CoBL Staff (@hooplove215)
College basketball’s 2017-18 season is just six weeks away.
The countdown is officially on.
Today -- Friday, Sep. 29 for those unaware -- is the start of the 42-day window during which Division I college programs can hold their preseason practices, the beginning of the grind that is the college hoops season. And though this season begins under the shadow of an FBI investigation that has consumed the basketball world this week, life goes on as usual for the local squads.
As has become site tradition, the first day of practices means CoBL releases its Preseason City 6 Awards, our attempt to predict who’s about to enjoy a year to remember.
Without further ado...
Jalen Brunson (above) is the CoBL staff's choice for CIty 6 Preseason Player of the Year. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Preseason All-City 6 First Team
*Jalen Brunson (Jr./Villanova)
In his first two seasons on the Main Line, all Brunson has done is score over 900 points (12.0/game), dish out 248 assists (3.3/game) and shoot 50 percent from the floor, first as Ryan Arcidiacono’s understudy and then as the full-time floor general last season. Now, with Josh Hart in the NBA, Brunson will assume the role of not just primary ball-handler but primary offensive option for Jay Wright’s attack, and though he’s got plenty of help, this very well could be the breakout year for the Chicago native and son of former Temple star Rick Brunson.
What remains to be seen with Brunson is if he can handle being the go-to creator at the level like Hart was the last two years. Brunson averaged more in the scoring column as a sophomore (14.7 ppg) than Hart did (10.1 ppg), though it remains to be seen if he’ll ever score as much as Hart did as a senior (18.1 ppg), as he just might not need to. If Villanova can find a way to win its fifth straight Big East title, it’ll likely be on the back of this guard. And that’s why he’s our pick for Preseason City 6 Player of the Year.
Mikal Bridges (R-Jr./Villanova)
Speaking of breakout candidates, it’s about time that the pride of Great Valley High School rises to the ‘star’ category, and we think this is the year. Bridges is a freak athlete at 6-7 with easily a 7-0 wingspan, capable of playing the ‘2’ through ‘4’ in Wright’s system, though he’s really most comfortable at the ‘3’. He greatly improved his 3-point shooting from freshman year (.299) to sophomore (.393), his averages of 9.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.7 spg and 0.9 bpg last season proof of his all-around impact. Bridges’ versatility will make it tough for Wright to take him off the court, and if he starts creating his own shot off the bounce, his NBA stock will soar.
A.J. Brodeur (Soph./Penn)
Brodeur didn’t waste time becoming Penn’s go-to guy last season. The Northborough, Mass. recruit went for 23 points and 11 boards in his first-ever college game. From there, he went on to lead the Quakers in points (13.8 ppg), rebounds (6.9 rpg), blocks (2.4 bpg), and 3-point shooting (.421 3PT%) last season, coming second in assists as well (1.9 apg) -- all of this as the team’s starting center. And, with a year now under his belt and second-leading scorer Matt Howard graduated, Brodeur is sure to command even more touches as a sophomore. Having worked on his perimeter game on both ends of the floor this offseason, the 6-8 big man’s already efficient scoring (.526 FG%) could reach new heights as he transitions to playing the ‘4’ more often this coming season.
St. Joe's sophomore Charlie Brown (above) is one of the top NBA prospects in the City 6. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Charlie Brown (Soph./St. Joe’s)
It’s amazing to think that less than three years ago, Brown was almost a complete unknown in the city -- and now he’s about to become one of Philly’s college hoops stars. After graduating from George Washington HS in 2015, Brown did a prep year at St. Thomas More (Conn.), and arrived on Hawk Hill a 6-6 shooting guard with blooming confidence. As a freshman, Brown averaged 12.8 ppg on a very respectable 38.4 percent 3-point shooting, adding in 5.0 rpg as well. He’s got to improve his overall shot selection, as he made just 37.5 percent overall from the floor, and get his assist numbers up (1.1 apg last year), but the sky is the limit.
B.J. Johnson (R-Sr./La Salle)
After spending his first two years at Syracuse as an infrequently-used reserve and then waiting out a transfer year at La Salle, Johnson made up for a lot of lost time last season. The 6-7 wing out of Lower Merion dropped 23 points in the season opener at Temple and didn’t stop hitting shots all season long, averaging 17.6 ppg and 6.3 rpg for the Explorers while shooting 44.9 percent overall and 36.2 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. Now that Jordan Price and his 1,600+ points are gone, Johnson should shoulder an even bigger load in his final collegiate season.
Shavar Newkirk (Sr./St. Joe’s)
Newkirk’s place on this list was one of the most hotly-debated amongst the CoBL staff. His numbers last season (20.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.5 apg) had him on the short list for City 6 Player of the Year, before a torn ACL suffered in last December ended his season prematurely. If the 6-0 guard from the Bronx is able to get back to that form and put up those sorts of numbers, he’s a near-lock for All-City 6 First Team honors, but that’s no guarantee.
