In late June 6-foot-9 senior center Wendell Lewis was granted a fifth year of eligibility by the Southeastern Conference, a move that was supposed to give Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray some added experience in the paint in 2013-14. Lewis played in just eight games last season before fracturing the patella in his right knee, with the injury occurring after a two-game stretch in which Lewis accounted for 20 points and 16 rebounds.
“We are pleased that the SEC has granted Wendell another year of eligibility,” Ray said in June. “I really believe that Wendell needed another year in our program to improve on the court because he was just beginning to make strides right before his injury after coming off two straight games where he scored career highs. This move is beneficial for both Wendell and our basketball program.”
In the eight games Lewis played in last season he averaged 8.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest, more than doubling his scoring average from the 2011-12 campaign (3.8 ppg). His season-ending injury was just one of the many blows the Bulldogs incurred in the first season of Ray’s tenure in Starkville. The lack of depth did the Bulldogs (10-22, 4-14 SEC) no favors last season, and with Lewis no longer in the fold that could once again be a concern entering the 2013-14 campaign.
Inside the Bulldogs return senior Colin Borchert (9.0, 5.0), junior Roquez Johnson (8.8, 4.5) and sophomore Gavin Ware (8.4, 6.4), with Ware coming off of a season in which he was named to the SEC’s All-Freshman Team. All three were productive last season, but Lewis’ dismissal puts the Bulldogs in a spot where they can ill afford to lose any of their three remaining interior options (signee Fallou Ndoye has to sit out the 2013-14 season but will be eligible to play next year).
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.