by RENALDO

 

I take college basketball way too seriously.

I loathe the system of unpaid labour being the driving force behind a billion dollar industry that in no way benefits them monetarily. The social justice warrior in me recognizes that I should hate this…but I went to Kentucky…so I don’t.

Since I was in the third grade, it became a standard rule of thumb of House Dorsett that on the first day of the holiest of holy events known as the NCAA tournament, I got to skip school to stay home and take in 8-10 hours of college hoops on a random Thursday afternoon. To be fair, for the first two years I had to fool my mom into thinking I was sick, but eventually, she was in on it and didn’t bother to question this obsession anymore.  It’s important we contextualize this. I’m prone to hyperbole nearly every year, but being insanely obsessive about this doesn’t mean I’m wrong when I tell you:

This is the most important college basketball season in Bahamian history.

This is the one year we should all be on my level of ridiculousness.

NCAA basketball can be an overwhelming labyrinth. Opening day alone had way too many games for the average person to keep track so keeping pace with the season may be a daunting task. There’s also the fact that college basketball just isn’t on the pantheon of Bahamian sports (which never really made sense to me because we love the NBA so shouldn’t we would love its farm system as well?).  We have three Bahamians on teams ranked in the top 25, seniors looking to make statements as their careers come to an end, players still searching for the right fight, local players appearing at the Battle 4 Atlantis and the most unprecedented storyline of all – our first one and done.

 

 

 

No Ceilings

Yolett McPhee-McCuin – Head Coach, Jacksonville Dolphins

Can the Dolphins hold on to a young sought after coach like McPhee-McCuin if she leads the programme to another NCAA Tournament berth?

She continues making history at JU and the programme signed her to a contract extension through 2020 based on that growth.

In the 2015-16 campaign, McPhee-McCuin led the Dolphins to a 22-11 record, the A-Sun tournament title and their first NCAA Tournament championship berth in school history.

The Dolphins came up just short in making consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament a season ago, but earned a berth in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). She led the Dolphins to 23 wins, which tied the school mark for most wins in a season, and they also had the best RPI in the conference.

 

Making The Leap

Travis Munnings – #1 Guard/Forward, Junior, ULM Warhawks, 6’ 6” 200 lbs

Next step, national recognition

There’s no quantifiable way to measure potential. It’s all conjecture and educated guesses, but if there was perfect situation for a player the freedom to make all the mistakes necessary for personal development – Munnings is in that situation.

Munnings made an immediate impact two years ago as a freshman when appeared in every game with 18 starts and averaged 7.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game while shooting 50 per cent from the field. Last season as a sophomore he was thrust into a leadership role as only one of two returning players to start at least one game the prior season.

Munnings increased those numbers to 13.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore. He also showed more confidence in his three-point shot, after 15 made threes in his freshman season increased to 51 as a sophomore. His rebounding ability also allows him to play the four in a smaller lineup. Already pegged as a  Preseason All-Sun Belt Third Team selection, he looks to continue the momentum from last season when closed out the regular season by scoring in double digits in 13-straight games and posted seven double doubles.

 

The Final Stop

Dwight Coleby – #22 Forward, Graduate Transfer, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers,  6’9” 245 lbs

Both Dwight and the Hilltoppers were all smiles after they won the “Coleby Sweepstakes”

Coleby has spent two seasons at Ole Miss, one at Kansas and now brings his career to a close with the third programme of his collegiate career.

When he announced that he would leave the Jayhawks’ program as a graduate transfer, Coleby’s recruitment race was as active as it was when he was a high school senior.

Coleby played limited minutes in the Hilltoppers’ three game exhibition series in Costa Rica due to a sprained heel but was a force in the interior averaging 13.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game in through three exhibition games. Coleby looks to have regained the explosiveness following a devastating knee injury.

Last season as a junior with the Jayhawks, Coleby averaged 1.7 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. He was already set to spend the 2015-16 season on the sidelines as a transfer but he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during a light team workout in October 2015 and had to undergo a grueling rehab process.

“Look at the (2016-17) stats, you don’t really think of much,” Coleby told the Daily News, “But you have to understand I was coming off an injury and wasn’t healthy at all basically the whole year. I’ll have a chance to prove myself this year. People are going to see what I can really do.”

Following a standout high school career, Coleby signed with the Ole Miss Rebels out of the Piney Woods School in Mississippi.

In his freshman season with the Rebels, Coleby played in 28 games with four starts and averaged 2.4 points and 1.9 rebounds per game in 10.4 minutes. He shot 47 per cent from the floor and finished with 18 blocked shots, fifth on the team.

As a sophomore, he averaged 5.4 points and 4.8 rebounds and was also named an SEC Academic Honour Roll selection in two seasons with the Rebels.

 

Waiting On My Moment

LaShann Higgs – #10 Guard, Junior, Texas Longhorns, 5’ 9”

We’re basically watching the clock until we get to claim another Bahamian in the WNBA

She came to Austin as a heralded McDonald’s All-American recruit and after two years contributing off the bench, Higgs’ defensive effort gave her the opportunity to finally join the starting lineup for the No.2 ranked Longhorns.

