At this point in the season, a month-and-a-half in, most college basketball fans have enjoyed LSU freshman Ben Simmons and his amazing skill set or watched Duke freshman Brandon Ingram drive the lane, extend his long right arm over a defender and lay the ball into the basket.
Other rookies are making their mark. Slippery wing Dwayne Bacon has been a scoring machine for Florida State, Jaylen Brown is a bucket maker in California and big men Diamond Stone (Maryland) and Henry Ellenson (Marquette) are productive in the paint.Yet there are other rookies who are operating like veterans at schools that receive less national television exposure. Remember the names of these under-the-radar stars. Not only could these young scorers lead their teams to a magical March, but chances they’ll send conference coaches to the ibuprofen bottle for several winters to come.
Tookie Brown, Georgia Southern
It’s been a rocky beginning for the extremely young Eagles (350th in nation in experience per KenPom.com). But there’s talent on coach Mark Byington’s roster and Brown might be the piece with the most potential. A 5-11 point guard, Brown has hit 18 of 41 3-pointers (43.9 percent) and scored 17.3 points per game to lead the Eagles, who are 4-6. He’s taken 28 percent of the team’s shots, yet scored efficiently, generating a 111.0 offensive rating aided by assisting on 28 percent of Ga. Southern’s field goals.
C.J. Bryce, UNC Wilmington
After an uneven opening month, the 6-3 guard from Charlotte is finding his groove for the 8-3 Seahawks. He’s scored in double figures in four consecutive games, including a career-high 24 points Monday in a 106-83 victory over Campbell. Second-year UNCW coach Kevin Keatts obviously trusts Bryce, who has a 123.2 offensive rating. Bryce (10.2 ppg) has started all but one game for the Seahawks, who begin their march toward another Colonial Athletic Association regular season title Thursday against Drexel.
Chris Clemons, Campbell
Yet another dynamic high-scoring guard, Camels coach Kevin McGeehan is glad he drove 45 miles north to Raleigh to land Clemons, a 5-9 guard who is fifth in the Big South Conference in scoring (17.1 ppg). He’s scored in double figures in every game and dropped a career-high 31 points on The Citadel on Dec. 19. Clemons has knocked down 41 percent of his 3-point attempts and is virtually automatic at the free throw line (34 of 37). Campbell is 7-5 overall and 1-1 in conference entering a Thursday afternoon trip to Winthrop, which is a Big South favorite.
Joe Cremo, Albany
Cremo is averaging 10.4 points per game despite playing only 20.1 minutes per game. The 6-4 guard is third in the America East Conference in field goal percentage (56.4 pct.) and has also hit 12 of 22 3-pointers, giving him a 129.7 offensive rating. Cremo scored a career-high 25 points in a win over Niagara on Dec. 23. He also played a career-high 32 minutes in the Great Danes’ most recent game, a five-point win over St. Francis (NY), a sign that sharp coach Will Brown understands Cremo needs a larger role as Albany (10-4) pursues its fourth NCAA tournament trip in a row.
Mike Daum, South Dakota State
The Jackrabbits are 11-3, ranked 60th in the Pomeroy Ratings and the high-volume, efficient Daum helps the offense run smoothly (48th in adjusted efficiency). Coach Scott Nagy obviously instructs his guards to feed Daum, a 6-9, 230-pound center, who attempts 31 percent of SDSU’s shots when he’s on the floor. You could make a case that Daum deserves more than 16.7 minutes per game, considering he’s averaging 11.7 points on 52 percent shooting and snagging 5.1 rebounds a contest. So far, everything has fallen into place so far for the Jackrabbits, who are off to the best DI start in school history.
Fletcher Magee, Wofford
The defending Southern Conference champions are 3-8 against a brutal nonconference schedule (33rd most difficult per KenPom.com). But the Terriers will figure it out. Mike Young can really coach and sharpshooters like Magee, who drills 2.3 3-pointers per game and connects on 41 percent, make a coach look even smarter. A 6-4, 195-pound guard from Orlando, Magee is third on the team in scoring (11.6 points per game) and torched Austin Peay for 27 points (7 of 11 on 3s) in Wofford’s last game.
Marshawn Wilson, Northern Illinois
The Huskies have won three in a row since a loss at Ohio State, and are 10-2 with one final nonconference warmup remaining before they begin chasing the Mid-American Conference crown. Wilson isn’t bashful - he fires 32.1 percent of NIU’s shots when he’s out there - but coach Mark Montgomery won’t mind as long as the 6-3, 205-pound guard keeps hitting 42 percent of his 3-pointers and drawing 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes. Like some of the others on this list, don’t be surprised if Wilson’s production (11.3 points per game) and playing time (17.5 minutes per game) increases during conference play.