Perennial national championship contenders still have somewhat of a monopoly on getting players from high school to the draft, however the smaller schools have made strides in recent history and there are plenty of examples of stars in the league that came from mid majors such as Stephen Curry (Davidson), Damian Lillard (Weber State), CJ Mccollum (Lehigh), Kawhi Leonard (San Diego State), and Paul George (Fresno State). Ja Morant is the most likely candidate to join that list coming out of Murray State and being handed the keys to the Memphis offense in his rookie season, which is pretty remarkable when you consider that before last season began most basketball fans had never watched the point guard play. There does not seem to be a player that will challenge for a top five selection from a mid major like Morant ended up doing, however there are definitely prospects that will have the opportunity to be drafted. Here are some names to keep an eye out for as we get closer to the start of the 2019-2020 college season. At this point we do not consider teams like Gonzaga and Memphis to be a mid major program even though they are not in a major conference considering they recruit at a level that is on par with many of the power conference members.
Antoine Davis (Detroit Mercy)
2018-2019 Stats: 26.1 ppg/3.1 rpg/3.6 apg/40 FG%/38 3PT%/85.7 FT%
Davis is the son of coach Mike Davis, and he somewhat quietly had one of the best seasons in all of college basketball last season. All he did as a freshman was break the single season record for most three pointers made, previously held by Stephen Curry. Primarily creating shots off of the dribble, he can use his strong ball handling skills to get separation to go with a step back that is very useful as well. Once he gets separation a quick release allows him to shot over bigger defenders which was the common defensive move employed to try and stop him last year. His size at just 6’1″ and his thin frame at 170 pounds are some of the major deterrents to his professional potential, but many players have been able to score in the league at a similar height so he just needs to add some weight. Shooting is at an all time high as far as importance in the NBA so it is somewhat surprising that he has not picked up more attention from scouts and analysts in the media. If he continues to score at unprecedented levels from behind the arc then it will hard to keep him under the radar going forward, and with the level of talent around him he will get all of the shots he wants this season. His point guard skills need some improvement but they are not bad by any means, and again the level of talent around him effects that aspect of his game. We profiled Davis as he was nearing the three point record, click here if you want a more in depth look at just how effective he was as a scorer last year.
Malachi Flynn (San Diego State)
2017-2018 Stats (Sat Out 2018-2019 Season): 15.8 ppg/3.4 rpg/4.3 apg/41.3 FG%/33.8 3PT%/84.6 FT%
Flynn sat out last season after playing his first two years at Washington State so outside of the local media he is not receiving a lot of attention entering the year. That could change after he spends some time on the court doing what we have seen him do in his time with the Cougars, which for the most part should be against lesser competition than he faced in Pullman. At 6’1″ he is a bit undersized for being a scoring guard but he has a knack for getting his shot off and making them with solid range. His point guard skills were a question mark in his game as a recruit and since then he has helped his case in that regard. If he can make a similar move to that of Stephen Curry in his junior season and look to set up his teammates more often as well as scoring, then he could get some consideration as a second round pick. How well he defends and offensive efficiency will play a large role into whether or not he gets some NBA looks, however expect to hear more about Flynn going forward as he will most likely have some big games this season. Outside of his draft stock, Flynn is just an exciting player to watch and if you can get a chance to see San Diego State play this season he should be the focal point of their offense giving him plenty of opportunities to put up numbers.
Seth Towns (Harvard)
2017-2018 Stats (Sat out 2018-2019 season with injury): 16 ppg/5.7 rpg/1.8 apg/41.9 FG%/44.1 3PT%/80.5 FG%
There is no guarantee that any player returning from a knee injury will be able to get back to their pre-injury level, but if Towns is able to get back to his old self after sitting out last season he could play his way into the draft conversation. He has good size at 6’7″ with legitimate guard skills being able to create a shot at times, and doing a lot of damage in catch and shoot situations. His speed and athleticism which were never considered elite before the injury will play a major role in his draft stock, but he should have no problem getting his shot off or getting looks around the basket in his senior season. Players like Troy Brown Jr. and Evan Turner have been able to get to the league without great top end speed or vertical leaping ability, and Towns brings similar attributes to the table. He has been efficient from behind the arc and considering that he will be the go to guy for the Crimson, it will be interesting to see if he can maintain that efficiency assuming his usage goes up. Providing he is fully healthy and back to his 2017-2018 self, Towns will theoretically put up some solid numbers against IVY League competition as he looks to follow the footsteps of Miye Oni.
