Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - A week and a half removed from the marathon that has become the three-day NFL Draft extravaganza, we now turn our attention toward the NBA Draft.
The exhaustive NFL Draft, which concluded with Mr. Irrelevant, Louisville tight end Gerald Christian at pick No. 256 in the early evening hours of May 2 was a cornucopia of familiar faces mixed with unknowns (see Denzell Goode of Mars Hill and Edmond Robinson of Newberry), but the NBA Draft is a different beast.
Sure, there's a massive crop of international players who professional football doesn't seek out, nor are they offered up, but for the most part, the popular picks and top prospects aiming for the NBA are young men who have had plenty of face time across the networks, and they've not been obscured by hard-shell helmets.
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last 12 months or so, you should know the Kentucky Wildcats have become the poster child for the one-and- done model in college basketball. Make your mark as quick as possible and meet draft requirements (no longer can you make the jump from high school to the pros) in order to earn that first paycheck.
To be fair, Kentucky has seven players who have made themselves eligible for the draft and only three were freshmen this past season. Center Willie Cauley- Stein, who many believe has a strong shot at becoming the top pick overall, is a junior, while the other three on the list were sophomores. Basketball aficionados will recognize the names of freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyle and Devin Booker, who helped carry the Wildcats to new heights during the regular season. But there are other players across the country who are hoping they showed enough after only a single season in order to follow their dreams.
Again, there are plenty of international players from all over the world who are still teenagers or have barely completed their second decade on this planet, but unless you are a huge roundball junkie who watches Internet feeds from the Baltics and Middle East in the wee hours, you'd be hard-pressed to identify those players in a police lineup (except for the fact some are towering seven-footers).
Of the 48 college players the NBA lists as early entry candidates, 13 are classified as having been freshmen last season. In addition to the Kentucky trio, other notables are Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones from NCAA champion Duke as well as Ohio State standout D'Angelo Russell. Add to that list Arizona's Stanley Johnson, the leading scorer for the Wildcats (13.8 ppg) during one of the most successful seasons in program history, as a potential top-10 selection and the youngest of the youngsters are set to shine in the spotlight when they shake hands with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
The aforementioned players all have good reason to take the next step, having the ability to thrive in the pros after a taste of college life.
Kansas has a couple of big men who are planning on being at the party as well, with Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre Jr. both abandoning their quests for NCAA glory in favor of a major payday. Alexander might be a bit of a stretch having averaged only 7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, but there's something to be said about playing for coach Bill Self with a title contender.
Fellow Jayhawk Oubre Jr. was responsible for 9.2 ppg and 5.0 rpg, but he, too, needs to round out his skills in order to be a sure thing in the NBA.
Going down the list, you'll find UCLA's Kevon Looney, an All-Pac-12 second-team honoree who averaged 11.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per contest. However, when you consider he wasn't even thought to be the MVP of his own team - the honor went to Norman Powell - that might be a sign that this is not his time.
Down in the Lone Star State, the 6-11 Myles Turner has turned the page on his Texas career. During a subpar season, Turner was one of three players to average double-digit scoring (10.1 ppg) and was tops on the glass with 6.5 rpg, but he started just seven games and played barely 22 minutes per contest. Perhaps his decision had something to do with a change in head coaches, Rick Barnes making way for Shaka Smart, but it also could be the fact that you can't teach tall - they simply are.
But Turner also should take into consideration the number of big men who have been high draft picks and became legendary busts (Greg Oden, Jonathan Bender, Robert Swift, Kwame Brown) before becoming the star of his own "Where Are They Now?" specials.
UNLV's Rashad Vaughn is a bit more of a head-scratcher. The youngster didn't even finish the 2014-15 campaign because of a knee injury. The Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year, Vaughn did manage to start all 23 games in which he appeared, posting a team-best 17.8 ppg and clearing 4.8 rpg, but this might be more a case of a player being scared about potential injuries down the line than anything else.
Make no mistake, many of these players will be hearing their named called on draft night, and while nothing is certain, the odds of getting paid to play are much better than hoisting the NCAA championship trophy next April, so the gamble makes sense.