With over 5,200 players slated to play collegiate basketball in Division I this season, there are talented players from coast to coast. Some of them are household names, while there are plenty of players who people haven’t heard of, but are demanding of your attention.
The majority of fans tend to focus on the power five conferences, turning a blind eye to the smaller programs. When you dig deeper, you’ll see that the non-power five schools have players who could just as easily play for a power conference program.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will be looking at non-power five players who are on the brink of becoming household names, as early as the 2016-2017 season. We’ve separated the lists between guards and forwards, and then again based on their year of eligibility.
Here are 10 non-power five sophomore forwards who will be household names in the very near future, plus 10 extras at the bottom to keep a flag on as their careers progress.
Derick Newton – Stetson Hatters
2015-16 Stats: 16.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.4 apg; 44.5% FG, 46.7% 3PT, 82.8% FT
Stetson forward Derick Newton is one of the more efficient forwards in the nation, yet there’s very little chatter surrounding the native of Beverly Hills, California.
At 6’7”, Newton can score from all over the floor. He finished his freshman campaign with a field goal percentage of 44.3%, a three point percentage of 46.7%, and a free throw percentage of 82.8%. Newton scored a team-high 16.3 points per contest, while pulling down 5.9 rebounds per contest.
He started all 34 games for the Hatters as a freshman, en route to being named the Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year. In Stetson’s run to the conference tournament finals, Newton averaged 25 points and 9.7 rebounds per contest, while shooting a combined 24-of-43 (55.8%).
With his ability to score from all areas on the floor, and his ever-improving impact on the glass on both ends of the court, Derick Newton is a name you won’t want to miss moving forwards.
Mike Daum – South Dakota State Jackrabbits
2015-16 Stats: 15.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 0.8 apg; 55.3% FG, 44.6% 3PT, 82.4% FT
Mike Daum led the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in 2015-16 as a freshman, helping them return to the NCAA Tournament as Summit League champions. To think the star forward only made two starts over the entire season is mind-boggling, especially when you look at the season he put together.
Daum was the top scorer and rebounder for the Jackrabbits last season, averaging 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest, while only averaging 20.8 minutes per contest. Due to his impressive season, Daum was named both the Summit League Freshman of the Year and 6th Man of the Year.
He played in all 34 games, but only made two starts over the season. Daum quickly established himself as one of the most effective players in the country, scoring in double-figures in the team’s final 21 games of the season (30 times overall). Like Newton, he can score from all over the floor, finishing the year shooting 55.3% from the floor and 44.6% from three point range.
Marcel Pettway – Bryant Bulldogs
2015-16 Stats: 11.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.1 spg; 59.7% FG, 49.4% FT
With Marcel Pettway in the front court, and Nisre Zouzoua running things on the back end, the future of Bryant basketball looks bright as can be. Both are among the top rising stars in the country, and have the Bulldogs trending upwards in the Northeast Conference.
Pettway didn’t get off to the strongest of starts as a freshman. He recorded just 12 points in 42 minutes of action over the course of the team’s first four games. As the season moved along, Pettway saw more playing time, and his production increased to 11.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game by year’s end, while shooting 59.7% from the floor.
He produced back-to-back 26-point efforts against the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils and the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights to open the 2016 calendar year, showing promise for the future.
At 6’8” and 250 pounds, Pettway is a big body in the paint who can stand his ground and withstand contact from opposing forwards. He also possesses a nice scoring touch, as he scored in double-figures in six of the last eight games of the year, including the last four in a row.
Dikembe Dixson – Illinois-Chicago Flames
2015-16 Stats: 19.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.2 spg; 36.9% FG, 30.4% 3PT
Dikembe Dixson is the highest scoring freshman forward on the list, and he made a continual statement all throughout his first year with the Flames.
He was the unanimous Horizon League Freshman of the Year after averaging 19.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 36.9% from the field and 30.4% from three point range. Dixson set the Horizon League record for most points as a freshman with 594.
Dixson was one of just two players to start all 30 games for the Flames. On a national scale, he was the only player in the NCAA to post a 40-point, 15-rebound game. Dixson recorded 40 points and 17 rebounds in a double-overtime loss against the Youngstown State Penguins on February 16th.
To top things off, he played all 50 minutes of the game.
Derrick Griffin – Texas Southern Tigers
2015-16 Stats: 13.3 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 2.3 bpg; 66.0% FG (3rd in Nation)
It’s rare to hear of a player who could very well be drafted in two separate sports when they’re only a freshman, but that’s where Derrick Griffin finds himself.
The two-sport star excels at both football and basketball for the Texas Southern Tigers, and has big aspirations for both sports. A time will come when he will ultimately have to pick one over the other, which is a true shame, as he possesses otherworldly talents in both.
On the hardwood, Griffin averaged 13.3 points and 11.1 rebounds per contest as a freshman, while shooting 66.0% from the floor. His field goal percentage was the third-best mark in the country, trailing only Evan Bradds and Venky Jois. Oh, and he missed the first six games of the season due to playing football for the Tigers.
Despite missing six games, Griffin took home a plethora of hardware in basketball, including SWAC Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, and was named to the All-SWAC First Team.
Griffin possesses freakish athletic ability that makes him a nightmare on both ends of the floor. He recorded 17 double-doubles as a freshman, and had 23 games where he shot 50% or better from the field, including three games where he put together a perfect shooting night.
