RTC 2009-10 Impact Players: Deep South

Posted by zhayes9 on September 29th, 2009


Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Atlantic South) are located here.

It’s time for the fourth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of states bordering the Gulf of Mexico known as the Deep South region.   Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season.  Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five  in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation.  Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man.  We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off.  The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?

Deep South Region (FL, AL, MS, LA, TX)


Ed. Note: our assumption is that Mississippi State’s Renardo Sidney will not be eligible to play this season.

  • Aubrey Coleman – Sr, G – Houston. Young Mr. Coleman was a controversial pick for our panel, to say the least.  There’s no denying his talent, but the 6’4 rock of a player went national (and viral) last season for his footplant on Chase Budinger’s face during a game at Arizona.  Seriously, that thing made what Christian Laettner did to Aminu Timberlake in 1992 look like playtime in the sandbox.  Coleman served his one-game suspension for the ugly incident, and proceeded to take out any residual anger he might have on the rest of Conference USA to the tune of twelve double-doubles and becoming the only player to finish in the top five in both CUSA scoring and rebounding.  Yeah, rebounding.  At 6’4.  Playing guard.  If that doesn’t give you a clue as to Coleman’s toughness (despite his cowardly act against Budinger), we don’t know what will.  Despite his position, Coleman makes it a common practice to regularly venture into the lane for frequent trips to the foul line on offense and for rebounds on defense (ranks #294 in def reb%).  He also ranked in the top 25 nationally in steals, and we should point out that only three guards in the entire country pulled down more boards per game than Coleman.  About the only part of Coleman’s game that isn’t quite honed is his outside shot (21% on threes), but he doesn’t take many, which shows recognition of his strengths and weaknesses.  With two star players (including Kelvin Lewis) returning for their senior seasons in Houston, it’s safe to say that Tom Penders is sitting on an explosive duo who could lead UH to a successful slate in a wide-open CUSA and its first NCAA Tournament appearance in nearly twenty years.
  • Damion James – Sr, F – Texas. Just three days prior to the declaration deadline for the 2009 NBA Draft, Damion James told Texas head coach Rick Barnes that he’d be returning for a final season in Austin, a decision that drastically alters the expectations of a Longhorns team that underachieved a campaign ago. Texas should be a top-five team in 2009-10 due to an influx of talent from all angles: from returnees like Dexter Pittman, to transfers like Jai Lucas, stud freshmen like Avery Bradley and, most importantly, a senior season from Damion James. James has just about as much pure athletic talent as any forward in the nation featuring an NBA-ready body, constant activity on the glass and an ability to run the floor like few other 6’7 forwards. The issue with James has always been complacency and wavering effort. Often James will hang around the perimeter, settle for outside shots, disappear when his team needs him the most or settle for being a secondary figure when a player with the ability of James should always be The Man. When James is motivated, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player in the Big 12 that can contain him. James finished on the All-Big 12 Second Team his junior season after finishing with 15.4 ppg and 9.2 rpg a year following a sophomore campaign in which James averaged a double-double. James ranked fourth in the Big 12 in rebounding, tenth in the conference in scoring and totaled double-figures on 31 occasions in 2008-09. A player the caliber of James should be right there with Cole Aldrich and Craig Brackins at the top of potential Big 12 POY candidates for the upcoming season. He should be a first round pick and he should average another double-double. One of the reasons I have Texas pegged #2 in the nation preseason is because I trust James to provide that consistent effort for Rick Barnes in search of a very realistic Final Four.
  • Jarvis Varnado – Sr, F – Mississippi St. Let’s cut right to the chase: Is there any true hoops fan that doesn’t enjoy watching this kid swat every ill-advised layup from a 6’2 point guard within his vicinity like it’s a volleyball spike? Nobody in the entire nation controls the paint like Jarvis Varnado, blocking an incredible 4.7 shots per game in his junior season, barely exceeding his 4.6 bpg from his sophomore campaign. While Varnado surely has plenty of work to do on his offensive game to become an impact player on both ends of the court, the potential is evident. Take his 31 points on 10-18 FG and 11-13 FT vs. SEC regular season champion LSU as an example, or the 24 points on 10-13 he dropped on Cincinnati in December. With scoring guards like Barry Stewart and Dee Bost to complement (possibly) Renardo Sidney in the post, coach Rick Stansbury doesn’t necessarily need Varnado to be a scoring threat to be a contender in the SEC this season (although Varnado did lead the squad in scoring in 2008-09). As long as Varnado continues to utilize his incredible gift of timing shots perfectly and swatting them into the first row, along with tremendous rebounding gifts especially on the offensive boards, Stansbury possesses the single most influential post presence in the country this year. Timing is the vital word here. You know coaches will look to immediately get Varnado in foul trouble early in the contest by having guards entice him in the air with pump fakes and draw fouls. With Varnado on the pine, the entire game changes. How Varnado continues to mature throughout his senior season, and how often he stays on the floor in important games, will tell plenty for how much success the Bulldogs have in their first season with definite expectations in years.
  • Chris Warren – Jr, G – Ole Miss. The Unhappy Triad.  It’s a term used by doctors to refer to three structures in the knee, specifically the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), MCL (medial collateral ligament), and the medial meniscus (part of the padding inside the knee).  And on December 18th of last year, a mere 11 games into his sophomore season, that’s exactly what Chris Warren injured while going for a layup against the then-9th-ranked Louisville Cardinals.  OK, he tore the first two, but only sprained the medial meniscus.  I’m still counting it.  But the term could also refer to Warren himself, along with the two other key Rebel components (Eniel Polynice and Trevor Gaskins) who had also gone down with knee injuries earlier in the season.  Warren had been putting together an excellent sophomore campaign, leading the SEC in minutes/game (around 34) and ranking 5th in the conference in scoring with 19.6 ppg.  On his own team, he trailed only David Huertas (20.6 ppg), who, around those days, must have been taking every step as carefully as someone walking through a minefield.  Now, Huertas is gone, having eschewed his senior year to go play pro ball in Puerto Rico and take workouts with NBA teams like the Atlanta Hawks.  This means Warren — knee now repaired — will be expected to assume not only the level of responsibility he was given last year before that unwanted early Christmas present, but also to take on the added task of helping compensate for Huertas’ lost production.  With what we’ve seen of Warren, though, we feel he’s got the killer instinct to make a run at it.  Mississippi was a team that was easy to forget about last year.  If you let Chris Warren slip your mind, get ready to reacquaint yourself.  If he stays healthy, he should bring a little happiness back to Oxford.
  • Tasmin Mitchell, Sr, F – LSU. It only seems like Tasmin Mitchell has been a good player at LSU since the 90s because, well, he sorta has been.  As a frosh, he was a key contributor (11/6/3 assts) on the Big Baby/Tyrus Thomas Final Four team.  During his sophomore year, he upped his numbers (15/6) to become the second-best player on a dreadful John Brady team, and he was set to become a team leader his junior year when he suffered a stress fracture in his left shin three games into the campaign.  Lucky for him, though, Trent Johnson took over the coaching reins for his redshirt junior season where he, along with guard Marcus Thornton, led the Bayou Bengals back from purgatory to become a first-team all-SEC forward and SEC regular season champs.  In 2008-09 it was clear that the year away from the game helped Mitchell, as his shot selection drastically improved (52% from the floor vs. his career 47%) and is illustrated beautifully by the fact that Mitchell took only nineteen threes all season (he took 229 in his first two full seasons).  By staying near the basket more, Mitchell’s rebounding also improved to the point where he was one of the top echelon of offensive rebounders in America last year.  He entertained the idea of leaving LSU for the pros after the season ended, but scout feedback told him to work on his overall perimeter game to play small forward at the next level.  LSU suffered significant personnel losses (five of their top seven players), so Mitchell and guard Bo Spencer will  get their chance to show their leadership and talents as Johnson begins to put his personal watermark on this program.  The SEC POY should be exceptional this year with Devan Downey at South Carolina, Jarvis Varnado at Miss St., Tyler Smith at Tennessee and Patrick Patterson/John Wall at Kentucky joining Mitchell vying for the honor.
  • Freddy Asprilla (MM) – Soph, C – Florida International Miami-Dade CC?.  We’ve heard it a million times:  you can’t teach size.  Freddy Asprilla is our mid-major Impact Player for this region not only because he’s someone we think will have a breakout year this season, but we feared for our lives if he found out that we didn’t give it to him.  Not only is the guy 6’10 and 280 pounds (!!), but he’s from freakin’ Bogota, Colombia, and they don’t exactly grow ’em meek down there.  This Seth Davis article tells a story about how Asprilla burned some bridges at Florida International, since he had asked for permission to transfer to a major program and was denied by new coach Isiah Thomas (what, you’ve heard of him?) and FIU athletic director Pete Garcia, even though other players have been granted transfers after Thomas’ hiring.  Why specifically deny Asprilla?  Because Asprilla is probably correct in assessing his own talent.  According to Davis’ piece, Asprilla was originally slated to attend Miami after graduating from high school, but had to go the prep-school route to get his academics in order, and then landed at FIU.  He was the Sun Belt’s Freshman of the Year last season, contributing 13.7 ppg and 9.2 rpg; he notched 12 double-doubles and — notable for his size and youth — only fouled out of one game all season.  So the guy HAS the game to play at a bigger program…but because he CAN, they won’t let him.  Yeesh.  Well, for now, we’ll assume he’ll be sticking around FIU and doing the best he can.  If so, we predict big things.  [UPDATE:  We’ve been informed that, as of a few weeks ago, Asprilla has left FIU and enrolled at Miami Dade College, hence the above strikethrough.  In terms of his basketball future, he’s said to be looking at Miami (FL), Marquette, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Memphis, and Hofstra.  Yes, Hofstra.  Details here.  We wish Freddy luck, wherever he lands.  For reasons outlined above, we’re sure haven’t seen the last of him. –RTC]

