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 junior forwards 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. But, we did our best, as we felt that there some players that fans should already know about.
Take a look below at ten junior forwards who we feel will become a household name in 2017-18.
*Note: The likes of Mike Daum, Jarrell Brantley, Devontae Cacok, Evan Boudreaux and Wyatt Walker didn’t make the list, as we feel that people should already know who they are by this point in their respective careers.*
Demajeo Wiggins – Bowling Green Falcons
2016-17 Stats: 10.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.6 bpg; 48.7% FG, 61.1% FT
Wiggins comes in at 6’10”, and 240 pounds. He is a big body in the paint for Bowling Green, and he’s one of the top stars in the Mid-American Conference. After a solid sophomore season in 2016-17, the native of nearby Toledo, OH is in for a breakout campaign as a junior
In just under 25 minutes of action per game last season, Wiggins averaged an even 10.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 48.7% from the floor. With both Zack Denny and Wes Alcegaire having graduated following the 2016-17 season, Wiggins is the top returning scorer for the Falcons.
With a strong contingent of talented forwards in the conference, you can bet that Wiggins will see a career-high in minutes this season, which will in turn lead to a career-year with his production. He has the size and potential to average a double-double per game, and if all goes according to plan, he will flirt with that average by the end of his junior season.
Mike Holloway – Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
2016-17 Stats: 11.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.7 spg; 56.6% FG, 66.4% FT
The Fairleigh Dickinson Knights lost two of their top three scorers last season on the transfer market, and will look to others to step up and be a secondary scoring option behind senior guard Darian Anderson. The top candidate is 6’8” junior forward Mike Holloway, who put up strong numbers last season in 27 minutes of action per night.
For the second year in a row, the native of Pittsgrove, NJ shot better than 56% from the floor, finishing the year by hitting at a 56.6% clip from the field. Holloway also recorded 11.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, both of which were career-high marks.
Holloway comes in at 260 pounds, and is an anchor in the paint. He is effective around the rim, and is extremely tough to move away from the basket. Look for Holloway to take another step forwards this season, and average close to 13 points and eight rebounds per game as a junior. With opponents focusing their efforts on Anderson, there will be plenty of opportunities for Holloway inside to go to work.
Moses Greenwood – Southeastern Louisiana Lions
2016-17 Stats: 11.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 0.5 apg, 1.1 spg; 55.6% FG, 65.3% FT
Injuries in the front court last season led to a big opportunity for Moses Greenwood as a sophomore. He rose to the occasion, and despite a healthy rotation being available once again for the Lions, Greenwood still expects to be a factor each night.
In the absence of Jordan Capps, the 6’7” Greenwood saw just over 26 minutes of court time per night on average. He recorded 11.3 points per contest, which was good for the third-highest mark on the roster. He was an effective 55.6% from the field, doing most of his damage in the paint and around the basket. Add in his 6.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game, and there’s reason for heightened optimism surrounding Greenwood.
The Lions were projected to finish third in the Southland Conference this season, and Greenwood is a big reason for the hype around the program. With a veteran roster that returns almost everyone from last season’s team, Greenwood and company could make some serious noise down the stretch in conference play.
Eli Chuha – New Mexico State Aggies
2016-17 Stats: 12.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.6 spg; 61.0% FG, 66.9% FT
Year after year, the New Mexico State Aggies have entered the season as the preseason favourites in the WAC. This season, however, is a little bit different. The Aggies find themselves in unfamiliar territory as the 2017-18 season approaches, a year in which they enter as the underdog in terms of the conference race. The Grand Canyon Antelopes enter as the team to beat, but the Aggies will be nipping at their heels all season long.
A big factor in the success for the Aggies this season will be redshirt junior forward Eli Chuha. Fourteen double-double performances highlighted a strong season in 2016-17 for the 6’7” forward from Redlands, CA. In the first game of the season, against Arizona Christian, Chuha played just nine minutes of action, but recorded 13 points and 12 rebounds.