Justin Turner (Bowling Green)
2018-2019 Stats: 18.2 ppg/3.7 rpg/3.1 apg/46.8 FG%/37.2 3PT%/70.9 FT%
Turner quietly became one of the best scorers in college basketball last season leading the Broncos to the MAC championship game where they lost to a top 25 Buffalo team. He declared for the NBA draft after the season but decided to come back to school for another year with the hope of improving his draft stock. As a scorer he can catch and shoot or create his own shot off of the dribble as well as being able to get by defenders going to the basket. At 6’4″ he has been the primary ball handler as well as playing off of the ball making him an intriguing option when teams are looking at 4 year players which more often than not is in the second round. If he shows the ability to set up teammates a little more next season that can go a long way in helping his case as a guard that can play on or off of the ball at the professional level. His efficiency has been solid but he can improve some in that area as well, while his play as a defender will be watched closely by scouts this year. He has shown the ability to get steals, but obviously the level of competition is not the best college basketball has to offer in the MAC so the early season game against at LSU as well as any potential tournament games will be a factor in how teams view his potential.
Obi Toppin (Dayton)
2018-2019 Stats: 14.4 ppg/5.6 rpg/1.8 apg/66.6 FG%/52.4 3PT%/71.3 FT%
Toppin is an highly athletic big man who has had plenty of highlight dunks in one season at Dayton, but his game as a whole was solid. At 6’9″ and primarily scoring around the basket, Toppin has an opportunity this season to produce more from outside of the mid range, something that he has shown he can with limited attempts. If he does that and continues to make plays around the basket, he will have scouts intrigued with the idea of him being able to play in a stretch four type of role as a professional. That is easier said then done and many players see there efficiency go down as there usage goes up or they are trying to show off a more versatile game, so time will tell on whether or not he is able to do so. He rebounds the ball well and with his strong vertical leap he should block more shots this season with longer stretches on the floor as a sophomore. Toppin has shown flashes of being able to put the ball on the floor and make a play from the wing or on the fast break, and teams will want to see him do more of that as well as knock down jumpers at a higher rate. When you look at his freshman season as a whole it was promising, and when you consider that he only started 15 of 33 games playing 26.5 minutes per game, it makes his production more impressive. As long as he continues to improve his offensive game and do more outside of the paint while not losing the motor and play making ability that he has done so well up until this point, he has a chance to be considered a legitimate candidate to declare for the 2020 draft.
Kellan Grady (Davidson)
2018-2019 Stats: 17.3 ppg/4.5 rpg/1.9 apg/52.3 FG%/34.1 3PT%/73.5 FT%
Grady was getting some NBA looks as a freshman when he averaged 18 points per game, but he had a regression on the offensive side of the floor as he became more of a focal point for defenses. With that said his numbers as a sophomore were still solid, but anytime scouts see your numbers go down across the board it is going to be cause for concern. He has good size at 6’5″ and being able to play both guard positions, although he would struggle guarding point guards at the professional level. Providing that he gets back to his freshman year efficiency or at least closer to it than his second year, he fits the modern game very well with his shooting ability and being able to get to the basket. His defense will be a focus going forward when scouts are watching this season, as will be his ability to set up teammates. The second round is definitely a possibility for Grady if he leaves after his junior year, and if he can put up solid numbers while leading Davidson to an NCAA Tournament appearance or even a win, it would most likely solidify him leaving school. It should be noted that Grady dealt with injuries throughout last season and he is expected to be fully healthy once the season officially begins.
