In one of the more gut wrenching scenes of the year, Darius Washington stepped up to the line with no time left on the clock in the C-USA championship game, and a chance to send Memphis to the tourney. Missing two of three free throws, he collapsed to the ground in agony, eliciting strong reactions from college basketball fans across the nation. However, it wasn't just pity that fans were handing out â it was respect. Washington had just turned in one of the gutsiest performances of the season, almost single-handedly keeping the Tigers in the game down the stretch. He was absolutely fearless going to the basket, and none of Rick Pitino's players could even come close to containing him. Throw out the book that this guy had coming out of high school. He's not selfish, immature, or a 2-guard trapped in a PG's body. Washington is one of the top point guard talents in the country, who plays harder and tougher than everybody. Very few teams will be able to keep him from finding the lane, at any level of play. Look for Darius Washington to find a small bit of redemption in the NIT tourney and show more of that heart that touched the college hoops nation last Saturday.
Antoine Wright, SG, Texas A&M
While the Aggies were unable to overcome some soft scheduling to start the year and make the field of 64, scouts are still going to be watching Antoine Wright this March. At a lanky 6'7, Wright has your prototypical wing body, and loads of athleticism to boot. He really picked up his play down the stretch, when he became one of the deadliest three point shooters in the nation (58% on 44 attempts over his final six games). With the kind of size and explosiveness he has, there isn't much a defender can do once Wright gets the stroke going. While Wright has been content to sit back and pop threes until he starts missing, we would like to see him be a bit more assertive on the offensive end. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor and slash to the basket, but he rarely takes advantage of it. If Antoine Wright can show the scouts a more complete floor game, there is no reason to think that he can't move up into the late lottery. His improvement this year has been very, very impressive.
Ike Diogu, PF, Arizona State
The 6'8 Diogu is probably the household name of this article, but the improvements in his game deserve special mention here. Despite stepping on the floor as a freshman as one of the top big men in the nation, Diogu has managed to add several new wrinkles to his game, and has really taken off in the athleticism department over the past year. Where once he was a bit pudgy and used his size to bull through people on the ground, Diogu now has a lot more bounce in his step. His blocked shots are up, and he is playing a much more above the rim type of game. Diogu has also moved his game outside a bit, and is very comfortable stepping up and hitting the occasional three-pointer. Undersized PF's are a dime a dozen, but NBA GM's have shown over and over again that they aren't afraid to draft the guy that could be the exception to the rule (Brand, Fizer, Sweetney). Diogu plays the game much like Zach Randolph. If a team were to get this vibe, Ike Diogu could move up the draft board very quickly.
G Guillermo Diaz, Miami
A scintillating and yet raw prospect, Diaz's stock seems to move up or down significantly every time he plays. One night he is showing his world-class athleticism, ability to get his shot off from anywhere, and passion for the game. The next, he is forcing the action, displaying a low basketball IQ, and reacting to the bad night with quite a bit of immaturity. Diaz's athletic talents really aren't up for question, and he has the ability to hit high-degree-of-difficulty shots like few other players (much like Allen Iverson or Ben Gordon in this regard). In this way, Diaz oftentimes really forces the issue but looks all the better because of it. As he learns to better utilize his talents within the flow of a team offense and improves his PG skills, he is going to fly up the draft boards. If Miami were to advance in the NIT, Guillermo Diaz could get a chance to show off in front of the scouts against several top point guards, such as John Gilchrist, Jose Juan Barea, or the afore mentioned Darius Washington.
PF Jeff Green, Georgetown
While Jeff Green's day in the draft limelight is probably still several years away, he has been one of the biggest surprises in this year's freshman class, and looks to have a very bright future ahead of him. Though Green is a bit undersized for a PF (somewhere between 6'8 and 6'9, probably), he has a very nice feel for the game on both ends of the floor. He uses his muscular and wide-shouldered frame very well on the blocks, and is a great anticipator when it comes to shot blocking. On the offensive end, Green is a superb passer and has a very nice feel for the game on the perimeter. His post offense is there, though he is still learning how to score on bigger players. Overall, he has a very intriguing skill package that should land him in the league someday.
PG John Gilchrist, Maryland
There probably hasn't been a player who has seen his stock fall faster than John Gilchrist of Maryland. After a simply dominant March a season ago, many pundits were ready to call him one of the top PG's in America. That never materialized, however, as Gilchrist has bumped heads with Gary Williams and simply hasn't produced on a consistent basis. The Terps failed to make the tourney, and a lot of it has to do with Gilchrist's up and down play. Many nights it seems like he just isn't there mentally. Furthermore, it's a bit hard to see what kind of a PG Gilchrist projects as at the next level. He has nice size and decent athletic tools, but he doesn't stand out in one particular area. Watching him this season, one could say that a lot of the plays he makes at the college level might not be there for him in the league. Nonetheless, Gilchrist has shown an ability to take over games like few other players in college basketball at the moment, and a nice stretch of games is all it would take to get draft types back in his corner. The NIT would be a great starting point.