For the year, Chuha averaged 12.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, while shooting 61.0% from the floor. He made a big jump from his freshman year, and with Ian Baker and Braxton Huggins both gone, Chuha is the top returning scorer from last year’s team with 10 or more games played. Chuha will be a big piece of the puzzle this season for the Aggies, and a double-double per game average is something to expect from the young man, who is highly effective on both ends of the floor.
Cameron Jackson – Wofford Terriers
2016-17 Stats: 12.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.3 spg; 58.8% FG, 64.3% FT
One of the players that we are most excited about watching this season, regardless of conference or program, is Wofford forward Cameron Jackson. He is in a position to have himself a breakout season for the Terriers, and we feel as though he can live up to the expectations.
Despite averaging just under 21 minutes per night, Jackson finished third on the team in scoring last season, averaging 12.7 points per game. Add in his 5.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.3 steals, along with his 58.8% shooting from the floor, and it was a solid season for the native of Winchester, VA. After suffering a season-ending injury in 2015-16 after just seven games, Jackson came back and looked stronger than ever last season.
As a junior in 2017-18, Jackson will take on a bigger role within the team, both on and off the court. With the likes of Eric Garcia and Ryan Sawvell having graduated, Jackson will step into an expanded role on both ends of the court, and be looked upon to help carry the scoring load. With guards Fletcher Magee and Nathan Hoover patrolling the back court, Jackson will be the anchor up front, and should see his fair share of looks this year.
Brandon Gilbeck – Western Illinois Leathernecks
2016-17 Stats: 7.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 0.6 apg, 3.0 bpg; 56.5% FG, 56.9% FT
If you’ve been following our work over the off-season, you’ll know that one of us on staff is rather high on the potential of Western Illinois big man Brandon Gilbeck. He was one of 14 players named to the College Court Report Dream Team for the 2017-18 season, which is a testament to his game and what he brings to the table.
Gilbeck averaged 7.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest as a sophomore. His offensive numbers won’t blow you away, but he makes up for it on the defensive end, as the 6’11” center is one of the nation’s top shot blockers. He recorded 3.0 blocks per game last season, finishing fourth in the NCAA in the category.
Over the season, Gilbeck recorded at least one blocked shot in all but one game, and he sent away four or more shots ten times over the season. His presence in the paint on the defensive end of the court is enough to keep opponents to the outside. If he can improve his offensive production, he could average a near double-double per game. But, you can expect that Gilbeck will be among the nation’s shot blocking leader as a junior.
Zane Najdawl – The Citadel Bulldogs
2016-17 Stats: 15.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 0.8 apg, 1.2 bpg; 47.0% FG, 43.1% 3PT
Last season, one of the highest scoring offense in the NCAA belonged to The Citadel Bulldogs, as they averaged an impressive 89.4 points per game. A big factor in their strong play on the offensive end last season was 6’7” forward Zane Najdawl. With several talented guards on the Bulldogs’ roster, the native of Midlothian, VA sometimes gets lost in the mix.
Najdawl averaged 15.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game as a sophomore in 2016-17. He hit on 43.1% of his attempts from three point range, and 47.0% of his attempts from the floor overall. His season opened with a bang, as he recorded 28 points and 12 rebounds on opening night. Two nights later, Najdawl put up 26 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks, and two steals, all while playing just 18 minutes.
Heading into his junior season, Najdawl will be a big piece of the puzzle yet again for the Bulldogs. With a talented back court drawing the attention of opponents on a regular basis, teams will also have to be conscious of where Najdawl is on the floor at all times. He has the shooting ability to step away from the basket, and the game to finish around the rim and impact the game on the glass.
Ed Polite, Jr. – Radford Highlanders
2016-17 Stats: 11.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.0 bpg; 49.8% FG
The 2016-17 regular season had some ups and downs for the Radford Highlanders, who finished sixth in the Big South and put together an overall record of 14-18 for the season. In the Big South tournament, the Highlanders knocked off the third-seed Liberty Flames to advance to the semi-finals, and they will be looking to carry that late-season momentum into the start of 2017-18.
