By Shea Irish
Joseph Girard III – Syracuse
Anyone that follows Syracuse basketball knows that Buddy Boeheim received a majority of the publicity and media attention surrounding the program during the 2021-22 season, and for good reason. He is legendary coach Jim Boeheim’s son, he led the ACC in scoring, and is likely to be playing in the NBA next season. But hardly recognized was his backcourt partner Joseph Girard III, aka “JG3”, who had a sneaky good season for the Orange. The 6’1” Junior guard averaged a career high 13.8 PPG and connected on 89 three-pointers, which was one better than Buddy Boeheim’s total. Despite finishing top ten in the ACC in 3-PT FG made, 3-PT%, FT%, and assists per game; Girard wasn’t even recognized as an honorable mention player when the All-Conference selections were released. JG3, a product from the same high school as Jimmer Fredette (Glens Falls, NY), finished with 15 or more points in 18 contests, including 23 points against #7 Duke in the ACC Quarterfinals.
Andre Jackson – UConn
This 6’6” wing is one of the most athletic players in the entire country. In fact, UConn head coach Dan Hurley stated that Jackson is “by far the best athlete I’ve ever coached”. He is a stat sheet stuffer, ending the 2021-22 season with averages of 6.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, and adding in 20 blocks. According to Fox Sports, Jackson finished 3rd in the Big East for blocks/40 minutes, block percentage, and was top 15 in steals/40 minutes and steal percentage. He had a career high 16 rebounds in a win over St. John’s, and had two 14 rebound outings against Providence and VCU. He has all the potential to become a contender for the Big East Defensive Player of the Year next season with the Huskies. His offensive game is still developing, but he showed signs of promise by increasing his 3-PT% by 24.3 percentage points from his freshman season. With the athleticism and high motor he plays with, if Jackson can continue to improve his ability on the offensive end, he’ll certainly have a chance to become a 1st round NBA draft pick a year from now.
Abu Kigab – Boise State
Abu Kigab led the Broncos to a remarkable 27-8 season that culminated in the program’s first ever Mountain West regular season championship and just the 2nd MWC tournament championship. The committee disrespectfully rewarded them with a measly 8 seed and a first round matchup against the Memphis Tigers team loaded with future NBA talent and headed into March on one of the hottest streaks in the country. If given a better draw, Kigab may have led Boise State deeper in the tournament and his name could have been more recognized. The 6’7” forward led the Broncos with 14.8 PPG and 1.3 SPG, and finished 2nd on the team with 5.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, and a 50.0 FG%. Somehow he wasn’t even on the All-MWC 1st Team, but his play spoke for itself against the best competition. He scored 20 points in that first round NCAA Tournament matchup, 22 points in the MWC Final vs Wyoming, and 21 points in a win over San Diego State in late February.
Tylor Perry- North Texas
This 5’11” guard only started one game for a North Texas team that won the C-USA regular season championship. Buying into his role, Perry became the C-USA 6th Man of the Year in his first season at the Division 1 level. Most likely because the Mean Green are notorious for their stellar defense, the 13.5 PPG scorer is rarely known in most parts of the country. He proved to be one of the most clutch players in the nation last season with game winning shot after game winning shot. In total, Perry sank three go-ahead shots in the final minute of games, including two that gave North Texas 1 point victories on the road against UAB and Louisiana Tech. Perry showed he can perform at the highest level against top competition by scoring 23 points against the eventual National Champion Kansas Jayhawks during the ESPN Events Invitational in November.
Alfonso Plummer – Illinois
Two years ago at Utah, Plummer was the most precise 3-point shooter in the Pac-12 at 38.3%. Transferring to Illinois for 2021-22, he would follow that up by becoming the most prolific 3-point shooter in the deepest conference in the nation. Finishing the year with 98 three-pointers and shooting 40.3%, he helped lead the Illini to a Big Ten regular season co-championship and the #1 seed in the conference tournament. Plummer averaged 14.6 PPG and would have led the Big Ten in FT% (87.4) if he had shot enough attempts to qualify. Opponents realized quickly that when he got hot from deep, they were in for a long night. The 6’1” Puerto Rico native once set a Pac-12 tournament record by connecting on 11 three-pointers against Oregon State, and he would have his fair share of lethal shooting nights at Illinois as well. He had 9 games with at least 5 three-pointers made, including a deadly 8-10 performance against the #22 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
JT Shumate- Toledo
With the shooting ability of this 6’7” forward, JT Shumate may have been the toughest front court matchup in the MAC last season. He led the conference with a blistering 48.2% clip from beyond the arc and averaged 15.0 PPG for a Rockets team that dominated to a regular season MAC Championship. He added 6.1 RPG and 1.3 BPG while finishing the season with a 55.4 FG%, yet was only a 2nd Team All-MAC selection. Two seasons ago he had a 33 point performance against Miami (OH) on an amazing 11-11 shooting night from the field, which shows you just how efficient of a scorer Shumate really is. If he can improve his 82.0 FT% towards the 90% mark next season, the former Division II transfer could realistically become a member of the 50-40-90 club. That accomplishment is very rare, only being achieved ten times in college basketball since the 1992-93 season.
