Players to Watch in 2008-09: Big 12

Two years – two players of the year – two number two NBA draft picks.

There is no question the Big 12 has some of the best talent in the country and the last two years has driven the point home even more. While Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant took over college basketball for just a little while, other players have quietly made clutch plays, made All Big 12 teams, and won national championships.

With no freshmen drawing the attention as the two fore mentioned, the emphasis this season, will be on team and experience. Here is a look at some of those players that have been around while and are this season players to watch.

Damion James, Jr. Forward Texas
There is just something I like about the way he plays. James is athletic and willing to do what his teams asks of him. Having played power forward when Durant stopped by, James is now living and loving at the small forward spot. But James is not your typical three. Not only did he averaged a double-double, 13.2 ppg and 10.3 rpg and but he gives the Longhorns easy buckets on lob passes and put backs and has a reliable jumper out to 15 feet. Look for him to increase his productions as the inside option to A.J. Abrams outside.

A.J. Abrams, Sr. Guard Texas
Welcome back Mr. Abrams, the Longhorn fans are rejoicing! I don’t think there is a player who will benefit more from staying in college, more than Abrams. While he is an outstanding scorer, Abrams can use this year to solidify his ball handling skills. Shooting guard is his natural – and best position – but if he is truly looking to play in the league, he must show he can handle the ball in pressure and find open players. Abrams showed he is more than just a three point shooter, shooting 42 percent from the field and averaging 16.5 ppg. The Longhorns are going to expect even more from him this season, and so will the NBA scouts.

Sherron Collins, Jr. Guard Kansas
Can you say – “Now is your time to shine?” After taking the last two seasons to perfect his roles as “instant offense” and “sparkplug off the bench”, Collins will be the Jayhawks team leader this season. He has the ability to play at a pace many cannot, but I believe his weight could play an issue. Having played 24 minutes a game last season, Collins will need to be on the court more for Kansas to win and losing the extra pounds would help.

Byron Eaton, Sr. Guard Oklahoma State
There are many similarities between Collins and Eaton. Like Collins, he is quicker than quick, his team’s success now depends on how he plays, and his weight has been an issue. But this season, with Travis Ford’s new up-tempo offense, you should Eaton at his lightest and best. Last season Eaton 11.5 ppg and 3.5 apg, but in a five game stretch he averaged 20.6 ppg, and they won all five games. And he made one the most incredible shots in the history of basketball in one of the greatest college games I have ever seen. Go to Youtube and type in Byron Eaton, crazy.

Josh Carter, Sr. Guard Texas A&M
After testing the draft waters and deciding they were a little too cold, Carter comes back to the heat of Texas to improve his stock. After leading the nation in three point percentage as a sophomore, Carter’s percentage slipped last season. Going into his last season, he will be more of a focus on offense and he might not again return to the percent he shot two seasons ago. At 6’7”, if he can show he is capable of consistently scoring in a verity of ways and improve his passing skills, Carter will be drafted in June.

Curtis Jerrells, Sr. Guard Baylor
Talented Guards are aplenty in the Big 12 and Jerrells is arguably the best. He finished last season second in the conference in scoring at 15.3 ppg and first in assists with 3.8 apg. He is most dangerous behind the arc but if he could improve his percentage by even two points, he would easily average over twenty points per game. Jerrells is quick, handles the ball very well, and is an improving passer. Even though he is a shot first guard, the Bears would like his assists numbers should go up because there are other options on this team.

Blake Griffin, So. Forward Oklahoma
So there is a guy named Griffin in Oklahoma that is really good and is going to be the first overall drafts pick next June. Nope not Taylor – he is pretty good too – but I am talking about Blake. Everyone knows what Blake can do, but this year he will be better, stronger, and healthier than last season. There is not a more dominate force in all of college basketball and at 6’10” and with a 37 inch vertical, Girffin is a monster at both ends of the court.

Craig Brackins, So. Forward Iowa State
Brackins came to Iowa State last season as Top-20 freshmen. While the majority of the players ranked ahead of him are now in the NBA, Brackins is about ready to explode on the national scene. But unfortunately, he plays for Iowa State. Rarely are they showed on television, so he will continue to be the “best kept secret” in the Big 12. Scoring only 11 ppg does not tell the whole story; he scored 20 point in five games and was second on the team in blocks. He is quick off the ground, runs the floor very well, and got stronger as the season went on. He posted a school freshmen record when he dropped 33 points on Baylor.

DeMare Carroll, Sr. Forward Missouri
The former Vanderbilt transfer was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year last season. While averaging 13 ppg and a team high 6.7 rpg, he scored double figures 26 times. At 6’7” his is undersized in the post but makes it up with quickness, hustle and hardnosed play. He could very well creep towards a double-double his season of eligibility.

Alan Voskuil, Sr. Guard Texas Tech
If you expect Voskuil to sit behind the three-point line and wait for an open shot, your team will lose. His game has developed to include a solid mid-range jumper and he will run the break. But he still is a great outside shooter – he shot 50 percent last season. During his sophomore year, Voskuil played about 11 minutes a game, then 34 minutes last season. The Red Raiders rely on his production and leadership and I would not be surprised to see his all in the mix for All Big 12.

Others to keep an eye on:
Mario Little, Kansas
Willie Warren, Oklahoma
Leo Lyons, Missouri
James Anderson, Oklahoma State
Connor Atchley, Texas
Josh Carter, Texas A&M