Over the last couple of seasons, everyone has come to know about the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks and the face of the Southland Conference, Thomas Walkup.
Walkup has been a key piece in the Lumberjacks’ domination of the Southland Conference in the past three seasons, and was also a big reason for their two trips to the Round of 32 in the past three years in the NCAA Tournament. Especially during the 2015-16 season, Walkup became a fan favourite all over the country due to his play on the court, and resemblance of a lumberjack with his full beard.
But, all good things come to an end at some point, and Walkup’s time at Stephen F. Austin has sadly come to an end.
He was the face of the Southland Conference on the national stage. Now, someone new has to step up and carry the torch. There are plenty of talented players who are more than capable of being ‘the face’ of the Southland in 2016-17.
From a talented guard duo who was granted one more year together, to a budding star from Lithuania, we have come up with five new options as the face(s) of the Southland Conference, both this season and potentially beyond.
Jalan West and Zeek Woodley – Northwestern State Demons
The NCAA made the right call in regards to West and the 2016-17 season. They granted him another year of eligibility after missing all but one game last season due to injury, and the Northwestern State Demons instantly became one of the favourites in the Southland Conference.
Last season, West played a grand total of 30 minutes in the Demons’ first game against the Ole Miss Rebels before exiting with a knee injury. He missed the rest of the year as a result of the injury, and the Demons never lived up to their pre-season hype.
With West back in the fold, alongside fellow senior Zeek Woodley, the Demons have one of the most gifted back court duos in the entire NCAA.
Back in 2014-15, the last full season the two guards played together, West averaged 20.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, while Woodley averaged 22.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists per contest. Having both guards healthy this season is a scary sight for the rest of the Southland Conference, and the Demons look poised for a run at the conference title.
With the talents that both guards possess, they are perfect candidates to be the new faces of the Southland Conference.
Rashawn Thomas – Texas A&M-CC Islanders
Ever since he stepped foot on the campus of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi as a freshman, and donned an Islanders’ jersey for the first time, forward Rashawn Thomas has been a star in the making. Slowly but surely, more people have heard about Thomas and his talents. As his senior year approaches, he is in the category of the ‘can’t miss talents.‘
Over his first three years with the Islanders, Thomas has averaged at least 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game each year, while shooting at least 54.8% from the floor in each year. To make things even more impressive, he hasn’t averaged more than 26.9 minutes per game in a season.
Last season was his best statistical season, averaging 16.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per contest. He is the leader of the Islanders, and has been a key cog in their climb to the top of the conference standings over the last three years. The team has made three consecutive post-season appearances in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, reaching the 2nd Round of the event back in 2015.
With Thomas leading the way for one more time in 2016-17, the Islanders have their sights set on their second ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Jordan Howard – Central Arkansas Bears
He may only have two years of Division I basketball under his belt, but Jordan Howard has been putting up big numbers for the Central Arkansas Bears ever since stepping onto the court for his first game back in 2014-15. He’s averaged at least 15.7 points per game, and has hit on at least 38.7% of his three point attempts in each season.
This past season was no different, as Howard averaged 20.2 points per game, good for second in the Southland Conference, trailing only Zeek Woodley (22.2 ppg). Howard shot 42.6% from the floor, 42.8% from three point range, and 87.6% from the free throw line. While the Bears haven’t had the team results to match his numbers, the production of Howard is tough to ignore.
With his current trajectory, expect Howard to be among the nation’s leading scorers once again in 2016-17. The Bears are surrounding him with talent, and they look poised for a rise in the conference standings this season.
Jordan Howard is a star that you don’t want to miss over the next two years.
Aurimas Majauskas – Sam Houston State Bearkats
The list wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of international influence. A model of efficiency over his first three seasons with the Sam Houston State Bearkats, Lithuanian forward Aurimas Majauskas is arguably the least-known player on this list on a national scale, but one of the most talented players in the entire conference.
The 6’7” 245-pound forward has a unique skill set, in the fact that he can step out to three point range and shoot the long ball, but has the size to battle in the paint against other forwards. In 2015-16, he saw his first season of consistent minutes, and he didn’t disappoint. Majauskas averaged 14.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game, while playing just 23.8 minutes per contest. Add in the fact that he has shot at least 54.9% from the floor in each of his first three years in the NCAA, and it’s a mystery as to why people haven’t been talking about him outside of the Southland Conference.
Majauskas’ face wouldn’t be one that the casual basketball fan could pick out of a crowd, and that’s a shame. He has all of the tools to be a star in 2016-17, and keep the Bearkats near the top of the conference.
Over the past three years, we’ve considered Aurimas Majauskas the ‘Southland Conference’s Best Kept Secret.”
Sorry, Sam Houston State, but your secret’s out.
Jaylen Franklin – Abilene Christian Wildcats
Jaylen Franklin may only have one year of collegiate basketball under his belt, but he appears well on his way to stardom in the Southland Conference. The runner-up for the CCR Mid-Major Freshman of the Year award put together a stellar first year with the Abilene Christian Wildcats, and has the program trending in the right direction.
Franklin averaged a team-high 16.2 points per game a season ago, while shooting 51.3% from the floor. He also added 3.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per conference. If he can add a consistent three point jumper and hit it with confidence and consistency, his game could go to another level.
It’s tough to peg a player as the face of a conference after just one year at the top collegiate level, but Jaylen Franklin has the look of a star in the Southland Conference. By the end of his career, he could be the face of the conference on a national scale.
– T. Bennett