College Basketball Stars Finding Success in New Roles in 2013-14

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2013

College Basketball Stars Finding Success in New Roles in 2013-14

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    While every player in college basketball has a defined position for roster purposes, there is so much more that goes into determining what role that person will have beyond just slapping a C, F or G next to their name.

    And that role doesn't always stay the same, especially year-to-year. A key reserve one year could become an essential scorer the next. Or a contributor from the wing last season could end up taking on the role of backcourt anchor this time around.

    Several of the 2013-14 season's top stars are shining in such new roles. We bring to you eight of the most significant standouts.

Kyle Anderson, UCLA

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    Old Role: Lost on the wing

    New Role: Point forward

    Why He's Succeeding: Anderson is putting up NBA-like numbers in terms of his diversity, leading UCLA in scoring (14.9 points per game), rebounds (8.9) and assists (6.7), while also running the point most of the time. It's a far cry from his wayward freshman season when the 6'9" Anderson seemed lost playing on the wing.

    New Bruins head coach Steve Alford has freed Anderson to do his thing in all facets of the game, and the result was the school's first triple-double in 18 years when the sophomore scored 13 and added 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over Morehead State last month.

    Anderson was a point guard in high school, and it's where he excels the best. He can see the entire floor and determine whether the time is right to distribute, drive or set up a play.

    No longer held down by Ben Howland's sluggish scheme, Anderson is thriving with his newfound freedom.

Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico

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    Old Role: Late bloomer

    New Role: Power post

    Why He's Succeeding: Bairstow's evolution into New Mexico's top scorer (20.6 points per game) began in the second half of last season when he moved into the starting lineup. But he's taken it up several notches this year, putting up 20-plus points in eight of the Lobos' 11 games entering Monday, including the last five.

    No longer an uncertain shooter, Bairstow is taking nearly twice as many shots this year,and is hitting at an impressive .556 clip. The 6'9" senior is filling up the entire stat sheet, though, as his assists have tripled from a year ago, and he's blocking 1.4 shots per game.

    Much of Bairstow's improvement can be traced back to his time with the Australian national team at the 2013 World University Games, where he was able to show off his versatility as a big man with moves.

Trevor Cooney, Syracuse

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    Old Role: Off-target reserve

    New Role: Spot-on starter

    Why He's Succeeding: Trevor Cooney arrived at Syracuse two years ago with a reputation as a deadly outside shooter, but after redshirting his first year, he struggled to get on the court with Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche ahead of him. When he did, though, he made less than 27 percent of his three-pointers.

    Through 11 games this season, the 6'4" sophomore is hitting on 49.3 percent of his attempts, which ranks 10th nationally.

    No longer having to fight for time, Cooney seems much more comfortable in the role he was brought to Syracuse to fill. Though he missed all three treys in a tight win at St. John's on Dec. 15, Syracuse's most recent game (and in the two prior to St. John's, including against Indiana), Cooney has made at least five long balls each time out.

    Cooney is a pure shooter, though he can drive when necessary. Now that he's got more time to play, he doesn't have to try to force things in his limited minutes. He can let the situations present themselves.

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

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    Old Role: Size off the bench

    New Role: Euro-style swingman

    Why He's Succeeding: Kaminsky showed brief flashes of impressiveness as a sophomore, but now that he's in the starting lineup, he's displaying all of his varied skills. The 7-footer can shoot from outside (hitting 15-of-35 three-pointers) but has also improved greatly on his post play, hitting more than 62 percent of his shots inside the line.

    Kaminsky, who leads Wisconsin with 14.6 points per game (up from 4.2 last season), had his coming out party in mid-November when he dropped 43 on North Dakota State, making 16-of-19 shots overall and all six three-point attempts.

    He's from Illinois, but Kaminsky's game resembles a European big man who is just as comfortable on the perimeter (if not more so) than down on the blocks. He spent more time inside than he probably wanted to last year, but now he's able to roam around and create offense on his terms.

