Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - What makes a great small forward is largely a subjective matter.
Some prefer lanky athletes, who explode to the rim and crash the glass. Others are enticed by do-it-all types who stuffs the stat sheet with regularity. Still others would prefer a scorer with some height who can shoot just as effectively from 3-point range as from inside the paint.
Luckily, of the top college players at the position, there is something for every taste. The following is a list of the best of the best heading into the 2014-15 season.
Terran Petteway (Nebraska) - Lincoln isn't exactly the basketball town that others in the Big Ten are. However, last season, thanks in large part to the phenomenal play of Petteway, the Cornhuskers put themselves firmly on the map, and into the NCAA Tournament. It was the first time since 1998 they had earned a spot in the field. Without Petteway, there is no way that drought would have ended in 2014. Basketball is that rare game where a single player can carry an entire team on his or her shoulders, and Petteway did just that. The 6-foot-6 swingman netted a Big Ten-best 18.1 ppg on 42.6 percent shooting, while also leading the league in possession percentage (.316) and shot percentage (.320), illustrating just how critical he was to the Cornhuskers' success. Petteway had some trouble in Nebraska's 74-60 loss to Baylor in the second round of the NCAA tourney, going a mere 5-of-15 from the floor, but if he can will his team there again, he certainly has a shot at redemption.
Treveon Graham (VCU) - Rebounding may not be the flashiest of statistics, but it is certainly an important one. After all, possessing the ball is the most fundamental necessity in the game, aside from being able to put it in the basket. Graham doesn't have any trouble doing either. The 6-foot-6 forward led the Rams in scoring last season (15.8 ppg), while ranking behind only Second Team All-Atlantic 10 forward Juvonte Reddic in rebounds (7 rpg). It should be noted that the majority of Graham's boards came at the defensive end, but he also secured nearly two offensive caroms per contest, which is a solid rate for a player that doesn't spend the bulk of his minutes posting up down low. Graham may have been behind Reddic on the glass, but he leapfrogged his teammate in all-conference honors, grabbing a spot on the First Team. Graham also has plenty of postseason experience, having played in each of the last three NCAA Tournaments, while working hard on defense in Shaka Smart's signature system.
Le'Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State) - Marcus Smart and Markel Brown may have left Stillwater, but that doesn't mean the Cowboys will be dropping off a cliff in terms of Big 12 contention. Head coach Travis Ford has Nash (as well as Phil Forte) to thank for that. Nash possesses great height (6-foot-7) and bulk (235 pounds), and is a former McDonald's All-American. He is a fluid scorer, who shows no fear when driving to the rim. He also has an array of dribbling moves to confuse defenders and get himself into position for a shot. Plus, he finishes around the rim extremely well, even when absorbing contact. All those tools only amounted to 13.9 ppg last season, but that was in part because he was playing in the shadow of both Smart and Brown. There will be nothing in his way this season, which should send shivers up the spine of opposing defenders. Fright levels should be even greater considering he has improved his shooting by more than 10 percent over the last two years, leading to a 52 percent success rate last season.
Branden Dawson (Michigan State) - Like Nash, Dawson will have a real chance to shine in 2014-15 because of the large number of vacancies on Michigan State's roster. Tom Izzo isn't one to enter a season without retooling, but part of that process will be getting the ball into Dawson's capable hands as often as possible. As a junior last season, Dawson dropped in 11.2 ppg, grabbed 8.3 rpg while connecting on 61.3 percent of his shots from the floor. That shooting percentage is indicative of Dawson's difference from most players his height. Rather than provide the Spartans with a slashing scorer who can shoot from all over the floor, Dawson makes more deliberate moves with the ball and is more selective with his shot. As a primary option he may need to expand his range, both in terms of his offensive moves and the distance from which he can still be considered a scoring threat. If the brilliant flashes he exhibited during the NCAA Tournament (26 points against Harvard, 24 against top seed Virginia) are any indication, he should have no trouble adjusting to a more expanded role.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Arizona) - Other than a guy named Aaron Gordon, Hollis-Jefferson was the most important high school recruit brought to Tucson last season. The younger brother of a former Temple forward, Hollis Jefferson spurned his brother's school for a chance to play in the primetime of the Pac-12. It was a great choice, as he got to play deep into the NCAA Tournament for a legitimate national title contender as a freshman. The 6-foot-7 Pennsylvania native was not the breakout star that Gordon was, but he was still a crucial piece to the puzzle. Hollis-Jefferson played in all 38 games for the Wildcats, including six starts, and provided 9.1 ppg on 49 percent shooting as well as 5.7 rpg. Arizona head coach Sean Miller saw fit to give Hollis-Jefferson some expanded time come tournament time, which the rookie capitalized on, scoring in double figures in four straight games, which is the longest such streak of his young career. Prized freshman Stanley Johnson will push him for minutes, but that scoring streak will likely carry over into his sophomore campaign and may not stop until he's a rookie in the NBA.
Honorable Mention: Anthony Drmic (Boise State), Larry Nance, Jr. (Wyoming), Sam Dekker (Wisconsin), Dez Wells (Maryland), Winston Shepard (San Diego State) and Georges Niang (Iowa State)