PG Sammy Mejia, DePaul
Although the Blue Demons have to be heartbroken at just missing out on the NCAA tourney, the fine play of PG Sammy Mejia gives the program a lot of hope for the future. Mejia ended a very inconsistent regular season with 3 consecutive solid games, and was featured in our Top Performers article a week ago. Mejia is a tall, lanky PG type in the mold of a Penny Hardaway. What he gains in size he doesn't give away in athleticism, and with his long arms, he has the potential to be quite the defender on the next level. Mejia needs to show a bit more consistency before he thinks about the draft, however, and DePaul's first round matchup against Missouri will be a good test. The Tigers are a defensive-minded team, with the types of hard-nosed guards that could give Mejia some trouble. The game is scheduled for Wednesday night on national television, and also features NBA prospect Linas Kleiza. It should be a good opportunity to look at several young prospects that will have a chance to jump in 2006.
PG Jose Juan Barea, Northeastern
Jose Juan Barea had a chance to impress the scouts in the America East tourney championship game last weekend, but delivered a cheap shot at a Vermont player less than a minute into the game, before injuring his ankle early in the 2nd half. It certainly wasn't the performance that Barea had hoped for, but his Northeastern squad did manage to make it to the NIT. They have drawn a very tough Memphis team in the first round, but assuming he is healthy, Barea will have a chance to show what he can do against a top flight PG talent in Darius Washington. The real issue with Barea's game is his size. He is generously listed at 6'0, and while he has a beautiful handle and lightning quick first step, he is going to enter the league at a very serious disadvantage physically. At the college level, he is an offensive machine, able to create his own shot from anywhere, and snake his way to the basket at will. While Jose Juan Barea has the option to start his career overseas thanks to a Spanish passport if he is truly done with college after this season, a deep NIT run will keep the scouts interested. (Note: freshman shot blocker extraordinaire Shawn James plays with Barea on Northeastern, and is a player to watch for the future)
Turner Battle, PG, Buffalo
Turner Battle is a very intriguing prospect who is probably going to get slept on a bit because he plays in the MAC and doesn't really stand out in any one area too much. He is just solid all around, and easily the best player in his conference. He's very smart both on and off the court, showing the ability to make good decisions and posting a 4.0 grade point average in his senior year. He's probably one of the few players in this draft to be named both conference player of the year as well as being named to the Academic All-conference team. His NCAA career came to a somewhat disappointing finish last weekend, as his team blew a 19 point lead and lost on a last second shot in overtime off an offensive rebound by Ohio freshman Leon Williams. On selection Sunday they were further punished when the committee decided against giving them one of the final seeds. Battle now has his work cut out for himself to make it to the NBA, starting here in the NIT's and continuing in Portsmouth. He's a decent athlete with good size for the point and definitely knows how to run a team and make good decisions, which you can see in his assist to turnover ratio (2.4/1). His jump shot, while much improved this year, still isn't good enough just yet, and you could probably say the same about his defense when talking about him guarding NBA PG's. He is a very good leader, has a high basketball IQ and lots of intangibles that may eventually get him an extended look. You can only wonder what kind of player he would be if he had some better talent around him, because he is clearly a pass-first type guy, and doesn't look like the type of guy that really wants to carry a lot of the scoring load. He's always the focal point of opposing defenses, though. Battle's chances of being drafted aren't super high, but he has a lot of other things he can fall back on apparently, as he's already started working on a Masters degree.
PF DJ White, Indiana
While other highly regarded members of the high school class of 2004 jumped straight to the NBA, DJ White was forced to head to college as he doesn't quite have the prototype NBA size that teams are looking for. However, he came away officially listed at 6'9 by Indiana and it didn't take long for White to make a good impression. He outplayed North Carolina star Sean May in just his third NCAA game, really bothering the bulky big man with his length and athleticism in the paint. White approaches the game like many Big Ten post players, in that he relishes physical contact and is downright fearless in the post. White is very tough to contain around the basket, and has some very impressive one-on-one defensive instincts. He averaged 2+ blocks per game as a freshman, and many were on the man he was guarding at the time, rather than of the weak side help variety. One of the things he does need work on is his rebounding, as the Hoosiers are very poor on the glass and White still couldn't average 5 boards per contest. DJ White is peaking here at the end of his freshman season, so a big NIT tournament is expected. Heading into next season, it wouldn't be a shock to see White develop into the Big Ten's best all around post player. He has all the physical tools and the right mentality.