Ever since the NBA instituted the rule in the 2005 CBA that any entrant to the NBA Draft must be at least 19 years old or one year removed from high school there has been a flood of “One-and-Done” prospects that left college in the dust as quickly as they had enrolled.
Eleven years later and the rule remains in place. The Class of 2017 is already being talked about as one of the best in recent history. Many teams will have freshmen that are categorized as potential lottery picks.
Not all players leave after one year, however. Some simply enjoy college too much and want to stay as long as possible. Some are disappointed in their debut seasons and come back for another shot, to prove to scouts that they are worthy of being drafted. Some develop over time and climb from undervalued to key cogs of winning teams.
Whatever the path through college, there’s no questioning that most of the notoriety falls on the “One-and-Done” prospects. With that being said, counting on 18 or 19-year olds to lead you to wins, and championships, is not the most foolproof of plans.
No team is composed solely of freshmen and most of the elite teams have upperclassmen that can help guide the youngsters over the course of the season. Below we’ll breakdown five of these “veterans” on potential title-contending teams.
KENTUCKY: Isaiah Briscoe
The home of the “One-and-Done” has done it again. John Calipari is bringing in another group of freshmen to Lexington that will have all of the expectations of Big Blue Nation dropped on their shoulders.
Calipari has cultivated the “One-and-Done” phenomenon by making the Wildcats a program that truly puts player’s first. From Pro Days, to hyperbolic pre-draft hype, you name it and it’s being done at Kentucky.
However, for as talented and awe-inspiring as names like Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, DeAaron Fox, and Malik Monk are, they are still only freshmen. If a team comprised of Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, and Tyler Ulis can’t win a title as freshmen there’s no guarantee that any collection of 18 and 19-year-olds can lead a program to the promise land.
For all the pressure and scrutiny that these highly ranked recruits endure in their one year as Wildcats, it is often a returning player that will shape the team’s identity. This year, that player is rising sophomore Isaiah Briscoe.
Briscoe was solid in just about everything last season as a freshman and stuffed the box score nightly (9.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.1 APG and 1 SPG). He was arguably the team’s best and most versatile defender. Sharing the court with two other guards (Ulis and Jamal Murray), he often guarded players five and six inches taller than him. Standing six-foot-three and up to 216 pounds this year, Briscoe’s six-foot-eight wingspan and lower body strength make him a pesky presence on the defensive end.
While his defense was off the charts last season you would be hard pressed to find his shooting numbers charted at all. Briscoe was abysmal as a shooter. Teams began giving him the Tony Allen treatment and his confidence was so shaken by then that he started to pass up wide-open looks. He made five total threes last season and clocked in with a three-point percentage of 13.5.
The lack of a shot is what forced him into returning to UK this season, and though no games have been played, his shot is already leaps and bounds better. During ESPNU’s coverage of the Kentucky Pro Day there were glimpses–between the endless Coach Cal shots–of the work Briscoe has put in to his shot. His form is smoother and more compact.
What we also saw was Briscoe embracing his role as a leader. Before starting a drill Briscoe suggested the team do something else instead and Cal decided Briscoe’s idea was better than what he had originally planned. Briscoe also mentioned that he has been in the freshmen’s ears explaining what is expected of them at Kentucky and breaking down “Cal-isms”.
If Briscoe is able to develop as both a player and a leader then this group has the potential to be one of the most successful Calipari has had during his stint in Lexington.
DUKE: Amile Jefferson
Mike Krzyzewski isn’t as synonymous with the term “One-and-Done” as Calipari, but it can be argued that he has been more successful using this draft loophole than Cal. Coach K’s–and Duke’s staff–involvement with USA Basketball has helped him develop relationships with prospects that most coaches can only dream of.
It began with landing Jabari Parker in 2014, but Coach K truly cemented himself as an elite recruiter when he brought in Grayson Allen, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, and Justise Winslow two seasons ago and took home the NCAA National Championship at the end of the year.
This season, he has another great group coming into Durham. Marques Bolden, Harry Giles, Frank Jackson, and Jayson Tatum are four of the 20 best freshmen in college basketball this year and they are all Blue Devils.
