I was in the press box at the College World Series when news broke about Michael Qualls' ACL tear. The Arkansas media, which generally does a good job at not publicly expressing emotion regarding the program, heard the news, the heartbreak for Qualls was loud and visible. Everybody in that group had watched Qualls grow as a person and as a basketball player for the last few years, and he's grown into the type of player that's incredibly easy to cheer for. Not only is he probably the most exciting Razorback since the '90s, he's fun to talk to off the court as well. All of us want him to succeed.
We've watched him grow from a talented player suffering a slump midseason as a sophomore, and briefly suspended, into a clear team leader and one of the best players in the SEC. He was originally projected to be a 2nd round pick with a shot at moving into the 1st round, but that's all - Qualls pun not intended - up in the air now.
It's still certainly possible a team could draft him if someone out there likes him well enough, but unfortunately there's also decent chance that no teams are willing to spend a 2nd round draft pick on someone who will have to miss most if not all of next season, especially since a 2nd round selection doesn't guarantee a roster spot for anybody, even for healthy players.
So, Qualls may have rehab and free agency in his future, but if a team does take a chance on him Thursday night and is willing to wait, and if Qualls is able to get back to 100%, that team will end up with one of the most exciting players in college basketball over the last couple of years.
Qualls is most known for his highlight reel dunks, as anyone who's been featured 13 times on SportsCenter's Top Ten would be, but that's hardly the extent of his game. You don't score 1,100 career points, as Qualls did, simply from dunking.
For some reason, there continues to be an urban legend that Mike Anderson doesn't develop players, but Qualls is exhibit 1A in that being a ridiculous idea. A lightly recruited 3* SG/SF out of high school in Shreveport, Qualls' only other major offers were from Tennessee and Ole Miss. He played few significant minutes in the first half of his freshman season, but earned more playing time late in the year after beginning to hit some jump shots in the middle of conference play.
That led to a starting role for most of his sophomore season and a true leadership role this year, in which he started all but two games. He developed into a reliable offensive weapon, going from a 22.2% three point shooter as a freshman (only attempted 27) to 33.3% as a junior (attempted 165), specializing in corner threes, a spot on the floor in which NBA range isn't much different from college. He was also more aggressive getting into the lane and drawing contact. He nearly doubled the rate at which he drew fouls since his freshman year, and was 2nd in the SEC in fouls drawn per 40 minutes at 6.0. And since he also significantly improved his free throw shooting (60.9% as a freshman, 68% sophomore, 77.5% junior), his ability to draw contact turned into a huge weapon for Arkansas.
Qualls stands at 6'6", but because of his elite vertical jump and long arms (over 7' wingspan), he was able to play above his height when he wants to. He was not an elite rebounder but could occasionally fly in for a rebound over other players. For instance, he only reached double-digit rebounds once last season, and it came in the team's last game against North Carolina and the Tar Heels' massive front line. He also grabbed nine boards in the Hogs' first loss to Kentucky at Rupp Arena, so the ability to be a great rebounder seems to be there.
It should also be noted that Qualls was unquestionably Arkansas' best player in the last few games of the season when it mattered most. The Razorbacks would have been upset by Wofford in their first NCAA Tournament game if Qualls didn't have a brilliant 8-for-9 shooting game for 20 points. He followed that up with 27 points to go along with those 10 rebounds against North Carolina. And against Kentucky in the SEC Championship Game, he scored 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting, and single-handedly went on a run early in the second half to give Arkansas a bit of extremely short-lived life against the Wildcats.
And he did have this one rebound that will live among Arkansas fans forever:
Despite his tremendous measurables, Qualls was rarely the defensive stopper one would expect him to be. His steals and blocked shot numbers both decreased in his junior year from his sophomore year. He averaged just 0.9 steals per game even with those long arms and averaging more than 30 minutes per game. If he can develop that side of his game more, it would certainly help his chances of success in the NBA.
As referenced earlier, Qualls' rebounding at times could be very good, but was inconsistent. Some games would only see him grab two or three boards. One of his first breakout games as a freshman was against Tennessee when he brought down 11 rebounds, including a spectacular key offensive rebound off a missed free throw by skying over Jarnell Stokes. Unfortunately, he didn't match that output again in his career.
Sometimes it appeared Qualls was trying a bit too hard to force one of those SportsCenter dunks. He would on occasion attempt to throw one down over an opponent instead of trying to find a better shot somehow. Sometimes it would draw a foul and sometimes it could lead to a turnover or missed shot. He's also not generally considered to be a great ball-handler, which is obviously a problem for someone trying to be a 2-guard in the NBA, but he's also not one to turn the ball over. In fact, he was one of the best in the SEC at not allowing turnovers.
Again, it's hard to say. Some believe he could still be drafted in the second round. All three of the mock drafts on CBSSports.com have Qualls going to Philadelphia at various points in the second round. The 76ers do have a history of taking chances on injured players, and even drafting European players who won't even play immediately in the NBA, so that seems like a decent possibility. They also have five total second round picks, so they have plenty of reason to take some shots on players.
Most draft projections don't include 2nd round mocks. Qualls isn't included among the picks on NBADraft.net or DraftExpress.com, but we'll be watching in case Philly or someone does pick him up, and we'll be cheering for him as well.