“During the offseason, I focused more on developing a stronger mental ability,” Higgs told the Daily Texan. “I’m expecting basically to take on the role of (former Longhorn) Brianna Taylor (from) last year. I’m looking forward to being that defensive stopper like she was.”

In her sophomore season, Higgs averaged eight points, three rebounds, 1.5 assists and one steal in just over 17 minutes per game. She built upon the numbers from her freshman season when she averaged 7.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game in 13.2 minutes. She established an important role in the rotation for the Longhorns highlighted by a season high 16 points over then second ranked Baylor.

In the season opener, Higgs was one point shy of her career high with 18 points in a blowout win over Stetson.

 

Curtain Call

Tum Tum Nairn – #11 Guard, Senior, Michigan State Spartans, 5’ 10” 175 lbs

Tum Tum had several memorable moments at last year’s B4A. Can he exceed those in his final season as a Spartan?

Leadership has been Nairn’s calling card since he stepped on the campus in East Lansing and head coach Tom Izzo named Nairn Jr a team captain for the third consecutive year on a Spartans team ranked No.2 in the nation.

“Tum Tum Nairn, third year as a team captain. Probably go down as one of the greatest programme guys of all time,” Spartans head coach Tom Izzo said. “He doesn’t let playing time on the court, his role, his leadership, doesn’t worry about scoring, doesn’t worry about all the things. I’ve had a lot of good and cool leaders over my time here, but none maybe that has done more for not only our community, our school, our players, our coaching staff; this is a special kid.”

That leadership will be tested this season as Nairn is in a position battle with sophomore Cassius Winston.

Nairn averaged 3.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists as a junior last season while Winston posted 6.7 points, 5.2 assists and shot 38 percent from three as a freshman.

This year in his final season, he plans to lead by more than his words.

“I’m a lot better player than I was 12 months ago. I’ve been working extremely hard on all areas of my game but, most importantly, just catch and shoot, being able to knock down the three consistently and also finishing – when you get to the rim you have to be able to make plays. I think for me, it’s being able to make some shots to get other guys shots, no team can play four on five, they’ll have to guard me so I can get in the paint and make plays for other guys,

 

One and Done Tour

DeAndre Ayton – #13 Freshman, Arizona Wildcats, 7’0” 262 lbs

You know why I’m here

We’ve exhausted nearly every adjective in our vocabularies to describe Ayton’s game and it still hasn’t been enough. We’ll need more over the next five months. Sure we’ve had great players in Bahamian history – we’ve had Mychal Thompson as the No.1 overall selection in the draft, Quentin Hall was the godfather of Gonzaga’s series of NCAA tournament runs and two years ago, Buddy Hield was the biggest story in college basketball.

We’ve never had this.

This is a transcendent talent. This is the evolution of basketball. A player at that size with a 43” vertical that does things people that size shouldn’t do. That shoots it the way people that size shouldn’t shoot.

The exhibition performances, albeit against overmatched competition, did not disappoint.

After games of  31 and 10 rebounds, followed by  21 and 11, the hype train continues to build.

“I think the more you challenge him I think the more he’ll grow and with his growth defensively I think he’ll give our team good characteristics,” Wildcats head coach Sean Miller said. “He’s a very good three-point shooter, he’s also a very good free throw shooter. We watch it everyday so what he does in games is pretty much what you see on a daily basis. He’s a very good player, that speaks for itself. He’s a very good teammate, he’s a very hard worker, he’s bright and for somebody as talented as he is it’s very fun to watch him play the game and be as intelligent as he is. That becomes contagious too. When that guy makes the right play and is unselfish it’s difficult for anyone else to deviate.”

The national championship is important for the No.5 ranked Wildcats, but I’m more intrigued by the race for the No.1 pick in next June’s draft. That’s Ayton’s real challenge this season. When he steps on the floor every night he won’t be measured against the person on the opposing team, he’ll be measured against Missouri’s Michael Porter, Duke’s Marvin Bagley, Texas’ Mohammad Bamba and the Slovenian upstart Luka Doncic.

Arizona will borrow him for the few five months before he moves on to the NBA, but we’re in this for the long haul. That means we’re engaged in every chapter of this story. That means we stay (optimistically) woke.

 

 

Mid Major Mentions…

Charles Bain – #20 Forward, Freshman, Robert Morris Colonials, 6’8” 200 lbs

If you step into the starting lineup as a freshman in exhibitions it usually signals two things – a tremendous vote of confidence from the coaching staff, and every opportunity to develop over four years.

 

Jaron Cornish – #0 Guard, Junior, Stony Brook Seawolves, 5’ 10” 172 lbs

After a historic season at Broward College where he led the team in nearly every statistical category, Cornish moves up to the DI ranks where he’ll be expected to contribute to a team in the midst of a roster overhaul with six incoming players.

 

Calvin Anderson – #24 Guard, Junior, ULM Warhawks, 6’ 4” 190 lbs

Another JuCo transfer, ULM looks to play small with a faster pace this season. Anderson has the speed, size, experience and ability to play above the rim which could garner some playing time.

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