The beginning of the 2013-14 college basketball season is getting closer and closer.
In a little over two months, teams across the country will start official practices in preparation for opening games in November.
Here is a look at the 10 biggest breakout stars for the upcoming season.
You will quickly notice that this is a very young list. That doesn't mean that all the good players will be freshmen or sophomores. It does mean that there is a ton of talented underclassmen.
Obviously, players like Doug McDermott, Marcus Smart, C.J. Fair and Russ Smith have already "broken out." As a result of his monster 2013 March Madness performance, Michigan's Mitch McGary is also considered in the "post-breakout" category.
Here we go!
Though Xavier’s Semaj Christon had a great first collegiate season, he will have a chance to bring his game to a bigger stage as the Musketeers move from the Atlantic 10 Conference to the new Big East.
This past year, Christon was named to Collegeinsider.com’s Kyle Macy Freshman All-American team.
His XU bio says that he was the school’s first Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of the Year.
Christon led Xavier in both scoring (15.2 PPG) and assists (4.6 APG).
Cincinnati.com’s Shannon Russell detailed the 6’3” guard’s busy summer plans. He is logging time at Chris Paul’s guard camp (in August), the Deron Williams/Kyrie Irving Nike Basketball Point Guard Skills Academy in New Jersey and the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas.
Currently, Christon is slotted as the No. 6 pick in the 2014 NBA draft by NBAdraft.net.
Don’t be surprised when you start hearing Christon’s name regularly this coming season. He will be one of the top point guards in the nation.
Although he did not have a dominating first season, Austin was named a second-team Freshman All-American by Basketball Times after averaging 13.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.
Austin has great shot-blocking and rebounding anticipation. Combine that anticipation with his tremendous size and the Bears have the makings of a harsh defensive force in the paint.
The 7’1” center has unique offensive skills. He is more than capable of knocking down shots from beyond the arc. What other seven-footer in the country has the green light to shoot 90 three pointers?
Look for Baylor coach Scott Drew to reign in Austin’s perimeter roaming during his sophomore season. As he takes full advantage of his mobility and interior moves, he will become one of the most proficient low-post players in the country.
Duke’s Rodney Hood gives head coach Mike Krzyzewski one of the most athletic small forwards in school history.
He is a terrific offensive weapon. He also brings a defensive toughness on the perimeter that has been sadly lacking at Cameron Indoor Stadium for some time.
Hood spent his freshman season getting work done at Mississippi State. His Duke bio indicates that Hood was named to the 2012 SEC All-Freshman team after averaging 10.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.
North Carolina State head coach Mark Gottfried has a lot of respect for Hood. At his summer press conference, Gottfried said:
There's a lot of attention around Jabari Parker, but wait until you see Rodney Hood. He's that good. They're loaded.
Hood is currently rehabbing an Achilles injury that happened at a USA Basketball practice at the end of June. Fortunately for him, and the team, there was no tendon rupture and several weeks of rest should get him ready for the upcoming season.
Last season, Michigan State’s Gary Harris quietly established himself as one of the top guards in the country.
In spite of battling shoulder problems all last season, Harris was one of the eight finalists for the national 2013 Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award. He was selected as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year after he averaged 12.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.
Harris is an excellent shooter, connecting on 41% of his threes, 50% on twos, and a solid 75.5% at the free throw line. There’s a good chance that he would have been a first round draft pick if he would have entered the 2013 NBA draft.
MSU head coach Tom Izzo has full confidence in his rising sophomore SG. He said “There's no question that a healthy Gary Harris is one of the premier guards in the country.”
To take that one step further: With a healthy Gary Harris and almost everyone returning off of their 2012-13 squad that went 27-9 and made a Sweet 16 appearance, watch out for another deep March Madness run for MSU!
If you like watching explosive front court players, Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell will be one of your favorites in 2013-14.
Though the 6’8” 235-pound forward only played 16 minutes per game as a freshman, you can expect Harrell to step into a significant role for the Cardinals as they look to defend their 2013 national title.
We have had several previews of how effective Harrell may soon be on a nightly basis. In last year’s Big East title game against Syracuse, Harrell led Louisville off the bench with 20 points and seven rebounds (four offensive).
This summer, he gained valuable playing time and experience competing for the Team USA U19 squad. In the championship game in Prague, Harrell scored a team-leading 17 points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked four shots.
One of Team USA’s assistant coaches was VCU’s Shaka Smart. When asked to comment on each of the players on the team, he had this to say about Harrell (Insider subscription required):
Aaron Gordon was the Most Outstanding Player, but Montrezl was as valuable as anyone and he gave us an unbelievable lift with his energy, athleticism, power and attitude every time he took the floor. The Louisville staff deserves credit because he's gotten much better in the past year since he had him in the Under-18s. He was a great athlete, but he didn't score much except on the offensive glass. Now he can score around the basket, he hit quite a few midrange shots and is great in the press. He's a guy who can play the 4 or the 5 in college. He's long and strong enough to play the 5, and is quick and athletic and shoots it well enough to play the 4.
With the departure of Gorgui Dieng to the NBA, Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino will look to Harrell to aggressively protect the rim and provide consistent low-post scoring.
Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison has a dream situation for an incoming point guard.
The Wildcats will have what seems like a never-ending supply of talented scorers for which Harrison can feed. On top of that, the 6’5” PG has his own well-stocked arsenal of offensive abilities that he will unleash on UK’s innocent opponents.
Not only is Harrison taller than most point guards, his length gives him added advantages on both ends of the court. Enhanced passing angles and an increased pass-challenging reach will make him a matchup nightmare.
