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Hidden Gems

October 23, 2003 Columns No Comments


Hidden Gems – The Best Players You’ve Never Heard Of

by Phil Kasiecki

Now that we’ve revealed the Hoopville pre-season All-Americans, it’s only fitting that we look at some of the best players no one knows about. Every season, there are players who start to emerge seemingly out of nowhere, making the casual fan wonder, “where did this guy come from?” Some of those players were solid all along, but hidden beneath other stars on their team or in their conference; some simply play on a bad team and thus get no attention outside of their team’s geographic area, or play in an area where media attention is small.

This season, things are no different. There are plenty of hidden gems throughout college basketball that should emerge as the season goes along. Choosing the best player no one knows about is never easy, although this year it may be a little easier than others.

For the past three seasons, Jave Meade has run the show for Holy Cross as the Crusaders have run roughshod over the Patriot League. The Crusaders had a bigger frontline than most Patriot League teams the past few seasons, but Meade did more than his share of work in the backcourt to help the Crusaders make three straight NCAA Tournament appearances. The last two seasons, he has led the Patriot League in assists, steals, and assist to turnover ratio, becoming the only junior on the All-Patriot League first team last season.

But Meade does more than put up numbers. He is one of the best defenders in the country, consistently shutting down top guards. And his floor leadership is a prime reason for the Crusaders’ unparalleled success the past two seasons. This season, he is the lone senior on the team and will be counted on to provide the same great leadership as the Crusaders bid for another Patriot League title. After players like the departed Tim Szatko and Patrick Whearty, as well as Josh Sankes, got most of the accolades the last three seasons, Meade will be the one racking up the accolades this season. Expect Meade to be a strong candidate for the league Player of the Year.

Here are some other hidden gems to keep an eye on this season.

Timmy Bowers, Sr. G, Mississippi State: Mario Austin got most of the press last year in Starkville, and point guard Derrick Zimmerman ran the show very well without fanfare. But getting even less fanfare was Bowers, the team’s second-leading scorer. When Austin was held out early in the season, Bowers led the way, and he made over 41% of his three-pointers last season. Baylor transfer and All-America candidate Lawrence Roberts seems to be the center of attention now, but Bowers should have another solid season.

Brad Boyd, Sr. F, Louisiana-Lafayette: Big man Michael Southall gets all the press, but Boyd will be as much of a key to the Ragin’ Cajuns’ success this season. If he provides the offense from the perimeter he did last season, that can open up opportunities inside for Southall and punish opponents who want to key on the big man.

Jordan Cornette, Jr. F, Notre Dame: Cornette is one of the best post defenders around, with good size and mobility. He opened last season with 18 blocked shots in two games, but he does more than that. Now he’ll get to show what he can do at the offensive end, as the Irish will need more from him this season.

Morris Finley, Sr. G, UAB: Probably the runner-up to Meade for the honor, Finley was the key to UAB nearly making the NCAA Tournament last season. He’s the top player on the sleeper team in Conference USA, and could be a Player of the Year candidate if the Blazers contend.

Mike Helms, Sr. G, Oakland: Helms is the nation’s leading returning scorer after finishing third in the nation last season with 26.9 points per outing. Helms plays on a team that knows how to score (23rd nationally in scoring last year) and will continue to emphasize trying to outscore opponents. With all five starters back, the Golden Grizzlies should contend for the Mid-Continent Conference title, which might get Helms more notice.

Adam Hess, Sr. F, William & Mary: Hess is hidden not only in the mid-major Colonial Athletic Association, but also on a struggling team. He could be among the nation’s top scorers this season, as just one other starter returns.

Kevin Martin, Jr. F, Western Carolina: Martin didn’t have a sophomore slump, finishing 10th in the nation in scoring and looking to have another big year ahead. But he’s not only in the mid-major Southern Conference, he’s also on a team that isn’t likely to contend in their division, let alone in the conference.

Juan Mendez, Jr. F, Niagara: One of the top players in the Metro Atlantic, a solid mid-major conference, Mendez could be a 20-10 player this season. If his team gets some bench help, it wouldn’t be a shock if they knocked off favored Manhattan, as they return all five starters.

Dylan Page, Sr. F, Wisconsin-Milwaukee: Last year the guards got all the attention, especially Clay Tucker, but Page was every bit a key to the team’s NCAA Tournament appearance. Now he’ll be the go-to guy as they try to get back to the NCAA Tournament, a challenge with the heavy backcourt losses from last season.

Brion Rush, So. G, Grambling: Carmelo Anthony got all the attention last year as freshmen went, but Rush was pretty good as well. He averaged 17 points per game on arguably the most talented team in the Southwest Athletic Conference. With teammate Paul Haynes joining him among the conference’s elite players and a more experienced team, Grambling should finally contend for the NCAA Tournament this season.

Marcus Smallwood, Sr. F, Northern Illinois: Smallwood averaged a double-double last season, but that was lost amidst the many other talents in the Mid-American. A candidate for MAC Player of the Year, he’s a prime reason the Huskies could win the MAC this season.

Rashad Wright, Sr. G, Georgia: Wright doesn’t put up big scoring numbers or make the highlight reels, and didn’t get the acclaim Jarvis Hayes or Ezra Williams got, but he’s a prime reason why the Bulldogs were NCAA Tournament-bound prior to the scandal that led to Jim Harrick’s departure. This season, the undermanned Bulldogs will need his steady floor leadership more than ever.

     

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