Big East Player Development: Part One

by Andrew Force | December 27th, 2009

The Big East Conference expected to suffer a dramatic drop-off in national success this year.  The conference sent nine players to the NBA draft, and nearly every program lost multiple three-year starters.

Surprisingly, the power conference lost little of its nationwide dominance.  In this edition of the Beast Report, we take a look at the seniors representing each program along with their four-year athletic development.

The leaders all started out as freshmen in 2006, a landmark year for Big East recruiting.  Check out the progress or stagnation of various can’t-miss prospects (the count of members in the 2006 freshmen class is inserted in the parentheses):

Connecticut (8) Hashim Thabeet, Dougie Wiggins, Curtis Kelly, Gavin Edwards, Jonathan Mandeldove, Stanley Robinson, Jerome Dyson, Ben Eaves

Hashim Thabeet, now living the dream NBA-style, departed after three years at UConn.  Senior stars Jerome Dyson (19.8 ppg) and Stanley Robinson (14.8 ppg) might well join him in the “L” next year.

Plucked from Worcester Academy (MA), Ben Eaves entered Connecticut four years ago with his chances of relevance relegated to a long-shot.  Ironically, his one definable skill was also the long shot, also known as outside shooting.  He swiftly transferred to Rhode Island, while Dougie Wiggins and Curtis Kelly were forced out amidst irresponsible personal decisions.

Of these transfers, Kelly might finish as the most successful.  Currently a starter for sleazy Frank Martin’s Kansas State Wildcats, the left-handed Kelly (11.7 ppg) created problems for numerous November opponents.  His addition to KSU truly helps continue the newly established tradition of elite talent in Manhattan, KS.

Though UConn brought in eight high-end prospects in 2006, four years later only Gavin Edwards and Jonathan Mandeledove remain.  Five of the eight were four-star studs, with Stanley Robinson entering as the lone 5-star player.

The difference in their achievements is night and day.  Mandeldove never materialized despite a 6’11”, 220-pound frame at 18 years old.  Despite being less physically blessed, Edwards grinded and persevered.  As of Christmas time 2009, Edwards might be the Big East’s most improved player.

Remember this core brought UConn back from that soul-crushing 17 win season.  Two years later they were a Final Four club.  They took a lot of cheap shots from national media and fan snipers only to persevere in the end.

Development Grade: B-plus. In five years when Dyson, Robinson, and Thabeet are receiving their obnoxiously gaudy second contracts, this grade will elevate to an A.  No coach sends more wings to the pros.

Marquette (2) Lazar Hayward, David Cubillan.

Cubillan never had a place in the Big East.  He worked a little backup point guard when Dominic James was injured.  Truthfully, DC is a very short 2-guard by BE standards.  In the BE 6’0 wings do not get their shot off.  Remember how hard Allen Iverson had to work to get his shots off.

Hayward, on the other hand, blossomed magnificently in his second year.  Unfortunately his career straddled a dramatic coaching change, with his efforts split between two coaching staffs.  The tail half of his career has been spent carrying a bunch of dead weight teammates on his back.

One thing that Hayward truly embraces is competition.  He loves the fact that his Big East opponents are stocked full of NBA players.

Development Grade: B-minus. Hayward came to Marquette on the heels of the greatest class ever assembled by Tom Crean (Wesley Matthews, Dominic James, Jerel McNeal).  It would have been nice for him to supplement the guard trio with a big man.  He didn’t.  Ever.  That said, Hayward has an outside shot at making an NBA roster next year.  For a player who entered as the 15th best SG in his class that is quite an accomplishment.  Cubillan, however, should have been more.

Georgetown (3) Vernon Macklin, DaJuan Summers, Jeremiah Rivers.

Not one of three Hoya recruits made it to graduation in DC.  DaJuan Summers left for the NBA.  He was a good inside-outside college player on offense, but he just never rebounded (4.3 rpg) for a team that treasures each and every possession.

Three years ago the Hoyas received a transfer from Indiana.  The son of New York Knicks legend (Patrick Ewing) showed up with two years of eligibility remaining.

This year Indiana receives a transfer from Georgetown and a son of a New York Knicks legend in Jeremiah Rivers.  The final piece of the trio, Vernon Macklin, runs out for a surprisingly competitive Florida team.  His numbers are nice, around 11 ppg with 6 rpg.

Macklin was a top-15 recruit coming out of high school.

Development Grade: D. In two seasons, John Thompson III let his mighty program fall from Final Four to NIT.  Much of that falls on the lack of continuity.  When not one player from a top 15 recruiting class makes your program discernibly better, you have failed.  JTIII is slowly putting back the fight in the dog.  His current roster has no seniors, though.  Check back on these guys in March to see how they handle the rigors of Big East Tournament play.

Syracuse (3) Devin Brennan-McBride, Mike Jones, Paul Harris

Paul Harris was the only recruit to stick at Syracuse, taking the scholarship of the beloved Gerry McNamara.  Harris came from America’s natural jewel, Niagara Falls, New York.

Talent flowed abundantly through Harris, much like the tons of water cascading over the edge of Niagara Falls itself.  Harris had a really nice college career.  Understanding his handle was not Big East secure, coach Jim Boeheim placed the muscle-bound Harris in the front court.

Only 6’5”, Harris tugged in 832 career rebounds in three years.  Finding a position for the Herculean Harris in the NBA would have been tough.  Even so, the misguided star departed after his junior year, currently toiling in the NBDL.

Canadian Devin Brennan-McBride was an injury prone center who quit the program after a third shoulder surgery was required to continue.

