2011-2012 Season Preview: Breakout Players

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One of my favorite things to do during the preseason is try and identify the guys that will have breakout years in the upcoming season.

Unlike Luke Winn, I’m not using any mathematical formulas to make these determinations. Instead, its a combination of young players that have looked promising early in their careers, talented role players that are in a position to take on a much larger role in the offense or simply kids that I have a hunch on. This list is not scientific, but we do believe it to be all-encompassing.

Here’s the catch — too many of these lists have been done already. Everyone has written that Thomas Robinson, Jeremy Lamb and Terrence Ross have a chance to be all-americans this season. We all know that Terrell Stoglin and DeShaun Thomas are expected to have monster sophomore years. So we went a little deeper.

Without further ado, here is our list of 20 players — and 10 extras — that we expect to have a big 2011-2012 season:

Keith Appling, So., Michigan State: Appling came into East Lansing with some significant hype. That’s generally what happens when you’re a McDonald’s all-american and you join a program like the Spartans. And while his minutes and shots were limited thanks to the presence of Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers, Appling did show off an impressive jump shot, knocking down 41.1% of his threes, which is a good sign given the reputation he had as a slasher and a driver in high school. Appling will the primary ball-handler for Michigan State, but the offense will run through playmaking power forward Draymond Green. That will allow Appling to be aggressive as a scorer, a role I expect him to thrive in this year.

Tarik Black, So., Memphis: On a team that boasts already Joe Jackson and Will Barton, would you believe me if I told you that Tarik Black was the sophomore on the Memphis Tigers? What if I told you that he was the most likely to win the Conference USA Player of the Year award, would you believe that? Black spent much of last season out of shape and in foul trouble. He’s still on the road to recovery from a knee injury he suffered during his junior year of high school. But despite those problems, Black still came on very strong late in the season, finishing the year with averages of 9.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 1.6 bpg. After spending the summer working out with Frank Matrisciano, Black, who is one of the most aggressive offensive rebounders in the country and an excellent shot blocker, is in the best shape of his life. That’s a scary thing to hear for Conference USA opponents.

Rob Brandenberg, So., and Juvonte Reddic, So., VCU: There are a ton of minutes available for the Rams this season Shaka Smart’s club lost four of their top five scorers from the Final Four team. Bradford Burgess does return to anchor this roster, but he’s going to need help, and both Brandenberg and Reddic seem primed for big years. Brandenberg, a 6’2″ sophomore and an athletic slasher, had a some big performances in the middle of the season — including a couple of 20 points outbursts — before an injury in February slowed his progress. Reddic didn’t see a ton of minutes, but he was a well-regarded recruit and he has the kind of talent that should allow him to fill in for the production lost with Jamie Skeen’s graduation.

Allen Crabbe, So., Cal: Allen Crabbe may have already broken out. After struggling for the first 13 games of last season, the 6’6″ sophomore wing flourished when Gary Franklin decided to leave the team and transfer to Baylor. Crabbe, who averaged just 8.4 ppg with Franklin in the lineup, scored 16.9 ppg the rest of the way. That number would be even higher if it wasn’t for an injury he suffered at Washington in February. I wouldn’t be surprised if he led the Pac-12 in scoring this season.

Jared Cunningham, Jr., Oregon State: There aren’t many players in the country that can claim to be remotely as athletic as Jared Cunningham. The 6’4″ wing is a physical specimen when it comes to playing the perimeter at this level. He’s got an outstanding vertical, he’s got an impressive wingspan and he’s very quick, both laterally and with his first step. That’s a major reason why he’s one of the best defenders in the country; he averaged 2.8 spg last season. But what’s most intriguing about Cunningham is he’s no where near a finished product. While he led the Beavers in scoring last season at 14.2 ppg, he did it mostly as a spot-up shooter, attacking the offensive glass and scoring points in transition. What happens when the 20 year old becomes adept at beating his man off the dribble and scoring in the mid-range?

Seth Curry, Jr., Duke: The key for Duke this season may end up being how well Seth Curry plays. Duke is going to be talented but unproven at every position on the floor next year. Austin Rivers will likely go through the ups and downs that freshmen have. The only thing the Plumlees have done consistently in their careers has been being inconsistent. Ryan Kelly has some hype, but he still needs to prove it in the ACC. Alex Murphy and Michael Gbinije are freshmen. Curry will have to be the anchor for this team, a leader that can create shots in crunch-time and understands how to distribute the ball. Curry needs to embrace the role of being a point guard.

CJ Fair, So., Syracuse: A member of the same recruiting class as Dion Waiters and Fab Melo, CJ Fair actually turned out to be the most productive and promising freshmen Jim Boeheim recruited. After a relatively ho-hum start to the season, Fair was thrust into the national spotlight when he scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds against Pitt in mid-January. Fair averaged 7.9 ppg over the final 17 games, putting up a couple of impressive performances. A lefty, the 6’8″ combo-forward is a terrific athlete that understands how to make plays with his athleticism — offensive rebounds, steals, blocks. As his skills develop, Fair will only become a more dangerous player.

Erick Green, Jr., Virginia Tech: I actually think that Virginia Tech is going to just as good as, if not better, than they were the past few seasons with Malcolm Delaney running the show. Green is the reason for that. He didn’t start to see significant minutes until Dorenzo Hudson had his season cut short with a broken foot, but he was very good when he finally got into the lineup. Green averaged 11.7 ppg and 2.7 apg while posting a 2.3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He did that despite Delaney dominating possession of the ball. Expect a big season out of Green as Tech’s point guard this year.

