They may or may not play huge minutes on an every game basis, and may not receive all the headlines, but every time they step on the court, they undoubtedly give it their all.
Whether these players are hitting the floor, diving for balls or taking punishing charges, they make the best of their time on the court.
When the words “grit” and “grind” are put next to your name, you automatically jump a full step in my book (shout-out to Mike Gansey).
It is as simple as that. The heart, dedication and determination these student-athletes display on an everyday basis is admirable. And while all teams in the country have go-to players, their bread is buttered by the likes of the scrappy guys who dive on the floor and get in the face of the opposing teams top player. The scrapers don’t back down. They bring their lunch pail each time they hit the floor.
These players make college basketball what it is today: a national phenomena. Thinking back in time, the basketball world has seen scrapers of all shapes and sizes, with names like Allen Iverson, Joakim Noah, Tyler Hansbrough and Ron Artest coming to mind in recent times. Now college basketball has a whole new crop of kick-ass, get-in-your-face players, and here are 10 you need to watch this upcoming season.
Siva is the scrappiest guard in college basketball today.
He almost single-handedly led the Louisville Cardinals to their shocking Final Four run last year after beating the Florida Gators in the Regional Finals.
He is neither blazingly fast nor remarkably strong. He just goes out and plays like there’s no tomorrow, game-in, game-out.
He does however use "smoke and mirrors" to make himself an absolute stud at point guard. Siva dished out 5.6 assists per game last season and stole the lunch of opposing guards at a 1.7 per game rate. He’ll never be considered a big-time scorer or lights-out shooter, but when the lights are on and his team needs it, he makes the plays necessary to get his team the win.
Never heard of him? You will.
Anosike was the nation’s leading rebounder last year for a Siena club that didn’t play up to their abilities. Anosike was perhaps the only bright spot. He averaged 15 points per game to go along with his impressive 12.5 rebounds per game.
He is certainly not the biggest power forward in college basketball at 6'8", 232 lbs, but uses his strength and technique to outplay his opponents. Truth is, he fights harder than any other player in the paint, reminiscent of fellow overlooked player (now in the NBA) Paul Millsap.
Anosike has remarkable bounce and a somewhat developed post game. Expect grit and big things from the senior power forward this year.
As I’ve written before, he is not only the toughest player pound-for-pound in college basketball today, he is also one of the scrappiest.
This 6'3" senior guard from Cincinnati isn’t the superstar of the team, but the glue that holds it all together for Mick Cronin. He played a pivotal role in the Bearcats' unexpected march to the Sweet 16 last season. Early on, the season was thought to be marred because of a brawl that occurred between Cincinnati and Xavier. Multi-game suspensions were handed to numerous players from both sides.
Parker was unaffected by the suspensions levied by the NCAA, but instead used his tough demeanor to lead the Bearcats to the NCAA Tournament.
Parker played multiple positions last season and, although undersized, he was never overmatched. Parker was forced to play power forward at times last year, and despite his underwhelming size at the four spot, he had a breakout year playing out of position.
He has one year of eligibility left, so Parker will return defending the perimeter with his unbelievable tenacity and scrappiness. He'll pair with hard-nosed Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick to give Cronin the best backcourt he’s had as a head coach. With those three leading the Bearcat backcourt, the pugnacious trio will go far this upcoming year.
Possibly my favorite player in the college game, the undersized point guard led the Murray State Racers to a 31-2 record and a NCAA Tournament berth last season.
Canaan did a little bit of everything for the Racers last year, averaging 19 points per game, to go with 3.6 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game.
He held Marquette’s Junior Cadougan to only four assists in their third round matchup of the NCAA Tournament last season, a feat quite tough to do considering Cadougan’s fullback-like size at the guard spot.
He is one of only two AP All-Americans who returns from the 2011-12 season (Doug McDermott is the other), and he is sure to put up another huge year this season.
Aaron Craft is the epitome of scrap. It is quite strange to believe by simply looking at the Ohio State guard, much to do with his rosy-cheeked, boy-next-door look, but don’t let those looks fool you. He is an absolute menace defensively.
Aaron Craft’s pesky style of play annoys opposing guards vehemently. His on-ball defense is amongst the best in the nation. He is relentless on every second of every possession and utilizes his two biggest weapons every game, his heart and his hustle.
Convinced? Let me give you some more.
