After escaping the 2005 NBA draft relatively unscathed with only two underclassmen leaving and being drafted in the first round in Antoine Wright and Linas Kleiza, the Big 12 conference not only looks like the best conference in America in terms of the quality of teams represented here, it also might be the most talented conference in the NCAA when it comes to the individual talent NBA scouts can find on almost every roster.
The three powerhouse teams in terms of prep recruiting dominate the top of this list in Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma, but teams like Iowa State, Kansas State, Colorado and even Baylor also have plenty to offer in what is shaping up as possibly the deepest and toughest Big 12 conference ever.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge, 6-11, PF/C, Texas, Sophomore
Quite possibly the big man with the largest upside in college basketball, Aldridge has been a fixture on the NBA draft radar screen for quite some time now. Standing at at least 6-11 and featuring long arms and an NBA caliber frame, Aldridge has the physical attributes that are a prerequisite these days for NBA scouts to pack in the gym every single time he plays. That would not be possible without a healthy dose of athletic ability of course, and Aldridge delivers here as well, showing excellent mobility and coordination getting up and down the floor, moving around the court with ease and elevating smoothly to challenge shots around the rim or finish around the basket. In addition to his size, length and athleticism, Aldridge also shows some very promising skills on the offensive end of the ball, especially facing the basket displaying a sweet stroke out to the 16-18 feet. His court awareness is very good, as his overall feel for the game. Aldridges biggest problem besides the season ending injury he suffered midway through the year was his extreme lack of bulk that did not allow him to capitalize on his full potential inside the paint and on the glass. Reports coming from NBA scouts who have watched him practice and articles in the media as well have suggested that he has added plenty of weight to his lanky frame and appears to be on the verge of a breakout season. Improvements in his back to the basket game, rebounding ability and overall toughness as a basketball player, along with managing to finally stay healthy for a prolonged period could spell high lottery for him if he dominates the Big 12 the way many think he can. He has all the potential in the world and then some to do so.
2. 6-9 Julian Wright, freshman, SF, Kansas
Wright is one of the more interesting NBA prospects in the 2005 freshman class. On the one hand, he is blessed with a Darius Miles like athleticism and mobility, long arms and a mindset that makes him a first rate defender, and very impressive court vision. On the other, he is well behind the curve as a shooter and overall scorer. Rarely do you see a player so advanced in certain areas, and so raw in others. Wright doesnt project to be a big scorer this year or maybe ever, but he still possesses the type of all-around skill set that has scouts drooling. Rarely do you see a player as young as Wright so dedicated to doing the little things. Kansas has one of the youngest rosters in the nation, so he will play early and often. While Wright is the type of athlete that one would normally expect to be one-and-done, it isnt clear how long it will take him to develop some polish as a scorer. Once he does, Wright is a likely lottery pick.
3. Daniel Gibson- 6-2, Texas, PG, Sophomore
Gibson has the physical tools and especially the perimeter shooting skills to be a high level NBA prospect, including good size, nice ball-handling skills and the ability to change gears in an instant to make his way to the basket. He is a true gunner from outside on top of that, never being shy at all of hoisting up a shot from behind the arc and netting 40% of his three pointers from behind the arc on a high number of attempts already as a freshman. He is a scorer all the way, but has started from day one for Texas and will hopefully learn to be an adequate PG in the half-court offense. His defense needs to improve, as does his shot selection and ability to make his teammates better, being much more of a combo guard than many would like to see from a player who dominates the ball so much at such a young age, a showing a tendency to force the issue excessively at times. Texas had some major locker-room issues this past season as the team appeared to be split in two by the end of the year, with some questionable remarks about the team effort of certain contingents being aired publicly, so scouts will be watching chemistry of this young but extremely talented team and the leadership of the player leading the way all season long.
4. Brandon Rush, 6-6 ½, Kansas, SG/SF, Freshman
Extremely talented swingman has the body--including the height, outstanding length (6-11 wingspan) and framenot to mention the kind of freakish athleticism that separates the role playing wings from the stars in the NBA. Rush is a fluid and confident player with tremendous skills on the offensive end. He can create his own shot with the best of them and has a knack for getting into the lane and scoring on his man thanks to his quickness, a tremendous first step and just how fast and high he gets off the floor. In terms of weaknesses his shooting mechanics are nothing to write home about last we saw of himand neither was his consistency-- while his ball-handling could use some polish, which will only come from finally going up against players of his caliber everyday in practice and in the rugged Big 12. The thing that might scare off the most teams would be his baggage, though. His two older brothers before him (but especially JaRon) have not left a great name for the Rush family in the basketball world unfortunately, and according to reports Rush supposedly doesnt have the greatest work ethic in the world, although I did not see that watching him work out privately at IMG this summer. He has an open slate now to develop into whatever the Kansas coaching staff wants to mold him into now, though, so its up to him to continue to work on his all-around game, prove the doubters wrong, pave his own path and begin to realize his full potential as a player.