Marcus Paige, North Carolina

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    Old Role: Part of the gang

    New Role: Head of the class

    Why He's Succeeding: The game plan coming into the season wasn't for Paige to be North Carolina's breakaway scoring leader, but that plan also didn't include having senior guards P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald sitting out because of NCAA violations.

    But Paige has thrived in his more-involved role, leading the Tar Heels in scoring at 19.6 points per game. That includes a career-high 32 in the win over Louisville and another 23 in the victory over Kentucky. The 6'1" sophomore is scoring from all over the court, hitting on nearly 40 percent of his three-pointers and also getting to the line about six times per game.

    McDonald returned last week (while Hairston is done for the year) but that hasn't hampered Paige's production. In fact, it might make him more dangerous because he'll no longer be the only shooter for opponents to try and shut down. Not only that, but his skills as a point guard will come in handy when defenders get to close to him as he can dish it inside to Carolina's talented frontcourt.

Adreian Payne, Michigan State

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    Old Role: Beast on the blocks

    New Role: All-around star

    Why He's Succeeding: Adreian Payne was projected as a first-round draft pick after a solid junior year, but rather than bolt for the NBA, he made the rare (in modern times) choice to return to Michigan State.
    Bleacher Report's C.J. Moore noted back in the summer that the 6'10" forward had the potential to be a superstar if he wanted to be, based on his ability to score, rebound and block at various times in games.

    Now Payne is doing all of those things at the same time, and the result has been fun to watch.

    Payne leads MSU with 18.1 points per game, nearly double his 10.5 average from a year ago. He's still dominating on the boards, too, with eight rebounds per game, and the blocks and other stat sheet stuffers are still there.

    But most importantly, Payne appears to be embracing his role as a senior leader. This was evident in his career-high 33 scored on Saturday at Texas, which came thanks to a 10-of-13 shooting performance (mostly from the paint) and an 11-of-12 effort at the free throw line.

    At 245 pounds, Payne has the bulk to knock people around and be a force inside, but he's also shown a nice mid-range shooting touch, thus making him a difficult matchup wherever he sets up on offense.

Casey Prather, Florida

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    Old Role: Instant defense

    New Role: All-out offense

    Why He's Succeeding: Prather's role with Florida last season was just that; he was a role player, coming off the bench to provide defensive pressure, and any scoring that might come with that.

    But now a senior and one of the few Gators regulars to avoid the injury bug, the 6'6" forward has tripled his scoring from a year ago to a team-best 18.5 points per game. His production has been a welcome surprise for a Florida team that's had to field numerous different lineups.

    Despite being a bit undersized, Prather is getting most of his points close to the basket. NBC Sports' Rob Dauster noted in a column after last week's win over Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic that hardly any of Prather's points are coming on jump shots.

    His limited action prior to this season showed Prather's tendency to dive and scrap, not to mention his strong finishing ability in the transition. That's translated into a tenacity when he has the ball, and an aggressiveness that's getting him to the line far more than anyone could have expected.

Lenzelle Smith Jr., Ohio State

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    Old Role: Defensive stopper

    New Role: Go-to scorer

    Why He's Succeeding: With Ohio State no longer able to rely on DeShaun Thomas to do the bulk of the scoring, Smith has stepped up to increase his output by more than 40 percent from last season. The 6'4" senior guard leads the Buckeyes with 13.1 points per game, with the biggest difference being his willingness to draw contact.

    Smith is getting to the foul line almost four times per game this year, compared to less than twice per contest in 2012-13. And he's coming through, hitting more than 80 percent of those foul shots, including all five in the final minute of Ohio State's comeback win over Notre Dame on Saturday.

    Smith is one of those rare players who focuses on defense first, and even this year that's occurring. But it's now translating into offensive production, and he's putting more emphasis on scoring rather than putting all the effort into being a stopper.