Temple junior Shizz Alston Jr. (above) is one of three Owls on the City 6 Preseason Second Team. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Shizz Alston Jr. (Jr./Temple)
Stepping right into major minutes as a sophomore after an ever-diminishing role as a freshman, Alston Jr. put together a very solid campaign: 13.9 ppg, 4.1 apg and 3.6 rpg, with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.7:1. It’ll be interesting to see how his exact role changes with one of his teammates returning from injury -- we’ll get to that in a second -- but it could even help Alston’s numbers having more talent around him.
Josh Brown (R-Sr./Temple)
The Owls’ fifth-year point guard attempted to come back from an Achilles injury too soon last year, playing five games before electing to take a redshirt instead. His last healthy year, as a junior in 2015-16, he averaged 8.3 ppg, 4.9 apg and 4.8 rpg; not the type to blow you away with scoring numbers but incredibly steady on-ball presence (career 1.7 turnovers/40 minutes) and strong defense make him invaluable to his team’s success.
Donte DiVincenzo (R-Soph/Villanova)
Are we basing this solely on a two-game NCAA tournament stretch that saw the 6-4 Delaware native chip in 36 points, 19 rebounds, four assists and four steals while hitting 6-of-8 from 3-point range? Not entirely. A bouncy combo guard with game and confidence to match, the pride of Salesianum is ready to step into the spotlight with Hart gone.
Obi Enechionyia (Sr./Temple)
The third member of the Owls on our second team is an interesting case. When Enechionyia is playing to his potential, he’s arguably the best player in the city, as the 6-8 forward showed when he averaged 18.6 ppg and 7.7 rpg while shooting .492 3PT over Temple’s first 10 games last year. The next 18, however, were a different story: 9.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, .303 3PT%. Which Enechionyia shows up as a senior?
Kurk Lee Jr. (Soph./Drexel)
After three seasons of starting freshmen at the point guard position, it looks like the Dragons have finally found their man in Lee. The Baltimore product came right in last season and shattered Drexel’s rookie scoring and assist records, putting up a first-year stat line of 14.9 ppg, 5.0 apg, 3.9 rpg, and 1.6 spg and emerging as one of the CAA’s top guards. The presence of some now-eligible transfer arrivals might lessen his scoring load, but his importance to Drexel’s success won’t lessen.
Pookie Powell (R-Jr./La Salle)
Powell’s 27-point showing against Villanova was the standout event of his productive first season at La Salle, but it wasn’t a stand-alone event; the Memphis transfer notched double-digit points in 17 of his 24 games and finished third on the Explorers with 13.7 ppg. Formerly a four-star prospect out of Orlando, Powell is an immensely talented guard with a versatile set of skills, as exhibited by his 4.5 rpg and 3.1 apg last season, and playing in a less crowded offense this year, he could be in for a career campaign.
Ryan Betley (Soph./Penn)
James Demery (Sr./St. Joe’s)
Lamarr Kimble (Jr./St. Joe’s)
Omari Spellman (R-Fr./Villanova)
Quinton Rose (Soph./Temple)
Amar Stukes (R-Sr./La Salle)
Others to Watch: Phil Booth (R-Jr./Villanova), Troy Harper (R-Jr./Drexel), Tramaine Isabell (R-Jr./Drexel), Kari Jonsson (Soph./Drexel), Pierfrancesco Oliva (R-Soph./St. Joe’s), Tony Washington (R-Sr./La Salle), Austin Williams (Sr./Drexel), Antonio Woods (Jr./Penn)
Preseason Rookie of the Year
Omari Spellman (PF/Villanova)
After more than a year of waiting, the Wildcat program -- and the rest of Nova Nation -- is itching to see Spellman take the floor. A top-20 recruit in 2016, the five-star big man was ruled ineligible last year due to a technicality in his high school academic credits all stemming from a transfer during his freshman year in high school. Now that he’s all cleared, the 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward/center will bring an impressive skillset to the Villanova post, giving them an offensive threat down low they haven’t had in potentially quite a long time. Blessed with terrific hands and footwork, Spellman has range out to the 3-point arc but is at his most effective from 15 feet and closer, and he’s a vacuum on the boards as well.
Others to Watch
Anthony Longpré (F/Saint Joseph’s)
Solid-bodied 6-9 stretch-’4’ was on Canadian team that won FIBA U19 championship in July
Jamir Moultrie (G/La Salle)
Talented scoring guard who will need to carve out a role in deep Explorers backcourt
Timmy Perry Jr. (C/Drexel)
Son of former Temple star matured nicely in prep year at Phelps; rim-running shot blocker
Jarrod Simmons (PF/Penn)
Athletic 6-8 forward will pair up with Brodeur to make a formidable duo up front for Quakers.
Eddie Scott (SF/Penn)
Versatile 6-5 wing can play ‘2’ through ‘4’, could fill Matt Howard’s role in Penn’s system