Deng Gai, F/C, Fairfield
The 6-9 monster from Sudan is making some serious noise the way he's been playing lately. Luol Deng's cousin put up a rare NCAA triple double this past week, with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks against Loyola. Deng was a huge part of Fairfield's stingy defense, holding the opposing team to only 35 points.
Gai declared for the draft last year and decided to come back for his senior year when he was told that he would not be a first-round pick. That's looking like a great choice so far, as it seems like the lightbulb has really came on for him this past season. Gai's numbers are up accross the board so far. His assists average has doubled, his turnover numbers are almost cut in half, his field goal percentage is up from 41% to 47% and he has continued to hit the open three at a decent clip. Deng's combination of quickness, a phenomonal vertical leap, ambidextrous shot-blocking skills and the fact that he hasn't been playing basketball for all that long lead us to believe that he still has a lot of potential to improve at the next level. As long as he continues to play at a high level for the rest of the season, it's a pretty safe bet to say that he will be making the rounds around the various draft camps this summer and has a pretty good shot at making a team.
America East Dynamic Duo
Two interesting prospects faced off in the America East on Saturday when Northeastern traveled to Vermont. Northeastern point guard Jose Juan Barea scored 26 points on 11-26 shooting, while high-scoring forward Taylor Coppenrath lit it up for 27 points and 10 rebounds. After an eight-point win, the Catamounts are now in control of the conference, and that means the sweet-shooting Coppenrath could blow up in the tourney this March.
Kevin Pittsnogle, C, WVU
Ever since a promising freshman season, West Virginia junior center Kevin Pittsnogle's career has been on a downward slope. That is, until Saturday's game against Pittsburgh. Starter D'Or Fischer was sick, and Pittsnogle picked up the slack to the tune of 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 3-pointers. His breakout game was the major reason that the Mountaineers were able to pick up a much-needed quality win. Fischer graduates this year, so Pittsnogle will get one last chance to prove himself to pro scouts next season.
Eddie Basden, WG, Charlotte
Basden's game might not jump out at you when you're watching the 49ers play, but try this stat line out: 20 points, 11 boards, 7 assists, 4 steals. His season averages are similarly complete, including an astonishing 3.2 steals per game. Oh yeah, Charlotte also notched a huge upset win over Cincinnati, the team's first signature win of the year. If Basden keeps it up, NBA scouts will have to start taking notice, if they haven't already.
Marvin Williams, F, UNC
North Carolina's freshman sensation Williams has been blowing up lately, taking minutes away from his teammate and good friend Jawad, and showing why he is one of the most talented freshman in America and a sure fire top 3 pick (and maybe even #1) whenever he decides to come out.
Williams' improvement over the course of the season has been nothing short of phenomonal. After starting off the season a bit cautiously (and who can blame him with the type of upperclassmen talent the Tarheels have), he is really breaking out of his shell lately, not hesitating to shoot from the perimeter, pull up and drain a midrange jumper with a man in his face or finish in style with a hand behind his head for a thunderous breakaway dunk on national television. His slashing game still leaves a little bit to be desired, but it's pretty hard to argue with 48 points (on 14-24 shooting), 23 rebounds and just 3 turnovers in 71 minutes of play over his past 3 games, all wins.
Williams has proven to be a great finisher for UNC point guard Ray Felton and a strong compliment to Sean May's inside presence. While it's unlikely that we'll get to see Williams develop at UNC for long, as scouts have made him a hot commodity, another year to develop some better perimeter defensive skills, and a year as The Big Man on Campus, would cement the big kid as the top player in the draft, unless Greg Oden has something to say about that.
The most electric of Kentucky's fabulous freshman, Rondo has been getting more notice lately as his point guard skills develop on an almost game-by game basis. Rondo is not yet a legit number one scorer, but he does all the little things that both stuff the stat sheet and make his team better. In the Wildcats' only game of the week, Rondo had an all-around game to remember: 12 points, 8 assists, 2 steals, 4 rebounds and no turnovers in 30 minutes. The ball-hawking guard has long arms and big hands that are seemingly always near the ball. For the year, Rondo is averaging 1.5 to 1 steals to turnovers, not to mention a 2-1 assist to turnover ratio in conference play. Given the high profile simply playing at Kentucky warrants, and you can expect to keep hearing plenty about Rondo from the national media.
Vincent Grier, G, Minn.
The resurgent Minnnesota Golden Gophers finally grabbed a signature win -- against Wisconsin -- this past weekend, and Gopher wing guard Vincent Grier had his breakout performance. After a quiet first half in which he scored just six points, Grier completely dominated Badger defensive specialist Clayton Hanson on his way to scoring 26 second half points. Grier, known for his ability to slash to the basket, hit numerous midrange jumpers off the dribble and showed off some serious athleticism on a dunk attempt right over Alando Tucker. Grier's left-handed ability to get to the basket and get hot from the outside make him an outside draft possibility in 2006.
Dee Brown, PG, Ill
It's becoming almost routine to say that one of the many talented Illinois guards had an outstanding game in a nationally-televised affair, and this week is little different. But with Illinois beginning to see a perfect season around the corner, each road game takes on added weight. Tuesday's win at Michigan State was the sort of gutsy, overwhelming affair that is making Illini believers out of NCAA fans all across the nation. Lightning quick point Dee Brown stole the show against the Spartans, hitting deep threes in transition or off a set play, taking his man off the dribble and being an absolute terror on the defensive end. Brown, and his teammates', confidence level is sky-high right now, and it shows in their ability to snuff out a rally before it even really starts.
