July 16, 2009

Notebook: Big men to watch off the bench

North Carolina forward Ed Davis started just two games as a freshman last season, yet his name already appears near the top of most 2010 NBA mock drafts.

Now that ACC career scoring leader Tyler Hansbrough has moved on to the NBA's Indiana Pacers, Davis figures to emerge as one of the nation's top big men in his sophomore season.

Davis is the most obvious choice on our list of a dozen first-year frontcourt starters who could have breakthrough seasons in 2009-10. We focused on guards in last week's notebook, so this week's list concentrates on forwards and centers.

Once again, we're not considering freshmen or transfers on this list. We only included first-year starters who also played reserve roles for their respective teams last season. The players are listed in alphabetical order.

Gilbert Brown and Gary McGhee, Jrs., Pittsburgh: Perhaps no school in the nation has to retool its frontcourt as much as Pitt, which lost second-round draft picks DeJuan Blair and Sam Young to the NBA. Blair was the Big East co-player of the year last season, while Young arguably was the nation's best small forward. Brown likely takes over as the Panthers' new small forward. Brown made 15 starts in place of an injured Mike Cook and helped spark Pitt to the Big East tournament title two years ago before returning to the bench as an effective sixth man last season. McGhee has received scant playing time in his first two seasons, but he certainly will get an opportunity now as the heir apparent to Blair.

Laurence Bowers, Soph., Missouri: Bowers struggled with a knee injury for much of his freshman season and averaged just 6.9 minutes per game, but he still offered flashes of his athleticism and potential. He scored 16 points each against Colorado and Kansas State despite not playing more than 19 minutes in either of those games. He also delivered the SportsCenter "Play of the Day" with an alley-oop dunk in a victory over Coppin State. His athleticism was evident in that he led Missouri in blocks and rebounds per minute. The Tigers will need much more from Bowers next season as they look to replace departed frontcourt standouts DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons.

DeAngelo Casto, Soph., Washington State: Casto is the most experienced big man on Washington State's roster now that center Aron Baynes has completed his career. Casto averaged 4.4 points per game and earned freshman All-Pac-10 honors last season despite making just two starts. Casto gained valuable experience while playing on the U.S. Under-19 team that won the FIBA National Championships last week. Casto averaged 6.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in just 13.5 minutes for the U.S. team.

Ed Davis, Soph., North Carolina: The most recognizable player on our list already is being mentioned as one of the top three picks in the 2010 NBA draft. Not bad for someone who has made just two career starts. Even though he wasn't a starter, Davis played a vital role in North Carolina's national championship run last season by averaging 6.7 points and 6.6 rebounds in just 18.8 minutes. Davis averaged 8.2 rebounds during the NCAA tournament despite not playing more than 25 minutes in a tournament game. Now that UNC must replace Tyler Hansbrough, Davis figures to emerge as one of the nation's top big men.

Xavier Gibson, Soph., Florida State: This represents a leap of faith in a guy who didn't play more than eight minutes in any of the Seminoles' ACC games last season. But it's impossible to ignore Gibson's athleticism. Gibson arrived on campus as the No. 56 prospect nationally in the 2008 recruiting class and showed bursts of tremendous potential in the brief spurts of playing time he received as a freshman. Gibson has enough of a well-rounded offensive game to help offset some of the production left by ACC scoring leader Toney Douglas' departure, and his 6-11 frame certainly should allow him to become a capable defensive performer. He could team with 6-9 Chris Singleton and 7-1 center Solomon Alabi to give the Seminoles quite an imposing frontcourt.

Drew Gordon, Soph., UCLA: UCLA fans endured a major scare last month when Gordon partially tore the patellar tendon in his right knee while trying out for the U.S. under-19 team that went on to win the FIBA World Championships. Fortunately for the Bruins, Gordon's setback was a minor injury that didn't require surgery. Gordon averaged 3.6 points and 3.4 rebounds last season as a backup forward, but he shapes up as one of UCLA's most important players now that Alfred Aboya has departed. UCLA's lack of proven frontcourt players will require Gordon or former five-star prospect J'mison Morgan to make huge strides, and Gordon showed more promise last season.

Terrence Jennings, Soph., Louisville: Louisville coach Rick Pitino gave Jennings quite a compliment midway through last season when he said the former five-star prospect reminded him of Terrence Williams at similar stages in their development. Pitino would love to see Jennings put together the same kind of career as Williams. Jennings, the No. 18 prospect in the 2008 recruiting class, ranked fifth in the Big East last season with 1.6 blocks per game despite averaging just 11.9 minutes. He scored eight points while playing just seven minutes in an NCAA tournament second-round victory over Siena and blocked five shots during a 20-minute stint in a regular-season win over West Virginia. He played much better in the second half of the season and is versatile enough to play just about anywhere in the frontcourt.

Chris Johnson, Soph., Dayton: Johnson played 16.2 minutes per game last year, yet still managed to average 6.3 points and 5.2 rebounds. Johnson, a 6-6 swingman, recorded a double-double against Marquette and had a 20-point, 12-rebound effort against Coppin State. Johnson led Dayton in free-throw percentage (.772) and ranked second on the team in rebounds. Dayton returns four starters this season, but Johnson should be the lone newcomer in the lineup as he replaces the departed Charles Little.

David Loubeau, Soph., Texas A&M: Loubeau gave the Aggies hope for the future last season by scoring 11 points in an NCAA tournament loss to Connecticut. It turns out the future is now. Chinemelu Elonu's decision to enter the NBA draft left a hole in the starting lineup that likely will be filled by Loubeau. He averaged 4.6 points and 3.2 rebounds as a freshman, but he did score in double figures in back-to-back games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State before making all five of his shots against Connecticut. The Aggies can only hope that performance against UConn was a sign of things to come.

