Stealthy mid-major programs have NBA talent

Updated: November 28, 2009, 10:20 AM ET
By Chad Ford

Every year NBA GMs hand out lots of love to players from the big conferences. The overwhelming majority of players drafted in the first round come from schools in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC and Big East.

The few spots not taken by those conferences are usually filled with players from Conference USA (thanks to Memphis), the Mountain West, the Atlantic 10 and the WCC (thanks to Gonzaga).

However, every year one or two players sneak in from the mid-majors. VCU's Eric Maynor, IUPUI's George Hill, Eastern Washington's Rodney Stuckey, Nevada's JaVale McGee and Western Kentucky's Courtney Lee have all been taken in the first round in recent drafts. None of those players are what you'd call household names, but all have found a measure of success in their early careers.

This year could be a really good year for players from smaller conferences. We already profiled one potential lottery pick, VCU's Larry Sanders, two weeks ago. Here's a look at seven other players from mid-major schools that NBA scouts and executives say have a realistic shot of landing somewhere in the first round.

Paul George, 6-foot-7, F, So., Fresno State

George is the highest-rated player on the list. He was totally off the radar screen for much of last year, but now scouts are following him virtually every game. A number of NBA scouts I spoke with think he could end up in the lottery at the end of the season. George is the prototypical small forward who can shoot, rebound and run the floor.

Scouts worry a bit about his rail-thin frame, his lack of toughness, a shaky handle and some inconsistency. But it's hard to deny the talent is there to be a terrific pro.