the better of his team when necessary? This is not like a silly MVP vote where numbers are obsessed over, or the Heisman, which goes to the best player on the best team. It has little or nothing to do with where these players were ranked by alleged pundits in high school. And unlike other outlets, I didn’t start this list by going through the Big East, then the ACC, then the Big Ten, etc.
50. J’Covan Brown, Texas – Lethal scorer kind of reminds me of Adrian Autry, a former Syracuse gunner. Just keep Brown away from twitter.
49. Jorge Gutierrez, California – Arguably the best defensive guard West of the Mississippi. You should read this story about him.
48. Kyle Weems, Missouri State – His coach bolted this summer, but he didn’t, even though there was frothy interest in him. Better all around player than the other Weems you’re familiar with, former Arkansas Razorback Sonny (they’re brothers).
47. Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt – You’re going to hear a lot about Vanderbilt this season. Year of the Commodore! Ezeli, a talented post player, is out 6-8 weeks with an injured knee.
45. Scoop Jardine, Syracuse – I nearly omitted the Cuse entirely from this list, but if I had to take one player from a very, very good Syracuse team, it’d be Scoop Jardine. Will this be the year his shot selection improves? Don’t get on my case for omitting Kris Joseph. Nice athlete, nice shooter, but if I’m building a team, I’d take all 50 of these guys before Joseph.
44. Elias Harris, Gonzaga – Remember when Harris was considered an NBA lottery pick? And had 1-and-done potential? He’s a junior now and has actually regressed a bit (injuries haven’t helped). If this list were all about potential, he’s Top 25.
43. Mike Muscala, Bucknell – There isn’t a Patriot League requirement on this list, but the center did average 14-7 as a sophomore, when he was named the conference player of the year.
42. Robbie Hummel, Purdue – Tore his right ACL in Feb. 2010. Tore it again in Oct. 2010. How can you not root for this guy?
40. Dee Bost, Mississippi St. – Remember when he declared for the NBA draft … and kept his name it in? Lucky kid. Bost was overshadowed two years ago by shot-blocker Jarvis Varnado; last year by the sideshow that was Renardo Sidney.
39. Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame – Calvin Murphy is the best player in Connecticut high school basketball history. Could Abromaitis crack the top five?
38. Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette – Probably because he’s a lefty, he reminds me of one-time Georgetown offensive machine Victor Page (minus the crazy). DJO was 8th in the Big East in scoring last year (15.9). I think he’ll lead the conference in scoring in 2011-2012.
37. Arsalan Kazemi, Rice – The first Iranian to play Division I basketball. He’s 6-foot-7 and enjoys rebounding the way Kenneth Faried did for Morehead State.
36. Doron Lamb, Kentucky – He’ll get so many open looks this season, by mid-Febuary, someone at ESPN will call him the best pure shooter in college basketball. Shot 48% from deep last season.
34. Doug McDermott, Creighton – High school teammate of Harrison Barnes probably has a case for the Creighton basketball Mount Rushmore after just one season. Paul Silas, Kyle Korver, Rodney Buford and McDermott, right? Sorry, Nate Funk and Benoit Benjamin. McDermott is the first freshman to make the All-Missouri Valley first team since 1952.
33. Peyton Siva, Louisville – Dynamic point guard is a pest on defense and an explosive leaper. A bit erratic at times. Excels in the open floor like another Franklin high school (Washington) product, Jason Terry.
32. Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure – The best NBA prospect in the Atlantic-10. He’s on the Wooden preseason list. He’s Canadian.
31. Josh Smith, UCLA – The perpetually overweight center is inching closer to becoming the next Oliver Miller with every doughnut.
30. Aaron Craft, Ohio State – Bobby Hurley-like leader you’d love to have on your team and hate to play against. Wishes he had Hurley’s jumper, though. He’d even settle for Wojo’s.
29. Jeffrey Taylor, Vanderbilt – You’re going to hear a lot about Vanderbilt this season. Year of the Commodore! How can three guys from Vandy make this list, but only one from Syracuse?
28. Brad Beal, Florida – How did an incoming freshman make this list on a team that returns its starting backcourt and a transfer from Rutgers? Oh.
27. Patric Young, Florida – The guy on this list who averaged the fewest PPG last year: 3.4. Still a bit raw, but has beast potential if his rugged summer continues. Ken Pom has some thoughts on Patric Young.
