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Chris Dortch

Arnett Moultrie
Arnett Moultrie averaged more than 16 points a game for Mississippi State this season.
Courtesy Mississippi State

As tournament nears end, underclassmen make their move

Posted Mar 31 2012 10:28AM

A rash of underclassmen declared for the NBA Draft this week, spurred on by a new NCAA rule that requires players to make a decision by April 10. Though the NBA's deadline is still April 29 -- if that sounds confusing, it is -- several players announced they were putting their names into the pool.

Given that these announcements have come during Final Four week, they've been overshadowed a bit. Here's a look at a few of the more intriguing prospects who declared this week:

Austin Rivers, Duke

Partly because he's the son of Doc Rivers, the Boston Celtics' coach, the younger Rivers came into college basketball with huge expectations that would have been hard for anyone to satisfy. Some scouts were critical of his play at times, but the 6-foot-4 combo guard led Duke in scoring -- just the third freshman in the program's proud history to do so -- and earned first-team All-ACC honors. Only six other freshmen had accomplished that.

Rivers' numbers weren't perfect: He had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio and shot a pedestrian .658 from the free-throw line. But no less an expert than his father has said Rivers' game is more suited for the next level. He's got the ability to shoot from deep -- his buzzer-beating 3-pointer that capped a comeback win at North Carolina is already etched in the history books of that great rivalry -- and he can get into the lane.

Rivers won't be the No. 1 pick, as Duke freshman Kyrie Irving was a year ago, but he's a solid first-rounder.

Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State

The NBA is always looking for skilled big men, and Moultrie, who played just one season in the Southeastern Conference after transferring from UTEP, qualifies. At 6-11 and 225 pounds he's not a bruiser, yet he was one of the best rebounders in traffic in the college game. This season he averaged a double-double (team-high 16.4 ppg, SEC-high 10.5 rpg) and racked up 18 of them, second in the league behind only Kentucky's Anthony Davis, the supposed No. 1 pick in the Draft.

Moultrie has an advanced offensive game that includes a face-up jumper. Allowed to crank the occasional 3-pointer this season, he shot .444 from behind the arc. He also has the ability to put the ball on the floor. He worked hard to shore up some of his weaknesses, including free-throw shooting (.780).

Moultrie routinely showed up early and stayed well after practices. "He's got a vision about himself that's uncommon for someone his age," said former Mississippi State assistant Phil Cunningham. "He understands that if he wants to be the best player he can be, he has to put the work in."

Dion Waiters, Syracuse

A year ago, Waiters, then a freshman, chafed at the role of sixth man, and rumors were rampant he was planning to transfer. Convinced that he needed to buy in to the concept of coming off the bench -- because that's certainly what he'll do early in his NBA career -- Waiters embraced the job this season and was chosen the Big East's sixth man of the year.

Waiters is a first-round pick whose obvious strength is getting to the rim. College defenders had a hard time staying in front of him, and he's big and strong enough to handle contact in the paint. Waiters can put the ball on the floor and is a good passer.

His 3-point shot needs work. He improved markedly from his freshman season but will have to become more consistent to make himself harder to guard in the NBA.

C.J. McCollum, Lehigh

NBA scouts who had beaten a path to Bethlehem, Pa. to see the 6-foot-3 McCollum play liked what they saw but may have needed to see him against sterner competition than the Patriot League to gauge his next-level readiness.

That showcase was provided two weeks ago when 15th-seeded Lehigh knocked No. 2 Duke out of the NCAA Tournament. In helping engineer the first 15 over 2 upset in the tournament since 2001, McCollum scored 30 points and added six assists and six rebounds.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's post-game assessment was telling: "[Lehigh] had the best player on the court tonight in McCollum."

McCollum has chosen not to sign with an agent, but those scouts who have been keeping tabs on him know he has skills beyond scoring. He's an active defender, and inch-for-inch is one of the best rebounders in college basketball. He grabbed 6.5 boards a game as a junior.

Renardo Sidney, Mississippi State

Sidney showed up at Mississippi State two years ago amid talk that he could give the Bulldogs one of the best front lines in the college game. He leaves after his junior season with the program in shambles. Coach Rick Stansbury "retired" two weeks ago after his team, which had an NCAA Tournament bid all but locked in February, fizzled down the stretch and fell to the NIT, where it was quickly ousted in a first-round home game. And just this week, promising freshman point guard DeVille Smith announced he was transferring, then Moultrie joined Sidney in declaring for the Draft.

Sidney's celebrated troubles -- ESPN-televised fights with teammates, suspensions, an apparent unwillingness to get (or at least stay) in shape -- added to the program's volatility. And yet Sidney is likely to get drafted.

"Somebody will take a flyer on him," one NBA scout said. "Because you can't coach big. He's a wide body who has skill. He's shown he has range. He's shown he can pass it. He's shown he's got a little baby hook. And I think he's got a nasty streak."

Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. You can email him here, follow him on Twitter and listen to the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Hour.

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