- National Teams
By Matt Clear | @matt_clear
The college basketball season tips off today, and while big names such as Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Ogo Adegboye and Justin Robinson have all graduated, there are still plenty of high-quality British players to watch in the NCAA. Here are the ten I expect to make the most noise this year.
Lawrence is now the highest-profile British player in the NCAA after his exploits with GB this summer. But before he can think about the Olympics, the 21 year-old will need to lock down Charleston’s starting point guard spot.
Lawrence will also need to pick up his scoring, after the Cougars’ leading scorer Andrew Goudelock departed for the NBA. Most of Lawrence’s shots at Charleston have been threes, and he has converted them at a solid rate (39% last year), but diversifying his approach will be key to raising his average from last year’s 5.8 points per game.
Charleston assistant coach Mark Byington is confident Lawrence is ready to take the next step. “He’s being much more aggressive. He looks around and knows it’s his team. He’s always been our best passer. This year, he’s going to show people he’s capable of scoring the ball in different ways, too.”
Since his breakout summer in 2010 – when he lead the GB under-20s to a 6-2 record at the Euros, earned a place on the all-tournament team and dominated Midnight Madness, things have been pretty quiet on the Ovie Soko front. The versatile forward had a solid, if not spectacular, sophomore year at UAB, averaging 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds, and opted to stay in the US to work on his game over the summer.
Expect that hard work to result in a big year for Soko, who posted a 17-10 double-double in an exhibition game on Thursday. As one of only two starters returning for UAB, he’ll need to make the transition from key role player to go-to scorer if the Blazers are to return to the NCAA tournament.
Marcotullio was probably the least-noticed of the five junior players who made the jump to the GB senior team this year, after being cut early in camp. But an injury meant he didn’t have a full opportunity to show what he can do, and with GB’s guard position still in flux, he has as good a chance of any other college player of representing GB at the Olympics next year.
Picking up where he left off last year will be key if Marcotullio is to do that. The Michigan-born guard took advantage of an injury to a teammate to step into the starting lineup late last season, and put in some excellent performances.
Marcotullio will compete for a starting spot this year, but his ability to get steals and knock down threes will ensure he plays big minutes even if even if he returns to the sixth-man role.
Trojans fans are delighted to have Neighbour join the team, as he had attracted interest from much bigger schools since committing to UALR two-and-a-half years ago. Since then, he was ruled academically ineligible for Little Rock, earned third team All-American honours in his first year at junior college, and redshirted his second year due to injury.
What’s most intriguing about Neighbour is that – in common with recent college superstars Joakim Noah and Gordon Hayward – he started out as a guard before a growth spurt saw him move to the frontcourt. Don’t expect Neighbour to follow Hayward and Noah in leading his team to the national title game, but his rare combination of height and skills should enable him to make an immediate impact in the Sun Belt conference, where quality bigs are few and far between.
Utah State might not be immediately familiar to the casual observer, but college basketball nerds know that the Aggies are a near-perennial NCAA tournament team. So it’s all the more impressive that Thoseby finds himself projected to start for them as a freshmam.
The sharp-shooting swingman is one of 10 new players on the USU roster, so has been given the opportunity to compete for big minutes straight away.
“All the new guys are playing well, but Adam especially,” Aggies forward Brady Jardine told KSL.com. “That kid can flash, shoot the ball, he’s a great shooter, something we need. We need an outside scorer and it’s good to have Adam here with us.”
This should be the year that Ashley Hamilton breaks out at the college level. Since suffering a season-ending injury in his first year at LMU, which forced him to redshirt, Hamilton has continued to be hampered by injuries. He has missed nearly a quarter of the Lions’ games over the last two seasons, denying him the opportunity to establish himself in the starting lineup and develop some consistency.
Hamilton’s involvement with the GB programme the past two summers and some sporadically brilliant performances for LMU have demonstrated his talent. If he stays healthy, the Lions coaches think they have a potential all-conference player on their hands.
“If [Hamilton] gives all that he’s got, he can be one of the premier players in our league,” said Lions coach Max Good.
Fraser turned some heads with his performances for Maine last year, putting up a few double-figure scoring games early on and earning America East Rookie of the Week honours for a ten-point, seven-rebound, two-block effort against Colgate.
One of the better players on this summer’s GB U20 team, Fraser is a classic back-to-the-basket big who uses his immense strength and long arms to get good looks around the hoop.
He converted his shots at an extremely efficient 55% rate last year, and figures to get plenty of opportunities this year – with the Black Bears losing three of last year’s frontcourt starters, Fraser will begin this season as the team’s No. 1 big man.
Geramipoor played in only 16 games for Seton Hall last year after being struck down with glandular fever shortly after arriving on campus. Pirates coach Kevin Willard believes a healthy Geramipoor will make big strides forward this season: “He doesn’t have mono this year, which is a huge thing. Last year he played with mono the whole year. He’s up to 255 [pounds]. He’s doing what he needs to do to get better.”
The Manchester Magic product averaged less than six minutes per game in 2010-11, but should have a much bigger role this time, especially if projected starting centre Kevin Johnson is ruled academically ineligible. Expect him to mostly be relied upon for rebounding and defense.
Walker has flown under the radar in the last few years, perhaps due to his absence from the GB programme in 2009 and 2010, but in that time he has developed into a solid player, as his performances for Loyola and inclusion in this year’s GB Futures squad demonstrate.
Walker transferred from Maryland after his freshman season and became a starter at Loyola almost immediately, putting up a solid 8.7 points and 6.6 rebounds as a sophomore. Last year he upped his numbers in every category, becoming a more efficient scorer and averaging 11.1 points and 7.1 boards. He was rewarded with an All-MAAC third team spot, and should earn first- or second-team honours this season as Loyola will be one of the favourites for the MAAC title.
After Stony Brook fell at the final hurdle last year, losing the America East championship game to Boston, this season represents the last chance for Danny Carter to make the NCAA tournament. The Seawolves are favoured by many to do so, and if they do make the Big Dance it would be their first appearance in school history.
With three other starters also returning, Carter’s role on the team should be similar to last year – he’ll anchor the Seawolves’ strong defense and battle on the boards. That might mean he doesn’t see a massive improvement on last year’s 5.6 points and 24.8 minutes per game, but the former Reading Rocket will no doubt be focusing more on Ws than any other stat.
Agree with Matt’s picks? Anyone else to look out for? Drop a comment!