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Replacements for top NBA prospects

4/30/2012

With June fast approaching, the top teams in college basketball are dealing with the inevitability of losing key players to the NBA draft. In many cases, this becomes a common occurrence, and plugging in the next potential star is routine.

Here are five players with big shoes to fill, as their former, or prospective, teammates are off to the NBA. If they play as expected, their teams will likely be right where they were before -- at the top of the polls.

Ben McLemore, 6-foot-5, Freshman, Kansas Jayhawks

The Jayhawks go into next season needing to replace the two players, in Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, who keyed their run to the national championship game. While it won't be easy, coach Bill Self has been down this road many times before.

The newcomer who is expected to have the biggest impact on Kansas' fortunes next season is redshirt freshman McLemore, an explosive wing player who should be able to provide scoring punch immediately. Although ineligible to play this season for academic reasons, he has practiced with the team since the start of the spring semester.

While there are elements of McLemore's offensive package that need to be polished -- like his ballhandling and deep shooting -- the opportunity to work on them for half a season will pay huge dividends in the fall. And there's little doubt that his intensity level, which was at times questioned when he was a high school star, should be sky-high with half a season under Self. It wouldn't surprise me if he's the Jayhawks' leading scorer.

Isaiah Austin, 7-0, Freshman, Baylor Bears

The center with a multitude of offensive skills, both inside and out, has the unenviable task of helping to replace the Bears' entire front line. With Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy all leaving, Austin should play a major role on Scott Drew's team this season. The major mark he arrives in Waco with is his strength and physical toughness.

I recently watched Austin work out, and he is not afraid to put the time in to improve on his weaknesses. First of all, he has developed an effective low-post game that will only be enhanced by a summer and fall in the Baylor weight room. With added weight, I expect him to have an instant impact offensively this season in the Big 12.

On the defensive end, Austin has always reminded me of a young Tyson Chandler and should be able to control the middle of the Bears' 1-1-3 zone. The defection of Jones III and Miller to the NBA will hurt him, but if Austin plays up to expectations, he should be joining them a year from now.

Marcus Paige, 6-1, Freshman, North Carolina Tar Heels

Tar Heel fans are going to love Paige, their freshman point guard from Iowa, but don't expect Kendall Marshall results just yet. Marshall may have been the best passing point guard in college basketball in the last decade. Paige has a very good basketball IQ, but it is not at the level that Marshall displayed.

Paige, on the other hand, is a more complete player and a better athlete than Marshall. He possesses outstanding quickness and gets wherever he needs to on the floor. While a pure playmaker, he can create his own shot, has 3-point range and can score in traffic.

Getting a chance to work with Paige last summer at the LeBron James Nike Skills Academy, I came away extremely impressed with his work ethic and outstanding attitude. He may have been the best point guard there.

Roy Williams will make room for Paige in his backcourt this coming season even as he welcomes back Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland from season-ending injuries last year. Paige should make a name for himself right away.

Ryan Harrow, 6-2, Sophomore, Kentucky Wildcats

Harrow probably realizes there may be as much pressure on him as any newcomer in college basketball this coming season. First of all, the last five starting point guards coach John Calipari has had were or are likely to be first-round NBA selections, including Marquis Teague this June. And the NC State transfer will be the only pure point guard option in a Kentucky program that does not rebuild but reloads.

Harrow has all of the physical tools to run Calipari's offense, possessing excellent end-to-end quickness and the craftiness to get into the lane and make plays for his teammates. While he had flashes of brilliance in Raleigh, he did not shoot the ball well, knocking down only 22 percent of his 3-point attempts, and he still needs a "finishing game" at the rim.

Don't be surprised, however, if Harrow gets off to a quick start for the Wildcats. He's had a season to practice against a starting five that will be in the NBA next season. And he had the year to polish up some of the weaknesses that popped up as a freshman at NC State. He has the ingredients to be a star.

Omar Calhoun, 6-3, Freshman, Connecticut Huskies

Even with Jeremy Lamb off to the NBA draft, where he will likely be a lottery selection, the strength of the Huskies will remain in their backcourt with returnees Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright and the incoming freshman Calhoun.

While Lamb's outside shooting will be missed, Calhoun may be a better complete scorer in time. He's strong and aggressive attacking the basket, getting himself to the foul line often, and is deadly in the midrange and can shoot from beyond the arc. And, as a bonus, I watched him in a recent high school all-star game defend like he was in a Big East game.

If there's one thing that will stand out to Calhoun's future coach, Jim Calhoun, it is that the freshman is a fearless competitor. While the Huskies' frontcourt next season will be shallow, expect the newcomer from Queens, N.Y., to step right in for Lamb and make an immediate impact in the backcourt. It actually may be enough to keep the Huskies in the top echelon of the Big East.