The Syracuse Orange (still doesnt sound right, does it?) will have an interesting mix of veteran leadership and young talent, as Hakim Warrick has moved on and Gerry McNamara returns for his senior season. Four highly touted juniors remain on the roster, though none have the type of in-game experience you would like to see from a veteran leader type.
Having the unenviable task of replacing Warrick will be forward Terrence Roberts. Somewhat like Warrick, Roberts is immensely gifted as an athlete, and may be stuck somewhere between the Small Forward and Power Forward positions. Unlike Warrick, it doesnt look like hell have problems adding muscle to his frame. Roberts has only shown flashes of anything resembling skill, but has that combination of size and athleticism that will get you out of your seat from time to time. The natural tools to become a Big East star and eventual NBA player are all there, and now its time to see if Terrence Roberts learned anything from playing behind Hakim Warrick the past two seasons.
John Thompson did a great job in breathing some life back into a downtrodden Georgetown program last year, keeping his young team in contention for an NCAA berth nearly the entire season. His ability to recruit is already paying dividends, but the Hoyas biggest reason for optimism actually comes from the Craig Esherick era.
PF Jeff Green was an unknown when he signed, but people in the Big East certainly know his name now. He used his already developed body and a very intriguing feel for the game to average nearly 12 points and 7 rebounds per game, while winning Big East Co-Rookie of the Year (along with much more hyped Rudy Gay).
When he isnt beating people up around the basket, Green looks surprisingly comfortable facing up. Hes got solid passing skills and very soft hands. On the defensive side of the ball, Green has great timing as a shot blocker to go along with some nice athleticism. Look for Jeff Green to develop into one of the Big Easts top couple of big men this season, and for his name to pop up on everyones mock draft next spring.
The Florida Gators lost four-year standout David Lee, along with super-scoring juniors Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh, but dont expect the rebuilding process to last for too long. Billy Donovans club will be picking up right where it left off, and his two sophomores, SF Corey Brewer and PF Al Horford, will be the reason why.
Brewer can definitely be classified as a string bean at this point, but has the length and versatility to guard all sorts of people. His ball-handling is just adaquete at this point and his shot is still streaky, but he shows the talent, passion, athleticism and attitude to really develop into something special. Im not sure which way his game will take him (perhaps a taller, more athletic SF in the mold of Josh Howard or Bobby Simmons?), but he has a chance to be very, very good.
Horford is getting the real buzz at the moment from players he's gone up against this summer already, as he is showing the same improvement this summer that we saw throughout his freshman season. With David Lee out of the picture, his brutal combination of strength, length and athleticism is going to be impossible to stop if he continues to work on his footwork around the basket. He has fantastic hands to go along with an excellent body, mind and attitude and the pedigree that comes from your father being a 7 foot former NBA center.
Horford has reportedly grown at least an inch taller than his listed 68, (David Lee told us that last he saw of Horford he was already taller than him) and should develop into an All-SEC caliber player in 2006. Leaving Horford off the SEC All-Freshman team is the type of nonsense you get when you let beat writers handle these types of things, but anyone who saw him play last year could tell that the kid is going to be an awesome basketball player.
Im doing quite a bit of speculating in this article, but one player that I am very confident about is Memphis PG Darius Washington. With all the chaos going on in the program this past season, it was the freshman that provided consistent on court leadership and production. Despite clearly having the talent to take over a game offensively, he worked to get his veteran teammates involved, and showed the makings of an excellent all around floor general.
There isnt an obvious NBA comparison for his style of play, but he has top-notch explosiveness off the dribble, and loves to pop the midrange floater once he gets in the lane. Washington still needs to improve his decision making, but I expect him to make short work of a diluted Conference USA this season. He plays with that leave it all out on the court intensity that is going to win him fans all across the country. If Washington is actually the 62 hes listed at (there are some doubts), he might be the best PG prospect in college basketball.
Indianas DJ White certainly is a household name in draft circles, but he wasnt able to join his touted 2004 classmates in the 2004 draft because it was thought that he was undersized (67). White ended up being listed at 69 on the official Hoosier roster, and then proceeded to have an outstanding freshman season. It was obvious early on that he wouldnt back down from anybody, doing a tremendous job of defending players such as Sean May and Torin Francis just a few games into his college career.
White relishes contact in the post, and where a lot of shot blocking specialists thrive on coming over from the weak side, White gets a lot of his on the man he is guarding. Whites offensive game is still a work in progress and he will need to improve as a rebounder, but he might just end up as the best post player in the Big 10 this season. If DJ White did actually grow before his freshman season and is a legit 69, expect to hear some draft-related rumblings very soon.
It was obvious during Michigan State SG Maurice Agers freshman season that he had the talent to develop into a star. However, its been slow going for Ager. He struggled with injuries his sophomore year, and due to Tom Izzos deep perimeter rotation, any sort of inconsistent play meant more time on the bench. Nonetheless, Ager developed into Michigan States most dependable perimeter threat this past season. Never was this more obvious than in the NCAA tournament, where he averaged 18 points per game and looked just as athletic as any of North Carolinas stable of high flyers in their final four matchup.
Ager is a truly dominant open floor athlete, is very successful as a slasher, and dramatically improved his shooting percentages from previous seasons. There were three seniors in the Spartan backcourt a year ago, so 2006 looks like it could be Agers year. He will get more minutes, and significantly more scoring opportunities in those minutes. I fully expect Maurice Ager to explode as a scorer, and develop into a legitimate first round prospect.
Erroll Knights chances of really exploding as a draft prospect took a big hit in April when Adam Morrison announced he was headed back to school. However, Ronny Turiafs departure means that somebody will have to pick up the slack scoring wise. My guess is that Knight ends up getting a lot more touches this season. He was a touted recruit that started his career at Washington before transferring to Gonzaga after a promising freshman season. While Knight hasnt been able put up big numbers as a Zag thus far, he did win WCC defensive player of the year this past season, and its obvious that Knight is one of the top athletes in the country. He has the ability to get up and rock the rim, along with a finely sculpted body that might be the closest thing the NCAA has to Joey Graham in 2006. Knight struggles to be anything more than a dunker on offense, though, and must improve as a shooter. Morrison is obviously going to be the top option for the Zags, but Knight has the chance to be a true draft sleeper in 2006.
USCs sophomore backcourt, PG Gabe Pruitt and SG Nick Young, might not have gotten the recognition they deserved for their impressive freshman seasons. Both were big spring risers in the class of 2004 high school rankings, but were overshadowed by Robert Swift and his eventual decision to go pro. While Henry Bibby coached his way out of a job and the Trojan upperclassmen floundered under new coaching, Pruitt and Young were putting in solid freshman seasons. Both averaged double figures, and both played their best ball during conference play. Pruitt is a bit of a combo guard at the moment, but has the size (64) and shooting stroke to be a star. Young has all the raw tools you want to see in a wing prospect. Hes got the size to make it, smooth athleticism, good body control, and a solid outside shooting stroke. Tim Floyd has a great track record for developing NBA players, though its always a dicey proposition on whether players will buy into the system of a coach that didnt recruit them. The bottom line is that if Gabe Pruitt and Nick Young want to be Pac-10 stars, they have the ability to get there and a coach who will help them get the most out of it.