But a couple months later, I’d guess all that has changed. Meeks has not only cemented himself as an all-conference player, but also a National Player of the Year candidate who has the full attention of NBA scouts.
But he’s not the only SEC player who could find himself drawing NBA paychecks soon. Here’s a look at the top 10 SEC prospects.
1) Patrick Patterson, F Kentucky
NBA comparison: Antonio McDyess
Stats: 17.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 66% fg, 78% ft
Patterson might be an inch or two shorter than the ideal power forward, but he should turn out to be a very good NBA player, given his strength, athleticism and basketball IQ. Patterson gets great position in the post, and is able to finish with either hand without any wasted motion. He shoots a high percentage from the field, and rarely forces the action. He’s able to run the floor well, and he gives maximum effort every time he’s out there. Look for Patterson to be a late lottery/mid teens pick when he makes himself available.
2) Tyler Smith, F Tennessee
NBA comparison: Josh Howard
Stats: 17.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 3.8 apg, 46% fg
Smith is an intriguing talent who could become a very good NBA player in the right system. At 6’7”, he’s got good size to play on the wings, but is often most comfortable playing a point forward position and trying to run the offense. Smith has great ball-handling and passing abilities, and he’s got enough athleticism to finish down low against bigger players. Smith’s biggest problem has been consistency. He tends to get frustrated easy, and can force the action if things don’t go his way early. But there’s not denying his talent, and he could end up being a solid player in the league.
3) AJ Ogilvy, F/C Vanderbilt
NBA comparison: Matt Bonner
Stats: 15.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 54% fg
Ogilvy hasn’t exploded the way some people thought he would, but he’s still a very solid big man who will find an NBA home. More of a finesse than power player, Ogilvy has solid touch on his shots, and displays good footwork in the post. He’s a 75% free throw shooter, and makes good decisions with the ball. He’s not always as aggressive as he should be, and he rarely takes over a game the way his skills suggest he could. He also has mediocre rebounding numbers, another sign of his tendency to avoid contact down low. However, with his size and ball skills, he is a first-round lock when he chooses to come out, and could venture into late lottery territory if he shows more aggressiveness.
4) Jarvis Varnado, F/C Mississippi State
NBA comparison: Tyrus Thomas
Stats: 13 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 4.9 bpg, 62% fg
Varnado is a player who will be able to contribute to an NBA team from the first day because of his shot-blocking and defense. A terrific athlete with great timing, Varnado changes the way teams attack the basket, and his aggressiveness sets the tone for the defense. He’s not polished offensively, and can be prone to foul trouble at times, but he’ll likely be tasked with rebounding and defense only when he hits the league. Varnado plays with a ton of energy and enthusiasm, and he should immediately help a team when he decides to jump to the league.
5) Jodie Meeks, G Kentucky
NBA comparison: Ben Gordon
Stats: 26.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.5 spg, 45% 3pt
Meeks has gone from off the NBA radar to a hot prospect in the matter of three months with his scoring outbursts this year. A terrific athlete with a smooth outside shot, Meeks has proven to be unguardable at times this year, and he’s definitely got the ability to put up some points in the NBA. He’s a little undersized for the shooting guard position, but his strength should help to offset that. The only thing that remains to be seen is if he’s still capable of getting hot when he’s not the number one option on the floor and he’s not able to shoot himself into a rhythm. Gordon has made a living off being instant offense off the bench for the Bulls, and Meeks could easily fit a similar role. If his play continues, he could continue to climb even further up this list.
6) Nick Calathes, G Florida
NBA comparison: Brent Barry (later years)
Stats: 17.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 6,6 apg, 52% fg
Calathes doesn’t look like an NBA player at first glance, with his slight build and lack of overwhelming athleticism. However, there are few players in the country smarter than Calathes, who does a little of everything for the Gators from the PG spot. Calathes is very adept at running a team, and is a very crafty passer and ball-handler who routinely makes the right decision. He’s a solid, though not spectacular shooter, and he’s a feisty competitor who doesn’t back down from a challenge. He’s slowly developed into more of a leader this year for the young Gators, and he’s got a great basketball IQ. Calathes will be hurt by his lack of strength and supreme athleticism at the next level, but he would be a great back-up PG who is capable of running the offense.
7) Alonzo Gee G/F Alabama
NBA comparison: Dahntay Jones
Stats: 13.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.4 apg
Gee is the classic ‘tweener prospect, as he’s the right size for an NBA shooting guard, but his game is more suited to the small forward position. Gee is a terrific athlete, but lacks the perimeter skills to play on the perimeter for long stretches. He’s a very good rebounder because of his athleticism, and he has the potential to be solid defender with his strength, but his lack of an outside shot will likely cause him to fall to the second round. But he should be able to still make a roster, and in the right system, he could be a solid rotation player.
8) Michael Washington, F Arkansas
NBA comparison: Drew Gooden
Stats: 16.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 58% fg
Washington is still flying under the national radar for the most part, but he’s got all the skills that make NBA scouts excited. Washington is big and active in the post, and he’s slowly developing his offensive game. He’s got great size and has a toughness that scouts will love. In the Hogs’ two biggest wins this season, he dropped 24 and 11 on Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin and then 22 and 9 against the massive Texas front line. Washington still needs some more polish on his game, but he’s made dramatic improvements since last season, and there’s no reason to think it won’t continue. With another year under his belt, he could rapidly shoot up this list.
9) Chris Johnson, C LSU
NBA comparison: JaVale McGee
Stats: 7.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.3 bpg, 71% ft
Johnson’s stats hardly scream NBA, but GMs have proven time and again that they’ll take a chance on anyone with size, and Johnson has that in bunches. He’s painfully thin, but he’s got great reach and is very active, although he spends more time on the perimeter than he should. Johnson is a very good athlete, capable of putting the ball on the floor and creating his own shot against other big men. However, he tends to disappear for stretches, and his production hardly matches his potential. On the plus side, he is a solid defender down low, and plays with a ton of energy. Look for him to get a shot in the second round somewhere.
10) Scotty Hopson, G Tennessee
NBA comparison: Richard Jefferson
Stats: 8.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 79% ft
Hopson hasn’t had the breakout freshman season some expected of him, but he’s still got a world of potential. Hopson has great size for the off-guard position, and he’s a freak of an athlete, capable of finishing above the rim. He’s got a solid perimeter shot as well, although he’s been far too inconsistent with it this year. Hopson’s biggest problem may be his confidence, which has buoyed up and down this year as he adjusts to the college game. He definitely needs another year or two to mature, but he’s got enough talent and potential to someday find himself in the late lottery.