Jordon Varnado – Troy Trojans
2015-16 Stats: 13.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.2 bpg; 48.5% FG, 31.8% 3PT
As a freshman, Jordon Varnado wasted little time making an impact, and asserting himself as one of the NCAA’s top up-and-coming forwards.
He scored at least 20 points in each of his first three games, a stretch that included two double-doubles (21 points and 11 rebounds; 26 points and 10 rebounds). Varnado would go on and finish the season with an average of 13.2 points, which was good for the second-best mark on the team, and 6.9 rebounds per game.
Varnado also made 30 starts as a first-year player.
Success in basketball runs in the Varnado family. Jordon’s brother Jarvis, who was a standout for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, currently holds the NCAA record for most blocked shots in a career, with 564. While Jordon isn’t as big of an impact player in terms of shot blocking, he can shoot the ball with consistency from all over the floor, and is strong on the glass on both ends of the court.
With the success running in his bloodline, Varnado looks destined for success, much like his brother.
Evan Boudreaux – Dartmouth Big Green
2015-16 Stats: 17.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.1 apg; 45.5% FG, 40.6% 3PT, 82.8% FT
The future of the Ivy League is very, very bright, as there are talented players all across the eight-team league. One of the brightest stars is forward Evan Boudreaux, who is coming off a stellar freshman campaign, and is looking to take a bigger step in 2016-17.
Boudreaux took home the award for Ivy League Freshman of the Year after tallying 17.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per contest, while shooting 45.5% from the field, 40.6% from three point range, and 82.8% from the free throw line. His ability to score from anywhere on the floor makes him a threat each time he has the ball in his hands. Add in his basketball IQ and court vision, and his game goes to another level.
In his first game with Dartmouth, Boudreaux scored 25 points, on the road against the Seton Hall Pirates, no less. He would go on to start all 27 games on the year, recording 10 double-doubles in the process.
Eli Pepper – Lipscomb Bisons
2015-16 Stats: 7.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.6 apg; 51.5% FG, 29.3% 3PT, 54.1% FT
Like the current situation at Bryant, the future is very bright for the Lipscomb Bisons, as forward Eli Pepper and guard Garrison Mathews are both only sophomores in 2016-17. Both were named to the Atlantic Sun All-Freshman team in 2015-16.
While Pepper’s stat line won’t jump off the page and catch your eye right away, he has the potential to become a double-double threat each time he steps on the floor. He opened his collegiate career with three straight games with double-digit rebounds. On January 9th, Pepper showed what the future could hold for him, as he put up 22 points and pulled down 17 rebounds in the Bisons’ game against the Kennesaw State Owls.
In just 23.1 minutes per game, the 6’8” forward showed that he has an offensive game that is ever-improving. Pepper shot over 51% from the floor as a freshman, and showed flashes of being able to hit shots from beyond the arc (29.3%).
If he can develop a consistent jumper, as well as work on his footwork in the paint, averaging 12 points and 8 rebounds a game isn’t a stretch by any means for his sophomore season. He has successfully increased his vertical jump using the Vert Shock program, and as Pepper continues to develop, both physically and mentally, he has the potential to become one of the top players in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Jarrell Brantley – College of Charleston Cougars
2015-16 Stats: 11.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.3 spg; 46.0% FG, 33.3% 3PT
While Jarrell Brantley came out of the gate a little slow to start his collegiate career, in terms of production, he kicked things into another gear once conference play started.
It was December 31st when Brantley became a front-runner for the CAA Freshman of the Year award, which he ultimately took home at year’s end. Against the James Madison Dukes, Brantley recorded a season-high 29 points, while shooting 13-of-14 from the field.
Despite only recording five double-doubles on the season, he developed into a consistent scorer as the season wound down. Brantley recorded double-figures in 13 straight games to end the year, pushing his average to 11.6 points per contest.
Brantley possesses a high basketball IQ and a great feel for the game on both ends of the floor. He has the size and strength to battle in the paint, which allows him to be physical on offense and battle for rebounds on both ends. Brantley has the shooting ability to spread out the offense if need be, adding another element to his game.
James Thompson IV – Eastern Michigan Eagles
2015-16 Stats: 14.8 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.4 bpg; 64.5% FG, 68.5% FT
James Thompson IV is one of the top forwards in the country, and he’s only entering his second season with the Eastern Michigan Eagles.
At 6’10” and 220 pounds, Thompson is a big body in the paint that is tough to move away from the basket on both ends of the floor. He uses his size to his advantage, whether it’s to pull down rebounds or block shots on defense, or to get to the rim and finish in contact on the other end.
Thompson finished the year averaging a double-double of 14.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, to go along with 1.6 blocks per contest. On the year, he finished with 19 double-double performances.
He is highly effective from the field, shooting 64.5% from the floor, which was good for the 8th-best mark in the NCAA. Look for Thompson to have another stellar season for the Eagles, as he continues his development into one of the nation’s premier big men.
Ten More to Keep an Eye On:
Cameron Oliver – Nevada Wolfpack
Ed Polite, Jr. – Radford Highlanders
Mike Holloway – Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
Devine Eke – Maine Black Bears
Josh Nzeakor – Lamar Cardinals
Nick Mayo – Eastern Kentucky Colonels
Obediah Church – Missouri State Bears
Matt Rafferty – Furman Paladins
George Blagojevic – Hartford Hawks
Drew McDonald – Northern Kentucky Norse