Appreciation For The Departing Seniors

Posted by zhayes9 on May 7th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a regular RTC writer and resident bracketologist. You can follow his sports-related thoughts at Twitter.

Too often during the month-long period between the Final Four and the early entry deadline of the NBA Draft, the media, hoops blogs and talking heads only focus on the underclassmen that have put their name in the hat. Was it the correct decision? Should he come back to school instead? Did that player sign with an agent? These questions should be forwarded and debated, but it seems a distinguished group of players are left out of the national dialogue during this time: college seniors.

While most drafted seniors are plucked closer to the end of the second round than the lottery (there’s a reason they stayed in school four years, let’s face it) it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be celebrated and acknowledged. There’s an extensive list of four-year college players that have made a memorable impact for the Association. Thus, this article will be devoted entirely to those that battled on the college hardwood for four years, examining their impact on the collegiate game during their long stay and determining how they can have a lasting influence at the next level.

Damion James (Texas)– I wouldn’t rule out another senior sneaking into the first round, but it’s looking likely that James is the lone four-year player to be picked in the top-30. A unanimous selection to the All-Big 12 first team, James averaged a double-double during Texas’ disappointing campaign and passed Nick Collison’s conference record for rebounding. NBA scouts will drool over James’ ferocity in the glass and his superb athleticism. He also features an unblockable mid-range jumper that’s improved in accuracy over his development from a dependable role player to a superstar in one of college basketball’s most premier conferences. While James may not have a defined position at the moment, he will likely build a lengthy NBA career just based on his drive, athleticism, explosiveness, innate rebounding ability and mid-range jumper. James suited up in burnt orange with everyone from D.J. Augustin to Avery Bradley and his name should be lifted to the rafters at the Frank Erwin Center.

Quincy Pondexter (Washington)– Displaying awe-inspiring glimpses of potential throughout his first three seasons in Seattle, Pondexter finally molded into the player that every Washington fan so desperately wanted during his senior campaign. Bumping his scoring average over seven points per contest, Pondexter led his Huskies out of the Pac-10 abyss and into the Sweet 16. Pondexter’s consistency- a constant battle that eventually turned into a strength- was never more evident than during Washington’s Pac-10 Tournament final win over California and first and second round triumphs over Marquette and New Mexico. Pondexter poured in a steady 18 points in each contest and shot a clip under 50%, even notching a key offensive rebound and extending his season two days more with a short bank shot that sent the Huskies to the second round. There’s little doubt in my mind Pondexter will continue to harness that natural talent at the next level. His extensive wingspan, ability to score in transition and comfort with defending multiple positions provide just a glance into Pondexter’s value.

Stanley Robinson (Connecticut)– Robinson shone the brightest during UConn’s Final Four run two years ago, shedding the enigma label (at least for three weeks) and averaging 15/8 until his Huskies fell to Michigan State in the national semifinal. Robinson possesses the raw skill set for a first round pick- tremendous leaping ability, elite length and a mid-range jumper that’s still improving. But the intangibles and consistency are not always evident and Robinson will likely slip towards the middle of the second round. Still, should an NBA executive discover the tape of Robinson shredding the soft Notre Dame defense for 22/16 in early January, it may be too enticing to pass on his pure potential. Should he figure it out and bring that constant intensity for an 82-game stretch, “Stix” is certainly a candidate to be the steal of the entire Draft.

Greivis Vasquez (Maryland)– The most polarizing player in college basketball was also the most exciting to follow on a regular basis during his four-year stint at College Park. Rather than dwell on his antics, it’s only proper to commend Vasquez for refining and improving his game tremendously over this time. Once a turnover machine with limited range on his jumper and below-average defense, Vasquez lowered his giveaways by 1.6 per game from his sophomore to junior seasons, improved from 31% to 36% from deep over his four years and showed just as much ferocity on the defensive end by the time his distinguished Maryland career came to a close. Had it not been for Korie Lucious finding the bottom of the net on a buzzer-beating three, Vasquez’ leaner to give the Terrapins a lead in their second round duel with Michigan State could have gone down in college basketball lore. Even though his prior shot may ultimately be forgotten, Vasquez’ passion for the college game, even if you root for a team in Durham or Winston-Salem, was something truly appreciated by those that love our sport. He’ll surely find a spot as a scoring sparkplug off the bench in the NBA.

Jarvis Varnado (Mississippi State)– You probably don’t want to enter the paint when Jarvis Varnado is patrolling. The college game has never seen a shot blocker extraordinaire quite like this 6’9 senior from Starkville, a human eraser in the post that would single-handedly swing games defensively. He averaged right around an otherworldly 4.7 BPG during his final three seasons at Mississippi State, winning the defensive player of the year award during his senior season. I realize he’s slipping to the second round because of a lack of strength and less-than-stellar offensive repertoire, but a facet like shot-blocking ability translates well from college to the NBA and Varnado alters games at that end of the floor. As someone that equally appreciates effort on the defensive end of the floor, Varnado has been an absolute pleasure to watch develop and grow on the college hardwood.

