You know what’s the best thing about NCAA sophomores? They’re not freshmen. Not that two-year players are significantly less likely to be NBA Draft busts than one-and-done guys — ask Cedric Simmons, Pat O’Bryant and Chris Taft about that — but for a lot of the players who do get that extra year in the weight room and of game experience, it can pay huge dividends once they hit the pros.
Look at some of the sophomores drafted in recent years and consider how quickly they became impact players in the League: Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Andrew Bogut, Russell Westbrook, Rodney Stuckey, Brook Lopez, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jonny Flynn and DeJuan Blair, to name a few. Not to mention Blake Griffin was drafted after his sophomore year, and if the NBA preseason is any indication, was on his way to a big rookie year before he got injured.
The 2010 Draft is big on freshmen, but there’s also a solid crop of sophomores on the board. Here are the top eight:
1. Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest
A safe bet to go in the Top 5, Aminu is in the mold of hybrid forwards like Josh Smith and Gerald Wallace. Get him on a team that likes to run, and he’ll put up numbers on athleticism alone before he even learns how to play the NBA game.
2. Greg Monroe, Georgetown
If you watched any G’town game over the last two years, you heard announcers fawning over Monroe’s ball-handling, passing and basketball IQ for a big man. As is, he could be another Lamar Odom or Jeff Green. But if he taps into his aggressive side more often, Monroe could be a go-to power forward.
3. Gordon Hayward, Butler
The seemingly shy kid with an assassin’s heart who took his small Indiana college to the NCAA title game surprisingly hasn’t been saddled with a lot of Larry Bird comparisons. Yet. Just wait and see what happens if Hayward gets picked by Larry Legend and the Pacers.
4. Ed Davis, North Carolina
A lot of the media hype surrounding Davis faded due to injuries and UNC’s poor record, but he’s still got the attention of pro scouts. A 6-9 lefty with a wingspan that makes him closer to a 7-footer, he’s almost a blank slate of potential with athleticism to burn.
5. Jordan Crawford, Xavier
Other than Hayward and some lucky gambling addicts, nobody made themselves more money during the NCAA Tournament than Crawford. The former Indiana transfer led the A-10 in scoring, then dropped 29 ppg in the Big Dance against Minnesota, Pitt and K-State.
6. Paul George, Fresno State
Impressive athlete who is something of a junior version of Richard Jefferson. Only he’s getting better, not worse.
7. Elliot Williams, Memphis
He’s a little bit too in love with his left hand (pause), but Williams is nonetheless an explosive scoring two-guard who carried Memphis’ offense.
8. Devin Ebanks, West Virginia
A projected Lottery pick once upon a time, Ebanks hasn’t produced up to his potential at WVU. But at 6-9 with his skill set and potential, he won’t sit around for long on Draft night.
Honorable Mention: Luke Babbitt (Nevada), Solomon Alabi (Florida State), Willie Warren (Oklahoma)