Best Non-BCS Freshmen: Part Two

July 8th, 2007
This is Part Two of Diamonds in the Rough, a look at ten of the best prospects coming to a mid-major school near you this fall..


Dante Jackson, Xavier


The A-10’s 2007 freshman class is loaded, and Dante Jackson may well be one of the best of the lot.


The 6-6 Jackson is a superb athlete who could have easily chosen college football over college hoops.  He is also the two-time defending state 110 hurdles champion, clocking a time of 14.23 recently at the state Track and Field Tournament. 


The all-time leading scorer at Greenfield McClain (OH), Jackson was recently named the Ohio team’s MVP in the Battle of the Border Ohio-Kentucky All-Star game after scoring 27 points in just 16 minutes, including launching the 24-foot game winner. 


Many expect Xavier to be in a rebuilding year after losing Justin Doellman, Justin Cage and Brandon Cole to graduation.  But Jackson’s arrival, along with returning sophomore Derrick Brown, will mean that you shouldn’t count out the Musketeers for very long.



Herb Pope, New Mexico State


Aggie fans can exhale: Herb Pope is coming to Las Cruces.


After Coach Reggie Theus unexpectedly left for the NBA, an understandably irate Pope publicly backtracked on his commitment to NMSU.  Then the Aggies brought in Marvin Menzies from Louisville as his replacement, rather than one of Theus’s former assistants – further leading to speculation that he would bolt.


But after talking with Menzies, Pope reaffirmed his intention to play for the Aggies next fall.  Of course it didn’t hurt that Menzies had previously been recruiting Pope for Rick Pitino – even attending Aliquippa's PIAA Class AA quarterfinal game.  Regardless, it was an important milestone for the new coach – the first major step towards keeping the program on the upward track that Theus had so brilliantly placed it in just two years there.     


Pope averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds a game his senior year at Aliquippa.  One of the top-rated forwards in the nation, he was sought after by the likes of Texas, Maryland, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Louisville and UConn before deciding on the Aggies.  He is a tenacious rebounder, tough and extremely competitive. (He reportedly ripped off his second place medal and threw it on the floor – during the trophy presentation no less - after his Aliquippa team lost the state finals).


Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Pope is that he is even playing basketball at all.  He was shot four times – including twice in the stomach – during a house party in his hometown just four months ago.  He was listed in critical condition, and the doctors couldn’t be sure if he would even survive.


Now, he reportedly can dunk a basketball and participate in some drills.  He is expected to make a full recovery and be ready to go come Midnight Madness.  Amazing.



Tyrone Shelley, Pepperdine


A recruiting triumph for first year coach Vance Walberg.


The all time leading scorer for San Diego Section, Shelley surpassed Chase Budinger for the record his senior year at Crawford High.  An amazing feat considering the star missed 16 games while waiting for his transfer to the school to clear. 


Shelley seemingly can score at will, with a quick first step and deadly outside range, while still showing the maturity and talent to look for good shots.  He once put up 76 points in a game – another San Diego-area record – while playing less than three quarters. 


By choosing the Waves over Budinger’s Arizona, Kentucky, Kansas, Washington and Connecticut, Shelley has chosen to make his mark on a much smaller stage with far less exposure.  But make his mark he will.  Shelley could well win not only the Freshman of the Year in the WCC, but could contend for Player of the Year in the conference.  He is just that good.



P’Allen Stinnett, Creighton


The high-flying Stinnett backed away from his commitment to Iowa State after Wayne Morgan and his staff were fired in the wake of a CBS story implicating the program in a play-for-pay scandal, where a company founded by Los Angeles Community College coach Mike Miller was accused of sending LACC players to Division I schools in exchange for payments to arrange games.  Of course, the Cyclones’ 16-14 record last season didn’t help either.


But their loss is Creighton’s gain.  “P,” as his friends call him, can score from just about anywhere on the court, and his dunking skills have become part of YouTube lore.  Averaging nearly 20 points a game his senior year in high school, he should quickly (but only partially) fill the void left by the departures of Nate Funk, Nick Porter and Anthony Tolliver to become one of the Jay’s top scoring threats.



Chris Wright, Dayton


With apologies to Jim Paxson, the 6-7 Wright could quite possibly be the best recruit the Flyers have ever brought to campus. 


The local product, nicknamed “Top Flight” for his 38-inch vertical leap and penchant for trampoline-worthy dunks, was named the top player in the Atlantic 10 for this recruiting class by


Wright turned down offers from the likes of Texas, Michigan State, Illinois, Michigan and two-time defending champ Florida to stick close to home, and, in part, so his mother can continue watching him play.  As a result, the Flyers will immediately be in contention for an A-10 title next season, particularly if Wright develops his shooting touch to go along with his freakish athleticism.



Honorable mentions: Scott Thompson, Santa Clara; Jenirro Bush, Jackson State


Return to Part One, including UAB's Keenan Ellis, UNLV's Beas Hamga and more..



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