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