The 7 College Basketball Players You Can’t Miss This Year

  • Jahlil Okafor

    It’d be unwise to start with anyone other than the likely No. 1 pick in next year’s draft. College basketball has gone a couple years without having a truly dominant big man strut his stuff, and if Okafor’s early impressions are any indication, that trend is coming to a screeching halt this season.

    Okafor stepped on Duke’s campus with a package of skills well beyond his years. He’s an absolute beast in the post, using crisp touch and a soft set of hands to great effect. There are few, if any players at the college level that will be able to deal with his size, and if you thought Julius Randle drew a lot of double teams last season, wait until you see the bodies thrown at Okafor. When he’s not dominating by scoring, he’ll be hitting guys like Justise Winslow for open shots and dunks. The NCAA isn’t ready for this.

    1 of 7
  • Frank Kaminsky

    Physically, Kaminsky may not be the most imposing seven-footer in the world, but his unique skill-set makes him a chore to deal with at any level of competition. This former high school point guard has retained a lot of abilities from his days as a little man, and it’s a major reason why he’s expected to dominate during his senior season.

    Kaminsky has made the most of his college experience, transforming from a bench player during his first two years in school to a legitimate NBA prospect. His ability to shoot the three – 37.8 percent on 2.6 attempts per last season – bends defenses and opens up the floor for everyone. After a sensational NCAA tournament last March, Kaminsky appears poised for an epic final season in Madison.

    2 of 7
  • Montrezl Harrell

    Harrell’s name is seemingly in the discussion for the draft lottery each season, but staying in school has been hugely beneficial. The Louisville forward has always been known for his highlight reel athleticism, but it’s the development of his jump shot that should have people running to their televisions.

    In his season debut against Minnesota, all Harrell did was score 30 points on just 12 shots, knocking down 75 percent of his threes on the evening. His strength and athleticism were enough to make him must-see TV, but if the shooting isn’t an aberration, he’ll be virtually unguardable.

    3 of 7
  • Marcus Paige

    Paige was something of a one-man show for the Tar Heels last season, compensating for a lacking supporting cast almost single-handedly. Roy Williams’ best teams have always been predicated on guard play – Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton to name a couple – and this year’s UNC squad is no exception.

    A new batch of recruits will strengthen the support around Paige, which makes his job as a point guard much easier. Though he made SportsCenter by scoring early and often last season, he’ll remain a fixture in highlight packages by scoring and setting up his buddies. He has as much responsibility as anyone in the country, and he’s well prepared for his moment.

    4 of 7
  • Stanley Johnson

    Can I interest you in a dunk or 10? Arizona’s fab freshman is going to follow in the footsteps of last year’s top prospect Aaron Gordon and assault rims for the Wildcats.

    At the ripe age of 18, Johnson already looks physically ready to jump straight to the pros. His advanced physical tools are a perfect match with his game – he absolutely adores contact, barreling into the lane with reckless abandon every chance he gets. Look for him to put a few guys on posters before it’s all said and done.

    5 of 7
  • Karl-Anthony Towns

    The yin to Jahlil Okafor’s yang, Towns is just as likely to pull up from three as he is to take you into the torture chamber in the post. You simply don’t see many players that are as big as he is – wingspan over 7-3! – with an arsenal like his.

    Towns will hope to be the latest in a continuous line of Kentucky bigs who use the guiding hand of John Calipari to their advantage. Coach Cal has had the fortune of working with players like Julius Randle, DeMarcus Cousins, and Anthony Davis, and by all accounts Towns is of that caliber and ready to tear it up for the Wildcats.

    6 of 7
  • Delon Wright

    Wright may be one of the best kept secrets in college basketball, despite being the younger brother of NBA veteran Dorell Wright and one of the top performers in college basketball last season. Missing out on the NCAA Tournament last year is partly to blame, but you’re doing a disservice to yourself if you don’t catch Wright in action this season.

    Utah’s postseason snub wasn’t any fault of Wright’s. He was the impetus for everything the Utes did, scoring almost 16 points a game while dishing out 5.3 assists and grabbing 5.1 rebounds. Making a seemingly impossible 62 percent of his shots from inside the arc, Wright was ruthlessly efficient despite not possessing the long-range skills of his big brother. He’ll be in the race for Player of the Year, and his brand of all-around brilliance is something any basketball fan can appreciate.

    7 of 7
  • Jahlil Okafor
  • Montrezl Harrell
  • Stanley Johnson

The best players in college basketball have transformed the game from one of traditions to one of blinding flashes. Top storylines were previously built by players who spent three or four years in college, brewing hatred with opposing fanbases either out of bitterness or a begrudging respect. These days, the NBA’s one-and-done rule has changed that dynamic, with each year’s new crop of dynamos dominating headlines alongside more seasoned stars.

The NCAA is better for that change. With the possibility to jump straight to the league eliminated, players who previously never would have stepped foot on a campus are throwing down thunderous dunks and leading teams on deep tournament runs. The careers of these shooting stars may not last as long, but it’s a blessing to have them in the game at all. It benefits fans of all types to have a contrast of players who peak in their college days with rawer players that are just waiting to blossom.

After dealing with an insanely hyped incoming class last season, NCAA fans are getting another talented group this year, minus a few bells and whistles. There are plenty of returning studs that went deep into last year’s tournament as well, setting the stage for what could be one of the most fun seasons in recent memory.

Not all talent is created equal, of course, so you’re going to have to pick and choose what you watch until you can overload in March. We have a list of the guys you need to keep an eye on, and you’ll thank us later for making sure you were prepared. These are The 7 College Basketball Players You Can’t Miss This Year.

Follow Kyle on Twitter at @kyleneubeck

image via Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images