Jon Scheyer (Duke)– Admittedly, it will be a tougher challenge for Scheyer to maintain a long career in the NBA compared to most others on this list. He could be plucked at the end of the second round by a team that values his efficiency, toughness and propensity to make his teammates better. Plus, four years under the tutelage of Coach K doesn’t hurt. Still, his lack of a defined position at the next level will be an anchor on his career; he’s too slow to guard quick NBA points and not strong enough to handle shooting guards. This doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate Scheyer’s outstanding four-year career at Duke. He ended said career at the top of the mountain largely due to a move to point guard after Elliot Williams transferred to Memphis and Nolan Smith was more suited to play off the ball. Scheyer responded with a 2.98 A/T ratio, 18.2 PPG, a 38% 3pt% for the third straight season and notched 43 points combined in Duke’s regional final and national semifinal victories.

Luke Harangody (Notre Dame)– The only player in Big East history to lead the famed league in points and rebounds in consecutive seasons, Harangody enters the NBA Draft as a definite question mark at the next level. The same hindrances with Scheyer fall upon Harangody: lack of athleticism, lack of a defined position, lack of explosiveness. One thing is for certain, though: Nobody will work harder than Harangody. His effort on the floor is contagious, he’s as tough of a competitor as any scout will find and there’s little doubt Harangody can contribute in spurts at the next level. Quietly one of the most productive players in the history of college basketball, Harangody unfortunately suffered a late-season injury that left him hobbled through the Irish late-season run to the NCAA Tournament. That’s not what I’ll remember about the burly Indiana forward, though. His unwavering devotion, intensity and leadership lifted Notre Dame’s program for four years, leaving more than one Harangody floor burn on the floor of the Joyce Center.

Trevor Booker (Clemson)– Although one doesn’t have much choice in Oliver Purnell’s pressure-packed Clemson attack, Booker’s effort mirrors Harangody in its tenacity. Booker’s career at Clemson was one of the best in the program’s history, a double-digit scorer all four years who never shot under 50% from the field or averaged less than six rebounds per game. What could hold Trevor back is a somewhat disappointing senior campaign in which his numbers dipped, likely resulting from the pressure he carried on his shoulders every game to carry a lackluster supporting cast. Booker may be undersized, but those types can survive at the next level with his offensive repertoire- a force on the offensive glass, an exceptional finisher at the rim and a solid mid-range jumper he flashes at opportune times. Booker was annually one of the most underrated and underappreciated players in college basketball. It seems like the same situation for Booker heading into the NBA Draft.

Sherron Collins (Kansas)– He’ll be remembered for the pass, even if Collins didn’t necessarily want it that way. Yes, the stumbling handoff to Mario Chalmers at the end of his sophomore championship winning season that resulted in a game-tying three and one of the most famous shots in hoops history. Collins will forever be remembered as the messenger. What the 5’11 Chicago point guard would have wanted was to depart Lawrence with a shining moment that usurped the Taylor pass and ended his senior season on the highest note possible. But a Cinderella named Northern Iowa stood in the way. I guess Collins will have to settle for orchestrating the most dominant team in college hoops last season, overcoming some adversity early in his Jayhawk career to become one of the most beloved Kansas players ever to step on the Allen Fieldhouse hardwood. His ball-handling skills, body control and scoring prowess should at least give Sherron a chance of catching on with an NBA team for the long term.

Scottie Reynolds (Villanova)– From the moment Scottie Reynolds stepped off the Main Line, he was a star, one of the most recognizable players in the Big East and a constant at the point for Jay Wright. Four years later, Reynolds finished his career as the school’s second all-time leading scorer, sixth all-time in assists and an easy First Team All-America selection. Tied with former teammate Dante Cunningham for the most games played at Villanova, Reynolds had more than a fair share of clutch moments and delirium-inducing shots during his career. So what if he’s the most likely player on this list to end up making his living in Europe? We college basketball fans will always remember Scottie as being a mainstay on our televisions every wintry Saturday the last four years.

Apologies to Omar Samhan (St. Mary’s), Lazar Hayward (Marquette), Matt Bouldin (Gonzaga), Denis Clemente (Kansas State), Dexter Pittman (Texas) and other seniors. Thanks for the memories.

zhayes9 (301 Posts)

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One response to “Appreciation For The Departing Seniors”

  1. Brian says:

    It’s good to see some recognition of the four year players, something that’s such a rarity these days it seems. Guys like Scottie Reynolds, Jon Scheyer and Tyler Hansbrough, from last year’s class, give us yet another reason to watch and love college basketball.

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