Garrett Sturtz – Drake
If you’re going into battle, you want to make sure you have this guy on your side. Nobody in the country played with more energy and love for the game last season than this scrappy “guard”. At just 6’3” he averaged an incredible 7.1 RPG, which was the 3rd most in the Missouri Valley Conference. The two players ahead of him were 6’8” and 6’9”. Without elite leaping ability and the fact that he was giving up 9 inches to Evan Mobley, the #2 pick in the 2021 NBA draft, Sturtz somehow beat the 7-footer to rebounds on multiple occasions during Drake’s NCAA Tournament matchup with USC in 2021. There is no explanation for it other than his anticipation of where the ball is going to be at all times, plus the desire and drive he plays every game with. If there is a loose ball, you can bet he’s going to be the first one diving on the floor to get it. If you hear the whistle for a charge, he’s most likely the one who drew it. He embodies the toughness of a Drake program that won 95 games in his four seasons with the Bulldogs. He finished his senior season averaging 11.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.4 SPG, and led the MVC in true shooting percentage.
Dominick Welch – St. Bonaventure
Jalen Adaway was the leading scorer for St. Bonaventure last season, talented PG Kyle Lofton ran the show, and big man Osun Osunniyi is the best NBA prospect from the team. But 6’5” wing Dominick Welch was an integral part of a Bonnies team that won 23 games and advanced on a deep NIT run to Madison Square Garden. Welch was one of two players to start all 33 games, playing 37.5 minutes per contest. He averaged 12.3 PPG and finished 2nd on the team in rebounding, steals, and blocks. He also sank 91 three-pointers, which was 2nd in the Atlantic 10 and 50 more than anyone else on the Bonnies team. His 16 three-pointers over four NIT games helped spark St. Bonaventure’s run with impressive road wins over Colorado, Oklahoma, and Virginia. In the season finale, he went a sizzling 7-10 from deep and finished with 25 points and 7 rebounds in a close loss to Xavier, who ultimately won the NIT Championship.
Jaylin Williams – Arkansas
Despite averaging a near double-double (10.9 PPG, 9.8 RPG), Williams ability to impact a game goes way beyond the stats shown in the box score. He does all the necessary things to help a team win, such as setting unlimited screens to get the SEC’s 2nd leading scorer, J.D. Notae, open looks. At 6’10”, Williams drew an incredible 54 charges this past season, setting a Razorbacks program record. His willingness to do all the dirty work helped Arkansas get back to the Elite 8 for the second straight season. In this year’s NCAA Tournament, he recorded a double-double in all four games, including 15 points and 12 rebounds in Arkansas’ upset of #1 seed Gonzaga. He is the ultimate glue guy, and with the elite vision and passing ability he possesses at his size, NBA scouts will be intrigued with what he has to offer at the next level.
Daivien Williamson – Wake Forest
Overshadowed by the play of ACC POY Alondes Williams and 2nd Team All-ACC performer Jake LaRavia, the senior point guard was quietly the catalyst that made the Demon Deacons go. When Williamson scored in double-figures last season, Wake Forest was 15-4. In 33 games overall, he turned the ball over just 37 times, which was critical to the success of the ACC’s 2nd highest scoring offense. He averaged 11.8 PPG and was an efficient scorer at all three levels, shooting 45.1% from the field, 39.5% from deep, and 86.5% from the line. Williamson has proven he is a true winner. After helping guide the ETSU Buccaneers to a 30 win season and a SoCon Championship in 2019-20, he decided to transfer back to his hometown. He then helped Wake Forest finish this season with 25 victories, the most for the school from Winston-Salem since the 2004-05 season when a guy named Chris Paul was running the show.