Five Future Game Changers that are ready to break out
Five players from smaller schools that could have a significant future impact
Some, like Nate Wolters, have seen the national stage while others have not
These five players are revered by experts, even without national TV exposure
Who's got next? Well, it might just be this remarkable group of college players.
For a full photo gallery of our up-and-coming stars, click here.
Hometown: St. Cloud, Minn.
Skinny: South Dakota State can thank point guard Nate Wolters for putting the Jackrabbits on the map. In his junior 2011-12 season, Wolters led SDSU by averaging 21.2 points and 5.9 assists per game, helping his team earn its first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.
"I've been coaching a long time, and haven't seen anybody who handles the ball like Nate does," SDSU head coach Scott Nagy said. "He works at it constantly, he's quick, and he can change directions so cleanly that he doesn't commit many turnovers."
Wolters is expected to lead his team to another Summit League Championship and NCAA tournament berth. There, the Jackrabbits will live or die by Wolters' shooting touch. His 19 points in SDSU's game against third-seeded Baylor in the first round kept the Jackrabbits close, but it was not enough, as SDSU fell 68-60.
Evokes: Steve Nash, according to one scout. "He's not as talented as Steve Nash was in college, but he plays a similar role, by being creative and using tricks and fakes to make space for his shot."
Skinny: Coming out of high school Tony Mitchell was a five-star recruit and ranked along with such players as Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger. Barnes and Sullinger have since made the leap to the NBA and -- despite some early hiccups -- Mitchell may soon be joining them, if his performances last year at North Texas are any indication.
In 23 games last year -- Mitchell did not join the North Texas team until December 2011 -- the then-freshman power forward averaged a double-double, scoring 14.7 points and grabbing 10.3 rebounds per game.
"Tony is a 10 on the athletic scale -- he's better than any athlete I saw in the Big East, and it's not even close," Mean Green head coach Tony Benford said. "He can go get rebounds that no one else can."
In terms of height (6-foot-8) Mitchell is hardly a monster but his huge wingspan has helped him average three blocks a game.
Evokes: Tony Mitchell's huge wingspan conjures up images of power forward Elton Brand.
Hometown: Manhattan, Kansas
Skinny: Jackie Carmichael, who has spent three years in the relative obscurity of the Missouri Valley Conference, started to turn heads in July at the LeBron James Skills Academy. There, the power forward showcased his ability to both score and rebound.
Last year, Carmichael averaged almost a double-double as a junior -- 13.9 points and 9.7 rebounds -- at Illinois State.
"I'll be honest, he didn't even register on our radar until the LeBron camp," one scout said. "Now he's someone that we have to watch; not a lock to be drafted but a definite prospect."
Evokes: Like Zach Randolph, Carmichael grabs a big percentage of available defensive rebounds. Last season Carmichael's defensive rebound rate was 28.8%.
Hometown: Fort Pierce, Fla.
Skinny: Few players in college football put fear in the heart of their opponents like Khalil Mack does. And the 6-3 Buffalo linebacker likes it that way.
"I make sure I come at them every snap just as hard as I did the first time, first quarter or fourth quarter, I make sure to bring the same force," Mack said.
A redshirt junior, Mack is expected to be on the shortlist for the 2012 Bronko Nagurski Trophy (for the best defensive player) and the 2012 Rotary Lombardi Award (for the best lineman or linebacker). He has already broken the Bulls' previous career record for forced fumbles (7) and is close to breaking his school's record for tackles-for-loss (50.5).
"He's very difficult to block and when he arrives at the ball carrier, he arrives in a bad mood," Mack's coach, Jeff Quinn said. "He's just one of those young men that you just love to watch."
Evokes: In terms of bringing fear into the opponents, look no further than Ray Lewis.
Hometown: Wylie, Texas
Skinny: When Nikita Whitlock lines up next to his fellow Wake Forest defensive linemen, his opponents might think there has been some sort of a mistake.
While Whitlock's defensive end teammates stand at 6-4' or 6-5', Whitlock stands between them at 5-9¾'' as the nose guard. But Whitlock uses his size to his benefit. Taking advantage of his low center of gravity, he likes to battle his way past the large offensive linemen in front of him.
"I'm not too into the swag thing," Whitlock said. "I like to hit and I like to be physical. I'm in the game for the physicality and trench warfare. I'm not in it for the touchdowns and celebration dances."
Though Whitlock does not seek the glory that other players do, the redshirt junior has produced enough sacks and tackles-for-loss to make a highlight reel of his own.
"He's going to be a guy that people are going to watch closely because, though he's not the tallest guy, he might be pound-for-pound the strongest guy I've ever been around," Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe said.
Evokes: Although not as short as Whitlock, the 6' 1'' Dwight Freeney is undersized, yet a star in the NFL.
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