Antoine Wright, G/F, Texas A&M
Coach Billy Gillispie has Texas A&M right in the thick of things in the Big XII, and that is a good thing for his wing prospect Antoine Wright. Wright averaged 19 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists in two games last week, and looks like a completely different player than he did a season ago. If the Aggies could sneak into the tourney, Wright would get a chance to showcase his game, which screams upside," on the national stage. He's back in many first-round mocks, and Wright's stock will only rise from here.
Jarrius Jackson, G, Texas Tech
College basketball fans may remember Texas Tech guard Jarrius Jackson's hot start as a freshman last year. While he's been up and down since, Jackson is really starting to cash in on some of that potential he showed early in his career. As his team skyrockets up the Big XII standings, Jackson had games of 25 and 32 this past week. The 32 came in a huge upset win at Oklahoma. It's hard to tell if Jackson will ever make the transition to full-time point guard, but it's time to realize that Bobby Knight has a legit star on his hands. And stay tuned
Tre Simmons, G, Wash.
This might come as a surprise to people who don't follow West coast basketball that closely, but Tre Simmons has actually been Washington's best player so far this season, at least according to the numbers and Washington's very own coaching staff.
Simmons backed up that claim this week against USC, scoring 29 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 3 assists in just 26 minutes.
Simmons is leading the Huskies in points (17 per game in 26 minutes) rebounds and steals this year, while shooting an impressive 46% from behind the arc. He has improved his perimeter defense considerably, and deserves to get an invite to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in April. He has solid size and one of the sweetest shooting strokes in the country, with an ultra-quick release. His excellent play this year has allowed athletic shooting guard Brandon Roy (a legit NBA prospect in his own right) to come off the bench as he recovers from his knee injury.
Simmons is an interesting prospect for this upcoming draft and will surely get himself some looks from teams over the summer. The former JUCO player has the kind of skills and attitude the NBA is looking for in a backup guard, as well as good size for the position, and should be considered more than just an excellent spot-up shooter. UW's backcourt depth doesn't allow him to put up great numbers every single night, but Simmons doesn't complain about that and just keeps doing what is asked of him.
Salim Stoudamire, G, Zona
Salim Stoudamire continues to make ESPN look more and more ridiculous everytime the question "Who is the #1 shooter in the NCAA?" comes up. The automatic answer from Vitale, Bilas and their sidekicks is always automatic "J.J. Redick or Gerry McNamara," who are shooting 42% and 35% respectively from behind the arc, way behind the headband-sporting Stoudamire, who is at an unbelievable 54% for the year on a comparable amount of attempts.
Stoudamire most likely shot himself in the foot with NBA scouts numerous times with his attitude on the court, benching and suspensions over his four years at Point Guard U (whose magic to produce phenomonal point guards didn't rub off on Salim in the least bit). But he is definitely giving scouts a lot to think about with the way he has been shooting so far this season. Stoudamire had 26 points on 5-9 shooting from behind the arc this weekend at Stanford, to go along with 4 assists and 2 turnovers. Not his best game this year, but more than enough to get some well-earned recognition in this space as the #1 shooter in the country. His playmaking skills and ballhandling won't have anyone confuse him for a point, but if he can lead his team deep into the tournament in his senior season, he's got a decent shot at getting drafted and making a team based solely off his phenomonal shooting ability.
Ike Diogu, F, ASU
It really can't be overstated how good Arizona State PF Ike Diogu is on the college level. His team seems to get worse every night, and Diogu seems to get better as teams give him more attention. His games of 39 against Stanford and 35 against Cal add up to the most dominant back-to-back performances of any player on the college level all season. He probably doesn't win national player of the year because of the team he plays for, but there isn't anybody doing close to what Ike does on a nightly basis. As for his draft status, he's a bit underrated at the moment. Many think his lack of height limits his upside, but Diogu is still improving, and that should count for a lot come draft night in 2005 or 2006.
Danny Granger, F, New Mexico
New Mexico WF prospect Danny Granger is back after a three-week layoff due to injury. His play has been spotty, but he did register a Granger-esque 21 point, 9 rebound, 3 steal, 3 three-pointer outing against Marcus Slaughter and San Diego State. It will be interesting to see what kind of impact Granger can have for the Lobos down the stretch, and whether he can play his way back into the first round. Granger is another guy that could blow up in March, if his team can get into the Dance.
Nick Fazekas, C, Nevada
Anyone who is 6-11 and possesses the ability to run down the floor is an NBA prospect at this point. And if that player is also highly skilled on the offensive end, the scouts will come calling. One such player flying under the national radar despite a great season thus far is Nevada sophomore Nick Fazekas.
Thin and not yet strong enough to push around with NBA bigs, Fazekas is averaging 20 points and nine boards a game this year. But it's the way he scores that merits mention, as he can knock down threes and block shots, both highly coveted skills in the League. This week's lines showed exactly this type of well-rounded game, as Nevada split its games, but Fazekas shined. In a loss to Fresno State, the big man notched 23 points on 7-18 shooting, including 1-3 from three-point range. Ten rebounds and three blocks rounded out the performance. Then Fazekas proved himself again with another 23-point performance, this time in a win over SMU. Twelve boards and four more blocks only added to the stat sheet.
Fazekas needs weight, muscle and seasoning, but he's big and smooth and given his many talents, there's little doubt he's one to watch.