Candid Coaches: Which player would you most want to add to your own roster for the 2018-19 season?

CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander surveyed more than 100 coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest Division I schools. In exchange for complete anonymity, the coaches provided unfiltered honesty about a number of topics in the sport. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be posting the results on 10 questions we asked them. 

Jalen Brunson, Frank Mason III, Buddy Hield, Frank Kaminsky, Doug McDermott, Trey Burke, Anthony Davis, Jimmer Fredette, Evan Turner, Blake Griffin. Those are the 10 most recent Naismith National Player of the Year recipients. Almost all of them college legends. 

Who will join them come next March?

College basketball coaches have spoken -- and given an interesting, diverse sample of nominees. This poll question isn't just about who coaches think will be the best player in college hoops. We ask them to project the top player and take into consideration which talent they'd most like on their roster. Because of this, and since coaches often covet experience nearly as much as exceptional talent, veterans always populate the list when we ask this question. It's never overrun by incoming, one-and-done freshmen. Though those guys always receive votes, too. And this year, they represented two of the top three spots when we asked: 

If you could add just one eligible player to your roster, who would you most want?

barrett-edward-maye.jpg
CBS Sports / Mike Meredith
PlayerVoting
R.J. Barrett, Duke 16 percent
Zion Williamson, Duke 15 percent
Carsen Edwards, Purdue 15 percent
Grant Williams, Tennessee 9 percent
Reid Travis, Kentucky 9 percent
Luke Maye, North Carolina 7 percent
Tremont Waters, LSU 6 percent
Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga 5 percent
Caleb Martin, Nevada 3 percent
Kyle Guy, Virginia 3 percent
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin 3 percent
Jordan Caroline, Nevada 2 percent
Eric Paschall, Villanova 2 percent

Quotes that stood out

On Duke's R.J. Barrett ...

  • "He's multi-dimensional. Can impact the game in a lot of different ways. You can put him on a lot of areas on the floor. Can really score. From day one he's going to be able to carry a team. At Duke that can sometimes be hard to do, but his game is very mature for where he's at. Very good athlete, and defensively he gives you great versatility. His ceiling is tremendously high. Who he is in November is going to be different from who he is in March. His ability to score and win with Canada proves who he is. Bona fide winner."
  • "He'll be an unstoppable college player and average whatever he wants. Not a great shooter. But he gets to the rim whenever he wants."
  • "Future No 1. pick that is a difference-maker and proven winner."
  • "He's the reason why Canada beat the U.S. a year ago in the FIBA worlds. We don't lose in international basketball competition. That was a huge historic upset, and it was because of that kid."

On Purdue's Carsen Edwards ...

  • "His ability as a scorer and being able to make everyone else better is what first comes to mind. However, from the outside looking in I think his leadership and competitiveness is what makes him a guy that could instantly make any team better. Other guys may be more talented/better pro prospects, but at the end of the day in our game experience always wins out."

On Duke's Zion Williamson ...

  • "As a coach and as a competitor I would be so intrigued at the opportunity to coach him. A guy of his size and athleticism is so unique, and at the same time there are so many question marks. Will his game translate to the NBA? Can he shoot enough?  I would love the chance to work with him and find out." 
  • "He's more than just a highlight dunker. People focus on the dunks. But he's a very good all-around player. I've always liked him."
  • "No one can guard him in college. Freak show."

On Tennessee's Grant Williams ...

  • "He would average 25 points per game in our [mid-major] league."

On Kentucky's Reid Travis ...

  • "I think if you can have a veteran that's powerful, that inherently does that dirty work-type stuff of rebounding and scoring in the post and has all that experience, I think that is so tough to come by. That good in a fifth year, similar to Ethan Happ, those two guys. I think Reid Travis -- I'd love to have him. I think it changes Kentucky big time."
  • "He's exactly what they need. A been-there-done-that guy. Going through that for years, knowing how to work in college and be in big games, it's a different level. They haven't had that in a long time. It's been young guys trying to figure it out."
  • "Reid Travis is going to be up there for player of the year. This guy is going to annihilate guys. He's doing this on double teams, triple teams. He had no help around him. He'll lead the country in double-doubles."