26. Ray McCallum, Detroit – Part of a heartwarming father-son story. Was a stud recruit coveted by the big boys, but opted to play for his father at a mid-major. I’m already picking them to cover in a 1st round NCAA tourney game.
25. Joe Jackson, Memphis – On a team brimming with talent, I like the point guard’s all-around skill set the most.
24. Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota – Bit of a sketchy legal past, but only two players in the history of Minnesota Gophers basketball have collected more than the 327 rebounds Mbakwe took last season. His frontcourt mate, Rodney Williams, has more pro upside, but Mbakwe is a terrific, undersized college basketball power forward.
23. John Henson, North Carolina – I see him as another Brandan Wright/Ed Davis – long, defensive-minded, and timid (unable?) at the offensive end.
22. C.J. Leslie, NC State – The best player in the ACC who doesn’t play for Duke or North Carolina.
21. Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State – The Big 12 has already ordered the plaque with his name on it for freshman of the year.
20. Kendall Marshall, UNC – I’d say he’s one of five most polarizing figures in college basketball. I liken him to Marcus Williams, the star point guard at Connecticut a few years back who I thought would be a real nice player in the NBA.
19. JaMychal Green, Alabama – Tenacious rebounder might wind up being a very good college basketball player who is too much of a tweener for the NBA. He’s majoring in Consumer Affairs. What does that entail? Read.
18. Terrence Ross, Washington – When Jeff Goodman heard I was doing this list, he said it would be null and void if Ross wasn’t in the top 25. Ross blew up at season’s end the same way Jeremy Lamb did for Connecticut.
16. Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh – Excellent shooter. Born on Jan. 19, he shares a birthday with Luc Longley, Junior Seau, Jodie Sweetin from Full House, and Frank Caliendo.
15. Andre Drummond, Connecticut – It’ll take him some time to get acclimated to the Huskies and the Big East, but this is a wildly athletic post player who will be dominant by March, when the Huskies make a run at a repeat.
14. Khris Middleton, Texas A&M – Aggies’ wing is under-recruited out of high school, and underrated right now.
13. Draymond Green, Michigan St. – The senior power forward can be summed up in a word: Solid. 12.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 4.1 apg. The consummate college basketball player who is unselfish and fundamentally sound.
12. Thomas Robinson, Kansas – Surely you heard that last year he lost two of his grandparents and his mother in a four-week span. Tucked behind the Morris Twins, Robinson only played 14 minutes per game and averaged a modest 7 points and 6 rebounds. He’ll more than double those figures this season.
11. John Jenkins, Vanderbilt – You’re going to hear a lot about Vanderbilt this season. Year of the Commodore!
10. Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin – Smart point guard led the country in assist-turnover ratio, but I can’t get his awful NCAA tournament out of my mind: 8-for-35, and he was terrible in a loss to eventual runner-up Butler (four turnovers, five missed free throws).
9. Tyler Zeller, North Carolina – I maintain that if Harrison Barnes hadn’t been 3-point trigger-happy (2-for-9) in the Final 8 last year, Zeller (9-of-12, 21 points) would have beaten Kentucky. Zeller needs 15-20 shots per game.
8. Anthony Davis, Kentucky – John Calipari coached Marcus Camby about 15 years ago. Camby took UMass to the Final 4 and was the National Player of the Year. Calipari said Davis is a little ahead of where Camby was as a freshman.
7. Austin Rivers, Duke – Enamored with his game, insanely curious whether or not the likely 1-and-done star guard will fit into Coach K’s system.
6. Perry Jones, Baylor – He’ll lead Baylor to the Big 12 title. Note: I thought Kansas State would usurp Kansas last year. Didn’t happen.
5. Tu Holloway, Xavier – Too high for one of the 5 best players in the history of the Atlantic-10? Nope.
4. Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut – Is this too high for a quiet kid who won’t have Kemba Walker around anymore and will have to become the team’s leader? Nope.
3. Terrence Jones, Kentucky – Inconsistent as a freshman (who isn’t?), but I’d say he’s the most talented player on Kentucky’s loaded roster (right now).
2. Harrison Barnes, North Carolina – Inconsistent as a freshman (who isn’t?), but enjoy him while you can before he’s a top 3 pick in the 2012 NBA draft.