Stephen Curryby Jeff Fox

Basketball is a game for the kids. If you aren’t a household name among the hoops-heads by the time you hit your early teens–like LeBron and O.J.–your chances of stardom are diminished. If you haven’t made it big by your early 20s, your best case option would be hanging up the high-tops and writing a draft column for SLAMonline (not naming any names of course).

NBA draft prospects are the opposite of wine–they don’t get better with age. If a prospect lasts more than a season in college, they are often considered damaged goods – nothing more than a potential average NBA pro. So what are we to make of all the NCAA upperclassmen who are rated highly for the 2009 NBA Draft? There are over 20 upperclassman prospects listed as potential first round picks on various mock drafts on the web, including eight listed as potential lottery picks. These are much larger numbers than the past few years. Last season, three upperclassmen crashed the lottery and eight went in the first round. The year before those numbers were six and 14 respectively.

So what is causing this increase in old men playing NCAA basketball? The main two reasons are that several prospects decided against declaring for last year’s deep draft to take their chances in this year’s weaker one and the fact that several players–especially North Carolina’s big three–are making winning an NCAA title their top priority.

Here are a few of the creepy old men that will be hanging out at the kids’ party in the NBA draft green room next June.

Hasheem Thabeet — Connecticut — Junior

The big Tanzanian appears to be a lock to go in the Top 10, and he might not even make it past pick number five. At the very least he will be a solid NBA defender; however, considering he has only been playing organized basketball for about seven years, his potential–like his head–is sky-high.

Earl Clark — Louisville — Junior

Potential is also the name of the game for combo forward Earl Clark. Another junior who appears to be destined to be a Top 10 pick, Clark has a body and skill set NBA scouts drool over. He’s 6-9, crashes the boards and blocks shots and can also play Gerald Hendersonout on the wing and knock down the three-ball.

Gerald Henderson — Duke — Junior

Big things are expected this year out of the man best known for bloodying up Tyler Hansbrough. A hyper-athletic wingman, Gerald Henderson’s play this season will not only determine how far Duke advances next March but also whether or not he will be a late first round pick or a lottery pick in next June’s draft.

Chase Budinger — Arizona — Junior

Coming out of high school, if you predicted Chase Budinger would still be in college come 2008-09, people would have looked at you strange. Possessing an NBA-level outside shot and above-NBA-level hops, Budinger was one of those household name guys back in his early teens. Despite an up-and-down NCAA career, he should still be a mid-first round pick next June.

Stephen Curry — Davidson — Junior

Along with Tyler Hansbrough, Stephen Curry is the face of NCAA hoops, despite the fact that his face looks like he is barely in high school, let alone a college upperclassman. Whether or not he can make a successful transition to a full-time point guard this season will determine if he goes top-10 or late first round.

Next in line:

Ty Lawson, North Carolina; Darren Collison, UCLA; Jordan Hill, Arizona; Damion James, Texas; Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina.

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Introducing…

A new, regular feature to the Draft 365 space, Introducing… brings you the goods on off-the-radar NBA prospects worthy of being a blip on your GPS.

Greivis Vasquez — Maryland — Junior

The fact that Maryland point guard Greivis Vasquez isn’t a more well known baller is Greivis Vasqueza bit of a mystery. It’s not like the guy is hiding in some hoops backwater – he plays in the ACC, one of the country’s best conferences. And the numbers he put up last season in the ACC were mind-boggling – 17.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg and 6.8 apg.

Checking in at 6-6 he has above-average NBA length for a point guard, and, as his stats show, he is also an above average rebounder and passer for his position. He’ll need to drastically improve his shot selection and accuracy (43 fgp) and learn to take care of the ball (5.7 TO) to ensure he gets drafted in the first round.

Jeff Fox also writes about college hoops and the NBA draft at www.collegehoopsnet.com.