Mar 2, 2012 - Coming into the 2011 season, Oklahoma State SF Le'Bryan Nash (Rivals No. 6 overall) and Texas PG Myck Kabongo (Rivals No. 26) were two of the most well-regarded freshmen in the country. But while many of their fellow McDonald's All-Americans went to NBA factories where they've been surrounded by elite talent, they joined rebuilding programs in the Big 12.
As a result, they had to face the burden of high expectations, as well as the brunt of the other team's scouting report alone. Kabongo's Texas team lost three players (Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton and Cory Joseph) to the 2011 NBA Draft and returned only three scholarship players,
while Keiton Page and Markel Brown are the only players from Oklahoma State's top 10 last year still on the team in March.
Neither Kabongo nor Nash was particularly impressive to start the season, but they've both rebounded in Big 12 play as their teams' jury-rigged rotations began to coalesce. Now they are faced with an incredibly difficult decision: cash in on their recruiting pedigree and potential to be late first-round picks or stay another year in school for a chance to be a lottery pick in 2013.
Kabongo, an extremely athletic 6'1, 170-pound point guard with a 6'7 wingspan, is averaging 10.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists as a freshman. As a prospect, he's the most well-rounded PG in the country, a lightning-quick true point with long arms and an improving outside shot.
However, he still commits far too many turnovers (3.1 a game) and needs to improve his offensive efficiency from the floor (42 percent this season). Realistically, he's at least one year away from being a reliable NBA contributor.
Most college basketball analysts would say it's a no-brainer for him to come back to school, but that's easy to say when you aren't the one looking at a guaranteed $3-4 million and a potential lifetime of financial security.
There's no predicting the future: after an inconsistent freshman year at Memphis, Dajuan Wagner was selected No. 6 overall in the 2003 NBA Draft. Two years later, he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, effectively ending his basketball career.
Even if a player avoids the injury bug, there's no guarantee NBA scouts won't fall out of love with his game the longer he stays in school. An underclassman with holes in his game is a a half-full cup with untapped potential; an upperclassman with holes in his game is a half-empty cup who may not be able to make the transition to the next level.
As a freshman, Nash, a powerfully built 6'7, 230-pound small forward, is all upside, averaging 13.3 points, five rebounds and 1.5 assists a game. He's got the broad shoulders of a football player to go with the quickness and shot-creating ability of a much smaller player.
However, he's an extremely inconsistent shooter (39.4 percent from the field, 23.5 percent from long-range) with a terrible 0.58 assist to turnover ratio. And while most college freshman resemble Kabongo in that they need to add 10-15 pounds of muscle, Nash has the opposite problem. He's the half-brother of former Oklahoma State point guard Byron Eaton, a two-sport high school star from Dallas whose weight ballooned in his four years in Stillwater, effectively ending his chances of making the NBA.
If he returns to school, he'll be expected to have an All-American type season while leading the Cowboys back to the NCAA tournament. But if his game plateaus, his career arc could resemble Gonzaga's Elias Harris, a 6'7 combo forward who received first-round talk after a strong freshman season, but will probably go into his senior season in 2012 as a borderline second-round draft pick.