Big Fish, Small Pond
Small college players make an impact too.
In the world of basketball, bigger is always better. This is a world where the average player comes in at 6-6, and six-footers are the Oompa Loompas of the land. But bigger being better doesn’t just mean bigger in physical size. In the NCAA, this also applies to the conferences in which teams compete. The power conferences (BCS) of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC rule the roost in college ball, both in terms of winning championships and recruiting the best players.
All the talk about parity in college basketball is nothing more than that—talk. The stats don’t lie. The last 18 NCAA titles have been won by a BCS team (the last non-BCS team to win the title was the LJ-led UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in 1990). As for recruiting talent, in 2008, only 19 of the Top 150 Rivals seniors committed to a non-BCS school. So while non-BCS schools and conferences can protest the label of “mid-major” placed upon them and claim that they are elite programs and conferences, not many of them have the evidence to back those claims up.
That being said, while the odds are against them, “small” college players do make an impact in the NBA Draft and, subsequently, in the NBA. In the first installment of Draft 365’s mock draft, three non-BCS players crack the first round—Davidson’s Stephen Curry, Saint Mary’s Patrick Mills and VCU’s Eric Maynor. Curry is truly the trendsetter amongst these three, as Davidson College, and the Southern Conference in which it competes, is not exactly a breeding ground for NBA talent. The last Wildcats’ player to play in the NBA was Brandon Williams (whoever remembers him gets a gold star), who played 18 games in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And the only current NBA players from Southern Conference teams are Kevin Martin and Anthony Johnson.
While this year doesn’t appear to be a banner year for small school draft prospects, the past five seasons have seen a bumper crop of non-BCS players crashing the NBA. In fact, if you filled a NBA roster with only these guys you’d have a pretty competitive team. Behold:
Derrick Rose — Memphis ‘08
Memphis, along with Gonzaga and Xavier, is one of the few non-BCS teams that can consistently hang with the big boys. Nonetheless, they do compete in Conference USA, which isn’t one of the top conferences around. Rose hasn’t missed a beat since leaving Memphis and currently has his hometown Bulls on track for a Playoff berth.
Kevin Martin — Western Carolina ‘04
Martin quietly put up 23 points a game during his three-year collegiate career at lowly Western Carolina. Same story in the NBA—Martin is quietly going off for about 20 points a game for lowly Sacramento.
Danny Granger — New Mexico ‘05
Granger had a very solid NCAA career, playing his first two seasons at Bradley before finishing up with New Mexico. He’s really stepped things up in the NBA though, posting much better numbers than in college or that were expected out of him on draft night.
Paul Millsap — Louisiana Tech ‘06
You would guess Millsap to be the best player Louisiana Tech has ever produced. Alas, this was where the Mailman made his deliveries in college, not to mention P.J. Brown. Still, Millsap’s standout play this season has made all the talk of Carlos Boozer opting out of his contract a lot less scary for Jazz fans.
Andrew Bogut — Utah ‘05
Andrew Bogut is the latest in a long line of solid players to enter the League out of Utah (Tom Chambers, Keith Van Horn, Andre Miller). On top of that, he is the best player his homeland has ever produced.
Rodney Stuckey — Eastern Washington ‘07
Ramon Sessions — Nevada ‘07
Jameer Nelson — Saint Joseph’s ‘04
Delonte West — Saint Joseph’s ‘04
Jeff Fox also writes about college hoops and the NBA draft at collegehoopsnet.com.