College Basketball’s 10 Best Prospects that have NOT Declared for the NBA Draft – What a wild season it was for college basketball this year; blue bloods like Duke and Kentucky did not make the postseason tournament, young stars around the country captured the headlines, and Baylor won March Madness by blowing out a 31-0 Gonzaga squad.
Like in most years, a majority of the top talent in college has declared for the 2021 NBA Draft; nearly 1,600 of those that did not declare left their fate to the transfer portal, setting a record for offseason movement.
Professional teams are expected to mortgage their futures on players like Cade Cunningham and Jalen Suggs this summer, but what is just as interesting is the amount of talent returning to the college level that can compete at an elite level next season— ten names in particular jump off the screen.
Just Missing Out: Matthew Mayer
The 6’9 forward is unmistakable with his trademark old-school mullet but plays with the flash and range of a new-school dynamo. Mayer can free himself off the dribble or convert catch-and-shoot opportunities, making 39.5% of his long-range attempts as a junior.
Mayer was the featured player off the bench in a National Championship-winning side and scored well in limited playing time, setting him up to be a star as a starter next season. Mayer’s stock climbed down the stretch last season and will do the same next season as scouts get to see him in a more prominent role.
#10 Trayce Jackson-Davis
A 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward at Indiana, Jackson-Davis is a small-ball five that can patrol the paint and clean the glass, averaging nine rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as a sophomore last season.
The big man is efficient in the paint, making 53.9% of his career field goals, but is yet to make a three-pointer and is a poor free-throw shooter at 66.8%. Developing his shot will be crucial to catching the eyes of scouts next season.
#9 Ron Harper Jr.
Much like his father, a starter on the 72-10 Chicago Bulls team, Harper Jr. a 6’6 guard that has high basketball intelligence, plays the position with aggression and uses his length and athletic ability to make key plays.
Harper was a 31% three-point shooter last season and needs to become more consistent with his shot, and also needs to figure out how to create space off the dribble to succeed at the next level. He has enough size to make him attractive at his position, and work in the weight room will benefit him greatly.
#8 Osun Osunniyi
Osunniyi might be the rawest talent on this list, but he is here for a reason: he won the Athletic 10 Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award after averaging 10.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game for the St. Bonaventure Bonnies. He is 6-foot-10, 220 pounds and has an enormous 7’8 wingspan, only two inches off of Mo Bamba’s NBA-leading mark.
The aspect of Osunniyi’s game that holds him back is his poor shooting outside of the paint: while he did make 67.9% of his shots around the rim, he was a very poor 13-43 (30.2%) on his mid-range attempts. Packing on a little more muscle would also help raise his stock, given he is a little wiry under his broad shoulders.
#7 Walker Kessler
If you are looking for an explanation as to how a player that averaged 4.4 points and could barely get on the court last year is one of the best prospects in America, look no further. Standing at 7-foot-1, Kessler is an average athlete with great instincts on both ends of the court that allow him to contribute regardless of circumstance.
A rising sophomore, Kessler has a very nice touch around the basket and can step out to knock down mid-range shots. He is not yet a three-point ace, but his shot should develop at Auburn as a full-time starter. Kessler’s body compares more to Nikola Jokic than Dwight Howard, but he moves well at his size and can run up and down the court in spurts, though this will be tested with heavy minutes next season.
#6 Allen Flanigan
A 6’6 sophomore guard at Auburn, Flanigan improved his points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals and shooting stats during his second year in the NCAA— talk about a positive sign for NBA scouts.
Flanigan averaged 14.3 points and 5.5 rebounds last season, making 33.8% of his threes and 77.6% of his free throws after shooting 14.3% and 45.9% the year before. Flanigan has versatility on the defensive side of the ball as well and could guard anywhere 1-4 if given the opportunity. He has next-level athleticism and could contribute immediately as a rookie.
#5 Jaden Ivey
The Jaden Ivey hype-train exploded after he dropped 26 points in his NCAA Tournament debut even though his Purdue squad fell to #13 North Texas. Ivey is excellent at moving downhill and at crafting his own shot, though he struggles with his shot (25.8% 3PT).
Ivey is excellent defensively, using his long wingspan and lateral speed to contain opposing ball handlers and disrupt offenses. His freshman year compares to that of a lesser Marcus Smart, though he will be able to show improvement in the 2022 season.
#4 Taevion Kinsley
A 6’5 junior guard at Marshall University, Kinsley did it all last season, leading his team with 19.5 PPG and 6.2 RPG in addition to dishing out three assists per contest and making 41.3% of his triples.
The knock on Kinsley is that he did not play against elite competition in college and does not consistently hunt his shot on the perimeter, but he has serious athletic ability and can compete in most aspects of the game. Kinsley had declared for the 2021 draft but withdrew and is returning for one more year, giving him the chance to solidify himself as a top prospect.
#3 Keyontae Johnson
Johnson had a serious health scare when a heart issue caused him to collapse on the court four games into his junior season at Florida, but he looks ready to be back on the floor this fall. Johnson was a 14.2-point, 6.8-rebound per night performer over the past two years, shooting 55.5% from open play and 38.7% from beyond the arc.
Johnson is not much of a facilitator, but he is an athletic and versatile 6’5 forward capable of defending, scoring off the dribble, or creating a shot. He is among the preseason favorites to win Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference and could be a lock for the first round in 2022 if he can perform at this level.
#2 Mark Williams
Talk about a rising stock—Williams finished his freshman season at Duke by averaging 16.7 points and 7.8 rebounds in his final six appearances, including a 23-point, 19-rebound game against Louisville to close out the campaign. He did not play extended minutes until this stretch of games, lowering his total stat-line for the year.
7-foot centers that are mobile and have a large frame are invaluable in today’s NBA, and Williams first the mold. His body is comparable to that of DeAndre Ayton, and although he may not have as soft of a touch as Ayton, he is more aggressive on defense and plays with the purpose of imposing himself physically. He is the perfect piece for a team that is solid on the perimeter but needs someone to do the dirty work inside, much like what Bam Adebayo does for the Miami Heat.
#1 Bennedict Mathurin
A 6’7 guard with above-average length, Mathurin averaged 10.8 PPG and 4.8 RPG in 25 minutes of action as a freshman at Arizona. He has a smooth stroke, making 41.8% of his threes and 84.6% of his free throws, and has NBA-level athleticism, strength and agility.
Mathurin showed his professional potential in a 31-point, eight-rebound performance against eventual Elite Eight team Oregon State. The Canadian-born wing will become a featured piece for the Wildcats next season following the departure of point guard James Akinjo, and will be able to demonstrate his full array of abilities. He has the highest potential of every player on this list and could very well be a lottery pick in the making.
Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.