Whether it’s one and done or four and out, the NCAA Tournament can either confirm what we know about players’ college credentials or burnish new ones entirely. It’s the ultimate job fair, but this one doesn’t involve schmoozing or hors d’oeuvres and is televised to millions (hope you wore your best suit, er, sneakers).
This late in the season it’s hard to believe the tourney could be a discovery stage for some prospects, but there are always a handful of small-conferece players who take advantage of having every game televised and do something remarkable, even if just for a game.
These five players took advantage of their time in the tourney, whether brief or the full six games, and came out the other side that much the better as NBA prospects.
Jeff Withey, Kansas: If this was his last collegiate audition before the NBA, it was a good one. Even in a loss he held Kentucky’s Anthony Davis to 1-of-10 shooting. That’s usually the kind of accomplishment that’s followed by a Nobel Prize or saying, “That’s one small step for man…” He’ll have to settle, instead, for rising in the consciousness of NBA GMs (and a theme song about him).
The 6-11 center is expected back by coach Bill Self even after setting the NCAA Tournament blocks record, with 31. The previous record was 29, set by Joakim Noah. Davis was hardly his first test, going against the likes of Ohio State and North Carolina’s front lines, and that consistency against elite big men showed Withey could be more than a serviceable center in the NBA who could challenge the “stiff white guy” stereotype.
With Thomas Robinson earning his deserved publicity for being a unanimous AP All-American, Withey more slowly grew into a big-time role for the Jayhawks, but he was a first priority for any Jayhawk opponent driving the lane. Against Ohio State he had seven blocks and eight rebounds, stifling Jared Sullinger. Against John Henson, Tyler Zeller and North Carolina, he got near his average with three blocks but surprised with 15 points and eight boards. Before he even got to the Buckeyes and Tar Heels, he blocked 10 N.C. State shots, tying a Kansas record.
Royce White, Iowa State: Here’s another case of coming in with a lot of buzz and then matching it by playing well against players projected to be NBA mainstays. White went for 23 points and nine boards in the Cyclones’ loss to Kentucky (where he almost played at but for anxiety issues he’s taken big steps to overcome).
To get to face the Wildcats, White poured in 15 points, 13 boards and two assists against defending national champ Connecticut. The Huskies were known as a team all year whose identity was as hard to figure out as Keyser Soze‘s, but don’t knock the talent on that squad. Andre Drummond, a 6-10, consensus top-five pick in many mock drafts, was barreled over time and again by White. He helped get the Cyclones their third-highest offensive rebounding percentage of the season against UConn while outscoring the Huskies by 14 in the paint.