Local High School Star
Join Date: Jun 2007
ESPn inside college bball article for IlliniFan
EDITOR'S NOTE: Each week leading up to the season, one of our experts will offer up a list previewing some aspect of college basketball. Previous entries include: Jay Bilas on the best conferences; Fran Fraschilla on the best defenders; Doug Gottlieb on the best transfers; and Bilas on the best rebounders.
The term "versatile player" is often overused in sports, particularly in college basketball. So I have tried to look at it from a coach's perspective and come up with my own definition of versatility.
To me, it's a player who could help me win if I had to play five of him on the court at one time. Hasheem Thabeet was a dominating presence last season, but I wouldn't want him bringing the ball up the court or coming off screens to shoot jumpers. On the other hand, Louisville's Terrence Williams was drafted in large part because he played effectively everywhere for Rick Pitino. In football, I am not sure I could win with 11 Jared Allens on defense, but I'd take my chances with the speed, strength and quickness of eleven Troy Polamalus.
So who are the most versatile players in college basketball this season? Interestingly, nine of the 12 that I came up with are forwards.
Evan Turner, 6-7, Jr., Ohio State
Let's get this out of the way immediately: Evan Turner is the most versatile player in the country and arguably the best player in the Big Ten. Last season, he was in the conference's top 10 in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. An example of his efficiency was his 50 percent shooting, including 44 percent from behind the arc. This season, coach Thad Matta will take advantage of Turner's ability to knife through a defense with the dribble by playing him at point guard. If the experiment works, look for the Buckeyes to challenge Michigan State and Purdue at the top of the league.
Greivis Vasquez, 6-5, Sr., Maryland
By necessity, Vasquez has had to be a jack-of-all-trades for the Terps during his career. Last season, on a team that considered the perimeter its strength, his unique combination of size, playmaking and scoring ability -- and a passion for the game bordering on obsessive -- allowed him to accomplish something unique in ACC history. Vasquez, who averaged almost 18 points, five rebounds and five assists a game, became one of only six players in conference history to lead his team in those three categories. When you think of the great players who have played in the ACC, that's an impressive accomplishment.
Kyle Singler, 6-9, Jr., Duke
Singler, the fifth Duke player in history to break the 1,000-point mark by the end of his sophomore year, is almost the prototype Mike Krzyzewski player. Coach K has always espoused flexibility in his players and isn't wedded to the traditional concept of positions on the court. Because of his size, Singler operates effectively in the paint and averaged almost eight rebounds a game last season. But he has the mobility to create mismatches on the perimeter with bigger, slower defenders and when they back off, he's very comfortable shooting the ball from deep, as well. Not surprisingly, he led the Blue Devils in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks a season ago.
Gordon Hayward, 6-9, Soph., Butler
I would take my chances with five Gordon Haywards on the court at one time. The former all-state tennis player started his basketball career in high school as a 5-11, 125-pound freshman guard, and he handles the ball like it. Even at his size, he very easily slashes to the rim, and in typical Hoosier-state fashion, shot 44 percent from the 3-point line last season. At 207 pounds, Hayward's not ready for Mr. America yet, but he did average a little under seven rebounds a game his freshman year. Playing for the USA Under-19 World Championship team this past summer, he showed that he has an NBA future at some point soon.
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
Paul George is perhaps best known for a dunk on YouTube, but he quietly had a stellar freshman campaign at Fresno.
Paul George, 6-8, Soph., Fresno State
If you are a basketball fan that "YouTubes," then you are probably aware that George had one of the best dunks of last season in a game at Saint Mary's. But what makes him an intriguing NBA prospect already as a sophomore is the combination of outstanding athletic ability, excellent perimeter skills and a good dose of basketball acumen. As a freshman, George averaged 14 points and eight rebounds and shot 44 percent from deep. He had six double-doubles and five games of four assists or more. Keep an eye on him.
