CALGARY, Alta. — With over 5,200 players slated to play collegiate basketball in Division I this season, there are talented players from coast to coast. Some of them are household names, while there are plenty of players who people haven’t heard of, but are demanding of your attention.
The majority of fans tend to focus on the power five conferences, turning a blind eye to the smaller programs. When you dig deeper, you’ll see that the non-power five schools have players who could just as easily play for a power conference program.
When it comes to sophomore guards in the NCAA, the list of talented players goes on and on. With so many players, it was nearly impossible to cut the list down to just 10 players without leaving star-calibre players off the list.
Much like we did last season, we have broken down each class into guards and forwards. Then, the list of guards and forwards were broken down even further into multiple parts, as there was too much talent to do it any other way.
Each will have 10 sophomore guards who will become household names in 2016-17, along with five others to keep a flag on as the season progresses.
Preston Parks – The Citadel Bulldogs
2016-17 Stats: 17.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.9 spg; 40.6% FG, 82.9% FT
Last season, The Citadel Bulldogs had the nation’s highest scoring offense, averaging over 89 points per game on the offensive end of the floor. They were led by a slew of young talent, and ten of their players averaged at least 5.9 points per contest.
Leading the way was 6’1” freshman Preston Parks. The native of Greenville, SC averaged a team-high 17.5 points per contest, while tying for the team high in assists, with 3.7 per game. Parks shot over 40.0% from the floor, and he put up these numbers despite playing just a shade over 27 minutes per night.
Heading into the 2017-18 season, Parks’ secret is out. He is one of the premier scorers in the Southern Conference, as he had 24 double-digit scoring games in year one, including a pair of 30+ point performances. In year two, Parks will look to lead the Bulldogs up the standings in the SoCon, and everyone will know the name ‘Preston Parks‘ by year’s end.
Asante Gist – Eastern Kentucky Colonels
2016-17 Stats: 15.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.8 apg, 0.9 spg; 37.4% FG, 73.5% FT
One of the country’s more underrated inside-out tandems can be found at Eastern Kentucky University. The combination of forward Nick Mayo and Asante Gist may have only played together for one season, but it has led to a heightened sense of optimism around the program.
While Gist may have been just a freshman last season, he didn’t play like one for most of it. Gist finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 15.9 points per game, trailing only Mayo (18.5 ppg). He also dished out a team-high 3.8 assists per contest.
His shooting numbers were average, going 37.4% from the field and 33.9% from three point range. If Gist can improve his jumper this season, and take smarter shots, his game will go to another level.
Gist will look to replicate his performance from last season’s opener, where he put up 21 points, seven rebounds, and five assists in his debut for the Colonels, a 10-point win over the IUPUI Jaguars.
Corey Allen – Detroit Mercy Titans
2016-17 Stats: 14.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.0 spg; 43.9% FG, 44.8% 3PT
Keeping with the trend of high-scoring guards in their respective conferences, head coach Bacari Alexander and the Detroit Mercy TItans have found themselves quite the budding star in Corey Allen.
Allen finished second on the Titans in scoring a season ago, racking up 14.4 points per contest, while asserting himself as a top-tier threat from three point range. He finished the season with a shooting percentage of 44.8% from beyond the arc, hitting 78-of-174.
In his first game, Allen went for 16 points in the Titans’ 99-69 win over the Adrian College Bulldogs. He hit four-of-five from long range in the win. Fast forward to December 22nd, and Allen went an impressive 9-of-13 from beyond the arc, finishing with a career-high 33 points in a loss to the Fort Wayne Mastodons.
Allen hit at least one jumper from beyond the arc in 26 games, and made at least three in 14 of those contests.
Shooters shoot, and Allen can shoot it.
MaCio Teague – UNC Asheville Bulldogs
2016-17 Stats: 15.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.1 spg; 46.8% FG, 88.6% FT
Keeping with the trend of high-scoring guards on the list, one of the best across the country showcased his talents in the Big South. MaCio Teague excelled in all areas on the offensive end of the floor, shooting above 45% from the floor and three point range, and just shy of 89% from the free throw line.