deep south impact

Honorable MentionSolomon Alabi, Florida St.  Corey Allmond, Sam Houston St.  Kenny Boynton, Florida.  Avery Bradley, Texas.  Zvonko Buljan, TCU.  Tweety Carter, Baylor.  Dwayne Collins, Miami (FL).  Randy Culpepper, UTEP.  Bryan Davis, Texas A&M.  Richard Delk, Troy.  LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor.  Kyle Gibson, Louisiana Tech.  Gus Gilchrist, S. Florida.  JaMychal Green, Alabama.  Jordan Hamilton, Texas.  Marquez Haynes, UT-Arlington.  Brandon Hazzard, Troy.  Darnell Hugee, Prairie View.  Troy Jackson, Alcorn St.  Dominique Jones, S. Florida.  Kelvin Lewis, Houston.  Grant Maxey, Jackson St.  Ashton Mitchell, Sam Houston St.  Arnett Moultrie, UTEP.  Kevin Palmer, TAMU-CC.  Dexter Pittman, Texas.  DeWayne Reed, Auburn.  Magnum Rolle, Louisiana Tech.  Mike Singletary, Texas Tech.  Chris Singleton, Florida St.  Donald Sloan, Texas A&M.  Ben Smith, Jacksonville.  Alex Tyus, Florida.  Terrico White, Ole Miss.  Jeremy Wise, Southern Miss.

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