It’s been said that the biggest improvement any collegiate basketball player experiences comes between their freshmen and sophomore seasons. That year of college workouts, a year of college coaching and–most importantly–a year of college game experience finally pays dividends during year two on courts across the country.
In an article that came out yesterday on SI.com, college hoops expert Luke Winn picked La Salle forward Jerrell Wright as one of his breakout sophomores for this season.
That got us to thinking–which other City 6 sophomores were primed to become household names around the City of Brotherly Love this winter?
Players had to play fewer than 20.0 mpg in 2011-12; last year’s stats in parenthesis:
Henry Brooks, Penn (14.3 min, 4.6 pts, 2.5 reb)
A starter in 24 of Penn’s 33 games last season, six-foot eight-inch power forward Henry Brooks returns to West Philadelphia this season after leading all Quaker freshmen in both points and rebounds in his first campaign with the team. His efforts were clearly noticed by head coach and Penn legend Jerome Allen, who rewarded Brooks by playing him for 14 plus minutes per game, also tops among freshmen.
Brooks, in turn, made the most of his opportunity and posted a significant usage rate of 24.1% (a statistic that quantifies a player’s final and measureable contribution to each of his team’s offensive possessions while he is on the floor), which trailed only teammate and Ivy League Player of the Year, Zach Rosen. All of this adds up to Brooks bringing enormous potential back to Penn’s front court where he will be given even more minutes this season after the graduation of Quaker stalwarts Rosen, Tyler Bernardini, and Rob Belcore in the spring. Now a full year-and-a-half removed from an ACL tear that he suffered during his senior year of high school, Brooks looks poised to continue his success in the Big 5’s most hallowed home court, the Palestra. Given his upside, experience, and freshman stats, Brooks should do just that in 2012-13. –DL
Will Cummings, Temple (6.3 min, 1.4 pts, 0.4 ast)
It was a tough freshman year for Cummings, who sat out for the first six games of the season (leading some to speculate he was headed for a redshirt), then played double-figure minutes in six of the next 10 games before playing a total of 29 minutes over the teams’ final 15 contests. The 6-1 Florida native has a chance to be the Owls’ starting point guard in 2012-13, depending on whether or not Temple coach Fran Dunphy feels like starting him or 6-5 shooting guard Dalton Pepper, a junior transfer from West Virginia, as well as how comfortable Khalif Wyatt is running the point.
Cummings certainly looked like a much more confident and capable guard this summer at the Delco Pro-Am, proving he could score in bunches as needed and also showing a pretty good ability to get into the lane and distribute. Where he could also really help his team is on the defensive end; now-graduated point guard Juan Fernandez had done a good job of running the Temple offense for the last three years but had below-average foot speed on defense, something the entire Temple perimeter struggled with last season. Guards like Chaz Williams (46 points in two games vs. TU last year) will be much less dangerous if Cummings is able to limit their effectiveness this season. –JV
Ty Johnson, Villanova (17.7 min, 3.3 pts, 2.0 ast)
After ably filling in for point guard Maalik Wayns, now with the 76ers in the NBA, as he battled through injuries last season, sophomore Ty Johnson showed flashes of brilliance similar to Scottie Reynolds, Kyle Lowry, and other great Villanova guards before him. Clearly not scared of the bright lights, Johnson notched his career high in points (14) against national powerhouse Connecticut in February 20, 2012, just two days after setting a career high in assists (seven) against the talent-laden Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
As a true freshman, Johnson showed his playmaking ability by ranking second on the team with an assist rate of 21.4% (which measures a player’s assists divided by the field goals made by the player’s teammates while he is on the court), which trailed only the Wildacats’ starting PG and now NBAer, Wayns. After notching nine starts as a true freshman, good for second on the team behind versatile forward JayVaughn Pinkston, Johnson, a former standout high school quarterback, will utilize his court vision and leadership skills to drive the Wildcats’ fast-paced offense after the departure of Wayns and off-guard Dominic Cheek after last season. Just as he did when Wayns went down at points last season, Johnson should make the most of his opportunity for coach Jay Wright when Villanova’s season begins on November 9 against D-II University of District Columbia. –DL
Jerrell Wright, La Salle (19.8 min, 9.8 pts, 5.6 reb)
You didn’t expect us to leave Wright off our own list, did you? The Dobbins Tech grad struggled with foul trouble in his first year as an Explorer but excelled in almost every other area, making him a candidate to be a legitimate star as early as this year. According to basketball stat guru Ken Pomeroy, Wright was among the top 200 players in all of Division I in both defense rebounding percentage (19.9, 189th) and offensive rebounding percentage (13.0, 73rd), but he wasn’t only a good rebounder. A 57-percent shooter from the floor, Wright posted an above-average offensive rating of 105.9 on the season while drawing over 5.5 fouls per 40 minutes and hitting 61.7 percent of his free-throws.
This year, with Devon White out of the picture–the senior big man is playing out his final year of eligibility at Niagara–White has a chance to become one of the more dominant big men in the league. Limiting those fouls (6.1 committed per 40 minutes) is the only way he’ll be able to stay on the court for more than 25 minutes per game, which is probably what it will take for La Salle to make both a serious run at an A-10 championship and at an NCAA tournament berth for the first time in over 20 years.