Coming into this weekend even the most hardcore of college basketball fans might not have known the names C.J. McCollum, Darius Theus, D.J. Cooper, and Kyle O’Quinn. However all four of those prospects led their teams to upset wins, and here is a look at how it happened and who could be the next batch of under recruited and underappreciated prospects to make an impact on college basketball’s biggest stage.
Chicago is one of the most heavily recruited cities in the country for basketball, but Cooper still managed to fly under the radar. At 5-foot-10 and skinny, Cooper had some big scoring games and also showed off potential. However Cooper could be very inconsistent during his high school years. That combined with his lack of great size scared a lot of big schools off.
In the end Cooper’s decision came down to Kent State and Ohio University. It was a heated recruiting battle between the two Mid-American Conference schools, and Ohio won out. The only high-major school to really go after Cooper was Baylor, but they did as an insurance policy, and Cooper seemingly always wanted to stay closer to his hometown, so they probably wouldn’t have been there at the end of the day.
Obviously Cooper has proven to be one of the best point guards in his class, and now has three NCAA Tournament wins under his belt and could go down as the best player in Ohio history not named Gary Trent.
Much in the same way Cooper ended up at Ohio, C.J. McCollum ended up at Lehigh. The kid who torched the highly touted Duke backcourt to the tune of 30 points was always putting up points in high school. However with McCollum he was the classic late bloomer.
When McCollum was playing on the 17-and under circuit with the King James Shooting Stars he was only about 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds. Also he was a streaky scorer who could go for 30 or three depending on the game. Still McCollum steadily began to get better and better after picking Lehigh.
McCollum, who is an excellent student, chose Lehigh over Bowling Green after the schools in his backyard, Akron, Kent State, and Cleveland State, barely showed interest. As a senior in high school he was named Gaterade Player of the Year in Ohio, and grew to about 6-feet tall, and then once at Lehigh grew another two to three inches and transformed his game with added size and strength.
A late bloomer, schools never completely caught on, and Lehigh was on him from the beginning and ended up with one of the absolute steals of the 2009 class.
Theus is an even more interesting story. While McCollum and Cooper were known commodities playing for high profile Nike sponsored AAU programs, Theus was under the radar completely. He played on the “B team” for the Boo Williams Summer League. This meant Theus was playing in back gyms and was mostly under the radar. With that VCU did their homework, saw him and locked down his commitment following an excellent senior season.
Now Theus is one of the top defensive guards in the country and has proven to be one of the best players on a team that has now won six NCAA Tournament games in the last two years.
Finally there is the case of O’Quinn. Now how a 6-foot-9 player with some skill gets completely ignored is hard to fathom, but occasionally it will happen. O’Quinn barely played any AAU basketball, and also was only a contributor on his high school team as a senior.
Without the exposure that comes from AAU, O’Quinn was hidden and Norfolk State did their homework landing him. The Spartans were his only offer, and he has since blossomed now that he has learned how to play.
What this proves is no matter what, coaches and evaluators will make mistakes. Some players such as O’Quinn burst on the scene late, some grow and mature when they get to college like McCollum, and quite simply some are undervalued like Cooper.
Now the question is in the 2012 class who are some players that could prove to be March heroes that seemingly come out of nowhere.
The first player that comes to mind is Wichita State signee Fred Van Vleet from Rockford, Illinois. Van Vleet isn't the quickest player and he might not be the biggest, but he always wins. His AAU team won, his high school team wins, and now Van Vleet is going to a program that wins and needs a point guard. Don’t be shocked in a few years if Van Vleet is a darling of March with his basketball IQ and pension for hitting big shots.
Another player worth noting is Nick Osborne out of Muncie, Indiana who is headed to Loyola-Illinois. The 6-foot-7 Osborne was passed up by nearly all the big boys in the Midwest and landed in the Horizon League, but he can play. Osborne has solid athleticism, a nice shooting touch, and definite strength down low. Combined with a good feel for the game, if the Ramblers can get in the dance don’t be surprised if Osborne becomes a household name.
Finally form the Ivy League there is Justin Sears from Plainfield, New Jersey. Right now Harvard is getting all of the attention for their recruiting, but the Yale Bulldogs have a gem in Sears. If Sears were uncommitted right now there is a good chance some Big East schools would be taking a serious look at him. He is 6-foot-7, has long arms, is a good shot blocker, and is a big time athlete.
Sears won’t see many athletes like him in the Ivy League, and if Yale is able to make a run, he will be a big reason why, and many people will be wondering how he got away from all of the big boys on the East Coast.