Darkhorse All-American Candidates
The college basketball world got Blue Ribbon’s list of preseason All-Americans yesterday, and there was little to complain about on the list. That being said, preseason lists never fully predict what happens in the year that follows.
Part of the reason is that players always get better in the offseason, and we can’t see that.
Kelly Olynyk came out of nowhere to become a consensus first-teamer in 2013, Thomas Robinson went from impact bench player to All-American between the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, and Draymond Green became an All-American in 2012 after four years of steady improvement.
With those guys in mind, this is a list of dark horse candidates to be All-Americans in 2014-15. I’m not talking about guys who just missed the pre-season list but are known to be solid candidates, like Aaron Harrison and Caris Lavert, or the impact freshman like Tyus Jones and Karl Towns.
These are candidates to break through as All-Americans by making a big, but definitely plausible, leap as players.
With Aaron Gordon becoming a top 5 draft pick and Marcus Lee breaking out in the NCAA Tournament, Jabari Bird has become the forgotten man in the remarkable 2013 class of three McDonald’s All-Americans from the Bay Area. That will change this year.
After a hot start to the season that included 24 points against Oakland and 17 and 7 against Syrcause, injuries derailed Bird’s freshman campaign.
While he only missed 4 games, he struggled greatly for a long time after returning. He got hot in the NIT however, putting up 19 and then 20 on combined 15-21 shooting in Cal’s last two games.
With Justin Cobbs gone, Cal will need a new primary scorer. David Kravish and Tyrone Wallace are still there to help, but Bird is the most talented player on the roster.
If he stays healthy all year, Bird could certainly live up to the plaudits he had out of high school and the promise he showed at the beginning and end of last season.
A lot of his inclusion here has to do with how Meeks has changed his body in the offseason. Meeks has apparently about lost 50 pounds, and as you can see from this post on his Instagram, it has paid off in increased athleticism.
His per-minute numbers last year were star quality, averaging 8 and 6 on 55% shooting in just 16 minutes per game. He had great performances against high-quality opponents as well, with a 13 and 12 against Louisville that was more dominant than those numbers indicate, and a 15 and 13 that nearly kept Carolina alive in their season-ending loss to Iowa State.
His conditioning issues, as well as his poor free-throw shooting, made it hard for Roy Williams to keep him on the court for any longer than 16 minutes a game last season.
If he is in as good or better shape in the winter as he seems to be this summer, then it may be him, and not Marcus Paige, who represents Carolina on an All-American team at the end of the season.
This is the guy on the list most likely to break out and become an All-American. UCLA lost the vast majority of their scoring to graduation or the NBA, but Powell was the third leading scorer on their Sweet 16 team last year with 11.4 PPG
He was one of the most improved players in the conference, nearly doubling his scoring average while also shooting an ultra-efficient 53% from the field and guarding the other team’s best player almost every night.
For Powell to be an All-American candidate, it is likely as simple as embracing an increased role and returning to the three-point shooting form of his freshman season. He has shot 29% from three the last two seasons, but hit at a 35% clip during his first year in Westwood.
Powell is a fierce competitor, and great at using his defensive tenacity to get his offensive game going. He has a tremendous opportunity to help UCLA flip the script on what appears to be a rebuilding year, and make himself a household name in the process.