5 Deep Sleeper Prospects in College Basketball
We scour the mid-major leagues to find some real under-the-radar pro gems that would need to really work their way onto an NBA roster
Development isn’t linear.
We hear it all the time, specifically in terms of NBA players hitting their stride or getting better at sudden points in their careers. The phrase also applies to the college level, where some guys are late-bloomers and wind up at low or mid-major programs. By the end of their time there, due to expert development or simply finding ways to be productive, they can be legitimate professional players.
We see several of those guys currently in the NBA. Javonte Green went to Radford and didn’t make the NBA until he was 26. Now, he’s one of the more valuable role players on a playoff-caliber Chicago Bulls team. Terry Taylor earned an NBA role very quickly out of Austin Peay. Robert Covington grinded his way from Tennessee State to a multi-year starter role on successful NBA teams. Garrison Mathews has carved out speciality shooter minutes for himself, Gabe Vincent from UCSB started eight playoff games a year ago, and IPFW’s Jon Konchar recently linked a contract extension.
There are plenty of others, too: Nathan Knight (William & Mary), Anthony Lamb (Vermont), Torrey Craig (USC Upstate), Chima Moneke (UC Davis), Trevor Hudgins (NW Missouri State), Haywood Highsmith (Wheeling), and Alize Johnson (Missouri State).
One commonality between all these non-traditional college pathway players: they all went undrafted. For many, their mid-major career wasn’t enough to get them into the top-60 on draft night or even a solid two-way contract right away. But someone, somewhere in a scouting department, saw enough to give them a shot to keep playing and earning their way to the NBA.
This piece isn’t dedicated to the draft-worthy prospects or the legitimate mid-majors with top-tier success. We’re looking for the real diamonds in the rough, the guys who someday could come out of nowhere to become NBA players. Based on what we’ve seen this year in limited watches, here are a few low-to-mid major guys who at least have caught our eye to remain on the shortlist of we’d bring in for a workout when they are draft eligible.
Curtis Jones - CG, Buffalo
A 6’5” sophomore guard at Buffalo, Jones has burst onto the scene this year in the MAC and has been one of the more efficient scorers in all of college basketball. His coming-out party was a 32-point performance against St. Bonaventure in a huge win for the Bulls. Jones has been hitting over 60% of his two-pointers and now has four consecutive games with at least 22 scored.
Jones may end up being one of the best mid-major bucket-getters this year when all is said and done. He has an absolutely killer runner game that allows him to consistently score without facing contact at the rim.
The jump shot is more streaky than pure right now, so it will take a season’s worth of shooting sample to really determine his off-ball viability and consistency. But Jones checks the immediate boxes of having size, scoring, creation and respectable shooting form. He’s on the watchlist for long-term draft prospects and should be highly coveted on the transfer portal if he decides to go that path in the future.
Tajion Jones - W, UNC Asheville
These days, shooting is becoming as much of a premium in college basketball as it is in the pros. Really good specialty shooters find their way up to the high-majors, like Baylor Scheierman (South Dakota State to Creighton), making it more unlikely that guys stay on the mid-major levels for multiple years before turning pro.
Shooting specialists for the NBA need to be good on the move, and the more consistent year-after-year production they provide, the safer they will be to invest in. UNC Asheville’s Tajion Jones will graduate after this year and is on track for his fourth consecutive season shooting over 39% from 3. He’s currently hitting 44.9% from deep on 7 attempts a game and has a career true shooting percentage over 58.