Who is the best returning prospect in college basketball?
That’s not an easy question this season. While everybody is excited about the 2023 NBA Draft, the top three projected players aren’t even playing in the NCAA. After that, we still have a paucity of returning prospects, even relative to recent years. Normally we get at least a couple of non-freshmen who rate as top-20 picks or better entering the season — think Purdue’s Jaden Ivey a year ago.
This season, not so much. The top 15 players on our Sam Vecenie’s most recent Big Board are either one-and-dones or not in NCAA basketball. Only four of his top 25 played in college basketball last season. Even compared to recent drafts that were dominated by freshmen, we’re in a much iffier landscape for returning players.
Nonetheless, at least a few had me intrigued heading into this season, either because I think they’ve been underrated by the masses or because I share in the excitement held by other draft watchers. Besides, every season, upperclassmen break through at the NBA level, and we realize we should have known better the whole time — think Desmond Bane from the 2020 draft or Herb Jones in 2021.
It may not be a great crop, but here are a few of the players who A) have me interested enough to keep an eye on through the season or B) I think I’m more bullish on than the median draftnik. (Ages listed are as of Dec. 1.):
Kris Murray, 22, 6-8 junior, SF, Iowa
You might have heard of his twin brother, Keegan, who was the fourth pick in the 2022 draft and is starting for the Sacramento Kings. Kris Murray won’t go fourth in the 2023 draft, but he has a great shot of being a first-rounder despite the fact that he will be 23 when the next NBA season starts.
Kris only played 18 minutes a game last season because, well, his awesome twin brother played the same position, but he’s putting up numbers so far this season that are shockingly similar to what Keegan did a year ago. The similarities in their games are rather obvious as well, with the exception that Kris is left-handed — but you can see the same natural scoring instinct and soft touch from all three levels. I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to see a pro-caliber forward here.
Terrence Shannon, 22, 6-6 senior, SF, Illinois
I’ve been on the Terrence Shannon bandwagon since his freshman year at Texas Tech, while noting that he needed to develop his right hand and improve his outside shot to be a viable NBA wing. Well, it took a while, but voila.