CANMORE, 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-caliber 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 2017-18, along with five others to keep a flag on as the season progresses.
Jashaun Agosto – LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds
2016-17 Stats: 11.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.2 apg, 0.6 spg; 41.4% FG, 36.5% 3PT
Following the 2016-17 season, Jashaun Agosto surprised many when he declared for the 2017 NBA Draft after just one year in the NCAA. While he didn’t stay in the draft, going through the pre-draft process provided the 5’11” guard with some valuable insight into areas of his game that he can improve on.
Now, entering his sophomore season at LIU Brooklyn, Agosto becomes the focal point of the offense. The Blackbirds will be without Nura Zanna, Iverson Fleming, and Jerome Frink from last year’s team, meaning that Agosto is the team’s top returning scorer.
Agosto quietly had himself a strong freshman campaign, averaging 11.2 points and 3.2 assists per game, while shooting 41.4% from the field. He recorded 20 points, four assists, and three rebounds in just his third collegiate game, a 78-74 win over the Northeastern Huskies. He is a talented guard who takes good care of the ball, and will be among the Northeast Conference’s best players in 2017-18.
Jo’Vontae Millner – Presbyterian Blue Hose
2016-17 Stats: 10.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.5 spg; 48.3% FG, 32.4% 3PT
The 2016-17 season didn’t go as planned for the Presbyterian Blue Hose. They went just 1-17 in Big South play, finishing 10th in the conference standings. At season’s end, longtime head coach Gregg Nibert resigned after 28 seasons at the helm. In the off-season, the Blue Hose brought in former Wofford associate head coach Dustin Kerns to take over as head coach, and while he takes over a five-win program, he has a potential star to build around.
Jo’Vontae Millner was the only player to average double-digit points per game last season for the Blue Hose, putting up 10.8 points per contest while shooting 48.4% from the field. He also tied for the team lead in rebounds, pulling down 5.6 boards per contest.
To most, Millner’s numbers won’t lead you to look twice, especially with Presbyterian’s record last season. But, for a new head coach to return a team’s leading scorer from the season before is a big boost. Millner gives the Blue Hose a reliable force on both ends of the floor, in terms of scoring and on the glass. He flirted with several double-doubles last season, and as he gains more experience at the Division I level, his stats will increase.
Denzel Mahoney – Southeast Missouri State Redhawks
2016-17 Stats: 14.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.7 spg; 44.8% FG, 81.5% FT
The Redhawks said goodbye to Antonius Cleveland following last season, which means it’s time for sophomore guard Denzel Mahoney to step into the spotlight and take the reigns of the offense from the back end.
As a freshman, the 6’4” guard finished second on the team in scoring, trailing only Cleveland with an average of 14.9 points per contest. Mahoney was effective from all areas of the floor, shooting 44.8% from the field, 37.7% from three point range, and 81.5% from the free throw line.
Down the stretch, Mahoney showed that he was more than capable of taking on a lead role on the offensive end of the court. He recorded double-digit points in 27 games, including the final 11 games of the season. His strong closing stretch was highlighted by a season-high 34 points on March 1st in a 78-74 overtime win over the Tennessee State Tigers.
With Mahoney leading the way in 2017-18, and beyond, Southeast Missouri State will be in good hands.
D’Marcus Simonds – Georgia State Panthers
2016-17 Stats: 13.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.2 spg; 53.5% FG, 35.6% 3PT
If you’re looking for a dark horse candidate for Sun Belt Player of the Year, look no further than Georgia State sophomore guard D’Marcus Simonds. In a conference that’s filled with talented guards, Simonds is one of the top up-and-coming stars in the Sun Belt, and is a name that fans should become familiar with.
The 6’3” guard shot an impressive 53.5% (145-of-271) from the floor, and finished second on the team in scoring with an average of 13.4 points per contest. Add in his 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and a shooting percentage of 71.9 from the free throw line, it was a strong debut season for the native of Gainesville, Georgia.
Simonds missed four games at the end of December and into January, a stretch that included the first three games on Sun Belt play. In his first game back, he was limited to just a single point. From there, he finished the season on a tear, averaging 16.8 points over the final 17 games of the season. Simonds scored in double-figures in all of those games, and had five games with at least 21 points.
If not this season, you can bet that D’Marcus Simonds will have a Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year award to his name by the time his career is over at Georgia State.
Josh Sharkey – Samford Bulldogs
2016-17 Stats: 8.2 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 4.2 apg, 2.0 spg; 41.3% FG, 72.0% FT
His freshman season was filled with some ups and downs, some hot streaks and some cold streaks, but one thing is for certain when looking at the future for Josh Sharkey at Samford. The 5’10” guard has a very bright future in the Southern Conference.
He opened his career with a 12-point, three rebound, and three steal performance against the San Diego Toreros on opening night. He followed that up with six single-digit point performances and one where he was held off the score sheet. As a freshman, it takes time to get acclimated to playing at the next level, and once Sharkey was playing consistent minutes, the results started to show.
Sharkey averaged 8.2 points and 4.2 assists per game, while shooting 41.3% from the field. He recorded a double-double against Fort Valley State on December 28th, recording 11 points and dishing out 10 assists in the Bulldogs’ 20-point win. That capped off a three-game stretch in which Sharkey averaged 8.33 assists per game.
He finished the season with 23 games in which he recorded three or more assists.
