Infusion of impact players strengthens Big 12 basketball teams
DES MOINES, Iowa — A string of underwhelming NCAA tournament performances made many forget that the Big 12 was perhaps the best league in the country in 2013-14.
A flurry of moves in the past two months should help keep the Big 12 stocked with talent for next season.
Texas recently signed the nation’s top remaining recruit in forward Myles Turner. League champion Kansas added point guard Devonte Graham following the departure of Naadir Tharpe last month, and Iowa State replaced DeAndre Kane with former UNLV star Bryce Dejean-Jones.
Though Oklahoma already has an impressive roster, it’s also hoping to add an impact player for next season. Standout Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas joined the Sooners three weeks ago but will need an NCAA waiver to be eligible right away.
It’s no coincidence that the Longhorns, Jayhawks, Cyclones and Sooners will be among the favorites in a conference that should again be loaded in 2014-15.
“There are a lot of teams in the league that have signed players in the late signing period that I think will maybe make a difference,” said Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith during the Big 12’s annual summer teleconference. “It’s hard to believe, but I believe the [Big 12] could be better.”
The Longhorns were already expected to be one of the deeper teams in the country since most of their starters will return next season. After adding Turner, they might now be one of the best teams in the country heading into November.
Turner, a 6-foot-11, 225-pounder who was ranked as high as No. 2 nationally by ESPN, should give Texas more size in the paint and more athleticism on the wing. Coach Rick Barnes said the Longhorns have already embraced Turner, and he’s apparently fitting right in in Austin.
“He can stretch a defense. He can shoot the ball. We know he can shoot the ball. He also has the ability to go inside, score. Defensively, he gives us more size,” Barnes said.
Though Tharpe’s departure won’t hurt the Jayhawks as much as losing Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, it still left a hole in the backcourt.
Coach Bill Self believes that Graham — who initially committed to Appalachian State and was widely considered the best point guard left unsigned — should help fill that void.
“Devonte’s a point guard, but probably the best term is a lead guard,” Self said. “He doesn’t have to have the ball in his hands, but he thinks like a point guard. He can be like an extension of the coach. He certainly has the intangibles to lead and get guys to follow him.”
Dejean-Jones averaged 13.6 points a game last season and is expected to give Iowa State more consistent production at shooting guard. Though the Cyclones already have Naz Long and Matt Thomas in the fold, they’re counting on big things from Dejean-Jones.
The Sooners can’t say the same about Thomas — but they’re crossing their fingers that the NCAA lets him play in 2014-15. Thomas averaged 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds for the Cougars a year ago and would seem to be set to fill the absence left by Cameron Clark.
“No idea on the waiver part,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “But a great kid. Good basketball talent. Mature.”
Oklahoma State also dipped into the one-and-done senior market on Monday when it brought in former LSU point guard Anthony Hickey to help replace Marcus Smart.
Baylor added one of the best junior college players in the country in forward Deng Deng last month, and Texas Tech signed four players in April as it attempts to rebuild under Smith.
The only Big 12 team that appears to be regressed as a result of the uptick in player movement is West Virginia, which saw Eron Harris and Terry Henderson depart for new schools. Everyone else, it seems, has spent the offseason reloading for 2014-15.
“There’s a good chance the conference will lose 3-4 players in the very, very top of the NBA Draft coming up. But when some of the new additions come into the conference ... it could be possible that maybe this conference will be as good as it was last year. If not, even better, because of the some of the additions programs have made,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said.