The premiere talent in The Summit League is mostly concentrated in the league's upperclassman this season. There will be a bevy of juniors and seniors hoping to lead their teams to the championship while earning All-League individuals honors in the process. Some of them appeared on our "Top Five Players To Watch" list earlier in our conference preview series, but that list was more about the excitement that comes from watching a particular player than pure production. The truth is, if you are a fan of this league, then you know who the heavy hitters are heading into 2010-11. While we're anticipating big things from Keith Benson, Dominique Morrison, Alex Young, Michael Tveidt, and others, there are also a number of underclassmen who will be looking to break-out this year in hopes of earning an expanding role once their older teammates run out of eligibility. In compiling this list, I took into account all those players who will be sophomores this season and based the choice on what they accomplished last year, how their team will utilize them this year, and how they fit into the team's plans for the future. In addition, players were considered based on the all-encompassing "eye-test."
Damen Bell-Holter - Sophomore Forward, Oral Roberts
The 6'9", 240 pound Bell-Holter was Oral Roberts' only reliable big man off the bench last season, a role most would say he filled well considering he was just a freshman. While he averaged 4.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game, he started to hit his stride during The Summit League tournament. Prior to his two matches in Sioux Falls, I had not paid much attention to DBH, if not only because Kevin Ford was Oral Roberts' go-to big man. But Ford got into some foul trouble in the tournament, and Bell-Holter was called upon to be a difference maker in the paint. He finished with 15 rebounds between the two games (his highest two-game total of the season) along with some modest scoring output. I came away impressed with his poise in those high-stress games. He'll need to carry over that confidence into this season as his role will likely expand to the point that he'll probably start for the Golden Eagles. He's got a big body and skills to make an impact this season. In fact, he might be the league's best sophomore this year.
David Gebru - Sophomore Center, Western Illinois
During the 2009-10 season, David Gebru only played about 13 minutes per game, mostly due to the fact that Western Illinois already had a decent center in James Granstra. Granstra has since left the team, meaning that Mr. Gebru (this has a nice ring to it) will likely have the opportunity to earn the starting center role in just his sophomore season. His numbers were unimpressive last season, especially in the rebounding department where he should have a natural advantage at 6'10" tall. This is likely explained by Gebru's lack of toughness and relatively frail frame. If that doesn't sound like someone you know, then you may not have watched Keith Benson during his freshman season. While Gebru may be world's away from being an NBA prospect, he has the kind of body and potential that make him an interesting case. If his coaches can develop him appropriately, Gebru could have a great career in The Summit League. This year, he needs to show he has made some progress during the off-season, and I think given more minutes, his numbers will surely rise.
Matt Hodgson - Sophomore Center, Southern Utah
Originally, I had wanted to choose Southern Utah's Matt Massey for this feature, as I was a bit more enthused by his play than Matt Hodgson last season. Alas, Massey is a year ahead of Hodgson (a sophomore), though both are very tall, very skinny ballers from Australia. Hodgson is the taller of the two, checking in at 6'11" and 225 pounds. His thin frame makes him an easy target for bigger and more athletic bigs, but fortunately for Matt, those guys are hard to find in The Summit League. Hodgson's numbers should jump up this year (from 6.3 points and 4.8 rebounds), but he's already doing two things very well: shooting and blocking. His 58% field goal percentage is otherworldly, even for a dude just relying on put-backs for a majority of his points. Additionally, he averaged a solid 2.2 blocks per game, meaning he at least knows how to take advantage of his size in that regard. Hodgson may not have the potential of a guy like Gebru, but he certainly fills a big need for Southern Utah. If he can stay out of foul trouble and make some plays, he'll definitely have a solid year for the Thunderbirds.
Kirk Korver - Sophomore Forward, UMKC
The man with the most famous last name in The Summit League: Kirk Korver. In the Great Plains region of the states, the Korver family is basketball royalty. A number of Korver boys have had very successful collegiate careers in this area, most notably brother Kyle who has stuck in the NBA primarily because of his sharp-shooting skills. Kirk Korver can certainly shoot the superhoop, but because he is one of the bigger guys on a relatively small UMKC squad, he's often relegated to the paint where he is usually overmatched. At just 6'7", UMKC still lists him as a "forward/center," which is quite sad given his ability on the perimeter. Korver's role is bound to expand this year, hopefully to the point where he can start to make plays for himself and his teammates. While he won't be the feature guy this season, there is a chance he can get to that point should he stick around in Kansas City. And Korver - the winner of the team's award honoring academic ability, moral character, and leadership - is certainly the kind of guy who Coach Matt Brown wants to hold onto.
Drew Valentine - Sophomore Forward, Oakland
I'm not sure any Oakland fan could predict what Drew Valentine's role will be for the Golden Grizzlies in 2010-11. He's a sort of classic tweener, in that his size suggests he's a guard, yet he plays more like a forward. In limited action last season, Valentine impressed with his ability to be in the right place at the right time. Even though he always seemed to be guarded by bigger guys, Drew found a way to grab a tough offensive rebound or make a difficult lay-up time after time. His overall numbers wouldn't indicate that he's anywhere close to breaking out, yet it's a possibility because there should be more playing time for him this season. He can fill a need at the small forward position provided his defense is solid, or he could end up playing a hybrid guard/forward role in certain scenarios. Whatever the case, Oakland fans know that Valentine plays tough and seems to make the most of his opportunities (as he did during OU's NCAA tourney game against Pittsburgh). This player has an important future with the Golden Grizzlies, and I think we will begin to find out why during his sophomore campaign.
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