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July 9, 2009
New impact players can be found on bench
The ability of newcomers to make an instant impact in the "one-and-done" era often makes freshmen the center of attention each season.
It's easy to understand why. Consider the impacts that Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony, Texas' Kevin Durant, Ohio State's Greg Oden, Kansas State's Michael Beasley and Memphis' Derrick Rose made during their lone seasons in college.
Last season represented a shift away from that trend. Upperclassmen regained the spotlight as Liberty's Seth Curry, who since has transferred to Duke, was the only freshman to rank among the nation's top 50 scorers. The unfamiliar names who burst onto the scene last season weren't newcomers at all. They instead were upperclassmen who had patiently waited earlier in their careers and now were making the most of their opportunities.
After averaging just 8.3 minutes per game as a freshman during Kansas' national championship run, Cole Aldrich earned first-team All-Big 12 honors and recorded the first triple-double in school history as a sophomore. Michigan State's Kalin Lucas went from being a part-time starter as a freshman to running the offense for the eventual NCAA runner-up as a sophomore.
A stronger freshman class figures to make more of an impact next season, but plenty of returning players should emerge as first-year starters who make the leap to stardom. We're going to spend the next two weeks predicting which players will deliver those breakthrough seasons.
We lead off this week's notebook by listing a dozen potential first-year starting guards – but no freshmen or transfers – who could make a Lucas-type impact next season. Next week, we'll focus on a dozen first-year starters in the frontcourt who could emerge as this season's version of Aldrich. The players are listed in alphabetical order.
Chris Allen and Durrell Summers, Jrs., Michigan State: We'll lead off this list with a combo entry. Allen and Summers each averaged at least 19 minutes per game as sophomores last season while primarily coming off the bench. Summers started 13 of the Spartans' 38 games, while Allen made five starts. Allen and Summers were the Spartans' two most prolific 3-point shooters last season; next season, they'll be counted on to provide much more. Both should earn much more playing time as Michigan State replaces Travis Walton in the backcourt. At least one of them – maybe both – should move into the starting lineup. Summers showed flashes of his potential in the postseason by ranking third on the team in scoring and rebounding during the NCAA tournament.
Jerime Anderson, Soph., UCLA: Somebody has to run the Bruins' offense now that Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday have been drafted. Anderson seems like the most likely candidate. UCLA coach Ben Howland noted Anderson's outspoken nature and leadership potential after the season. He averaged just 8.6 minutes per game as a freshman and scored in double figures just twice, but he certainly has plenty of potential. Rivals.com rated Anderson as the No. 37 overall prospect and the No. 7 point guard in the 2008 recruiting class.
Larry Drew II, Soph., North Carolina: The defending national champions' hopes of returning to the Final Four could depend on whether North Carolina finds an effective replacement for departed point guard Ty Lawson. Ed Davis and Deon Thompson should help the Tar Heels cope with the loss of Tyler Hansbrough, but the Tar Heels don't have as much depth in the backcourt. The most experienced pure point guard on the roster is Drew, who averaged 1.4 points, 1.9 assists and 9.6 minutes per game last season. North Carolina has other options. Senior swingman Marcus Ginyard has the ability to handle the ball and incoming freshman Dexter Strickland can play either guard spot. But handing the reins to Drew would be the most obvious choice. "Larry's the only guy on the squad that's ever played point guard in a game in college," North Carolina coach Roy Williams noted last month during his summer news conference.
Juan Fernandez, Soph., Temple: Fernandez didn't get to start his career last season until the day after Christmas. Now he figures to help the Owls adapt to the post-Christmas era. Fernandez, a 6-4 guard from Argentina, averaged 5.5 points and 2.7 assists while splitting time at point guard with Semaj Inge. Now he should have the job to himself as the two-time defending Atlantic 10 champions replace the departed Inge and Dionte Christmas in the backcourt. Fernandez shot just 36.4 percent last season, but he posted a 1.8-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and was particularly effective at taking care of the ball during the Owls' late-season surge.