Mike Jones quit Syracuse after 11 games and was eventually dismissed by South Carolina for academic reasons.

Development Grade: C-minus. Harris entered Cuse with a sketchy past, but his defensive ability and athleticism were legendary.  Coach Boeheim never helped Harris to become a pro.  Selfishly, Boeheim worked him into a PF, a position in which he has no future.  The other two were just unwise recruits…A broken body (DBM) and a young man never cut out for college (Jones).

South Florida (5) Dante Curry, Solomon Bozeman, Chris Howard, Amu Saaka, Jared Rubens

Anytime a new coach enters the fray all prior promises are out the window.  Robert McCullum may very well have told Saaka, Bozeman, and Curry that they were the future.  When Stan Heath, took over the trio instantly lost favor.

Following his sophomore season, Saaka transferred to Furman, a small Division I school in Greenville, South Carolina.  Saaka was Southern Conference Player of the Week in December and he earned a nomination for Conference Player of the Month.  Currently the forward puts up 14 points a night.

Like Saaka, Bozeman was recruited by McCullum, former Bulls coach.

Bozeman now leads a perennially-embarrassing Univerity of Arkansas-Little Rock team.  His 16 ppg, 65 free throws, and 11 steals are all team bests.

Curry barely plays for his new school, Georgia State.  The junior has a season and half remaining of college basketball.

The former walk-on Rubens did not make it to a second year at USF.

The only player to enter South Florida four years ago to sidestep all the land mines is Chris Howard.  The senior point guard registers at 12th in the Big East with 4.4 assists per game.

Howard recently moved into the top five all-time on the USF assist leaderboard.  As long as the Maryland native dishes out four assists every game, he will finish fourth in South Florida history.

Development Grade: C. Only one of these players was a legitimate Big East contributor (Curry), and he left the program.  Not a lot was expected of this quintet though.  Howard is a serviceable, reliable point guard who wisely learned to take a backseat to Dominique Jones.

Cincinnati (1) Deonta Vaughn

Mick Cronin inherited a mess at Cincinnati.  Because he was hired so late in the process, Cronin chose to bring in six junior college players alongside his lone freshman, Vaughn.

Years later, the JUCO troupe is long gone, but Vaughn is still around for Cronin’s revitalized Bearcats.  With Cronin and Vaughn side by side, UC has improved from 11 to 13 to 18 wins.

This year should be Vaughn’s best, as he finally has talented teammates in Yancy Gates, Cashmere Wright, and Lance Stephenson.

Development Grade: A-minus. Vaughn was an average recruit in a brand new program.  The weight of the world was on his shoulders along with the occasionally unrealistic expectations of the Queen City.  Tough, clutch, and wise, Vaughn will get a few sniffs from NBA scouts this winter.  Credit Cronin with a job well done.

Pittsburgh (2) Gilbert Brown, Austin Wallace

Brown’s play can be visually represented by a kaleidoscope of colors.  Mercurial, talented, athletic…you never know what you will get from the high-rising wing.  His low point came this fall as he was declared academically ineligible.

A Jamie Dixon-led Panther team has never been as inexperienced as they were in the last two months, a time they sorely missed Gilbert Brown’s experience.

Austin Wallace suffered a career-ending injury to his kneecap approximately 12 months ago.

Brown should help the youthful Panthers greatly in the New Year.

Development Grade: B-minus. Brown needs to be a pro for this B to hold up.  You can’t hold Dixon accountable for Wallace’s kneecap injury, but a great coach would knock Gilbert upside the head.  The young man needs to figure out the value of school, if only to provide him a showcase for his offensive talents.

Seton Hall (4) Larry Davis, John Garcia, Eugene Harvey, Kashif Pratt

The quartet stepped onto the Pirates’ ship the same day as Bobby Gonzalez.  Pratt was even Gonzo’s first recruit to Seton Hall.

Pratt played in some serious environments in high school.  His Rice High School team knocked off Christ the King on his very own buzzer beater to claim the city’s CHSAA Title.

Pratt was a NYC champ and NY state champ.  The dude had credentials.  While he was sitting out the mandatory transfer year at Iona, Pratt finally listened to his inner voice.  He didn’t love the game anymore.  After revealing to the Iona head coach of his decision, Pratt transferred to John Jay College where basketball is no longer a part of his everyday life.

Davis left the program, transferring out to Loyola Marymount (CA).  He is currently the third leading scorer for a 4-7 team that just knocked off Notre Dame.

Harvey and Garcia are team captains this season, their second year in the leadership roles.

Garcia faced injury troubles almost his whole basketball life.  His left knee has been operated on three times.  He dislocated his patella twice, and tore his meniscus once. The inspiring tough guy intends to play basketball as long as his body will allow.

Harvey will conclude his career as third on the Seton Hall assist list.  Only Shaheen Holloway (681) and Andre Barrett (662) dished out more.

The rise of Seton Hall with Harvey, Garcia, and coach Gonzalez has been slow.  Year one witnessed 13 victories.  The last two campaigns featured 17 wins each.  The Pirates began 2009 undefeated, but played seven of the very worst programs in Division I.  Names like St. Peter’s, NJIT, Monmouth, Long Island, and Hartford inspire confidence in no one.

It could be a big year for Seton Hall, though.  Stay tuned.

Development Grade: B. When turning around a program, its tough to lose two of your first four recruits to transfer.  I tend to blame transfers on a revolting concoction of false promises and inflated egos.  Coaches lie and players believe.  That leads to transfers almost every time.   Even so, Harvey has had a really nice career.  Garcia panned out for sure.

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