UCLA's Smith, UConn's Napier among year's most disappointing
UCLA big man Josh Smith needs to step up if he expects to clock decent minutes
Le'Bryan Nash failed to live up to Quincy Miller-like expectations at Oklahoma St.
A string of injuries could hold back Elias Harris' once promising career at Gonzaga
So much of college basketball's preseason centers around the talk of the players and the teams that are expected to have a successful season. Luke Winn has even developed his own formula for determining who will have a breakout year. But rarely do we go back at the end of the year and take a look at who failed to live up to those expectations.
Many times, those players end up leaving school. Texas A&M's Khris Middleton struggled with injuries as a junior and never seemed to get on the same page as new head coach Billy Kennedy, and as a result left for the NBA draft. JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell were supposed to lead Alabama into a new era as an SEC contender, but Mitchell was kicked off the team and Green struggled to find his offensive rhythm. Those two won't be returning next season, either.
Here, we take a look at 11 players who return after a disappointing 2011-2012 season:
Joshua Smith, UCLA: There may not be a more frustrating player in the country to watch than Smith. In terms of raw ability, there are not many big men that are blessed with the gifts that Smith has. For a man carrying well over 300 pounds on his 6-foot-10 frame, Smith is nimble, coordinated and surprisingly athletic. He has a soft touch around the rim, a solid post game and the size, strength and understanding of positioning to hold his ground anywhere in the paint. After a freshman season that saw him average 10.9 points and 6.3 boards, many expected Smith to make the jump as a sophomore. Instead, the Bruin big man played fewer minutes and saw his production on the court drop across the board, largely due to his inability to stay on the floor.
It's no secret that Smith's biggest issue is conditioning. He's listed at 305 pounds, which seems low given the fact that he makes his UCLA uniform look like an Under Armour shirt that is two sizes two small. As a freshman, weight was Smith's problem as well, but instead of slimming down during the offseason, Smith returned to his native Washington to relax, which resulted in him gaining weight by the time he returned to Westwood. He was slow, with no stamina and he picked up too many fouls. That's not exactly a recipe for success.
Smith knows he needs to make a change. He told reporters after a season-ending loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament that "I was supposed to make that jump and I didn't. That's all on me ... I need to put in the work in the offseason." Will 2012-2013 be the season that we see Smith in shape? Ben Howland has a glut of frontcourt players on his roster. If Smith is still out of shape come November, he won't be spending much time on the floor.
Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State: Nash actually had a decent season in his first year in Stillwater, averaging 13.3 points and 5.0 rebounds for the Cowboys. Some may quibble with designating that kind of performance from a freshman as disappointing, but that doesn't take into account the kind of expectations that Nash had heading into the season. He was named honorable mention all-Big 12 before even setting foot on a college court while being named Preseason Freshman of the Year over the likes of Myck Kabongo and Quincy Miller. Nash was supposed to come in and dominate. And, at times, he did -- ask Missouri, which was ranked No. 2 when Nash went for 27 points in an upset win. But performances like that were not the norm, as Nash struggled to maintain a consistent effort level and struggled with his decision-making (39.4 percent shooting and an 89.2 offensive-efficiency rating for a forward is not good). Most telling, however, is the fact that Nash did all this on the first Oklahoma State team to finish the season with a losing record in 24 years.
Nash may get judged unfairly due to high expectations, but in the one-and-done era, freshman that are as touted as Nash was coming out of high school are expected to play like it. With another top 10 recruit (Marcus Smart) joining him in Stillwater next season, will this be the year that Nash breaks out?
Jabari Brown and Alex Oriakhi, Missouri: Brown and Oriakhi were both major disappointments in very different places. Brown was arguably the top recruit in the Pac-12 in the Class of 2011. He was expected to be the big-time scorer that helped Dana Altman leads the Oregon Ducks into the NCAA tournament hunt. Instead, Brown lasted just two games in Eugene before transferring out of the program. Oriakhi had similar expectations this season, as he was supposed to team with Andre Drummond to form one of the nation's most dominant front courts. But, as it turned out, the two were unable to coexist on the floor. Oriakhi became displeased with his playing time and with the UConn coaching staff, eventually leaving the program in April. They'll be joining forces at Missouri this season (Oriakhi is eligible immediately and Brown will be eligible in December) on a team where their skill-sets fit much better.
Tarik Black and Joe Jackson, Memphis: Black and Jackson were two of the biggest reasons that Memphis was labeled as a Final Four contender last November, but neither player came close to living up to that kind of hype. As the latest in long line of hometown heroes, Jackson struggled with the weight of the Memphis fans' expectations on his shoulders. After nearly transferring midway through the season, Jackson once again played some of his best basketball down the stretch. The key for him next season will be to perfect the art of being a point guard. Black was universally predicted to be one of the nation's breakout stars last season, but he never reached that point. Black struggled with fouls all season long and averaged fewer than five rebounds per game, an atrocious number for a guy that was supposed to be a potential all-american center.
Myck Kabongo, Texas: Kabongo is in the same boat as Nash. He finished his freshman season averaging 9.8 points and 5.3 assists for a Longhorn team that made the NCAA tournament despite having a thin roster heavily reliant on freshmen. In that sense, it was a successful season. But, like Nash, Kabongo entered college with the reputation of being one of the nation's top freshmen while drawing comparisons to the likes of Chris Paul. The talent is clearly there, as Kabongo put together some impressive performances, but Kabongo looked like he was still learning how to be a point guard as opposed to just a playmaker. With J'Covan Brown off to the NBA and a young-but-talented core of players on next season's roster, this will be Kabongo's team.
Elias Harris, Gonzaga: As a freshman, Harris had the kind of season that normally results in a first-round pick in the NBA draft. He averaged 14.9 points and 7.1 boards while shooting 45.1 percent from three, 54.7 percent from the field and dunking on seemingly everyone that got in his way. As a sophomore, however, his numbers dropped as he battled a series of injuries. Last season was supposed to be his redemption, the year that Harris returned to his freshman year form. And while he had far from a terrible junior campaign -- he averaged 13.1 points and a career-high 8.5 boards -- Harris may never again be the same player that he was as a freshman.
Shabazz Napier, UConn: Napier averaged 12.7 points and 5.8 assists for the Huskies this past season, putting together a number of quite impressive performances. But Napier was far too inconsistent, as his off-nights were as bad as it gets at this level, including a stretch where he missed 18 consecutive shots over the course of four games. That's not exactly what you are looking for out of the guy who was supposed to replace Kemba Walker's leadership, and it showed in UConn's record.
Derek Needham, Fairfield: Needham had easily his worst season in college as a junior, averaging career-lows of 11.8 points and 3.4 assists. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that the Stags had a roster with quite a bit of talent (including Boston College transfer Rakim Sanders) and a new head coach in Sydney Johnson running the show, but that doesn't hide the fact that the Stags finished fourth in the MAAC after being considered one of the nation's best mid-majors. With Sanders gone, Needham will need to be fully recovered from a broken foot he suffered at the end of the season for the Stags to contend for the MAAC title next season.
Jake Odum, Indiana State: Individually, Odum had a good sophomore season, as he upped his production across the board. The problem is that the Sycamores did not have the same success. After making the NCAA tournament as a freshman and returning the majority of their roster, ISU finished seventh in the conference last year. In the Valley, you are not judged based on the numbers you put up, you are based on your team's record at end of the season. As Indiana State's leader, that falls on Odum's shoulders.
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