Flying Under The Radar
Taking a look at some of the more under-the-radar prospects who made an early impression to start the 2021-2022 college basketball season.
The 2022 draft cycle is still in its infancy and with a limited sample size of game film, it’s hard to make any definitive proclamations about prospects this early on in the evaluation process. However, while players like Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, Kennedy Chandler, and Jalen Duren are dominating much of the headlines for the impressions they made in their respective collegiate debuts, I wanted to highlight some more under the radar type prospects who caught my eye.
Keaston Willis, Louisiana Tech, G
I’ve got to be completely transparent, I tuned into the Alabama-Louisiana Tech game on Tuesday night mainly to watch the prospects on Nate Oats’ squad, and while I left impressed with Keon Ellis, Jahvon Quinerly, and JD Davison the player who kept making plays over and over again was Keaston Willis.
The sophomore guard who is a transfer from Incarnate Word jumped off the screen time and time again with the flashes he showed as a shot-maker. His 16 points off of the bench led the Bulldogs in scoring, and his shooting repertoire was on full display. Willis can shoot it off of the catch and clearly has some enticing range, but it was the added shots he made off of the dribble that sparked my intrigue.
Outside of his shooting, I really came away also impressed with how smooth of an athlete Willis appears to be and some of the shiftiness he has to his game. I believe he’s got enough first-step quickness to create off of the dribble offensively against most guards, while also having the lateral quickness to stay in front of most of them on the defensive end of the floor as well.
I’m not sure he’s a star by any means, but Willis looks like a potential rotational NBA player to me and I’m very curious to watch how his offensive arsenal grows over the course of the season.
Landers Nolley II, Memphis, G
This was another scenario where a prospect popped up on my radar without me even really initially looking or seeking out their talents. When it comes to Memphis this season all eyes will rightfully so be on freshman Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates, but junior Landers Nolley II could also find himself eventually on draft boards as well.
He’s a six-foot-seven swingman who really seems to be a confident shooter that also has some ability as a secondary playmaker. Like with Willis, I’m not sure Nolley II has any sort of star potential so to say but he looks to me awfully like a potential quality role player at the next level. The combination of shooting, size, and passing skills that he possesses should entice NBA teams in my opinion.
Ben Sheppard, Belmont, G
Of these three players, I think Ben Sheppard is the one I’m most interested in watching grow into a potential pro prospect. My guys Albert and Corey always talk about the importance of kinesthetics and Sheppard is one of those guys who just moves like you’d expected a basketball player to move. The Atlanta, Georgia native lit it up in the Bruins season-opening loss to Ohio, scoring 25 points while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Sheppard is an explosive athlete who moves well laterally and he uses that combination well to effectively slash to the rim. He’s also got great size and length for the two-guard spot, sporting a very lanky, slender six-foot-six frame. I also really liked what I saw from him from a shooting standpoint, as his shot mechanics looked fairly smooth.
As much as I may like Sheppard though, I do think he might have the most work to do to become pro-ready of these three prospects. He needs to continue to fill out his frame and dial in his shot mechanics to become a more consistent threat from the perimeter. Sheppard’s only converted 31.7 percent of his career attempts from beyond the arc in his three seasons at Belmont. That’s a clip that needs to improve and I’m also curious as to see if there are any more layers to his game than just being an athletic slasher/shooter.
As you see with a lot of the plays above, Sheppard’s not doing a ton in terms of creating his own shot. If he can showcase a more versatile offensive weaponry and some comfortability as a shot creator over the next few months, I think Sheppard could end up in that early second-round discussion before you know it.