Western Carolina’s Trey Sumler looks to leave mark in final season

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Hope springs eternal in college basketball (and sports in general), with the start of a new season sparking optimism amongst programs across the country. That’s certainly the case in the Southern Conference, with multiple programs welcoming back many of their key contributors from a season ago. One of those programs is Western Carolina, which returns all five starters from a team that finished 9-9 in SoCon play (14-19 overall).

Expected to lead the way for the Catamounts is redshirt senior guard Trey Sumler, who played nearly 38 minutes per game and posted averages of 18.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per contest. While Sumler’s percentages remained about the same when compared to his redshirt sophomore campaign, his scoring increased by nearly five points per game. With the Catamounts having to account for the graduation of their top two scorers from the season prior, Sumler had a lot more to manage in 2012-13.

“I think it was just the nature of our team. We were more inexperienced and didn’t have any seniors a year ago,” Hunter told NBC Sports. “He’s not a ‘selfish’ scorer, he just plays. You look at his other stats and he rebounded well, he was our leading assist man. He’s a very efficient player.”

Lat season Sumler finished with a possession percentage of 26.9%, and his efficiency rating of 105.2 ranked seventh in the SoCon among players who factored into at least 24% of their team’s possessions according to kenpom.com. But even with the numbers he put up Sumler still saw the need to fine tune his game, and that meant spending a lot of time in the gym during the summer. During a three-month stretch from May 15 to August 15, both Hunter and Sumler estimated that the guard put up more than 30,000 shots.

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s Southern Conference Preview)

“Most of [my offseason work] was in the gym,” Sumler told NBC Sports when asked about how he prepared for his senior season. “I was able to get a couple of our DVDs from the coaches to watch film. It wasn’t for anything specific; it was just to see what I could and could not do, and what I could have done.”

With all five starters back, including forward Tawaski King (11.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and guard Brandon Boggs (10.3, 3.6), what’s required of Sumler will likely change some. Without as much pressure to both be the primary scoring option and find quality looks for his teammates the 6-foot-2 Sumler may be in line for an even better senior season, even if his scoring numbers don’t reach last year’s level.

“His scoring may go down some this season, because I think we have more pieces to the puzzle,” said Hunter, who used Sumler exclusively at the point last season. “I will probably move him more to the off-guard position just to try to get him a few more opportunities.”

Those extra opportunities have the potential to make the Catamounts a contender in a conference race that has the potential to be as wide-open as any in recent memory. Defending champion Davidson is still to be respected but the Wildcats have some significant personnel losses to address, most notably 2012-13 SoCon Player of the Year Jake Cohen.

Elon, like the Catamounts, returns all five starters from last season and after winning 21 games the Phoenix are the early favorite to win the conference in the eyes of many. And with programs such as Appalachian State, Samford and Wofford also having plenty of experience, multiple teams began practice with realistic hopes of not just contending but winning the SoCon.

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

“I think it’s really going to be a great conference race,” said Hunter. “There are a lot of veterans returning, and a lot of good teams in the league.”

Western Carolina is hopeful that by the time conference play rolls around they’ll be well-positioned to make a run at the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1996. That bunch nearly made history as the first 16-seed to be a one-seed, as Phil Hopkins’ squad fell to Purdue by two points in the first round. One of the players on that team was Anquell McCollum, who scored a game-high 21 points for the Catamounts and is now an assistant on the Western Carolina coaching staff.

When a former player from a program’s glory days returns to campus fans enjoy getting nostalgic, but those conversations can also serve as a motivating factor for the current players. Instead of hearing about the road paved by the heroes of the past, Sumler and company aim to write their own chapter in the Western Carolina history books.

“It would mean a lot, not just to me but for the other four seniors,” noted Sumler when asked what an NCAA tournament appearance would mean to him. “I know Coach McCollum was a part of that ’96 team and a lot of people talk about that. 1996 was a long time ago, so we feel like it’s about time to take that next step.”

With Sumler leading the way, Western Carolina is more than capable of taking that step.

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?