Lamine Diane (CSUN)
2018-2019 Stats: 24.8 ppg/11.2 rpg/2.1 apg/2.2 bpg/48.5 FG%/30.4 3PT%/52.2 FT%
Possibly the most underrated and least talked about star in college basketball last season, Diane exploded in his freshman year after redshirting the previous season. Although the level of competition is nowhere near on the same level at CSUN as it is at Duke, his production last season was comparable to Zion Williamson. There are definitely holes in his game as of now, but much like Williamson he is able to produce at a high level using his athleticism and will to dominate on the inside despite not possessing great size at 6’7″. If he wants to one day play in the league his shooting will need to improve (30.4% on 0.7 3 pt. shots per game), but more than just the percentages he will need to show a larger willingness to take shots outside of the mid range. His high motor and dominant stats have put him on the NBA radar, but he will need to show a more versatile offensive game and improved shot mechanics if he wants to be a legitimate 2020 draft prospect. On the defensive side of the ball he has been solid as well averaging over 2 blocks per game, which is another positive aspect to his game. He may be a player that stays in school a few more years or he could transfer to a bigger program, but whatever the case may be there is a lot to like about his game as he most likely will continue to be put up big numbers next season. If you want more information about his rise last season, we profiled the power forward in this article.
Derrick Alston (Boise State)
2018-2019 Stats: 13.4 ppg/3.9 rpg/1.1 apg/58.2 FG%/38.4 3PT%/81.9 FT%
Alston took a major jump in his redshirt sophomore year after not putting up much production during his first couple of seasons in college. He has the intangibles that NBA teams look for with the ability to play on the wing at 6’8″ while showing a big improvement in his play making last season. He only started 21 of the 33 games he played in last season, and when you couple that with his limited production previous to last season, it makes sense that he would be returning for another year in school to boost his stock. If Alston can show that he can guard multiple positions that will go a long way in helping his cause as a draft prospect. He shot three pointers at 38.4% last season on 4.4 attempts per game which suggests he can shoot the ball at a consistent enough rate to entice teams. Assuming his numbers continue to go up and his versatile game possibly leads the Broncos to the NCAA tournament, he has a realistic chance to have his name called on draft night.
Quinton Rose (Temple)
2018-2019 Stats: 16.3 ppg/3.8 rpg/2.5 apg/2.5 spg/46.4 FG%/27.5 3PT%/68.5%
Returning for his senior season as possibly the best player in the conference, Rose is a 6’8″ guard who can make plays with the ball in his hands as well as slashing to the basket. If he had entered the draft after his junior season there is a chance that he would of been drafted, but by returning to school he will have the opportunity to improve his draft stock and given his size and skill set he could be a fringe first round prospect. The main concern with his game is outside shooting where he shot three pointers at 27.5% as a junior, and his shot mechanics will need to improve if he wants to get his shot off consistently at the professional level. Being the focal point of the Temple offense this season should allow Rose to improve on his offensive numbers, and how well he defends and shoots the ball will be the major story line for his draft stock going forward.
Charles Bassey (Western Kentucky)
2018-2019 Stats: 14.6 ppg/10 rpg/2.4 bpg/63.9 FG%/45 3PT%/76.9 FT%
Bassey was considered a lock to leave after his freshman year, mainly because most people expected him to prefer his professional career getting started as opposed to spending another season at Western Kentucky. Ultimately he decided to return for another season, and he should improve on his already solid sophomore numbers and dominate to an extent going forward when you consider the level of competition. The main knock on Bassey is his lack of vertical explosiveness which could have helped push him back to college, but his ability to score around the basket and step out for the occasional long distance jump shot are areas that bode well for a centers draft stock. As mentioned before he is not the best athlete on the floor, however he can still block shots and score in crafty ways against much more explosive athletes. Expect to see him more comfortable stepping out and shooting the three, although as a team WKU will want him inside to be able to track down rebounds at a high rate. Some were predicting a first round selection for Bassey before he announced his return to the Hilltoppers, but obviously the feedback he received was less than desirable. Teams will want to see him put up some bigger numbers against the level of competition that they will face once in conference play. Bassey has reportedly been working on his outside shot and he did go 9 for 20 (45%) on three point attempts as a freshman, so there are signs that he can develop into a threat to hit a jump shot.
