College basketball’s biggest stars from last season — Zion Williamson, Carsen Edwards and Ja Morant, among many others — have taken their talents to the NBA and forfeited their respective college eligibility. But like a human Whac-A-Mole, this season’s crop of rising college stars could wind up being just as good. And for the first time in awhile, the top-end talent seems spread evenly. (Who am I kidding? Six of the top-30 prospects signed with either Kentucky or Duke.)
Still, an optimist could argue that to be true. The No. 1 overall recruit, James Wiseman, is at Memphis. The No. 2 overall recruit, Anthony Edwards, is at Georgia. And the No. 3 recruit, Isaiah Stewart, plays at Washington. You get my point. Kentucky and Duke haven’t hoarded all the one-and-done caliber players. That should be good for parity throughout the sport and make for more enjoyable viewing across the board.
As we peek ahead to the 2020 draft, it should make for a more thrilling scouting process, too. The top four prospects from the Class of 2019 247Sports Composite rankings all signed with different schools from different conferences. That leaves us with more questions than answers as we begin to gear up for the season. Here are six burning ones that come to mind that I’ll be curious to learn more about in the coming months.
1. Which one-and-done will emerge as the favorite to go No. 1?
I’ve already made my vote on this question. North Carolina freshman point guard Cole Anthony is my . I love the combination of his playmaking and scoring, and I think he’s going to be a stat monster for the Tar Heels. Still, there’s a case to be made for at least a half-dozen others, among them:
- James Wiseman, Memphis: 7-foot big men who gracefully bounce up and down the floor with this skill set don’t come around often. At Memphis, he’s going to be a top-two player in the league and must-watch television every time he steps on the floor.
- Anthony Edwards, Georgia: Freakish athlete, great scorer, makes the game look really easy. Like Cole Anthony at UNC, Edwards should be in line to be the focal point of UGA’s system.
- LaMelo Ball, Illawara Hawks: The list of draft-eligible 6-6 point guards worth a darn in 2020 is very short, and Ball is on the short list. He’s not a traditional one-and-done — he’s playing overseas in the NBL — but the 18-year-old is expected to enter the draft next summer and will likely be a top-10 pick. He’s No. 7 on my .
2. Is there a 2019-20 version of Zion?
I baited myself with this one. Of course there’s not a Zion Williamson of this season. What he brought to Duke — between the exposure, the dunks, the blocks, the blown sneakers in front of Barack Obama! — it can’t be replicated. So let me rephrase: could there be a player this season as electrifying as Zion was last season?
I think the answer is “yes!”
First, I present UNC freshman Cole Anthony. If we get to December and he’s averaging 19 and 10 for a top-10 Tar Heels team, will anyone be surprised? (Spoiler: I will not be!)
Next, I present Arizona’s Nico Mannion. Mannion was a top-10 recruit coming out of high school. In one word to describe him, I’d use: killer. He’s the type of player who doesn’t just want to score on you; he wants to score on you and take your lunch money.
My final guess on a potential newbie who could see a star-turn right away: Tyrese Maxey. I think he’s going to be Kentucky’s best player. And Kentucky’s best player over the years seems to always get a fair amount of publicity.
3. Can Anthony follow in Daugherty, Worthy’s footsteps?
There’s only been two North Carolina players drafted at No. 1 overall: James Worthy, in 1982, and Brad Daugherty four years later. That drought could end this season with UNC super-freshman Cole Anthony. Like I mentioned above, Anthony is the No. 1 player on my big board going into the season. There’s a chance he’s a monster from the time he steps on the court for the first time. Right now there’s no real consensus formed about who should go No. 1, but if Anthony plays in college like he did in high school, he could help us form an opinion on that pretty quickly.
4. Which Duke youngster will emerge?
Each season since 2013-14, Duke has had two players average 15 points or more points per game. And every year during that run, at least one of those high-scoring options has been a true freshman. Jabari Parker. Jahlil Okafor. Brandon Ingram. Jayson Tatum. And of course last year, RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson. Recent history says it’ll happen again this season.
Returning sophomore point guard Tre Jones, a projected first-rounder for 2020 himself, is the frontrunner to be one of the two top options. Behind him, though, is a handful of talented newbies expected to challenge for the No. 2 spot. Will Vernon Carey Jr. be the inside punch to complement Jones on the perimeter? Could Matthew Hurt emerge as that guy? I’m going off the board: Cassius Stanley. He was the lowest-rated signee of Duke’s 2019 recruiting class, but he’s made a big impression since arriving this offseason. Plus, anyone who can break Duke’s vertical leap record should be a frontrunner. That’s just common sense.
5. Who is the most underrated potential one-and-done?
By underrated, I’m going to use the paramaters of any true freshman who 247Sports rated as a sub-top-20 prospect. Using that, my vote is … drumroll please …Josiah-Jordan James. The 6-5 point guard will be thrust into a starting role right away at Tennessee, and I’m not so sure he won’t be one of the best at the position in the SEC this season. You might feel like he’s playing in slow motion when you watch him, but he methodically picks apart teams and has an innate feel for the game that separates him from many others. When you couple that with his 6-6 frame, it’s easy to project him having a short stint in college.
6. Which upperclassmen are capable of crashing the lottery?
Much is made about the one-and-done crop every year — and rightfully so. But every year we get at least one upperclassmen crashing the lottery. Rui Hachimura and Cameron Johnson did last year, Mikal Bridges the year before, and so on. This year? There’s three that jump out (among juniors and seniors).
- Jordan Nwora, Louisville: After testing the NBA draft process out this offseason, Nwora ultimately chose to return to college, where he’ll star for a top-10 Louisville team. He starts the season No. 18 on my Big Board but if he makes a substantial leap from last year to this year, he could work his way up easily into the top 14.
- Xavier Tillman, Michigan State: If there was an All-Hiding in Plain Sight team, Tillman would be the MVP. He was solid for Michigan State last season but got lost in the Cassius Winston surge and in Sparty’s deep frontcourt rotation. With Nick Ward and Kenny Goins gone, he’ll no longer be an underrated commodity this season. In fact, he’s among the many reasons why Tom Izzo’s club is a lock to open the season as the No. 1 team in the sport.
- Killian Tillie, Gonzaga: Played only 15 games last season and dealt with a nagging foot injury. Tillie’s talent is undeniable. If healthy, he’s one of the best players in college basketball. Period. Here’s to hoping a recent knee surgery doesn’t linger into the season.