As the calendar turns to February, basketball emerges to the forefront of the sports world. A great college basketball season is underway, but there are some fresh players that casual fans may not be privy to. As is the norm, some of the best new faces in the NCAA this year will be some of the best new faces in the NBA next year. Freshmen guards Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Markelle Fultz have garnered a lot of attention, but some players have flown under the radar. Here is a look at a few players who have had a major impact on this college basketball season and figure to have prospective NBA careers.
Lauri Markkanen – Arizona
The freshman from Finland has drawn comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki, and for good reason. Markkanen, close to 7 feet tall, shoots over 50% both from the field and from 3-point land. While he does not have some of the footwork and moves of the legendary Nowitzki, he is much stronger for his age and is not afraid to bang down low for rebounds. Markkanen is the Wildcats leading scorer and will be a key matchup problem for opponents as Arizona tries to reach the Final Four.
Jo Lual-Acuil – Baylor
Lual-Acuil, a junior college transfer, has been a huge surprise in his first year at Baylor, and a main reason for the Bears’ meteoric ascent in the national rankings. The 7-footer has been the anchor to Scott Drew’s zone defense, but has flashed offensive aptitude as well. His offensive skill set is still limited, but he has shown a nice ability to finish around the rim. Lual-Acuil’s shot-blocking and smooth touch should set him up for a fine NBA career.
Jayson Tatum – Duke
It is difficult to imagine a Duke player flying under the radar, but with all the hoopla surrounding Grayson Allen and Coach K, Tatum’s tailor-made NBA game has seemingly gone unnoticed. Tatum, a true wing, stands 6’8″ and has a solid body for someone who is not yet 19 years old. Tatum has all the moves on offense; able to dribble to any spot, shoot from anywhere, and keep balance with great footwork. He started the season injured, simmering some of the hype that tailed him from his prep exploits. Duke has struggled, mostly due to injuries, and Tatum has had to play out of position and fill in at the power forward spot. If Duke can reach full health and put Tatum in positions to succeed, he can be an integral contributor to a team that wants to cut down the nets.
Justin Patton – Creighton
Patton is a redshirt freshman who has been critical in Creighton’s re-emergence. He is quite an athlete for someone approaching 7 feet tall, having no trouble moving at a quicker pace. Patton is a skilled scorer who boasts a field goal percentage presently over 70%. He has shown an aptitude for blocking shots on defense, but needs to get stronger physically before he makes it to the NBA.