Some helped their teams win national championships, others were all-Americans, and many went on to get selected high in the NBA Draft. Thanks, mostly, to a rule enacted in 2005 that prevented high school players from going straight to the league, college basketball has been blessed–or cursed, depending on how you look at it–by talented freshmen.
Which one-and-done players are the best of the 21st century, though? We rank the top ten.
10. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky, 2011-12
College stats: 11.9 points, 7.4 rebounds
The defensive stalwart wasn’t the best player on his team, but maybe he could have been. His unselfishness, though, was a major reason why his squad ended up being so successful.
Kentucky won the national championship in his lone year in school. Kidd-Gilchrist was a second-team all-American and a first-team all-SEC player.
9. O.J. Mayo, Southern California, 2007-08
College stats: 20.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.3. assists
His recruitment to Los Angeles ended up hurting Southern California in more ways than one, but for his one season on the court, O.J. Mayo was terrific. He was a first-team all-Pac-10 player and shot better than 40 percent from the 3-point line.
His team simply ran into better teams, though, as USC lost to Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and a UCLA team featuring multiple NBA players in the semifinals of the Pac-10 Tournament.
8. Greg Oden, Ohio State, 2006-07
College stats: 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds
To fully understand how good Oden was during his one season in Columbus, it’s probably best to look at a player in the NBA: Kevin Durant. The league’s best scorer and second-best player to LeBron James was picked behind Oden in the 2007 NBA Draft. And at the time, many felt, obviously, that Oden would be the better pro, but the pick wasn’t just made on potential.
Oden won the National Defensive Player of the Year award—the only freshman to do so—and came within a game of winning the national title. Ohio State lost to a veteran Florida squad in the title game, which won it all for the second year in a row.
7. John Wall, Kentucky, 2009-10
College stats: 16.6 points, 6.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds
He’s most famous for his time in Lexington for his dance moves, but Wall was one of the most athletic and talented point guards the college game has ever had. In John Calipari’s final season at Memphis, he coached Tyreke Evans, and in his first year at Kentucky, he had Wall. Not a bad transition.
Wall led Kentucky to a 35-3 season and was one game away from making the Final Four (the Wildcats lost to West Virginia in the Elite Eight). He failed to win the National Player of the Year awards, which went to Ohio State’s Evan Turner, but some pundits still claim those honors should have gone to Wall.
6. Michael Beasley, Kansas State, 2007-08
College stats: 26.2 points, 12.4 rebounds
Beasley is one of the most potent scorers college basketball has ever seen. A season after a certain Texas freshman attained nearly every offensive Big 12 record, Beasley erased those marks with records of his own. He set a Big 12 single season record for points per game and finished with 13 30-point games, the most in conference history.
Beasley also set a national record for double doubles in a season with 28. His Kansas State squad had little postseason success, though, losing to Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
5. Derrick Rose, Memphis, 2007-08
College stats: 14.9 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds
He wasn’t even the best player on his team (Chris Douglas-Roberts was) and his regular season stat line was definitely short of great, but Rose was better than anyone when it mattered. The point guard led Memphis to the NCAA Tournament’s championship game, and during that six-game stretch, he averaged 20.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game.
Late in that national championship contest against Kansas, Rose missed two critical free throws. If he’d made them, Memphis would likely have won the game, and Rose would probably be ranked higher on this list.
4. Kevin Love, UCLA, 2006-07
College stats: 17.5 points, 10.6 rebounds
During the early-to-mid 2000s, Ben Howland’s UCLA program made the Final Four three straight seasons. Love was the Bruins’ best player for the last of the NCAA Tournament semifinal appearances.
He led UCLA in scoring and rebounding and finished the year with 23 double-doubles. Only Beasley totaled more. Love was an all-American and the then Pac-10’s Player of the Year.
3. Kevin Durant, Texas, 2006-07
College stats: 25.8 points, 11.1 rebounds
He didn’t win a national championship and his team won just one game in the NCAA Tournament. But one could make a good argument for Kevin Durant to be No. 1 on this list. If his team had been more successful in the postseason, he’d certainly be at the top of this ranking. Perhaps no player in the modern era of college basketball has had a better season than Durant did in 2006-07.
He swept the National Player of the Year awards and remains the only freshman to do so. Durant was the only player that season to finish in the top ten in the country in scoring and rebounding. His Longhorns fell to Southern California in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
2. Anthony Davis, Kentucky, 2011-12
College stats: 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.7 blocks
While Wall was Calipari’s first big one-and-done recruit at Kentucky, and the current Washington Wizard is probably the coach’s most famous prodigy, it was Davis who was most successful in his only year in school. No big man in college basketball history had a more dominant season than Davis did in 2011-12. He won nearly every National Player of the Year award and set an SEC record for blocks in a season by a freshman, surpassing Shaquille O’Neal’s mark set at Louisiana State.
He helped lead Kentucky to a national championship, and set an NCAA Tournament record for blocks in a title game in the bout against Kansas.
1. Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse, 2002-03
College stats: 22.2 points, 10 rebounds, 2.2 assists
The Baltimore, Md. native could have gone straight from high school to the NBA. The league’s rule that requires players to be a year removed from high school before entering the draft didn’t take effect until 2005. But Anthony opted to attend college anyway, and his year at Syracuse was one of the most successful college seasons in history.
Anthony led the Orange to their first national championship, beating Kansas in the NCAA Tournament’s championship game. Anthony was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Why is he ahead of Davis, who accomplished all of that, too? Anthony was working with a lot less talent than the Kentucky big man. The 2012 Kentucky squad had five players selected in the 2012 NBA Draft. Only one other player from that Syracuse team was picked: Hakeem Warrick in the 2005 Draft.