Malik Newman was widely considered the best guard in the 2015 class, and could have gone pretty much anywhere in the country. Kentucky and Kansas pursued Newman until the very end, and for a long time it looked as if one of those two might get him -- until Ben Howland took over for Rick Ray at Mississippi State after the 2014-15 season.
Newman, a Callaway, Mississippi native whose father played for the Bulldogs in the late 1990s, decided to stay home and play for Howland at Mississippi State.
Two years later, while every other top-10 prospect from the 2015 class has been selected in the NBA draft, Newman is looking to restart his career at Kansas after transferring from Mississippi State following his freshman season. He averaged 11.3 points but struggled mightily late in the season, hitting double-figures only twice in the final six weeks as the Bulldogs finished 14-17.
Would things have been different had he gone to Lawrence out of high school?
We'll never know, but Newman's situation isn't unique and it's one we're seeing more and more lately as elite-level high school prospects -- and college programs -- begin to think outside the box during recruitments.
Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and other bluebloods and second-tier powerhouses will always be the destination of choice for most top-10 prospects, but should they be? Has it made a significant difference for players who decided to carve their own path?
We looked back at every class since the ESPN recruiting database started in 2007 to see how players who went an unconventional college route fared at the college level, and whether it impacted their NBA draft stock.
The definition of "unconventional college route" is fairly subjective, but for argument's sake, we'll go with a school that didn't reach the NCAA tournament in the two seasons before the prospect arriving on campus and isn't considered one of the nation's bluebloods or second-tier programs (Texas, Florida, Ohio State, etc.).
Michael Beasley, Kansas State Wildcats
No. 8 prospect in 2007, went to Kansas State after the Wildcats hired Dalonte Hill -- who had strong ties to Beasley's former AAU program -- as an assistant coach. Averaged 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds and was the second pick in the 2008 NBA draft.
JaMychal Green, Alabama Crimson Tide
No. 6 in 2008, Alabama native; stayed all four seasons at Alabama. Put up solid numbers (13.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG), but went to the NCAA tournament only once and went undrafted in 2012.
Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
No. 2 in 2009, Atlanta native. Helped lead Georgia Tech to an NCAA tournament appearance before being selected third in the 2010 NBA draft.
Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State Cowboys
No. 10 in 2011, his half-brother, Byron Eaton, played at Oklahoma State from 2005 to '09. Nash stayed all four seasons, averaging 17.2 points as a senior and playing in three NCAA tournaments, before going undrafted in 2015.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State Cowboys
No. 10 in 2012, committed to Oklahoma State with high school teammate Phil Forte. Won Big 12 Player of the Year as a freshman but returned for his sophomore season. Selected sixth in the 2014 NBA draft.
Jaylen Brown, California Golden Bears
No. 4 in 2015, helped carry the Golden Bears to a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament before being drafted third in 2016.
Henry Ellenson, Marquette Golden Eagles
No. 5 in 2015, followed his older brother, Wally, to the Golden Eagles. Averaged 17.0 points and 9.7 rebounds but missed the NCAA tournament. Drafted 18th in 2016.
Ivan Rabb, California Golden Bears
No. 8 in 2015, Oakland native. Could have left after freshman season and been a lottery pick, but despite averaging 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds as a sophomore, was picked 35th in June's NBA draft.
Malik Newman, Mississippi State Bulldogs
Markelle Fultz, Washington Huskies
No. 7 in 2016. The Huskies finished 9-22, but Fultz averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists as a freshman and was picked first overall in the NBA draft.
Note: The criteria left out two former No. 1 NBA draft picks in Anthony Bennett (UNLV) and Ben Simmons (LSU).
There are clearly some trends developing just by looking at those 10 players. Elite players generally don't go to a top-tier program unless it's close to home or there are strong ties to the school. That would carry over to Bennett and Simmons as well, with Bennett attending Findlay Prep in Nevada and Simmons' godfather coaching at LSU.
Secondly, outside of 2015, the past five years were quiet for this trend. The top 10 in 2013 had five players commit to Kentucky, two to Kansas and one apiece to Duke, Arizona and Florida. The class of 2014 had two Duke, two Kentucky, two North Carolina and one apiece to Kansas, Arizona and Texas. Besides Fultz, 2016 had three sign to Duke, three to Kentucky and one apiece to UCLA, Kansas and Michigan State.
The purpose of this research, though, was to see whether a prospect going a different route impacted his NBA draft stock. Five of the 10 aforementioned players were still selected in the top six picks, and another was picked in the middle of the first round. One was picked in the second round, two went undrafted and one is still in college.
How does that compare to other top 10 prospects that went to the usual suspects? If we include Bennett and Simmons in this category, the rest of the top 10 prospects from 2007 to '16 (88 players total) featured 42 lottery picks, 19 non-lottery first-rounders, 12 second-rounders, 13 players undrafted and two players still in college.
Although it's a small sample size, here's the comparison (with three players still in college):
Proven powers: 47.8 percent
Unconventional: 50 percent
Non-lottery first round
Proven powers: 21.6 percent
Unconventional: 10 percent
Proven powers: 13.6 percent
Unconventional: 10 percent
Proven powers: 14.8 percent
Unconventional: 20 percent
Basically, there's not a huge difference.
Two notes: Every player drafted No. 1 since 2007 was a top-10 prospect coming out of high school with the exception of Blake Griffin in 2009, and 28 of 50 top-five picks were top-10 prospects. If a player is that highly regarded coming out high school, odds are he will hear his name early in the NBA draft.
So who's next on this list?
Two players fit the bill for the upcoming season: Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. and Alabama's Collin Sexton. Porter was the No. 1-ranked player in the country until Marvin Bagley III reclassified in August. He originally committed to Washington after his father was hired as an assistant coach but reopened his recruitment once Lorenzo Romar was fired. Porter's father was then hired as an assistant coach at Missouri, and Porter followed shortly after. The Tigers haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 2013 and won eight SEC games in the past three seasons combined.
Sexton was the second-best guard in the ESPN 100, and chose Alabama over Kansas, Georgia and others. Avery Johnson recruited him before pretty much any other high-major school, and remained a factor even after Sexton came out of nowhere during the spring of his junior season. The Crimson Tide last made the NCAA tournament in 2012, the only time they've reached it since 2006.
Both players are projected in the top eight of Jonathan Givony's initial 2018 mock draft.
Will bucking the trend and not going to a proven power pay off for both players? If history is any indication, they'll be just fine.