5. Taj Gray, 6-9, Oklahoma, Senior
Displaying an intriguing combination of athleticism, grit and versatile skills, Taj Gray will be expected to lead an extremely talented Oklahoma Sooners team that is being pegged by many analysts as a potential Final Four contender come March. Displaying similar attributes to another NCAA power forward from last year who eventually landed in the first round of the NBA draft, David Lee of Florida and now the New York Knicks, Gray has already turned on his outstanding motor at an earlier stage of his career and shows a relentless attitude and plenty of heart every time he steps out on the floor. As an athlete he is one of the better run/jump players you will find in this part of the country, displaying a high and extremely quick vertical leap that he uses as often as he can when going up for rebounds, monster put-backs, blocked shots or alley-oops, thriving the most when he is running the floor in transition. Although he only showed flashes of his true potential in this area during his rookie year in the NCAA as a junior college transfer, Gray has very nice passing ability as well and is generally a smart player when he isnt trying to do too much on the floor. This tendency to exhort himself excessively on the game leads him to pick up cheap fouls at times or force the issue on the offensive end. Although Coach Sampson will probably prefer him not to, Gray will need to show more of an all-around face-up game that is expected out of most NBA power forwards these days, specifically the ability to knock down the open jumper from 16 feet out or so, including his free throws. Measurements will also be key for Gray as hes been listed anywhere from 6-7 to 6-9 over the past few years.
6. Terrell Everett- 6-4, Oklahoma, Senior
Everett has terrific size, length and athleticism as a 6-4 PG, which already puts him in an exclusive class that will guarantee him many looks on draft night if history has taught us anything. He finished 2nd in the Big 12 last year in assists despite playing a fair amount of the overall schedule off the ball. Everett is a left-handed college combo guard that knows how to get to the rim and create for others in the process, showing nice court vision, excellent slashing ability and lots of intriguing intangibles. Oklahoma hit a rough stretch last year in the Big 12 and countered by moving 5-7 former Mcdonalds All-American PG Drew Lavender off the ball, occasionally to the bench, and eventually to Xavier as Everett made the Sooners a much better team with him at the helm. Hes a tough and physical guard who uses these attributes well on both ends of the floor, but especially when locking down his man and coming up with plenty of rebounds and steals. A mismatch waiting to happen because of his height, its anyones guess whether hell play enough PG this year to convince the scouts that that is his true position. His ball-handling, decision making skills and especially his jump-shot are the parts of his game that he needs to work on the most this year. He has a nice upside as well as this will only be his 2nd season in the NCAA after transferring from a junior college like Taj Gray.
7. CJ Giles, 6-10, PF/C, sophomore, Kansas
Giles didnt have a very eventful freshman year when looking at his production, but certainly impressed with his phenomenal athletic ability and NBA-caliber body. He remains unpolished on both ends of the floor, and like a lot of developing big guys, hurts himself with silly fouls. Wayne Simiens departure leaves a void in the Kansas frontcourt, and it looks like Giles will be a major recipient of those minutes. He has looked dominant at times in the preseason, and at the very least will make a major impact as a rebounder and shot blocker. It may take him another couple of years, but there arent many big men at the college level with the athletic tools of CJ Giles.
8. Richard Roby, 6-6 ,SG, sophomore, Colorado
Roby wasnt highly touted as a prep, but was the undisputed man from day one for Ricardo Patton and the Buffaloes. Roby is most dangerous as a long-range shooter, but has nice length and some good bounce in his step. He contributes as a defender, and can handle the ball a little bit as well. If Colorado goes anywhere this season, it will be up to Richard Roby to take them there. Based on last years early results, he should be able to build on a fantastic freshman season and develop into a legitimate NBA prospect down the road.
9. Curtis Stinson, 6-3, PG, junior, Iowa State
Stinson certainly isnt ever going to be labeled a pass first point guard, but he is very good at what he does. When it comes to scoring points in a hurry, there might not be anybody better in the entire conference. Stinson has an explosive first step, a strong upper body, and is an expert at hitting contested shots once he is past his man. There are times when Stinson will look like a lottery pick, putting the Cyclones on his back and leading them to victory. He is a natural leader, and uses his fiery, aggressive personality to take over in the clutch. At other times, that feistiness can work against Stinson, especially when he starts missing shots. There will be games this season that Stinson simply shoots his team out of. It is trouble when he starts settling for the outside jumper, because Stinson simply isnt a very good shooter right now. He does make up for that on the defensive end, where he is aggressive and physical. Stinson would have to dramatically improve as a decision maker and shooter before becoming a legitimate first round prospect, but he does have quite a few of the tools that the NBA looks for in a scoring lead guard.