In his first season, Teague averaged 15.4 points per contest, finishing second to only Ahmad Thomas. The 6’3” guard also pulled down 4.6 rebounds, and dished out 2.7 assists per night. He shot an impressive 46.8% from the field, 45.5% from three point range, and was among the nation’s leaders in free throw shooting, hitting on 88.6% of his attempts.
It didn’t take long for Teague to find his groove at the Division I level. In just his third game, he put up 16 points in a road win over the USC Upstate Spartans. Two games later, in a road win over the Furman Paladins, Teague put up 22 points. He would go on to post 25 games with double-digit points over the course of the year.
With Thomas set to graduate following the 2017-18 season, Teague will be the go-to guy for the Bulldogs as his career unfolds.
Dejuan Clayton – Coppin State Eagles
2016-17 Stats: 12.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.0 spg; 41.1% FG, 71.9% FT
On a national scale, the entire Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference often gets overlooked. Usually the butt-end of jokes, basketball fans and media alike tend to overlook the talent that the conference’s 13 institutions have to offer.
As a freshman last season, Dejuan Clayton fit right into that category. In 32 games, the 6’2” guard from Bowie, MD finished second on the Eagles in scoring, averaging 12.4 points per contest. Clayton also recorded an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.55, recording 99 assists to 64 turnovers.
His career started out with an 11-point performance in a close two-point loss to the Hofstra Pride.
Coppin State welcomed a new head coach this off-season, in Juan Dixon. As Dixon looks to turn the Eagles into a contender in the MEAC, he has a star-caliber guard at his disposal already, in Clayton.
Eli Pemberton – Hofstra Pride
2016-17 Stats: 12.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.8 spg; 44.2% FG, 40.6% 3PT
In a conference that featured several star guards with at least a year of experience under their belts, a handful of freshmen flew under the radar in 2017-18. The Colonial Athletic Association boasted some of the nation’s top young guards, and Eli Pemberton was one of the best first year players across the board.
Alongside junior guard Justin Wright-Foreman, Pemberton gives the Pride a solid one-two punch on the back end. The 6’4” guard from Middletown, CT finished third on the team in scoring, averaging 12.8 points per contest. Pemberton also hit 40.6% of his attempts from three point range, which was a team-high mark.
Out of the gate as a freshman, Pemberton logged big minutes. In four of his first five games, he saw more than 30 minutes of action. He made the most of his opportunity, scoring in double figures in each of his first five contests, including back-to-back 20-point performances in his first two games.
Pemberton will be a big piece of the puzzle for the Pride in 2017-18, and over the rest of his collegiate career.
A.J. Lawson – North Texas Mean Green
2016-17 Stats: 11.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.0 spg; 44.6% FG, 27.1% 3PT
While it was a down year for the North Texas Mean Green as a whole, the future in Denton, TX looks very bright. This off-season, the Mean Green named Grant McCasland as their new head coach, and he has the luxury of having a pair of young, talented guards to build around.
North Texas lost a lot on the transfer market this off-season, but return their leading scorer in sophomore guard A.J. Lawson. In 30 games as a freshman, Lawson averaged a team-best 11.4 points per contest, while chipping in 4.4 rebounds per game and shooting 44.6% from the field.
While he did shoot it rather well from the field overall, Lawson struggled from beyond the arc, shooting just 27.1% (16-of-59) from three point range. If he is able to develop a reliable jumper from distance, it would help stretch out the offense and create more open looks for his teammates and himself.
With Lawson and fellow sophomore guard Ryan Woolridge leading the way, the Mean Green are trending in the right direction.