Tim Hardaway Jr, So., Michigan: Tim Hardaway Jr. is in a similar position to both Jeremy Lamb and Allen Crabbe. After spending the first part of his freshman season as a role player for the Wolverines, Hardaway really came on strong down the stretch. He gave John Beilein a second go-to scoring option alongside Darius Morris, and his play late in the year was a huge reason Michigan was able to win eight of their last 11 games and sneak into the NCAA Tournament. With Morris making the jump to the NBA, even more responsibility will fall onto Hardaway’s shoulders. He should be ready to handle it.

Sean Kilpatrick, So., and Yancy Gates, Sr., Cincinnati: Part of the reason I think that Cincinnati is going to be a sneaky-good team in the Big East this season is that I am expecting big years out of both Gates and Kilpatrick, albeit for different reasons. Gates has always been one of the most talented players in the conference, but conditioning and effort were an issue. A mid-season suspension was the wake-up call he needed, however, and Gates averaged 15.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg and 1.3 bpg over the final 10 games. Kilpatrick, on the other hand, was a high-efficiency, high-volume shooter last season. He averaged 9.7 ppg but only averaged around 20 mpg. It will be interesting to see what he is able to do in a more focal role this year.

Khyle Marshall, So., Butler: Marshall had a promising freshman campaign with the Bulldogs, putting together a pair of impressive performances during the Bulldog’s run to the national title game. Marshall is not your typical Butler player. He’s a terrific athlete, the kind of guy that normally gets scooped up to ride the bench of a high-major program. Marshall is an excellent rebounder (especially on the offensive end of the floor) and defender, and playing alongside Andrew Smith, that’s about all he is going to be asked to do. Expect a significant bump from the 5.8 ppg and 3.8 rpg he averaged last season.

Rodney McGruder, Jr., Kansas State: McGruder was a bystander like the rest of us, a witness to the late-season performances from Jacob Pullen as he carried the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament last season. That said, McGruder did have some of his best games late in the season, particularly when it came to scoring the ball. There isn’t much that McGruder doesn’t do well at this level. He can shoot (40.8% from three), he can rebound (6.0 rpg) and he can score (11.4 rpg). He’s a high-efficiency player that has already begun to embrace the role of being the leader for this team.

Brandon Paul, Jr., and DJ Richardson, Jr., Illinois: Illinois lost five of their top eight players from last season, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Demetri McCamey and Jereme Richmond were head cases and distractions, their loss ending up being addition by subtraction. With all those players leaving, it opens up quite a few minutes and shots for Paul and Richardson, both juniors. Richardson is a better shooter than Paul, but Paul is a more dangerous all-around player, especially on the offensive end of the floor. Expect them to become the first and second options offensively this year.

Andre Roberson, So., Colorado: Roberson wax an unheralded recruit coming out of high school, but at 6’7″ with long arms and terrific athleticism, Roberson quickly proved his value to Big 12 opponents. Playing just 22.3 mpg, Roberson averaged 7.8 rpg, finishing in the top 25 of both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. He was also a terror on the defensive end, where he was among the Big 12 leaders in steals and blocks. Right now, Roberson’s strength lies in the things he can do without the ball — rebound, defend, cut to the basket — but with Colorado losing so much talent from last season, there will be plenty of opportunities for him to score this season. Here’s to hoping Roberson put in the work this summer on his offensive arsenal.

Maalik Wayns, Jr., and Mouphtaou Yarou, Jr., Villanova: The obvious pick here is Jeremy Lamb of UConn. The trendy pick is Sean Kilpatrick of Cincinnati. So in order to buck that trend, I’ll go with Villanova’s two elder statesmen. The Wildcats have almost no hype heading into this season. Having flamed out in the postseason the past two years and losing four key pieces from that team, you wouldn’t be wrong to ignore Villanova heading into the year. But I like the makeup of this team. I think they have similar pieces at the two, three and four to the group that made the Final Four run in 2009, but I also think that with the opportunity to take over the role of the star, both Wayns and Yarou will shine. Both players are impressive talents that were forced to play third and fourth fiddle to the two Coreys last season. If Wayns has gotten his jumper more consistent and Yarou has become a better low-post scorer, I think those two will carry a Villanova team that will rely more heavily on the defensive end of the floor than we are used to.

Kendall Williams, So., New Mexico: Williams can flat out play. As a third or fourth option for the Lobos as a freshman, Williams — who won the freshman of the year award in the MWC — finished with averages of 11.5 ppg and 4.0 apg despite playing alongside Dairese Gary. Gary graduated in the offseason, which means that Williams, along with Drew Gordon, will become the center of the New Mexico attack. To get an idea of what kind of production can be expected, Williams scored 18 points in both of the Lobo’s NIT games after Gary suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Ten more players to keep an eye on:

Mike Breusewitz, Jr., Wisconsin
Jordan Clarkson, So., Tulsa
Tyreek Duren, So., La Salle
Langston Galloway, So., St. Joseph’s
Stephen Holt, So., St. Mary’s
Cedrick Lindsay, So., Richmond
Dundrecous Nelson, So., Ole Miss
Jake Odum, So., Indiana State
Devon Saddler, So., Delaware
Peyton Siva, Jr., Louisville

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.