Leading the way for Radford is junior forward Ed Polite, Jr., who is one of the top forwards in a conference that has its fair share of star-caliber forwards in 2017-18. A 21-point, 16-rebound performance in just his fourth game of the 2016-17 season against the Stetson Hatters is a perfect example of the numbers that Polite, Jr. can put up on a nightly basis. He led the Highlanders in both categories last season, averaging 11.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest, while shooing just under 50% from the floor.
With another year of experience under their belts, the Highlanders expect to move up the Big South standings in 2017-18. With the 6’5” Polite, Jr. leading the way, they could very well finish in the top-half of the conference standings at season’s end. Regardless, they have one of the conference’s top players, who will only get better over the course of his next two seasons.
Jordon Varnado – Troy Trojans
2016-17 Stats: 16.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.4 bpg; 52.7% FG, 36.4% 3PT
One of the better surprises last March was the play of the Troy Trojans. Despite finishing tied for 6th in the Sun Belt regular season standings, the Trojans earned a spot in the 2017 NCAA Tournament as the conference tournament champion. A big factor in their end-of-season success was the play of forward Jordon Varnado.
Over the four games in the Sun Belt Tournament, Varnado averaged 19.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, leading the Trojans to three double-digit wins and a six-point win over the Texas State Bobcats in the final. For the year, Varnado averaged 16.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game, while shooting 52.7% from the field.
Like many other forwards on this list, Varnado has the shooting ability that allows him to step out to the three point line and hit shots with consistency (36.4% in ’16-17). He scored in double figures in 14 straight games to close out the season, and will look to carry that momentum into 2017-18, where the Trojans are expected to contend a top the Sun Belt conference.
Tyler Seibring – Elon Phoenix
2016-17 Stats: 14.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.9 apg, 0.8 bpg; 47.1% FG, 39.5% 3PT
In 2017-18, the Elon Phoenix will deploy arguably the top forward tandem in the conference, in senior Brian Dawkins and junior Tyler Seibring. Both were named to the Preseason All-CAA teams by College Court Report, for good reason, and both will look to lead Elon to the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
The 6’8” Seibring led the Phoenix in both scoring and rebounding last season, averaging 14.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per contest. He also shot 47.1% from the floor and 39.5% from three point range. Seibring has shot better than 39% from behind the arc in both of his seasons at Elon.
Whether he’s shooting a deep three or battling in the paint for rebounds, the versatility of Seibring’s game provides a big boost to the overall lineup for the Phoenix. He has the size to withstand the physicality in the paint and around the basket, while also possessing the shooting touch to draw his defenders out to the three point line and exploit their weaknesses. Another big year is in store for the native of Normal, IL.
Seven More to Keep an Eye On
Christian Cunningham – Jacksonville State Gamecocks
2016-17 Stats: 8.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.7 bpg; 61.3% FG, 60.5% FT
Conner Avants – North Dakota Fighting Hawks
2016-17 Stats: 9.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.6 spg; 55.3% FG, 73.7% FT
Simi Socks – Incarnate Word Cardinals
2016-17 Stats: 15.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.9 spg; 46.5% FG, 83.6% FT
Aaron Menzies – Seattle Univ. Redhawks
2016-17 Stats: 12.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 0.6 apg, 1.1 bpg; 52.7% FG, 60.7% FT
DeVaughn Mallory – Delaware State Hornets
2016-17 Stats: 10.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 0.8 apg, 0.6 spg; 56.7% FG, 62.9% FT
Lamontray Harris – Morehead State Eagles
2016-17 Stats: 9.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.6 bpg; 45.1% FG, 80.3% FT
Novak Topalovic – Idaho State Bengals
2016-17 Stats: 10.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.1 bpg; 62.2% FG, 28.3 mpg
– T. Bennett