With Allen still hanging around, this team has the potential to be an all-time great Duke team. However, in order for them to be truly great they are going to need to have redshirt senior forward Amile Jefferson back on the court.
He was a walking double-double for the Blue Devils last season, averaging 11.4 PPG and 10.3 RPG in the first nine games last year. A fracture in his right foot would sideline him for the remaining 27 games. Jefferson was granted a medical hardship year by the NCAA and he is back in Durham for one final season.
The additions of Giles and Bolden already make Duke one of the scariest front courts in the nation, but adding in Jefferson gives them a leg up on the rest of the field. Jefferson’s a wily college vet and has developed into another in a long line of typical Duke bigs. Jefferson can do a little of everything and seems to always be waiting in the lane to take a charge on an unsuspecting opponent driving to the basket.
The blow of losing Giles for six weeks, after a third knee surgery in four years, isn’t as big with Jefferson still around. He has the versatility to play both the four and five spots. Him and Bolden will work nicely together and even though Jefferson isn’t a threat to scorch the net from three, he is comfortable playing on the perimeter now.
Jefferson’s role this season will be similar to what Patrick Patterson did in his final season at Kentucky. He’ll be the seasoned vet in charge of showing the more talented freshmen the ropes, building them into a unit instead of a collection of talented players. If Jefferson adds a three-point shot like Patterson did, it will serve him well both at Duke and if he pursues a professional basketball career after college.
MICHIGAN STATE: Eron Harris
You’ll be forgiven if you’re shocked to see the Michigan State Spartans make a list about “One-and-Done” players. In his entire coaching career, Tom Izzo has had only two players ever opt o go the “One-and-Done” route: Zach Randolph and Deyonta Davis.
However, Izzo was finally able to cash in with a class that ranked third nationally in the consensus team recruiting rankings. Miles Bridges, of Flint, MI (the “Flint-stones” are still giving back to East Lansing) is the stud of this group and he is joined by fellow five-star recruit Joshua Langford and two four-stars in Cassius Winston and Nick Ward.
The Spartans are coming off a year where they looked like the best team in the country as long as Denzel Valentine was on the court. Their near-guaranteed run to the Final Four fell flat on it’s face when they were upset in the opening round by Middle Tennessee State.
Valentine went on to be a lottery pick, sharpshooter Bryn Forbes has found his way to the San Antonio Spurs, and Matt Costello has a training camp look with the Atlanta Hawks. Those three have been the backbone for State the past two seasons. Not only will their talent need to be replaced, but their leadership as well.
That brings me to Eron Harris. The West Virginia transfer is one of the most high-profile transfers to land in East Lansing in some time. After dominating on the scout team two years ago, Harris had an up-and-down year his first time suiting up in Spartan green.
Harris is combo guard that is at his best with the ball in his hands. At West Virginia he averaged 17.2 PPG in his sophomore year as a Mountaineer. That dropped down to 9.3 (a career low) last season with Michigan State.
The silver lining for Harris was that he remained a deadly shooter from the perimeter. After knocking down 42.2 percent of his threes three years ago, that number jumped to 43.9 percent last season. With Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn likely starting at point guard, Izzo is really going to need Harris to keep hitting from deep.
Harris took some time adjusting to playing with a ball-dominant player like Valentine, yet this year could see him turn into a version of the player Valentine was for Michigan State. Bridges and Langford possesses the skill to make baskets, but it’ll likely take a couple months before they’re efficient at doing so.
Harris will need to set the tone for Sparty this season and that means enduring a lot of shouting from Izzo on the sidelines. The tools and talent are there–now Harris needs to prove he can be consistently good for a full season.
WASHINGTON: David Crisp
Markelle Fultz is the hot name in the Class of 2017. His rise from junior varsity to elite prospect in two years is made for television. Fultz’s game is made for the NBA. The six-foot-five guard combines a six-foot-ten wingspan with a silky smooth game and high-level athleticism. Fultz’s play with Team USA at the FIBA U-18s really cemented his spot at the top of the class for many.
