Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Augusta University, Butler's Don Coleman, Ricky Moore and Georgia's 2016 boys POY Gilbert all factor into CBS's College Preseason Top 25

The first college hoops preseason news is coming out, and of course the first few slots of the CBS preseason top 25 looks familiar:


As is usual now, during the preseason the one-and-done's are expected to lead the blue bloods to Phoenix, the site of the 2017 Final Four. There will be constant attention paid to college basketball's constant contenders. But the ranked teams of the most interest to me are #19 UConn, #22 California, and CBS's "And one" team, Wichita State.

Augusta U's trip to a bastion of college hoops history

Wichita State has been riding higher than it ever has in its over 110 years of college hoops history. Gregg Marshall is the winningest coach since the early 1930's for a program that has played in 13 NCAA tournaments, made the Final Four twice, the Elite 8 four times, and the Sweet Sixteen six times. Two years removed from a trip to the Final Four, and one season removed from a 35-1 record (including a 35-0 start), the Shockers' head coach is aiming for his eighth straight 20 plus win season.

The Shockers' November 4 exhibition game opener pits Marshall against friend (and former player at Belmont Abbey when Marshall was an assistant there) Dip Metress, who has been busy building his own juggernaut at Augusta University. In his twelve seasons, Metress has amassed over 400 wins, a 73% winning percentage that almost identically matches Marshall's at Wichita State, and three consecutive NCAA Division II tournament Elite 8 finishes, including a national runner up in 2008.

But as impressive as the coaches' records of success are, the main attraction, as always, will be the players. And there is no more exciting and effective college player within driving distance of here than Augusta's senior Keshun Sherrill. I'm determined not to miss a second of the final season of Augusta's "all-everything" dynamo. (During his first three seasons the 5'9" point guard from Cleveland, North Carolina, has been named All-Conference by the Peach Belt Conference and All-Region, All-District, and All-American by the NABC).

Meanwhile, the lingering question for Wichita State is how fast the team will recover from the loss of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. The Shockers won 83% of their games during that dynamic duo's four years of action. But the home team is unlikely to be without the 10,000 plus loyal fans at Charles Koch Arena. Wichita State's home games recorded an average paid attendance of 10,805 last season, the 37th highest figure in the country.

Besides the three trips to DII NCAA tournament Elite 8 round in Massachusetts last decade, the trip to Wichita will be the most unique and exciting event in the past 25 years for our Jaguars. I will be there so AugBball can bring Jags fans all the news and highlights from a home of college basketball.

Will UConn's Georgia Connection bring success once again?

The last time UConn picked up a highly regarded point guard from the Peach State things began, and ended, very well. Westside High School graduate Ricky Moore, who is now an assistant on coach Kevin Ollie's staff, burst on the scene in Storrs as a freshman in 1995, shocking Georgetown's Allen Iverson by scoring 14 points on 6 of 12 shooting while holding "The Answer" to 13 points on 4 of 15 shooting in Connecticut's Big East championship game win at Madison Square Garden.

Moore was a three time co-captain at UConn, winning 83% of his games. During his four seasons, the Huskies won 3 Big East regular season titles, 3 conference tournament championships, and a national championship in his final game as a senior. Ricky's "shining moment" in the NCAA championship win over Duke (whose starting point guard was Moore's Westside teammate Will Avery) included a 13 point first half and a complete locking down of Blue Devil sharp shooter Trajan Langdon during the second half.

This season's squad, ranked 19th in the CBS poll, will aim for the school's fifth national title in the past two decades. The Huskies will gain the services of a point guard from the Peach State whose resume and reputation reminds me of Ricky's. Alterique Gilbert of Miller Grove High School in Atlanta, who ESPN ranked the class of 2016's 30th best player, is an explosive scorer who combines exceptional athleticism with a smooth stroke and a tight handle. And like Moore, he only knows winning.