Darius Miller, Soph., Kentucky: This former Kentucky "Mr. Basketball" averaged 5.3 points per game as a freshman, and he saved his best performances for the end of the season. Miller, a swingman, has carried that momentum into the offseason, as he helped the U.S. under-19 team win a gold medal in the FIBA World Championships last week. Miller led the U.S. team in blocks (12 in nine games) and tied for the team lead in steals (14). Miller figures to win a spot in the starting lineup this season and could thrive in new coach John Calipari's system.

Jamar Samuels, Soph., Kansas State: The biggest question surrounding Samuels is whether he will get an opportunity for an expanded role. Kansas State returns four starters and also welcomes touted freshman forward Wally Judge, the No. 18 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class. Samuels already has proved he can make the most of whatever playing time he receives. He averaged 8.3 points and 4.7 rebounds to rank fourth on the team in both categories last season despite making just two starts. Samuels delivered 18 points, six rebounds and four assists with no turnovers in a regular-season victory over Missouri. He had 17 points, six rebounds, five assists and no turnovers in a late-season win over Colorado.

Tony Woods, Soph., Wake Forest: Woods, a 6-11 center, was the No. 20 prospect in the 2008 recruiting class, but he didn't deliver the immediate impact that some people expected from him. Woods averaged 3.2 points, 2.6 rebounds and 10.9 minutes as a freshman. The Demon Deacons are expecting much more production from Woods now that he has a better idea of what to expect. Woods could team with Chas McFarland and Al-Farouq Aminu to give Wake Forest an exceptional frontcourt.

Surprises abroad

The two U.S. teams that competed internationally with college players produced surprising results. The United States entered the World University Games seeking its 14th gold medal but had to settle for bronze instead after squandering a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead against Russia in the semifinal round. But the U.S. Under-19 team won its first gold since 1991 in the FIBA World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand.

Kansas' Tyshawn Taylor (10.8 points per game), Georgia's Trey Thompkins (10.6) and Butler's Gordon Hayward (10.0) were the leading scorers for the U-19 team. Pittsburgh's Ashton Gibbs, the heir apparent to Levance Fields at point guard, delivered a Fields-like 20-to-6 assist-to-turnover ratio.

The rest of the U.S. U-19 roster had Washington State's Casto, Duke guard Seth Curry, Butler guard Shelvin Mack, Kentucky forward Darius Miller, UTEP center Arnett Moultrie, Northwestern forward John Shuma, Washington State guard Klay Thompson and Ole Miss guard Terrico White.

Outside shooting may have made the difference for the U.S. team. The Americans shot 35.3 percent (84-of-238) from 3-point range and held opponents to 30.7 percent (50-of-163) from beyond the arc.

"This team was unique as far as U.S. teams," said Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon, the coach of the U-19 squad. "I think it was better suited for international [play]. We may not have had as many 'name guys' as other teams, but I really thought we selected guys that were suited to the international game and the FIBA rules. We really shot the ball well. We were skilled. We were a good free-throw shooting team."

A lack of shooting cost the U.S. team a shot at the gold in the World University Games in Belgrade, Serbia. North Carolina's Deon Thompson had 12 points and 11 rebounds in a 69-68 semifinal loss to Russia, but the rest of the starting lineup shot a combined 1-for-21.

"Finding easy baskets in that game was very, very difficult," said Wisconsin's Bo Ryan, who coached the U.S. team. "You have a bad shooting night one game, and then you are on the sideline for the championship game."

Penn State guard Talor Battle led the U.S. team with 10.3 points per game in the World University Games. Thompson was the U.S. team's second-leading rebounder (5.9) and scorer (9.6).

The rest of the U.S roster had Oklahoma State swingman James Anderson, Clemson forward/center Trevor Booker, Iowa State forward Craig Brackins, West Virginia forward Da'Sean Butler, Villanova guard Corey Fisher, Marquette forward Lazar Hayward, Washington forward Quincy Pondexter, Ohio State forward Evan Turner and Mississippi State center Jarvis Varnado.


Rutgers guard Mike Rosario was the top overall scorer at the FIBA U-19 World Championships. Rosario averaged 24 points for Puerto Rico, including a 54-point effort in a 90-89 victory over France. Rosario was 11th in the Big East in scoring at 16.2 points per game as a freshman last season.

Rice recruit Arsalan Kazemi, a 6-7 forward from The Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C., captained Iran's under-19 team and averaged 16.6 points and 12.2 rebounds. He also led all tournament players with 4.0 steals per game. Kazemi had seven steals in a 106-55 loss to the U.S. team and pulled down 20 rebounds in a 62-53 loss to Angola. Kazemi will be the first Iranian-born player to play college basketball in the United States.

Gonzaga recruits Manny Arop and Kelly Olnyk were two of the three leading scorers for Canada's under-19 team. Arop the No. 88 recruit nationally led Canada with 16.2 points per game. Olnyk averaged 11.2 points and a team-high 8.3 rebounds.

UNLV continues its reputation as a popular destination for transfers. Former Kansas forward Quintrell Thomas enrolled in summer school classes at UNLV last week, though he won't be eligible to play for the Rebels until the 2010-11 season. Transfers on UNLV's roster this season include Todd Hanni (Wabash Valley College), Derrick Jasper (Kentucky), Steve Jones (Arizona State), Chace Stanback (UCLA) and Tre'Von Willis (Memphis).

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.


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