This year’s top small forward prospect pool is the domain of the greybeards, the old men of the court. Of course this only holds true in the bizarro world of sports, since 20 or 21-year-olds are hardly considered old in the real world.
Currently three out of the top five small forward prospects are upperclassman, but by the end of the year a freshman may be at the top of the heap.
1. Earl Clark – Louisville – JR
While the term “combo guard” has entered basketball’s permanent vernacular, Louisville’s Earl Clark is a member of the rarer breed of the “combo forward.” At 6’9” 220lbs, with long arms, Clark is equally adept at facing the hoop playing the three-spot or manning the paint.
A rebounding (8.1rpg) and shot blocking machine (1.7bpg), he’ll be looked upon to improve on the 11.1 points per game he put up last year. Rick Pitino will be hoping that another year of experience under his belt will help Clark with his consistency, as he had an up-and-down sophomore campaign.
He’s definitely going to need a big year down in Louisville to hold off the man ranked right below him in the small forward list.
2. Al-Farouq Aminu – Wake Forest – FR
It may not be long before Al-Farouq Aminu finds his name at the top of this list.
Capable of playing either forward spot, he’s able to use his 6’9” 215lb frame to his advantage, whether that means posting up smaller defenders or blowing by bigger ones. His 7’2” wingspan makes him a menace at the defensive end and on offense he’s great handling the ball, able to get by defenders and explode to the rim.
Wake Forest’s top recruit since some kid named Chris Paul, unfortunately for Demon Deacon fans Aminu is looking like a “one-and-done’r”.
3. Chase Budinger – Arizona – JR
With Jerryd Bayless and Brandon Jennings off playing for pay this upcoming season, Chase Budinger will be the star of the show in Tucson in 08/09.
On the national radar for years now due to his standout success in volleyball and basketball in high school, it comes as a surprise that the Encinitas, Cali native isn’t off in the pro ranks yet too. With a vertical over 40” and the ability to knock down outside shots, Budinger has the package of skills NBA scouts drool over. However, he needs to work on his D, aggressiveness and shot selection if he plans on moving up this year’s draft board.
4. Tyler Smith – Tennessee – JR
A former high school Mr. Basketball in Tennessee, Tyler Smith now is the University of Tennessee’s Mr. Versatility. The man can truly do it all – score (13.6ppg), board (6.7rpg), pass (3.4apg) and defend (1.4spg).
However, this versatility could also be a negative concerning his draft stock, since Smith doesn’t truly excel in any one skill and doesn’t necessarily have the package of skills you’d like to see a NBA small forward to have. If he can become more of a three-point threat and improve on his wing player skills, he should be a solid pro.
5. Austin Daye – Gonzaga – SO
To say the Zags Austin Daye is a little on the thin side is like saying LeBron James is a pretty good basketball player – quite an understatement. Speaking of LeBron, it was at his Skills Academy in Akron this summer that Daye’s basketball life flashed before his eyes, as he was thought to have torn his ACL while there.
Thankfully the injury didn’t end up being as serious as first thought and Daye should be back wreaking havoc on the WCC this season. Standing 6’10” with a large wingspan, Daye is potential personified and only needs to get more consistent, experienced and stronger to become even more of an NBA sure-thing.
Next in line: Damion James, Texas; Omri Casspi, Israel; Sam Young, Pittsburgh; Kyle Singler, Duke; Derrick Brown, Xavier.
Next Column: Top 5 Power Forwards