Ashton Gibbs, Soph., Pittsburgh: Gibbs couldn't ask for a better way to prepare for his first season as a starter. The heir apparent to Levance Fields is spending the summer playing for the U.S. team in the FIBA Under-19 World Championships. And his coach on the U.S. team happens to be Pitt's Jamie Dixon. Gibbs, who has the ability to play either guard position, led the Big East in 3-point field-goal percentage last season (43.9). An expanded role should allow Gibbs to prove that his outside shot isn't his only weapon.
Demetri Goodson, Soph., Gonzaga: Goodson made a national name for himself by making one of the most memorable plays of last season's NCAA tournament. Goodson drove the length of the court and made a winning bank shot with nine-tenths of a second left in an 83-81 victory over Western Kentucky that sent the Zags to the Sweet 16. Goodson should get plenty of opportunities to show off his remarkable speed. Goodson averaged 3.8 points and 1.6 assists in 13.4 minutes last season while backing up Jeremy Pargo. He also shot 54 percent from the floor. Now he takes over as Gonzaga's starting point guard.
Jeremy Green, Soph., Stanford: Green made two starts last season, but he still established himself as a long-range threat by shooting 45.6 percent (47-of-103) from beyond the arc. Green averaged 6.4 points and caught fire late in the season with a 22-point performance against Arizona and a 19-point effort against Boise State. Stanford needs Green to make major strides this season because forward Landry Fields is the Cardinal's only returning player who averaged in double figures last season.
Clarence Jackson, Jr., Siena: Jackson provided instant offense off the bench last season by averaging 8.3 points in just 14.7 minutes per game. He needed just 27 minutes to score 28 points in a 75-74 victory over Saint Joseph's. Now that Kenny Hasbrouck has departed, Jackson won't get a chance to defend his title as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's sixth man of the year. Jackson probably won't be the first offensive option as the lone newcomer in a lineup that returns four starters, but he figures to get plenty more opportunities to showcase his scoring ability.
Toney McCray, Soph., Nebraska: The Huskers' roster includes eight guys who haven't played a Division I game, so somebody's going to have to step forward and accept a leadership role. McCray seems as ready for the role as anyone. He showed plenty of toughness last season while averaging 5.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in a reserve role. He showed his versatility by alternating between the post and the wing, as he often was Nebraska's tallest player on the floor. The next step in his development is improving his free-throw shooting. McCray shot just 58.5 percent from the line last season.
Roburt Sallie, Jr., Memphis: Sallie would love to pick up right where he left off last season. He averaged 20 points per game in the NCAA tournament, including a 35-point performance that helped the Tigers avoid a first-round upset against Cal State Northridge. Sallie didn't start any games and averaged 5.8 points last season, yet he scored in double figures 10 times and set a school single-season record by shooting 47 percent from 3-point range. The departures of Tyreke Evans in the backcourt and Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggart in the frontcourt should allow for Sallie to pick up even more of the scoring load this season.
Erving Walker, Soph., Florida: Nick Calathes' decision to launch a pro career in Europe suddenly makes Walker one of the most important players on Florida's roster. Calathes' departure leaves the Gators perilously thin in the backcourt. Walker seems best-suited to play point guard, though he primarily played shooting guard as a freshman reserve last season. Florida's chances of reaching the NCAA tournament could depend on how well he handles his new assignment. Although Walker made just six starts last season, he averaged 24.1 minutes and ranked third on the team at 10.1 points per game.
Kemba Walker, Soph., Connecticut: Walker has the most star potential of anyone on this list. Frankly, it's a little unfair to include him since he averaged 25.2 minutes per game last season, but he only started twice. Walker, a former five-star prospect, helped Connecticut overcome the loss of guard Jerome Dyson to reach the Final Four last season. He arguably was the best player on the floor in the East Regional final, as he scored 23 points, shot 7-for-9 and added five rebounds and five assists to help the Huskies outlast Missouri 82-75. Walker figures to deliver plenty of similar performances this season.