Neemias Queta (Utah State)
2018-2019 Stats: 11.8 ppg/8.9 rpg/2.4 bpg/61.8 FG%/56.5 FT%
Queta arrived on Utah State’s campus without much fan fare after being passed over by the high school recruiting rankings. That all became irrelevant when he started all 35 games for the Aggies becoming a force on the inside with his size and length. At 6’11” and a reported wingspan of 7’4″, he has the physical attributes that fit well with the modern professional game. If you are not going to be a threat from outside of the paint offensively, which Queta currently is not, then you need to be block shots and defend on the interior to make your impact on the game. If Queta had elected to leave after his freshman year he most likely would have been drafted, but by coming back this season and potentially improving on his strong freshman campaign, the center has a chance to be a fringe lottery pick. There is a long way to go before he reaches that level of draft stock, but as of now there is a possibility that he will be considered one of the top available big men heading into the draft. He is very raw offensively and somewhat overall, however you cannot teach the size and length that he possesses, as well as a natural gift for timing and blocking shots. Despite many centers stepping out and hitting three point shots, there is still a market for long and athletic big men, with Queta having a chance to be in that draft conversation once the season is complete. Queta injured his knee in international play this summer which turned out to not be as serious as it could have been, but he is expected to miss the start of the season and a timetable for his return has not been announced.
Sam Merrill (Utah State)
2018-2019 Stats: 20.9 ppg/3.9 rpg/4.2 apg/53.4 FG%/37.6%/90.9 FT%
Merrill is known as a shooter first and foremost, with good reason, but he is more solid at the other aspects of the game than the credit given by most. As a shooter he is elite, and at 6’5″ he has good enough size to play on the perimeter at the next level. Catch and shoot situations is what NBA teams are going to be watching the closest in his last collegiate season with his best chance of sticking in the league being in a Kyle Korver type of role. His efficiency went down on perimeter shots from his sophomore to junior season once he became more of a focal point for opposing defenses, although the overall outlook of his shooting analytics would suggest he is closer to what we saw in his first two season at Utah State rather than when his three point shooting dipped below 40%. If he can get those numbers back closer to his previous level of efficiency he will have a chance to put up a 50/40/90 season which will always have you on the NBA radar. Defense will be a major factor in his overall projection when scouts are grading him out, but not many teams are going to be considering drafting the senior with the idea that he will be a lock down defender as a professional. High efficiency shooters are in high demand at the moment, and Merrill has proven that he is capable of doing just that. There is a history of similar players being drafted in the second round but also going undrafted with it mainly coming down to how specific teams want to use their later picks in the draft.
Quentin Grimes (Houston)
2018-2019 Stats: 8.4 ppg/2.5 rpg/2 apg/44.4 FG%/34 3PT%
Grimes is an interesting prospect in the fact that he comes with a blue chip recruiting background ending up at Kansas for his freshman year, and after a sub-par freshman season, elected to transfer to Houston. He is still awaiting word on his eligibility for the upcoming year, however regardless of whether or not he plays, there is a chance that the shooting guard will elect to enter his name into the draft. NBA teams are very familiar with him as a prospect, and he participated in the combine last year, including playing in the scrimmage portion of the event. He has publicly stated that in his mind he was held back and Kansas and would prefer to play point guard going forward, which was a bit of a shock to analysts that have been breaking his game down for the last couple of years. Can he play point guard at the college level, probably, but does he project to a point guard as a pro? Time will tell, but as of now he fits more as a 2 guard in the league. With all of that said, there is a reason he was a top ten recruit coming out of high school and provided he can figure out a way to shoot a better percentage from the outside, Grimes has many of the tools necessary to make it at the next level.