On North Carolina's Luke Maye ...

  • "Give me Luke Maye. He's a veteran, can get away with playing both positions inside -- high-level rebounder (one of the most sought after qualities), has been a part of a national championship team and made big plays to win big games!"

On LSU's Tremont Waters ...

  • "To me, there is nothing more dangerous than a lead guard who can make plays late in a clock. Especially later in the season when both teams know what each other is running and baskets are hard to come by. Have to have a guy who can make a play late, for himself or others."
  • "Tremont Waters will not be close to the best NBA player currently in college. But I can't find another point guard I'd want running my team."

The takeaway

Like our top-team query, this poll question is an annual one and I'm glad we ask it every year. It not only gives readers/college basketball fans an idea of how preseason expectations set up for some of the top guys in the sport, but it's a fascinating thing to look back on years later. 

To wit, let's peek back in the Candid Coaches yearbook. 

Last year? Well, we can't say the coaches were wrong ... because they never got the chance to be right. Michael Porter Jr. was picked as the most coveted/best player. But Porter's Missouri career goes down as a huge what-if; a back injury kept him out all but two minutes until the postseason. (Hey, at least eventual National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson took third.)

In 2016, Grayson Allen, heading into his junior season, was the big winner. Allen then went on to have one of the most notorious seasons in college sports history. If coaches knew what was coming with Allen in 2016-17, he might not have received a single vote.

Three years back, in 2015, Providence's Kris Dunn beat out Ben Simmons. Both went on to have very good statistical campaigns (Simmons an AP First Teamer, Dunn to Second Team), but you'll recall that season as the one in which Michigan State's Denzel Valentine and Oklahoma's Buddy Hield split NPOY honors. Neither of those two received votes in our poll. In 2014, coaches nailed it: Frank Kaminsky won our poll, then went on to be the National Player of the Year. Heading into the 2013-14 season, Marcus Smart won out. He was far from the best player in that season, but earned honorable All-America mention from the AP. 

Finally, in 2012, the first year our series ran, do you know who it was? Can you think back to who, pre-2012-13 season, would've been the most hyped? UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad and Kentucky's Nerlens Noel were the top freshmen. Creighton junior-to-be Doug McDermott was getting a lot of respect, as was Ohio State's Aaron Craft. But it was Indiana's Cody Zeller, a sophomore, who won out in our first iteration of this poll question

So what do we take from this? Coaches, as a general rule, vote in line with how the general public views the best players in the sport. It doesn't mean they're always right with the No. 1 guy, but the 5-10 players who get the most nods usually wind up as an accurate forecast.

So look at that list above. Know that it's likely that at least two of the top seven players receiving votes will wind up as First Team All-Americans. (Check back on all our previous responses to this and you'll see how that's essentially an automatic.) 

Barrett and Williamson will be wire-to-wire stars for Duke this season (provided there are no injuries). Edwards is going to be a volume monster for Purdue. A Boilermakers assistant told me a few months back that he's set up to average in the neighborhood of 25/game. 

Grant Williams getting so much love was nice to see. Tennessee's got a highly respected team this season, and Williams is due a lot of great pub. (We wrote on him last season, if you missed it.) Reid Travis was the only Kentucky player to receive any votes, so I'm interested to see if he truly winds up being the most pivotal guy for that UK team. I don't expect him to be the most pivotal player in the SEC; LSU's Tremont Waters is my pick there. Waters is the most impressive sophomore, in my estimation, heading into the season. 

It's easy, so fresh off the Duke tour of Canada, to see Barrett and Williamson and think they're a cut above everyone else. But I assure you that by the time we get to Valentine's Day, college hoops is going to have a van-full of stars -- and one or two probably who didn't make this list. Last year's poll didn't include Trae Young. The fact that it didn't made his historic freshman season that much better. Those surprise NPOY crusades make the regular season more meaningful and fun, year after year, than college hoops gets credit for. 

CBS Sports' Candid Coaches series for college basketball

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CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his ninth season reporting on college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

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