Malik Pope

Looking Forward: Potential Breakout Stars in 2015-16

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With the early entry process over and with just about every elite recruit having picked a school, we now have a pretty good idea of what college basketball will look like in 2015-16. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be taking an early look at next season.

Today, we’re Looking Forward at potential breakout stars:

Grayson Allen, Duke: The argument could be make that Allen has already broken out. That’s what happens when a freshman goes from struggling to get off of Duke’s bench to being arguably their most important player in a come-from-behind win in the national title game. Allen is going to once again have his work cut out for him getting playing time — that’s what happens when three five-star perimeter players join the program — but he should be Coach K’s best slasher next season.

Malik Pope, San Diego State: Pope’s tools are off the charts. He’s a 6-foot-9 wing with length, athleticism and three-point range. He finally got healthy midway through his freshman season, and proceeded to put together a handful of dominant performances for the Aztecs last season. If he adds some strength, improves his consistency and — most importantly — stays healthy, we could be looking at a lottery pick.

Isaac Copeland, Georgetown: Copeland is such a skilled forward. In addition to being 6-foot-8 and athletic, Copeland is the kind of versatile offensive talent that usually thrives under John Thompson III. With the Hoyas losing Josh Smith and Mikael Hopkins, there are going to be front court minutes for the taking.

READ MORE: The preseason top 25

Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame: Jackson flashed some of his ability during last year’s NCAA tournament, but the fact of the matter is that the talented and athletic point guard was the fourth-best player on the Irish as a sophomore. Don’t be surprised to see him become an all-american as a junior as he takes over Jerian Grant’s role.

Jakob Poeltl, Utah: Poeltl could have been a lottery pick had he decided to go to the NBA this spring. Instead, Larry Krystkowiak will have a chance to work his magic with the Austrian big man for an entire offseason. Poeltl’s potential is very high, and while he was inconsistent as a freshman, Poeltl was fantastic in the month of March.

Marcus Lee, Kentucky: Will Marcus Lee finally get his chance this season? The former top 30 recruit has proven to be effective in the limited minutes that he has played the last two season, but his minutes have been understandably limited during his time in Lexington. He may not be Willie Cauley-Stein or Karl Towns, but Lee should be an excellent sidekick to Skal Labissiere in Kentucky’s front court.

Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin: Koenig was brilliant when he got the chance to replace the injured Traevon Jackson as Bo Ryan’s primary point guard midway through the season. With the Badgers losing so much this offseason, Koenig and Nigel Hayes will be tasked with keeping the Badgers in the Big Ten’s top four.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart is the typical power wing that Jay Wright has been so successsful with over the years. He’s a better scorer than he gets credit for and is a terrific defender and offensive rebounder. Hart should end up being an all-Big East player this season.

Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Brooks reclassified in the spring and enrolled at Oregon a year earlier than initially expected, and it ended up being fantastic for Dana Altman, as Brooks was, at times, Oregon’s best player. Expect more of the same from him as a sophomore.

Jonathan Motley, Baylor: Motley was just a three-star recruit when he arrived in Waco, but the athletic, 6-foot-10 center had some truly dominating performances during the year. Motley, teaming with Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince, will give the Bears one of the nation’s best front lines.

Ben Bentil, Providence: Bentil was fantastic for the Friars for stretches late in the season, and with LaDontae Henton graduating, there will shots and rebounds available for Bentil to collect.

San Diego State’s Malik Pope is returning to school

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Steve Fisher announced on Wednesday that talented freshman Malik Pope will be returning for his sophomore season at San Diego State.

“After a long discussion with Malik and his family, and after receiving feedback from the NBA office, Malik has decided to return to San Diego State for his sophomore season.” Fisher said. “He is very excited about improving his game and being part of a great team next season.”

READ MORE: All early entry decisions

Pope is a rangy, 6-foot-10 combo-forward with three point range that had some explosive performances with the Aztecs this season, and given his athletic ability, there’s certainly the potential there for him to be a first round pick.

But there’s also a chance that he can be much more than simply a first rounder. He was coming off of a couple of serious leg injuries while in high school and didn’t get healthy until midway through the season. With a full offseason of work, Pope has a chance to be very, very good as a sophomore.