ESPN’s Dave Telep made the following observations about Harrison’s domination at the high school level (Insider subscription required):
Off the dribble, this kid is a complete load. He was an intimidating presence on the floor, and there were times when it was fair to say that opponents approached him with a measure of fear. Harrison is just too big and strong for most opponents, and getting all the way to the rim, because of his physicality, was not difficult. At the rim, he was akin to a heat-seeking missile looking for something to run into.
Harrison is the key to Kentucky’s success. He will have the enormous responsibility/opportunity of making the most of UK’s gifted roster. He will need to embrace the idea that, for him, assists are as important as points.
Kentucky’s Julius Randle is a hard-playing, multi-talented PF that would be a star regardless of what team he would play for in college.
He has no problem setting up shop on the block and going to work. He has a wide array of post moves and counter-moves. He uses his body well and does not mind thumping opponents in the paint.
What makes Randle distinctive is his ability to face up and spot up away from the basket. While he probably won’t be a substantial three-point threat, the 6’9” PF is not hesitant to pull the trigger on outside shots.
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman remarked about where he sees Randle fitting into the unique 2013-14 UK scene:
Randle does have versatility, but he's a load down on the blocks, and, if Calipari is able to convince him that few can stop him in the paint (and limit his time roaming the perimeter, as he has a tendency to do), he could wind up being Kentucky's most dominant and productive player. In fact, he could wind up becoming one of the most productive players in the country despite the fact he'll be on a loaded team with as many as seven other potential first-round draft picks. There are those who have criticized Randle for taking plays off, not playing as hard as he did a couple of seasons ago, but he still has a high motor the majority of the time. I think he'll thrive in Calipari's system.
While Wildcats’ head coach John Calipari has endless options in terms of lineups and rotations, expect to see Randle getting the lion's share of the minutes at power forward.
No player from the Class of 2013 has had a more dynamic last four months than Arizona’s Aaron Gordon.
Back in April, the 6’8” forward from San Jose lowered the boom at the McDonald’s All-American game. He scored 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds on his way to being named the game’s MVP.
Next, Gordon played up a level for Team USA, averaging 12.6 points, six rebounds and two steals per game. He went from coming off the bench for USA head coach Billy Donovan to being selected as the U19 World Championships’ MVP in Praque.
Gordon has stated publicly that he wants to play SF for the Wildcats in 2013-14. Arizona head coach Sean Miller, in responding to the Tucson Citizen’s Anthony Gimino’s question about where Gordon might fit best, Miller said:
It has to do a lot with our current team, who we have. … We happen to have two starters back: Brandon Ashley, who played the four for us, and Kaleb Tarczewski, who played the five. They both as freshmen played a significant role, and they’re going to work even harder to be even better as sophomores. It makes a lot of sense for us to have the ability to play Aaron with those two and in between two guards. I believe in many ways that’s his most natural position, when you consider that he does not get enough credit for what a good defender he is. When you talk about what position a guy plays, everybody thinks offense. Most of the time the deal-breaker is defense. You’d say, ‘I’d love to play him there but he can’t guard the typical small forward.’ In Aaron’s case, that is seamless. Now, it’s about me as the coach helping him play to his strengths, stay away from his weaknesses. … Aaron’s versatility, and we have Rondae Jefferson as well – there are times where (Gordon) is going to be able to play with just one post player with Rondae on the court. (Gordon’s) greatest gift is his versatility.
If he effectively makes the transition to the wing, Gordon will be a front-runner for POY consideration and Arizona will make a serious run at the school’s second NCAA title.
Very few young players’ entrance into college hoops has been more anticipated than Duke's Jabari Parker.
Parker’s four-year high school run was filled with championships (Four straight Illinois state titles), awards (2012 Gatorade National Player of the Year as a junior) and major magazine covers (Sports Illustrated - May 21, 2012).
As he begins his stretch in Durham, we can anticipate an outstanding showing by the 6’8” sensation.
CBS Sports’ Jeff Borzello revealed Parker’s aspirations for being an all-around player:
Some people compare Jabari Parker to Paul Pierce because of his versatile offensive game.
Parker, though, is aiming a little bit higher for his NBA comparison. As in, the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double for a single season: Oscar Robertson.
“He played all positions,” Parker said. “He was way before his time.”
Beyond his multi-faceted skills, one of the qualities that could be the tipping point for Parker’s future success is his humility. He has not bought into his own celebrity, and he wants to continue to improve.
Not too many elite players would make the comment that he made about himself at 2:20 of the posted video. If you have not watched it already, check it out!
With Parker and plenty of other offensive firepower, the 2013-14 Blue Devils could be in line to help head coach Mike Krzyzewski make his 12th trip to the Final Four.
Not too many players can do what Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins did less than a year ago.
In October of 2012, the spectacular 6’7” SF reclassified and became the No. 1 prospect in the recruiting Class of 2013.
Wiggins has unrivalled athleticism and dazzling perimeter skills. KU’s opponents will have their hands full trying to contain him.
ESPN’s Dave Telep described how good Wiggins really is (Insider subscription required):
His game is predicated on being able to elevate, burst by his defender and use his extraordinary length and wingspan to his advantage. As a high school player, Wiggins destroyed foes at the rim. He got there using uncommon fast-twitch muscles and then elevating for kiss-the-rim finishes. He's in his own class in terms of explosiveness. Whether it's coast-to-coast or exploding off the dribble, Wiggins has the hammer and knows how to use it.
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman commented on how he will fit on the Jayhawks 2013-14 roster:
Wiggins will be a star. There's no doubting that. However, he won't have to carry this Jayhawks team as some believe. Bill Self has plenty of other pieces -- from Perry Ellis to Wayne Selden to one of the most talented big men in the country in freshman Joel Embiid. There's enough that Wiggins will be able to grow into his role.
Unless something unexpected happens, Wiggins will be one of the premier players in college hoops this season. His likely one-year excursion in Lawrence will result in him being the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.