Basketball season is beginning to ramp up, as both the NBA D-League and the NBA near the end of their regular seasons and the NCAA reaches March Madness. Many basketball fans consider this the most exciting time of the year, as the sheer unpredictability is incredible to see.
With so many eyes on each game, heroes can be made in the matter of a few seconds. Throughout the years, we've seen players like Harold Arceneaux from Weber State, Bryce Drew from Valparaiso and Jai Lewis from George Mason all came out of nowhere to shine on the national stage while others like Stephen Curry and Carmelo Anthony used it as a way to cement themselves as a notch above the rest of the field.
While many of these players have their fifteen minutes of fame, others have continued their careers professionally. Many of those standouts from March Madness now find themselves in the NBA D-League, with a good portion of those players on the brink of the NBA.
Aaron Craft - Santa Cruz Warriors (Ohio State - 2013)
While he had already established himself as one of the top point guards in the Big Ten by the time that the 2013 NCAA Tournament rolled around, Craft stepped up big time for the Buckeyes when the needed it the most. Entering the tournament as a two-seed, Ohio State called upon Craft to put the dagger in #10 seed Iowa State's upset hopes. Following that big win, he assisted on LaQuinton Ross' last-second shot that beat Arizona.
After going undrafted, Craft joined the Santa Cruz Warriors last season and was named to the D-League All-Defensive First Team, as well as being named Defensive Player of the Year and capturing the D-League Championship. He began this season in Hungary, but has since re-joined Santa Cruz and has found his niche as a defensive stopper and floor general.
Aaron Harrison - Erie Bayhawks (Kentucky - 2014)
As part of a large 2013 Kentucky recruiting class in which the school landed both himself and his brother, Andrew, along with future first-round picks Julius Randle and James Young, Aaron Harrison joined the Wildcats with big expectations bestowed upon him. This all came to fruition during the 2014 NCAA Tournament, when Harrison had one of the best displays of clutch shooting in recent memory. With back-to-back game-winners against Michigan and Wisconsin, Harrison helped guide his team to an appearance in the National Championship.
He returned to school after the season had concluded and after going undrafted following the season, he signed with the Charlotte Hornets. He has made appearances for the Hornets periodically throughout the season, but has often found himself in the D-League with assignments to both the Oklahoma City Blue and the Erie Bayhawks.
Cleanthony Early - Westchester Knicks (Wichita State - 2013)
Each year, it seems like at least one team makes an unexpected run deep into the NCAA Tournament and in 2013 it was the #9 seed Wichita State Shockers who were led by Early. He averaged 16.2 points per game during the tournament and was able to pull off upset after upset, including one over #1 seed Gonzaga and future first-round pick Kelly Olynyk. The Shockers managed to reach the Final Four before succumbing to eventual champion Louisville, but Early's play was able to be recognized on a national level.
Currently on assignment from the New York Knicks, the team who picked him with the 34th overall pick in 2014, Early is working his way back from an injury sustained after he was shot in the knee less than three months ago. It will take time to bounce back, but Early is undoubtedly hoping to #ShockTheWorld once again.
DeAndre Daniels - Raptors 905 (Connecticut - 2014)
Many remember the 2014 NCAA Tournament as the rise of point guard Shabazz Napier, but he certainly wasn't winning games on his own. DeAndre Daniels, then a junior, played the best basketball of his college career throughout UConn's championship run and he was especially crucial in the team's game against DeAndre Kane and Iowa State, where he dumped in 27 points. Entering the tournament with 100-1 odds to win it all, Daniels helped pull off an unforgettable string of games.
After being drafted by the Toronto Raptors in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft, Daniels headed to Australia to play for a season. He returned to the States this year and had intended to join Toronto, but he suffered a fracture in his right foot that knocked him out of commission for a few months. He has since returned and after his D-League debut on March 12th, he's chomping at the bit to break into the NBA.
Jimmer Fredette - Westchester Knicks (BYU - 2011)
A paragraph could never do Fredette's college career justice, but it goes without saying that he was potentially the most electrifying college player of all-time. He had set the tone for his brilliance with a huge 37-point outburst in a double-overtime win against Florida in the tournament the year prior, but he took it to a different level in 2011. He scored 32 and 34 to beat Wofford and Gonzaga, respectively, and posted 32 in a Sweet Sixteen loss to Florida. He was able to hit from essentially anywhere on the court and helped give BYU their deepest tournament run in 30 years.
He parlayed his tournament performance into being selected 10th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks (eventually traded to the Sacramento Kings on draft day) in the 2011 NBA Draft and has bounced around the league before finding his way to Westchester. He has seen some time in the NBA throughout the year, but while in the D-League he has been named All-Star Game MVP and has helped lead the team to a playoff spot.
Russ Smith - Delaware 87ers (Louisville - 2013)
After helping Louisville to a Final Four appearance in 2012, Russ Smith returned for his junior year along with backcourt partner Peyton Siva to attempt to make another bid at the NCAA Championship. Averaging a team-leading 22.3 points per game throughout the 2013 tournament, Smith was able to accomplish his goal over future first-round pick Trey Burke and the Michigan Wolverines. In Louisville's game against Oregon in particular, Smith managed to score 40% of the team's points in the team's 77-69 Sweet Sixteen win.
He returned to Louisville for his senior year and was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft and was subsequently traded to the New Orleans Pelicans the following day. He spent some time in the NBA with both the Pelicans and was then traded to the Memphis Grizzlies. He has played for them in parts of this year and last, but made his way to the D-League in December. After being acquired by the 87ers he has been on a tear and has put himself atop the Prospect Watch on the NBA D-League's website.