We Just Ranked The Best One-and-Done Players in College Basketball History
Thanks to the NBA’s age restrictions, elite high school basketball players who might be suited to leap straight from the NCAA to the pros have instead spent a year playing college basketball.
As a result, every player taken first overall in the NBA Draft from John Wall in 2010 to Zion Williamson in 2019 was a freshman. If not for the so-called “one-and-done rule,” most of those players never would have played a single minute of college basketball. The rule has created an entire generation of one-and-done players who knew when their college careers started that they’d be brief.
Not every player who left college after one season is created equal. Some future superstars have left their mark on the college game, while others flamed out in the league. That's why we came up with a list of the 10 one-and-done players who accomplished the most in their one and only season playing college basketball.
10. Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Cal
Abdur-Rahim is an interesting case because he wasn’t obligated to wait a year before going to the NBA; he just ended up having an incredible freshman season at Cal. Not only did he produce a 3.5 GPA at one of the finest academic schools in the country, but he also averaged 21.1 and 8.4 rebounds per game for the Golden Bears. He was also the first freshman to win Pac-10 Player of the Year honors. Team success was a little lacking, although Abdur-Rahim did enough to sneak Cal into the NCAA Tournament as a no. 12 seed, which at the time was a big deal for the program.
9. John Wall, Kentucky
Wall was part of John Calipari’s first recruiting class at Kentucky, setting the stage for an endless parade of one-and-done players. In retrospect, Wall was also one of the best one-and-done athletes that Calipari has produced. He averaged 16.6 points and 6.5 assists per game, serving as the catalyst for a Kentucky team that was heavily dependent on its freshmen.
Wall ended up earning First-Team All-American honors and winning SEC Player of the Year, becoming just the second freshman to do so. Wall also carried that young Kentucky team to a 35-3 record and an Elite Eight appearance, which helped set the stage for many great Kentucky teams to come.
8. Trae Young, Oklahoma
Young wasn’t necessarily a guarantee to be a one-and-done lottery pick when the season began, but it became abundantly clear that he was an elite player. Young led the country in both points and assists while also topping the scoring totals that Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant had as freshmen in the Big 12.
Averaging 27.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, Young was a miracle worker at Oklahoma, taking a team that was 11-20 the previous season and turning them into an NCAA Tournament team. Despite a rough finish to the season and a loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Young led Oklahoma to three wins over top-10 teams that season, singlehandedly carrying the Sooners for much of the year.
7. RJ Barrett, Duke
It was easy for Barrett to be overlooked while playing with Zion Williamson at Duke, but he was nearly as good as his teammate during their freshmen campaign with the Blue Devils. Obviously, Barrett benefited a little from teams giving Williamson so much attention. But Barrett also set the Duke scoring record for points in a debut with 33 against Kentucky. That wouldn’t be the last time Barrett scored 30-plus points in a game. He also became the fourth player in Duke history with a triple-double.
In the end, Barrett was a First-Team All-American, averaging 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game, although he fell short of helping the Blue Devils reach the Final Four.
6. Greg Oden, Ohio State
Forget about all of the injuries that made Oden a bust in the NBA. During his lone season at Ohio State, no player in college basketball made a bigger impact on games. While there have plenty of great big men in college basketball history, virtually none of them were at Oden’s level as a freshman. He may have been a teenager at the time, but he played (and looked) like a 10-year NBA veteran.
Oden was just shy of averaging a double-double with 15.7 points and 9.6 rebounds, along with 3.3 blocks per game. He was perhaps the biggest reason why Ohio State reached the National Championship Game, albeit falling short and finishing the season 35-4.
5. Michael Beasley, Kansas State
Kansas State isn’t exactly a haven for the most talented players in the country, but Beasley was an exception during his one season with the Wildcats. He was the top player in his high school class and lived up to that billing.
Beasley led the country with 12.4 rebounds per game and was third nationally in scoring with 26.2 points per game. Naturally, he led the country with 28 double-doubles, dominating night after night and showing incredible consistency. The team around Beasley was nothing special, so he had to carry the Wildcats on his back most games.
Beasley was able to do enough to carry Kansas State to the NCAA Tournament and lead them to an upset of USC in the first round. More than any other player on our list, Beasley’s team would have been nothing without him, which says a lot about what he accomplished as a freshman.
4. Zion Williamson, Duke
It’s safe to say that college basketball had never seen a player like Williamson before he arrived at Duke. He was bigger and stronger than everyone he played against. Williamson was so powerful that he once ripped through his sneaker, injuring his knee in the process. Despite that injury, Williamson was so dominant throughout the season that he was the runaway choice for National Player of the Year, averaging 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.
However, Williamson loses points because he couldn’t carry Duke to a championship. Despite an all-star supporting cast around Williamson, Duke barely escaped the Round of 32 and the Sweet 16 before losing in the Elite Eight.
3. Anthony Davis, Kentucky
Davis might have had the most diverse skill set of any freshmen to ever play college basketball. A growth spurt late in high school gave him the dribbling skills of a guard with the size of a big man. He was able to affect games in a multitude of ways, becoming a dominant force on both ends of the court. He ended up averaging 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, not to mention 4.7 blocks per game on the defensive end, helping him win Consensus National Player of the Year honors.
It helped that Davis played on a star-studded team at Kentucky that had six players selected in the NBA Draft that year, including second-overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. But it was Davis who led the way and earned Final Four MOP honors.
2. Kevin Durant, Texas
At Texas, Durant was tall and skinny, a byproduct of growing more than half of a foot between his junior year of high school and the start of his college career. But his lean frame and lack of physical strength never held him back in college.
Durant dropped 25.8 points and grabbed 11.1 rebounds per game, making him the obvious choice for Big 12 Player of the Year and the first freshman to sweep all of the major national Player of the Year awards.
Durant’s personal accomplishments weren’t quite enough to lead his team to success. The Longhorns lost a lot of their big games against ranked teams and got blown out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. However, there’s no denying that Durant had one of the best individual seasons of any freshmen in college basketball history.
1. Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse
Even before the NBA instituted its one-and-done rule, Anthony chose to leave college after his lone season at Syracuse, inadvertently becoming a trailblazer of sorts. Initially, Anthony wasn’t on the NBA’s radar in high school. He was viewed as someone who might need two or three years in college to develop. But in the end, he has turned out to be the best one-and-done of all-time, largely because he’s one of the few who won a national championship.
Somehow, Anthony only received Second-Team All-American recognition, largely because freshmen simply weren’t given that honor at the time. But anyone paying attention that season knew he was the best player in the country, averaging 22.2 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Most importantly, Anthony earned Final Four MOP honors after leading a young Syracuse team to the 2003 national championship.
Photo: Getty Images