Craft has played with a bone spur in his ankle for more than two years! The guard decided against surgery, thinking it would hinder him and negatively affect the team. But he finally gave in and had it done in June. The doctors found that the chip caused three bone spurs in his tibia, causing him to limp on occasion. Even so, he would still throw his body to and fro.
Craft is a player all coaches crave. He has heart and fire on defense, along with determination and drive on offense. He's an all-around hard-nosed scraper.
He personifies this list, as he will most likely never make headlines for putting up big numbers but will annoy the hell out of opposing players and coaches for his omnipresent style of play.
Grooms only averaged seven points per game last season for Oklahoma, but made his presence known by dishing out the ball six times per game and averaging a steal a game as well. As he enters his senior year, look for that number to at least double due to his fast hands and ability to telegraph certain passes.
Grooms is a 6'1" pass-first point guard that any team would want. He’ll be one of the top floor generals in the Big 12 in 2012. Grooms recorded a solid 185 assists against 65 turnovers last season, which led the Big 12 as the best ratio. Also, he registered at least seven assists 14 times, which is an unbelievable rate. Expect big things from Grooms this season.
I am trying to think of as many adjectives as possible to describe Hickey. Pesky, aggressive, aggravating, frustrating, nettlesome, scrappy…alright, I think you get the point. Anthony Hickey is simply all over the place.
He possesses some of the fastest hands in college basketball, as he swiped an impressive 2.1 steals per game last season. Jack of all trades and master of none, Hickey will look to build upon a refreshing freshman season at LSU this year. Solid across the board (9 PPG, 4 REB, 4 AST) and not too sloppy turnover-wise with two per game, Hickey is like the gnat that won’t disappear.
Offensively, the young guard moves the ball effortlessly and keeps a great tempo to his game. His passing ability is advanced for his age and he will absolutely take a step forward when it comes to that aspect of his game this season.
He is undersized at the point at 5'11", but uses his determination and surprising strength to make things go his way. And when it comes to scrappiness, a guard has to be when playing in the point guard-laden SEC. Look for him to gain the top spot as the SEC top floor general.
The other part of the AP All-American puzzle, McDermott has to scrap to prove his worth.
At 6'7", 220 lbs, he doesn’t possess great power, athleticism or defensive prowess, but does have a unique scoring ability and a heart that not many in college basketball have.
He finished third in the NCAA in scoring last season, putting up 23 points per game. Using his Kevin McHale-like body and technique, McDermott also pulled down eight boards per game.
As opposed to his time as a freshman, McDermott operates in the post more frequently. He goes to it close to 40 percent of the time. He does a great job of working for position. While he's not very explosive vertically, he also does a wonderful job of shielding the ball from defenders and going up quickly, catching defenders off guard and allowing him to get the ball up despite his size.
He's showed an increasingly diversified set of moves in the post and improved his hook and footwork down there as well. The world is his clam shell, we're just living in it.
Thomas’ time at Ohio State has been up-and-down. He was a huge star coming out of high school, only to find most of his time as a freshman sitting on the bench for the Buckeyes. A year later, Thomas was finally given some time as a starter and made a huge impact.
Thomas uses his deceptive speed/mobility combination and mixes it with his uncommon strength to overpower and outplay opposing forwards. His toughness at the four spot hasn’t been seen at Ohio State in quite some time.
He was a second team All-Big Ten performer last season, as he posted a solid 16 points per game on 52 percent shooting. He enters this upcoming season with high expectations, as Jared Sullinger, his front court bash-buddy, entered the NBA Draft in April of this year.
His versatility is his strong point. Thomas has the ability to play multiple positions both offensively and defensively. That alone makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. With Sullinger out, Thomas will live in the paint and simply position himself for a great rebounding season.
With a name like Chaz, he has to be good.
Williams plays out of position, no matter the position, due to his minute size of 5'9", but this dude plays all out at all times.
Williams is somewhat of an unknown, even though he plays at a school with a big name—UMass. He averaged a solid 35 minutes per game last year and led the Massachusetts in that, along with points and assists per game.
His final stat-line last season?
17 PPG, 4 REB, 6 AST and 2 STL.
One would be hard-pressed to find a player as important to his team as Williams is to his. The A-10 isn't the biggest conference in college basketball, nor is he, but both Williams and the A-10 will make some noise this coming year.