Coach John Pelphrey seemed on the verge of making Arkansas an annual NCAA tournament contender when he signed the 15th-ranked recruiting class in 2008. Courtney Fortson and Rotnei Clarke paid immediate dividends last season, but they're the only two players remaining from that heralded seven-man class.
Terrance Joyner signed in the fall of 2007 but wasn't accepted into school. Brandon Moore and Andre Clark are in the process of transferring, while Montrell McDonald quit the team after getting suspended. The latest domino fell Monday when Arkansas officials announced that swingman Jason Henry – the nation's No. 78 prospect in 2008 – wouldn't be returning to the team.
Henry averaged 8.0 points and 4.4 rebounds as a true freshman, but he also was suspended three times.
"Throughout his time with our program, we have worked with Jason on a day-to-day basis to foster his growth as a student-athlete and a person," Pelphrey said in a statement released by the university. "While we are appreciative of the academic progress he has made working with our academic support staff, it is in the best interest of our basketball program to move forward with student-athletes who have a long-term commitment to the University of Arkansas and the Razorback program on and off the court."
The long partnership between Notre Dame coach Mike Brey and loyal assistant Sean Kearney reached a happy conclusion. Kearney is leaving Notre Dame after being hired last week as the coach at Holy Cross. Kearney spent 14 seasons working for Brey, first at Delaware and later at Notre Dame. He received this coaching opportunity after Ralph Willard left Holy Cross to take a job as an assistant on Rick Pitino's staff at Louisville. Brey filled the vacancy on his staff by promoting coordinator of basketball operations Martin Inglesby, who played point guard for the Irish from 1997-2001.
Butler reached the Sweet 16 in 2007 after winning the Preseason NIT earlier that season. The Bulldogs return everyone on their roster this season and have another chance to make a statement early in the year. Butler has been selected as one of the participants in the Jimmy V Classic doubleheader Dec. 8 at Madison Square Garden. Butler will face Georgetown in one of the games; the other matchup pits Indiana against Pittsburgh.
Arizona earned its NCAA-leading 25th consecutive NCAA tournament bid earlier this year, but that's not the only category in which the Wildcats top the nation. The selections of Jordan Hill in the first round and Chase Budinger in the second round of last month's NBA draft gave Arizona 31 draft picks – more than any other school – since the format was shortened to two rounds in 1989. Arizona is followed by Duke (29 picks), UCLA (28), North Carolina (25), Connecticut (23) and Kansas (22).
The first bit of good news this summer for Georgia fans came when Howard Thompkins decided against transferring after a chat with new coach Mark Fox. The next bit of good news is arriving this week with the reports of how Thompkins is faring for the U.S. team in the FIBA Under-19 World Championships. After tallying 22 points in an 85-69 victory over Greece, Thompkins posted 14 points and nine rebounds – leading the team in both categories – as the U.S. squad defeated Puerto Rico 82-61. Thompkins wasn't the only high-scoring player in the tournament. Rutgers guard Mike Rosario was averaging 27.6 points for Puerto Rico through five games to lead all players.
A look at Kentucky coach John Calipari's staff indicates he's reaching out to the program's past. Martin Newton, the son of former Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton, recently came aboard as the Wildcats' director of basketball operations. Newton had been working as a sports marketing manager at Nike.
Louisville center Samardo Samuels scored 17 points Saturday as Jamaica defeated the Virgin Islands 65-61 to win the Caribbean Basketball Championships. Samuels moved to New York from Trelawny, Jamaica, in 2004.
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl headed to Tel Aviv last week to coach the U.S. men's open team in the Maccabiah Games, an event that takes place every four years and features more than 7,000 Jewish athletes from about 60 countries.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.