Now he moves to the Northwest and tries to make sure Lorenzo Romar and the Washington Huskies don’t underachieve once more. When you think about great recruiters it might take a few tries before his names pops up. Yet, under Romar the Huskies have seen future pros flourish. Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Quincy Pondexter, Spencer Hawes, Isaiah Thomas, Terrence Ross, Justin Holiday, Tony Wroten, Marquese Chriss, and Dejounte Murray all come through the program.
With Fultz already there and consensus number two overall 2017 recruit Michael Porter Jr. committing for next season it doesn’t look like Romar is slowing down anytime soon–if the Huskies keep him on board.
The Pac-12 is going to be loaded this year. Arizona, UCLA, Oregon, USC, and California all look like they can win league this season. With all the talent in the conference, it’s going to take more than just one great player to do damage.
That’s where David Crisp will be called upon to step up. Crisp was solid as a freshman last year. He often shared the court with Murray and senior guard Andrew Andrews last year. At six-foot Crisp is small for a combo guard, but he has more than double his size in skills.
Crisp has the confidence and swagger of players before him like Robinson and Thomas. The great thing about Fultz coming to the Huskies is that it opens up Crisp to play his role. Fultz is a tall point guard and Crisp is a small shooting guard. If you flipped their heights you would have your run-of-the-mill backcourt, but with the roles reversed Washington looks to play a more modern style of basketball.
Nearly 67 percent of Crisp’s shots last year were triples. Needless to say, that is a ton. With Crisp on the floor it should keep at least one defender out of the paint and open the floor for Fultz. Crisp needs to become a more efficient scorer in his second season if this team wants to reach it’s fullest potential.
Where this combo can be truly potent is defensively. Fultz has shown the activity and traits to be an impact defender at any level and Crisp was a plus defender as a freshman. Crisp has quick hands and had a propensity for knocking the ball away. If Crisp can be a pest and near-shutdown level defender on the ball it will give Fultz free reign to float and disrupt passing lanes all around the court.
NC STATE: BeeJay Anya
The North Carolina State Wolfpack have long been the forgotten member of the famed Tobacco Road traditions in North Carolina. This year they look to leave their middle child syndrome behind them and go toe-to-toe with the likes of North Carolina, Duke and the rest of the NCAA’s elite universities.
Why do they have so much hope and faith in this upcoming season? Three words. Dennis. Smith. Junior. The six-foot-three athletic whirling dervish of a point guard has been a sight to behold over his four years in high school. He was such an important recruit to both Mark Gottfried and the Wolfpack that Gottfried flew to Smith’s high school on a helicopter for a visit.
Smith has had his game compared to the following players: Steve Francis, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook. This kid has everything you want in a basketball player and more.
In order for Smith to set fire to the rain in the ACC this season he’ll need someone to control the paint–Smith’s preferred area of the court to penetrate. That man is none other than the six-foot-nine, 300 pound beast BeeJay Anya.
Anya is one of the toughest guards in the conference. Off of sheer girth alone there aren’t many people that can hold their own with NC State’s center. He’s also displayed great touch around the rim with his soft hands and nimble feet.
The trouble for Anya has been twofold; foul trouble and conditioning have often limited his time on the court over the past three years. Last year he reached a career high by playing 23.4 minutes a game, but he also a career high in fouls per game (3.3). The Wolfpack want Anya on the court as often as possible, yet it seems the longer he’s on the court the more prone he is to fouling.
Anya will be stationed primarily in the paint, and Smith is at his most productive when he is in the paint. These styles of play complemented Steve Francis well when he first partnered up with Yao Ming. Anya is no Ming–hell he’s not even a Sofoklis “Baby Shaq” Schortsanitis–but if he can keep defenders preoccupied, then it will open the lane for Smith to do things like this.
Smart defenses will have their defenders shade towards Smith, which, in turn, will leave Anya open for drive and kicks from the freshman point guard. Smith will singlehandedly bring relevance back to basketball in Raleigh, North Carolina. However, any help he can get from Anya and the other capable upperclassmen will go a long way in determining just how deep into March the Wolfpack go this season.