And with him back, SDSU will likely be the favorite to win the Mountain West.

San Diego State’s Steve Fisher: ‘We’re going to start the season with two freshmen unable to play’

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With star guard Xavier Thames graduating, it was already going to be difficult for Steve Fisher’s San Diego State Aztecs to replicate the fantastic year they had in 2013-2014.

The process will be just that much tougher now that Fisher confirmed what we all pretty much already knew: that two of SDSU’s freshmen, Malik Pope and Zylan Cheatham, will begin the regular season on the shelf.

“We’re going to start the season with our two big freshmen probably unable to play,” Fisher said in a press conference on Tuesday, “and that is for sure Zylan, who came in with a broken foot that we didn’t know he had. Malik, who is making steady progress, is yet to do anything other than being unguarded.”

Cheatham had surgery on the foot in late August and will likely be out at least another two months. Pope is strengthening a leg that he fractured twice while in high school.

“Malik is kind of at our discretion,” Fisher said. “We’ve been taking it a little slower than even he thinks we should. We’ve had him do some 5-on-0 and individual stuff lately, but he hasn’t done any live, competitive stuff, even 1-on-1or that kind of stuff. Hopefully that will be the next step.”

If there is a saving grace here, it’s that both Pope and Cheatham are front court players, which is a position where the Aztecs can afford to take a hit. J.J. O’Brien and Skylar Spencer are both back this season, and Arizona transfer Angelo Chol will be eligible to play as well.

SDSU’s two other freshmen — guards Trey Kell and Kevin Zabo — will join Winston Shepard, Dwayne Polee and Dakarai Allen in trying to replace Thames’ production in the back court.

San Diego State lands commitment from four-star small forward Zylan Cheatham

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Steve Fisher landed his fourth commit, continuing to add to the success he’s had on the recruiting trail for his program’s Class of 2014.

South Mountain High (Ariz.) small forward Zylan Cheatham, ranked No. 73 overall in the Class of 2014 by Rivals, committed to San Diego State during a press conference at the Arizona Prep Fall Showcase in Scottsdale on Saturday night.

He was also considering New Mexico and Washington. According to Zeigler, he appeared to be leaning towards New Mexico, following his trip to the Lobos’ midnight madness. Last Tuesday, Fisher met with Cheatham to sway his decision.

“And then Coach Fisher said something,” Cheatham told Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune. “He said: ‘When you close your eyes and dream at night, where do you see yourself?’ That overwhelmed me. That basically took over the process for me … When I was there on my visit, I never forgot that feeling I had. It felt like home. I just knew it was the right place for me.”

The 6-foot-7 small forward is the third commit in the class that ranks in the Rivals150. Each of Fisher’s four commits are all rated as three-star or better, including five-star forward Malik Pope from Laguna Creek High (Calif.), who committed earlier in October. Brewster Academy (N.H.) point guard Kevin Zabo became the first commit in August, followed by Saint Augustine High (Calf.) shooting guard Trey Kell, who picked San Diego State at the beginning of the month.

Cheatham transferred back to South Mountain this season, and is currently waiting for a decision regarding his eligibility to play this season.

Malik Pope commits to San Diego State

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San Diego State landed their third commitment in the Class of 2014, as Malik Pope announced on Wednesday night that he would be an Aztec when he gets to college.

Pope has all the physical tools to be a terrific player at the collegiate level. At 6-foot-8, he’s an explosive wing that can run the floor and has the ball skills to be able to thrive on the perimeter. He’s got three-point range, but at this point in his development, he’s more of a slasher than he is a standstill jump-shooter.

The question mark with Pope is his health. He’s ranked No. 17 in the Class of 2014 by Rivals, but most other publications have dropped him from the five-star range. Pope, a native of Elk Grove, CA, broke his leg during his high school season, which cost him the April and July evaluation periods. He recently reinjured the same leg and had a screw implanted.

This is a kid that everyone in the country was recruiting before his injury, which means that he’ll be an instant impact player for Steve Fisher if he can get back to full strength.

Pope joins Trey Kell and Kavin Zabo in SDSU’s recruiting class.