Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The top talent available in the upcoming 2014 NBA Draft seems to be a bit deeper than it has been in recent years, thanks to Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Joel Embiid all confirming they were one-and-done at the college level and declaring as early entries.
Unlike the Major League Baseball draft, where high school players can fill in the list of a monotonous 40 rounds, or even the NFL Draft that comprises seven full rounds with a host of compensatory picks, and has become a three-day excursion for fantasy junkies, the NBA Draft is far more precise and doesn't allow for much leeway when it comes to taking a shot at a proverbial dark horse or potentially digging up a diamond in the rough.
Heck, even top-rated draft picks have a tough time making the grade at the next level (yes, Anthony Bennett, I am talking to you). Almost every prospect out there was a big fish in a small pond at one time or another, but there is always a bigger fish awaiting them in the more treacherous waterways of the NBA. Wiggins, Parker, Randle and Embiid are all being praised and fawned over by the media (that's their job) and NBA general managers (if they want to keep their jobs), but there is still no guarantees in the modern draft.
Of the top 10 players taken in the 2013 NBA Draft, only one was a senior, Lehigh's C.J. McCollum, and only one other, Victor Oladipo of Indiana, had spent more than two years at school. Granted, last year's crop of players was far from the cream variety, but you still have to wonder who some of these youngsters are listening to when they fill out the paperwork and submit it for early declaration in the first place.
With just 60 spots up for grabs over the course of two rounds and top-quality international performers becoming more and more abundant, the window of opportunity is getting smaller and smaller for the boys here at home, whether they are just a year out of high school or have completed all of their course work at a four-year institution. The NBA's Developmental League has finally become a feeder to the big clubs, but even at that level, rosters are tight and taking a chance on an obscure player from a small school is not the best option.
Clearly, the poster children for early entry this year will find a home somewhere at the pro level, but what about those players who are off the beaten path - in fact, way, way, way off the beaten path to the point where pro scouts wouldn't know where to find them? There are a number of those players who, as of May 15, were still on the list for early entries and are nowhere near household names.
From an alphabetical standpoint, let us begin with William Alston from the Community College of Baltimore County. Were you to Google Mr. Alston by name only, the first page of results cite that of a deceased American philosopher, before splintering off to a real estate broker in California and an actor who appeared in "Citizen Kane."
The young man I was searching for was not so young after all, having played a grand total of just 10 games for the Lions of CCBC-Dundalk during the 2010-2011 campaign. The 6-5 Alston averaged just 4.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game before heading home to Richmond, Virginia, for what was referred to as "personal business" by his coach. As someone who deserted a program in which he was far from a star performer (after mere weeks), how could anyone at the next level make such an investment in him and his untapped potential?
Moving down the player list from A-to-Z, there are the usual college basketball gold mines at UCLA, Louisville, Connecticut, Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas and Missouri, with some more obscure locales (New Mexico State and Louisiana) mixed in, but at least in most of those cases the players coming out long before graduation are ones who have been dissected by scouts and ogled over by self-proclaimed draft gurus.
Falling between Ohio State's LaQuinton Ross and Jakarr Sampson of St. John's are two players who performed well enough for their respective teams but were far from superstars. First there's Antonio Rucker of Clinton Junior College in South Carolina.
The Golden Bears play both men's and women's basketball -- that's it for the athletics department at Clinton. A freshman guard, Rucker suited up for only 14 of his team's 26 games, starting nine, as he delivered 9.4 ppg.
He was on the floor for just over 17 minutes per game and shot a very strong 45.5 percent from 3-point range, but a miserable 47.1 percent at the free-throw line. The fact that he had twice as many turnovers as assists per game against powerhouse programs such as Cape Fear Community College, Denmark Technical College and USC Salkehatchie does little to enhance his outlook for the June 26 draft.
Needing to go north of the border to find his niche, Ta'Quan Zimmerman of Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, appears to be the other odd man out in this category. On a team that finished only two games over .500 (13-11) in 2013-14, Zimmerman, a native of Connecticut who previously attended Monroe Community College in his home state, led the WolfPack and was third in Canada West basketball with 19.3 ppg.
By moving to Canada, it sounds as though Zimmerman were attempting to avoid a certain type of draft here in the States, but he now wants to involve himself in another that probably wants no part of him.
Alston and Rucker are in the same boat as Zimmerman, virtual unknowns who are hoping to become instant celebrities in the professional sports world. There is certainly gold at the end of the NBA Draft rainbow, but not nearly enough to go around for everyone, including these three forgettable players.