Top 10 players in SEC basketball
The SEC appears to be on the cusp of one of its greatest seasons in recent memory – and not just because of Kentucky.
Sure, the Wildcats will be strong. Most prognosticators predict John Calipari’s squad will enter the season as the second-ranked team in America behind North Carolina. But Vanderbilt and Florida should also be top 10-caliber teams. And Alabama – fresh off last season’s appearance in the NIT title game – is worthy of a ranking along with ultra-talented Mississippi State.
All of the aforementioned teams feature a perfect blend of youth, experience and talent. The website www.draftexpress .com predicts that 13 players from the SEC will be drafted next summer, including eight in the first round.
Here is a rundown of the league’s top 10 players heading in next season. Making this list wasn’t easy. Barely missing the cut – and certainly worthy of mention – are: Darius Miller and Marquis Teague (Kentucky); Arnett Moultrie and Dee Bost (Mississippi State); Jeff Taylor (Vanderbilt); Trevor Releford and Tony Mitchell (Alabama); Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker (Florida).
F Anthony Davis, Kentucky, freshman – Some recruiting services have pegged Davis as the top overall player in the Class of 2011. The 6-foot-10 Davis recently grew seven inches in a year and still has a tremendous upside. Because he used to be a guard, Davis has a tremendous feel and understanding of the game. His shot-blocking and rebounding ability make him a game-changer defensively. His offensive skill set is good and continues to improve. Davis plays with tremendous toughness and is extremely coachable.
F Terrence Jones, Kentucky, sophomore – The 6-8, 245-pound Jones likely would’ve been a lottery pick in last summer’s NBA draft had he chosen to leave Kentucky after his freshman season. He averaged 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds for a Wildcats squad that reached the Final Four. Jones is extremely versatile for his size, as he can handle the ball on the perimeter and score from anywhere on the court.
G John Jenkins, Vanderbilt, junior – Jenkins may be the most-feared 3-point shooter in college basketball. He averaged a team-high 19.5 points for the Commodores last season while shooting 89.4 percent from the foul stripe. Even though his 3-point field goal percentage (40.8) was down a bit from his freshman year (48.3), Jenkins never lost confidence. He had five or more 3-pointers in nine games.
G Brad Beal, Florida, freshman – At 6-4 and 195 pounds, Beal gives Florida’s backcourt some much-needed size and bulk. Don’t be surprised if he instantly becomes the top player on the Gators’ roster. Often compared to NBA star Ray Allen, Beal has a tremendous shooting range that stretches a defense and opens up lanes for his teammates. Gatorade’s National Player of the Year should do well in Florida’s fast-paced offense.
F Michael Gilchrist, Kentucky, freshman – The third-ranked player in the Class of 2011 touts an elite level of athleticism that will make him a force in the SEC from the get-go. His ability to rack up points is often overshadowed by the ferocity with which he rebounds and defends. The 6-7, 210-pound Gilchrist is solid from midrange but needs to improve his 3-point shooting. Mentally, though, Gilchrist has all the attributes (i.e. competitiveness, drive) of a winner. He prides himself in doing the little things it takes to be successful.
Mike Rosario, Florida, junior – Rosario averaged 16.2 points as a freshman and 16.7 points as a sophomore at Rutgers before transferring to Florida prior to last season. Rosario won’t be coddled at Florida like he was at Rutgers. But if he accepts the disciplinarian-style coaching of Billy Donovan, he could be an integral part of one of the best backcourts in college basketball.
Doron Lamb, Kentucky, sophomore – Lamb averaged 12.3 points as a part-time starter last season. Even more impressive is that he shot 48.6 percent from 3-point range for a squad that reached the Final Four. Lamb and Marquis Teague will combined to form one of the country’s top backcourts in 2011-12. His sophomore season could be his last at Kentucky, although that’s certainly not a given at this point.
Renardo Sidney, Mississippi State, junior – After battling weight and off-court issues during the early portions of last season, the Bulldogs’ big man started hitting his stride in February and March. He averaged 16.8 points and eight rebounds in his last six games. He’s spending the summer with John Lucas in Houston, where he’s attempting to lose weight while straightening out personal issues.
JaMychal Green, Alabama, junior – Green averaged team-highs in points (15.5) and rebounds (7.5) for a Crimson Tide squad that reached the championship round of last season’s NIT. The 6-8, 230-pound Green has averaged double figures in each of his three seasons at Alabama. He’s hoping his career ends with an NCAA tournament berth.
Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt, senior – Ezeli was one of the most improved players in the country last season, when he went from averaging 3.8 points as a sophomore to 13 points as a junior. At 6-11 and 255 pounds, it’s safe to say that NBA scouts will be watching Ezeli closely this season.