10. Aaron Bruce- 6-3, PG/SG, Baylor, Sophomore
This Australian international played for a terrible team last year, but still managed to put up big numbers on excellent percentages all season long. He can shoot the long ball very well, off the dribble or from static positions, and is generally an unselfish and team oriented player who excels both with and without the ball. He played more two guard his freshman year than the scouts might have liked to see, but is expected to acquire more playmaking experience in his sophomore year. Not overly athletic and will struggle at times defensively, but has great basketball instincts, a high basketball IQ and plenty of raw talent. If things dont work out for him with the NBA there will be a hefty paycheck waiting for him in Europe.
11. Mario Chalmers, 6-1, PG, freshman, Kansas
Considered one of the top freshman point guards in the nation, Chalmers will have plenty of minutes to prove it this season. With Aaron Miles graduating, Bill Self has recruited Chalmers to take his place from day one. With that being said, it isnt entirely clear how ready he is to run a team in the Big 12. Right now, Chalmers is an athlete and a very impressive long range shooter, but may have some work to do as a playmaker. In the preseason, Russell Robinson has been taking a large chunk of the point guard minutes. Chalmers is explosive enough to make an immediate impact, and should eventually find himself on the draft radar.
12. Will Blalock, 6-0, PG, junior, Iowa State
Blalock is the pass-first half of Wayne Morgans two-headed point guard. Blalock isnt the perfect floor general, but he runs the offense well, and is very explosive once he gets going to the basket. Much like Stinson, he struggles as a shooter and with attempting to do too much at times. Blalock doesnt have the size or scoring ability of his backcourt counterpart, but has enough off the dribble explosiveness to get drafted after his senior year.
13. Cartier Martin, 6-8, SF, junior, Kansas State
Martin was well on his way to a breakout season, but nagging injuries significantly slowed him down over the course of the Big Twelve slate. It has been tough to get a good read on Martin thus far in his career, but he does have some intriguing attributes. At 68, Martin is a legit scorer on the wing. He has a nice jumper, and the athleticism to play out on the perimeter. Kansas State lost a lot in the offseason, so expect Martin to be featured early and often. If he can stay healthy, Martin could develop into something special over the next two seasons.
14. JamesOn Curry- 6-3, SG, Oklahoma State, Sophomore
Curry would rank much higher on this list if he had a defined NBA position, specifically if he got some serious playing time at the PG position and was allowed to develop there over the next few years. Considering his teams style of play, the coach he plays under, and the way hes recruited, that does not seem likely. Regardless, Curry might have the talent to make it. Hes a fantastic scorer who possesses a certain knack for putting the ball in the hoop that just cant be taught. Despite being a freshman at a powerhouse school just coming off a final four berth, Curry stepped up numerous times for them and put the team on his back; scoring in bundles from the perimeter, showing a sweet mid-range game, and slashing to the basket and finishing creatively using his athleticism and length. Curry will also become a very good defender in time at Oklahoma State under Coach Sutton, there is little doubt about that. If he develops into more of a combo guard at the very least over the next few years, he will surely look like a better prospect.
15. P.J. Tucker- 6-5, SF, Texas, Junior
In terms of overall skill, smarts, fundamentals and ability as a basketball player right now, Tucker would probably rank near the top if not at the very top of this list if those were the criteria that were being evaluated. Unfortunately Tucker started off his career a 6-5 combo forward more than anything, representing no mans land as far as the NBA is concerned. Even though he improved his perimeter skills significantly in the Fall semester as a sophomore until being ruled academically ineligible in mid-January, Tucker still has a ways to go to show that he can be considered a viable perimeter prospect even at only 6-5, as hes still yet to hit a three pointer from NCAA range in his career so far and possesses only average ball-handling skills for a small forward. Regardless of his NBA potential (or lack thereof), Tucker is still a player that any college coach in America would take and build a team around if given the choice. He is an incredibly tough, versatile and fundamentally sound player who shows some of the best footwork seen in college basketball today. Tucker can score from anywhere inside the arc and is a terrific rebounder on top of that, especially on the offensive end. He gets to the line constantly throughout the game and is considered one of the toughest players to guard in college basketball thanks to his strength, tenacity and the way he approaches the game. Tucker is the best player and leader of a young Texas team that is expected to contend for the Final Four, but his NBA potential is very much up in the air as its very difficult to compare him to any player in the league right now that made it at his size. The problem is its even tougher to write off a player who is as much of a warrior as him.