De’Ederick Petty – Alabama A&M Bulldogs
2016-17 Stats: 13.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.3 spg; 34.1% FG, 74.9% FT
There’s no denying the fact that the Southwestern Athletic Conference gets overlooked on a regular basis by fans and national media alike. While the conference doesn’t have the biggest programs or the highly-touted recruits, there’s a ton of strong talent across the board. Some transfer out and go on to play at bigger schools, while others stay all four years and leave their mark.
One player who stood out last season in the SWAC was freshman guard De’Ederick Petty, who did his thing for the Alabama A&M Bulldogs. Despite standing at just 5’10” tall, Petty finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 13.3 points per contest. Senior big man Quinterian McConico led the way with 14.0 points per contest.
Petty shot 34.1% from the field, which could have been higher if it wasn’t for a high-volume of attempts. He attempted 305 field goals last season, which works out to just over 10 attempts per contest. Like Lawson, Petty also struggled from three point range, shooting 27.9% from beyond the arc. A reliable jumper, and some better looks will take Petty to the next level.
Regardless, he has a ton of upside, and despite being one of the shorter players in the NCAA, he should never be overlooked. If you look past him, he’ll make you think twice.
Dikymbe Martin – UC Riverside Highlanders
2016-17 Stats: 9.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.4 spg; 44.5% FG, 83.3% FT
While his numbers won’t blow you away from last season, Dikymbe Martin is in a position to take a big jump in year two, which is exactly why he’s on this list. In a Big West Conference that features a fair share of question marks, Martin and the UC Riverside Highlanders may surprise a team or two along the way in 2017-18.
Secean Johnson has graduated, which means the Highlanders are looking for a second option on offense, alongside Chance Murray. After averaging 9.4 points and 2.6 assists per game as a freshman in 2016-17, Martin looks to be the perfect candidate. He can shoot from distance (39.4%), he is effective from the field (44.5%), and he takes advantage of his free throw opportunities (83.3%).
In his third collegiate game, a 96-50 win over Fresno Pacific, Martin showed UC Riverside fans what he is capable of. Martin went for a career-high 26 points, on 11-of-13 shooting, to go along with five assists and four steals. He is more than capable of being a go-to guy on offense, and he will be given every opportunity to be that, and more, in 2017-18.
With Murray and Martin running the offense, the Highlanders are in good hands in 2017-18.
Isaiah Reese – Canisius Golden Griffins
2016-17 Stats: 7.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.4 spg; 42.3% FG, 72.5% FT
The Canisius Golden Griffins found themselves a trio of talented guards in their recruiting class of 2016, and they all appear to have bright futures ahead of them in Buffalo, NY. With Canisius losing the likes of Kiefer Douse and Kassius Robertson from last year’s team, all three will be given plenty of opportunities to assume larger roles in 2017-18.
Arguably the one that will take on the biggest role with the team this season is Miami, FL native Isaiah Reese. Standing at 6’5”, Reese brings a combination of size and offensive ability to the back court for the Golden Griffins. Canisius will be looking for a go-to guy to lead the offense, and Reese can fill the void.
He averaged 7.1 points per game last season, while playing just over 20 minutes per night. As his minutes increase in year two, so will his offensive and defensive production. He shot 42.3% from the field as a freshman, and 26.3% from three point range. With an expanded role, he will be given more opportunities to put the ball in the basket, which should lead to a better shooting season as he gets better looks.
With Reese, Malik Johnson, and Spencer Foley all in the fold for another three seasons, the back court core for Canisius has the potential to be sneaky good in the MAAC, starting as soon as this season.
Five Others to Keep an Eye On
Frankie Johnson – The Citadel Bulldogs
7.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.5 spg; 36.6% FG
Tanner Rubio – Jacksonville Dolphins
8.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 2.1 apg, 0.8 spg; 48.9% 3PT
TJ Haws – BYU Cougars
13.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.0 spg; 42.4% FG
Xavier McDaniel, Jr. – UT-Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros
7.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.5 spg; 39.3% FG
Darrell Brown – Bradley Braves
12.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.7 apg, 0.7 spg; 37.1% 3PT
– T. Bennett