Bryce Aiken – Harvard Crimson
2016-17 Stats: 14.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.8 apg, 0.8 spg; 39.5% FG, 88.4% FT
Harvard’s recruiting class of 2016 featured four players that were ranked inside the Top 100 by ESPN. Bryce Aiken, who was ranked the lowest of the four players at 99th overall, is ready to lead the Crimson on their hunt for another Ivy League title and a spot in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
The 6’0” guard chose the Crimson over a slew of other offers, including some power conference programs, and took a leading role with Harvard from game one last season. Aiken led the Crimson in scoring as a freshman, averaging 14.5 points while also leading the team in free throw percentage (88.4%). In a crowded back court, Aiken stood out and is poised for a big sophomore season.
With the departure of Siyani Chambers, Aiken is now the lead point guard for Tommy Amaker’s crew. He has a plethora of young weapons around him, which will only help Aiken’s overall performance this season.
Keith Braxton – Saint Francis (PA) Red Flash
2016-17 Stats: 13.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.5 spg; 52.5% FG, 76.9% FT
The transfer issues with the Northeast Conference have been well-documented this off-season, as several of the conference’s brightest stars have made the move to larger programs across the country. Two players who remain in the conference, however, are Keith Braxton and Isaiah Blackmon, both of whom will suit up in the back court for the Saint Francis (PA) Red Flash this season.
Braxton had himself a rather impressive freshman season in 2016-17. The 6’4” guard was thee top rebounder for the Red Flash, pulling down 8.6 rebounds per contest. He also finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 13.1 points per game, trailing only Blackmon for the team lead (13.7 ppg).
The native of Glassboro, NJ recorded nine double-doubles on the season, and narrowly missed on several more. Braxton pulled down a season-high 19 rebounds against the Stony Brook Seawolves back on December 17th. He then scored a season-high 25 points in conference play against the Sacred Heart Pioneers.
Due to his impact play on both ends of the court, and his ability to out-rebound forwards on a regular basis, Braxton’s potential is limitless. The young back court of Braxton, Blackmon, and Jamaal King is one of the top groups in the Northeast Conference.
Kurk Lee – Drexel Dragons
2016-17 Stats: 14.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 5.0 apg, 1.6 spg; 41.5% FG, 40.0% 3PT
A player that we’ve been high on this off-season is Drexel’s Kurk Lee. With the departure of Rodney Williams, the opportunity is there for Lee to have himself a huge season for the Dragons. After his performance as a freshman, we feel as though he will take a big leap in year two.
Lee was rock solid over the course of the entire 2016-17 season. He is the team’s top returning scorer, with an average of 14.9 points per game. Lee also led the team in assists per game (5.0), and pulled down 3.9 rebounds to boot. Lee shot 41.5% from the field, and 40.0% (58-of-145) from three point range. The only knock on his game was his free throw shooting, in which he shot 67.8% from the line.
He opened his career at Drexel with ten straight games with double-digit points, including a 24-point performance in just his third game. Lee had back-to-back 25-point performances in conference play, which was his season-high. The 5’10” guard has a knack for scoring, but also has great ball distribution skills and is able to find open teammates for good looks at the basket.
Tarkus Ferguson – UIC Flames
2016-17 Stats: 11.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.9 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.6 bpg; 40.1% FG, 78.3% FT
The UIC Flames have arguably the deepest roster in the Horizon League this season, and they have youth on their side. Five of their top six returning scorers are all sophomores in 2017-18, which means they could still get better with time. Leading the way on the back end is guard Tarkus Ferguson, who stuffed the stat sheet almost every game as a freshman.
Ferguson averaged 11.2 points per game, which was good for the third-best mark on the team last season, and tops among all UIC guards. He also averaged a team-high 4.9 assists, and added 5.3 rebounds for good measure. He had 17 performances in which he recorded at least 10 points, three rebounds, and three assists over the course of the year.
The one knock on Ferguson’s game was his ball security. He averaged over three turnovers a game, and had three or more turnovers in 22 games. If he can limit the amount of turnovers he coughs up on a nightly basis, his personal statistics will improve considerably, along with his teammates. Regardless, Ferguson’s ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor is impressive. Look for him to continue to stuff the stat sheet this season.
Charles Williams – Howard Bison
2016-17 Stats: 15.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.6 spg; 39.6% FG, 75.9% FT
Just two games into the season, the Bison lost leading scorer James Daniel to a season-ending injury. That thrust freshman Charles Williams into the spotlight, and he didn’t disappoint. Despite Howard’s 10-24 record, and 11th place finish in the MEAC, Williams showcased that he has a bright future ahead.
The 6’4” guard averaged an even 30 minutes per night, and was the team’s top scorer last season, at 15.6 points per contest. He shot 39.6% from the field for the season, and just shy of 76% from the free throw line. With both Daniel and James Miller having transferred from the Bison following the season, Williams enters the 2017-18 as the top guy in the back court.
In a three-game stretch at the end of January, Williams put together a pair of 30+ point performances. He put up 30 points in a 15-point win over the North Carolina A&T Aggies on January 23rd, then followed that up with a 37-point, seven rebound performance against the Savannah State Tigers just two games later.
Five More to Keep an Eye On
Tyson Batiste – Central Connecticut State Blue Devils
2016-17 Stats: 5.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.9 apg, 0.8 spg; 36.8% 3PT
Harald Frey – Montana State Bobcats
2016-17 Stats: 12.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.4 apg, 0.8 spg; 45.2% FG
JoJo Anderson – Northern Arizona Lumberjacks
2016-17 Stats: 7.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.6 spg; 40.8% FG
Jamal Wright – High Point Panthers
2016-17 Stats: 8.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.2 spg; 40.0% FG
Byron Frohnen – UTSA Roadrunners
2016-17 Stats: 8.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.5 apg, 0.9 spg; 47.2% FG
– T. Bennett