March is over–isn’t that hard to believe? Not many people would have guessed that the University of Connecticut would be the team ripping down the nets when all was said and done. I mean, I had them losing in the second round to St. Joe’s–but they kept coming back and proving why we should never doubt a program as prestigious as UConn in the tournament.
Over the course of the tournament, there was a certain group of players that made statements about their draft position, making it clear why they deserve to be high picks in the 2014 NBA Draft. No Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins, who bowed out early in the tournament with unimpressive performances. This is a group of players that took advantage of the bright lights and enormous stage of the NCAA tournament. These are the players that showed the grit and hustle and proved why the world deserves to know their names.
Players like Cleanthony Early, Shabazz Napier and Elfrid Payton were catapulted onto the national stage by tearing apart the tournament. Early and Payton are from mid-major conferences, which proves how much uncovered talent there is outside of the powerhouse schools. It doesn’t matter who you play, if you have the talent and determination to win, anything is possible. That was never more evident than Shabazz Napier leading his UConn squad to a national championship–something that only insane UConn fans could’ve imagined before the tournament began.
Here are eight players who raised their NBA Draft stock during the NCAA tournament.
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Before the NCAA tournament, Cleanthony Early wasn’t known by many besides hardcore hoops fans and wasn’t on the radar of most mock drafts. The Wichita State Shockers only appeared in two games in the tournament after an undefeated regular season that garnered a lot of attention, but that was enough for Cleanthony Early to shoot up draft boards. After not helping his stock much in the regular season with a schedule full of mid-major opponents (16.4 points and 5.9 rebounds), the tournament set a fire in Early’s eyes.
Early went off for 23 points and seven boards on 9-of-15 shooting from the field and 3-of-8 from deep in an opening-round victory against Cal Poly. The Shockers would move on to face Kentucky and everyone knows the outcome of that game. Even though the Shockers were shocked by Kentucky, Cleanthony Early give the world a performance that would have NBA fans around the world screaming his name.
Against a very physical and brute Kentucky team, Early went off for 31 points and seven rebounds. Early shot 12-of-17 from the floor, which is a remarkable 71 percent. This includes hitting 4-of-6 shots from deep for 67 percent and 3-of-3 from the foul line. Cleanthony Early gave fans and NBA GMs a performance to remember and a reason to hear his name called early in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Draft Range: 20-30
If you watched James Young play at Kentucky this season, he embodies the stigma of a freshman to the highest degree. He’s always rocking a crazy new hairstyle and he has this sort of flamboyance about him that only Swaggy P could admire. Saw what you want about him, but James Young can ball. Like the rest of his freshmen squad, Young had a lot to prove in the NCAA tournament. His regular season was mildly successful, scoring 14.3 points and grabbing 4.3 rebounds per game. However, only shooting 41 percent from the floor, 35 percent from deep and 70 percent from the line was a concern. A lot of recognition for Kentucky’s run to the title game was given to the Harrison twins. While Aaron Harrison made the necessary clutch threes, James Young’s scoring was a huge reason why Kentucky was in a position to win those games.
James Young averaged 12.1 points and 5.0 boards in the tournament, shooting 43 percent from the floor and 43 percent from deep. His improved shooting from deep was something fans had been waiting for. The 6-6 guard shot 3-of-5 from deep in the third round against Wichita State and 3-of-4 in the Elite 8 vs. Michigan.
Perhaps the most striking part about James Young’s performance in the tournament was his increased play as the stakes were raised. In the Final Four against Wisconsin (a one-point victory for UK), Young scored 17 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished two assists, while also picking up two steals. Young hit 5-of-11 from the floor, 1-of-2 from deep and 6-of-7 from the charity stripe. In the National Championship Game, Young scored 20 points on 5-of-13 shooting (making two shots from deep) and hit eight of nine free throws.
The aptness to perform bigger as the stage gets bigger and the lights get brighter is something that can’t be taught. When the microscope was beamed on Young and his Wildcats, they performed. With his size and shooting ability, Young already has a lot of things NBA GMs are looking for. Hitting 43 percent of his attempts from deep in the tournament is another reason his stock increased. James Young had a lot to prove in the NCAA tournament after his team barely made it into the tournament field, and he proved quite a few things to a lot of people. That’s a reason his name will be called early on draft night.
Draft Range: 13-20