Robbie Hummel, 6-8, Jr., Purdue
Hear me out on Hummel. As long as he can get the ball up the court and into Purdue's motion offense, where all five players are interchangeable, he can hurt a defense from a variety of places on the floor. He's got the size and strength to grab seven rebounds a game and score inside and he has the skills to shoot 38 percent from the 3-point line and has a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. And Hummel has the intangible toughness to be a great screener for his teammates on offense and to guard four of the five spots on the floor effectively.
Mark Payne, 6-7, Jr., UC Davis
My friend and former NBA coach, Eric Musselman, gets credit for discovering this guy for me in his freshman year and thinks he will find his way to an NBA roster some day. That's impressive for a late bloomer who averaged only eight points a game in high school. Last season, Payne was one of only six players in college basketball to average at least 10 points, five rebounds and five assists. While his outside shooting is still suspect, he shot an amazing 74 percent from inside the arc and his passing ability at point guard is enhanced by his size.
Dominique Archie, 6-7, Sr., South Carolina
If you are looking for a guy who can guard all five positions on the court and is effective in multiple defenses, including full-court pressure, look no further than Archie. The fifth-year senior has started every game of his career for the Gamecocks, and while his offensive numbers are OK (averaging 11 points a game), he has earned his reputation on the defensive end of the court. He has spent the summer working on his ballhandling, as well as trying to improve his career 33 percent shooting from behind the arc.
Lazar Hayward, 6-6, Sr., Marquette
Since he arrived in Milwaukee, Hayward has taken on every dirty job that the Golden Eagles have called on him for, including tangling with the beasts of the Big East in the paint. He was tough enough to grab eight rebounds a game last season. Offensively, he is a very effective 3-point shooter who averaged 16 points a game in Marquette's guard-oriented offense. This season, with the graduation of the three outstanding guards, Hayward will called upon to be more versatile than ever.
Ryan Thompson, 6-6, Sr., Rider
If you've ever seen Thompson in person, you could easily mistake him for a Penn State linebacker. Instead, after playing in the shadows of his older brother Jason, now a member of the Sacramento Kings, he is one of the most complete and unsung players in the country. In the underrated MAAC last season, he finished in the Top 11 in nine different statistical categories. Following my criteria for versatility, he has the size and strength to guard any position on the floor and the skill level to be a NBA prospect in the backcourt.
Greg Monroe, 6-11, Soph., Georgetown
If you play center in John Thompson III's system, you must be able to handle and pass the basketball -- and Monroe can quite can do both quite effectively for his size. But he is, by no means, a finished product and he returns for his sophomore season with an opportunity to showcase the kind of versatility that excites NBA scouts. Although the Big East Rookie of the Year enjoyed a breakout, 18-point performance at UConn last December, he wasn't able to duplicate that the rest of the season. Interestingly, the Hoyas were only 2-6 in games in which Monroe took 10 shots or more. If Georgetown rebounds from its hard-luck season, a more mature and consistent Monroe will be the reason why.
Jeremy Lin, 6-3, Sr., Harvard
For a 12th man, I am saving a spot for this guy, even if he probably can't guard Luke Harangody or Cole Aldrich. He's a great story as the son of Taiwanese immigrants and one of the few Asian-American players in college basketball. More importantly, after a storybook high school career, he has quietly had a great career in the Ivy League and last season was in the top 10 in seven different statistical categories from the point guard position. His crowning moment last season was a 27-point, eight-assist, six-rebound performance in an 82-70 win over Boston College, three days after the Eagles had knocked off No. 1 North Carolina.
Just missed the cut:
Aubrey Coleman, Houston; Rodney Green, La Salle; Dominique Jones, South Florida; Matt Bouldin, Gonzaga; Wesley Witherspoon, Memphis; Tasmin Mitchell, LSU, Mike Singletary, Texas Tech; Tyler Smith, Tennessee; Devin Ebanks, West Virginia; Mac Hopson, Idaho; Dana Smith, Longwood