NCAA: 5 Sophomores Poised To Breakout
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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While there are some players who instantly becomes stars in college basketball like Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, typically freshman need that first year to adjust and understand everything that it takes to be successful at the highest level they’ve ever competed at. With that knowledge and experience under their belt, they go into their sophomore years better equipped to help their team and have a big year. That gives their coaches the confidence to preserve a much larger role for them and as we continue to get you prepped for the 2011-2012 college basketball season, we take a look at five sophomores who could potentially breakout this year.
Patric Young (Florida) – 6’9, 245 lbs. Center
A highly-regarded recruit out of high school, Young was really lackluster during his first year as a Gator. Part of the reason why is because Gators head coach Billy Donovan could only afford to give him 17 minutes a night due to the team’s senior-laden frontline that featured the more productive Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parson and Alex Tyus. Young put up three points and three rebounds a game during the time he had, but will now be the primary option in the low post.
With more playing time headed his way Young could easily end up becoming a double-double guy. This summer for USA Basketball’s U19 team he was a steady source of rebounds and blocks while finishing with authority around the rim. He’s going to be surrounded by some stellar guard play at Florida, meaning he should see a lot of single coverage inside. Teams won’t be able to afford to double team him because Bradley Beal, Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton will make them pay.
There’s a great deal of talent in college basketball this year at the power forward position, but Young’s ability to play the four and the five could lead to him seriously jumping up the draft boards if he steps up in a major way.
Aaron Craft (Ohio State) – 6’2, 190 lbs. Point Guard
On a Buckeyes’ team that was really heavy in upperclassmen, Craft came in and made an instant impact that was somewhat overshadowed due to the dominance of fellow freshman Jared Sullinger. Buckeyes head coach Thad Mata had a really hard time keeping him off of the court, and actually played him close to 30 minutes a night during year one. Craft made the most of that time, dishing out 4.5 assists a night while also scoring seven points and grabbing two rebounds.
As a sophomore Craft will have the freedom to showcase more of his individual offense and still have the kind of weapons around him to keep his assist numbers high. He can’t forget what got him this far, though, which is his defense. Craft is one of the premier defenders in the Big 10. He’s extremely tough and scrappy on that end of the court; he looks to take whoever he is guarding out of the game. That’s a rare quality from a player of his age.
As a freshman Craft shot 46% from the field and 37% from deep. He needs to keep those numbers around the same area and make sure to keep his assist-to-turnover ratio at 2:1. If he can do that, the Buckeyes will be serious contenders once again despite losing so much talent.
Maurice Jones (USC) – 5’7, 155 lbs. Point Guard
The Trojans suffered a big loss this summer when senior guard Jio Fontan tore his ACL, which will keep him out for the year. His absence has pushed Jones into the primary ball handler position, which is really where he’s more fitted for considering his size. In his first year as a Trojan Jones played much bigger than 5’7, sitting for only six minutes a contest while averaging nine points, two rebounds and three assists a night.
Trojans head coach Kevin O’Neill gave Jones a huge compliment during the Pac-12 media day when he basically said that their games wouldn’t even be worth coming to if Jones were to get hurt. He’s putting a lot of responsibility and pressure on Jones, but O’Neill wouldn’t do so if he didn’t think he were capable of coming through for him.
Staying healthy is key for Jones, who takes a lot of punishment as a result of how much bigger the guys who he’s going up against are. While his size may keep him from being a top-ranked NBA prospect, there’s a clear history in college hoops of players with his size being able to star for their teams and that’s exactly what the Trojans need him to do this year.
Meyers Leonard (Illinois) – 7’1, 245 lbs. Center
If you watched the Fighting Illini last season then chances are that you Meyers didn’t really stand out to you much. He was basically a non-factor, logging eight minutes a night and only playing more than 10 in eight games total. By the end of the season he was barely a part of the rotation. That should change this year, given that he’s put in the kind of work he should during the offseason.
At 7’1 Leonard can be quite imposing defensively with his combination of speed and athleticism to go along with his great size. He’s also nothing to shake your head at offensively as he possesses some solid footwork and a jump shot that could potentially become one of his most lethal weapons.
Leonard can’t allow himself to just blend in as a sophomore like he did as a freshman. He has to go into every game looking to impose his will and be the most dominant player on the court. He’s blessed with too many assets that simply cannot be taught. Anything less than a double-double and a block a night should be viewed as a disappointment by him. That may be hard to achieve, but that needs to be his goal because even if he comes up just short, he’ll still be a difference maker for the Fighting Illini, something he wasn’t last year.
Terrence Ross (Washington) – 6’6, 195 lbs. Shooting Guard
There is going to be a serious fight in the Huskies backcourt for minutes this season as they have a lot of talent at both guard positions, but Ross should be able to get more than the 17 minutes a game he played last year.
During his first year as a Huskie Ross was able to showcase his great athleticism and fearlessness in clutch situations. That, along with his prototypical size for an NBA shooting guard, has him firmly on the NBA radar along with several other of his teammates.
As a sophomore Ross needs to familiarize himself with the term efficient and look to make the most of every possession, not just attack with reckless abandon. If he can start to make the right play more consistently, it’ll make it much easier for Huskies head coach Lorenzo Romar to keep him on the floor for extended periods of time.