Marcus Smart gets a lot of attention at Oklahoma State. Rightly so: all he did as a freshman was win Big 12 Player of the Year honors in leading the Cowboys to 24 wins. After that, he bypassed the NBA Draft, where he would surely have been one of the top three selections, and his winning ways continue to get him a lot of publicity and preseason honors this season.
Along the way, it’s easy to miss Markel Brown. But opponents know the senior guard who plays alongside Smart, and they would ignore him at their own peril. Brown might be the best player no one knows about, hidden behind another star on his own team in addition to the conference.
Brown is perfect for Travis Ford’s style of play, as he’s very athletic and can finish with the best of them. Last year, while Smart was winning honors and being talked about as a potential first overall pick in June, Brown made a big jump in his overall game, shooting over 36 percent on three-pointers and cutting down on turnovers in addition to being the scorer he always has been.
It got to the point where there was a question of whether or not he would return for his senior season, which few if any would have imagined last October. He is back, and with him joining Smart, the Cowboys are a legitimate threat to end Kansas’ string of nine straight Big 12 titles this season.
Here are a dozen more hidden gems that for one reason or another don’t get the recognition they deserve.
Justin Cobbs, Sr. G, California Alan Crabbe was the go-to guy on last season’s team, and when he left for the NBA Draft the Golden Bears took a hit. But Cobbs was his backcourt mate and had quite a bit to do with their success last season, and now he gets to be the go-to guy although a preseason injury has slowed him.
Torrey Craig, Sr. F, USC Upstate The Atlantic Sun’s leading scorer last year does more than that as he also rebounds well from the wing. If his team contends, as they should with all five starters back, he might not be under the radar much longer.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Jr. G, Colorado Andre Roberson surprised everyone when he left school last year and went in the first round of June’s NBA Draft. When Dinwiddie, who is 6’6″ and can really shoot, eventually goes in the first round of an NBA Draft, most of the same people will not be surprised.
Dwayne Evans, Sr. F, Saint Louis Quick, who led the Atlantic 10 champions in scoring last season? That’s right, Evans did, and he’s led them in rebounding in each of his first three seasons. He was also the MOP in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, so he came up big when the Billikens needed him to.
Corey Hawkins, Jr. G, UC Davis Hersey’s son can score just like his dad, doing that to the tune of over 20 points per game last season. He has a double whammy for lack of attention: on the west coast and in the Big West. That could change if he leads UC Davis into contention this season, which could happen.
Anthony Ireland, Sr. G, Loyola Marymount A tough floor leader who has improved greatly from his high school days, Ireland is overshadowed in a conference where a few top teams get a lot of attention and his team struggled. He’s in the discussion for best point guard in the West Coast Conference.
Javon McCrea, Sr. F, Buffalo In the ultra-competitive MAC, Buffalo hasn’t been able to have a breakthrough year and isn’t one of the signature programs. McCrea is a load in the post and could average a double-double this season.
Elfrid Payton, Jr. G, Louisiana Not only does he have good size for the point guard spot, but he can really run a team. This summer, he helped the USA’s U19 team win gold at the FIBA World Championship, and he’s poised to keep up the winning as his team should contend in the Sun Belt.
Augustine Rubit, Sr. F, South Alabama A quiet double-double machine, he’s starting to get more national attention of late, but whether that continues will depend in part on how well his team takes care of the ball to give him chances to do something.
Isaiah Sykes, Sr. G, UCF A terrific stat sheet stuffer, the only thing he doesn’t do well is shoot from long range. He’s made a steady improvement every year, although repeating it will be tough this year since he will now be the big focus of opposing defenses after playing off Keith Clanton last year.
Brian Voelkel, Sr. F, Vermont Compared to most on this list, Voelkel has pedestrian statistics in addition to not looking like much of a star basketball player. In fact, he averages less than six points per game for his career and has never averaged more than seven per game. But there’s one thing he does better than most: win. He epitomizes the Catamounts, who have won 68 games in his three seasons.
Pendarvis Williams, Sr. G-F, Norfolk State A versatile wing, he stepped right up last year when it was his turn to star after key departures from the prior season and was the MEAC Player of the Year. Don’t be surprised if he turns in a similarly stellar effort this season.