With Gilbert leading the charge, Miller Grove won 3 state titles and nearly earned a national championship last season, losing 47-46 to Oak Hill in the semifinals of the Dick's Sporting Goods High School Nationals, an astonishing feat considering such tournaments are usually populated with "national" programs. Unlike the Oak Hills and Findley Preps (which Miller Grove eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Dick's tournament) that are regulars at the top of the national rankings, Miller Grove is an old fashioned public school, much like Westside High School of Augusta, which Ricky led to a 33-1 record, a state title, and a #9 final national ranking by USA Today in 1995.

I'll be watching to see if UConn's latest Georgia wonder can help the Huskies win their latest national championship during the next few years.

Cal's Coleman continues to prove me wrong 

This report from the first practices of #22 California University mentions three Bear point guards, two seniors and a freshman who was named Mr. Basketball in Illinois last season. So I'm tempted to conclude that our area's representative on the Bears' roster, sophomore scoring sensation Don Coleman, may spend a considerable portion of his first season watching from the bench. But as soon as that thought surfaces, I remember that Butler High School's all time leading scorer has the trait that certain highly successful people possess, the one that turns criticism into fuel for achieving something so impressive he can throw it back into the face of the guy who dared doubt him. So I'll tell of the three times I doubted Don, and how he has proven me wrong each time.

Don Coleman, Butler's all-time scoring
leader, is a sophomore at Cal.
But first here is some background information about what Coleman has been up to since graduating from Butler in the spring of 2015. After being released from commitment to Florida Atlantic University weeks before his high school graduation, Don "started over" and headed instead to Lawson State, a junior college in Alabama. There he earned All-League honors, averaging 20 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds while shooting 48% from the field and 43% from the three line. Less than 12 months after changing his initial college plans, he signed with California and reported to Berkeley in June.

The first time Don Coleman proved me wrong

During the early part of his senior season at Butler, I shared in Coleman's "AugBball Timeline," which tracked my perspective of his growth as a player during his high school years, that after first watching him as an eighth grader alongside eventual fellow college ballers Reggie Reid (Harlem-Florida Gulf Coast); Jashawn Brooks (Laney-Augusta University); and AJ Gray (Washington County-Georgia Tech football), I wouldn't have expected Coleman to eventually become the top player in their graduating class of 2015. That was a fun post to write because in the winter of 2015, Don was riding high. He was about to set a school scoring record. His region battles with Laney, Josey, Washington County, and Glenn Hills were fast becoming must see events.

And as a senior he had proven me wrong by becoming our area's best player. I gladly said so because I love to be wrong when it is because somebody is doing better than I had envisioned. Don had signed a national letter of intent to play ball at Florida Atlantic for coach Mike Curry, Augusta's most accomplished basketball figure. It seemed to me he was in a remarkably comfortable position.

The second time Don Coleman proved me wrong

Sure, he wasn't headed to the ACC like Ahmed Hill (class of 2014) of Aquinas, who was playing his freshman season at Virginia Tech. And he wasn't going to a Big 12 school like Oklahoma, the team for which Frank Booker (class of 2013) of Westside was soon to nail 4 threes to help the Sooners top Dayton to advance to the sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament. But I thought Don was a slight step behind Hill and Booker, guys I'd watched pour in similar loads of points as their younger counterpart from Butler, but who also stand 6'4" compared to Coleman's 6'1" or so at the time. But the objective evidence, including his stellar freshman campaign and his earning a spot on a preseason top 25 team from the Pac 10, proves that mentally placing Don behind the two other area players who have recently gone on to play on major college teams was another mistake on my part.

The third time Don Coleman proved me wrong

In that 2014 "timeline" post, I promised not to doubt Coleman again. But after he decommitted from Florida Atlantic I was worried about him. I believed he wasn't going to be able to get another opportunity as good as the one he'd just missed. Now he is beginning the first of three seasons at Cal, the nation's preseason #22 team, marking the third time he has proven me wrong. And for the third time, I'm happy about that.

Stay tuned for more previews of the coming college, NBA, and high school seasons. And follow AugBball on social media:

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