I’m bullish on the Bears.
Yes, All-Everything Sean McGonagill is gone, and so is his ball distribution, three-point shooting, offensive potency from anywhere on the court and, well, everything! But the Bears will be better than last year because they’ll be more well-rounded in 2014-15 from inside out, the single-most underrated team in the Ivy League.
Mike Martin is quietly doing a fantastic job at Brown of nabbing players who can fill very specific roles exceptionally well. Rafa Maia is one of the league’s premier rebounders; Cedric Kuakumensah is one of the league’s premier shotblockers. Leland King is a pure scorer and absolutely deserves to start following the way he tore it up at the end of last season and in the CIT. Steven Spieth and J.R. Hobbie are both excellent sharpshooters, with Spieth providing excellent defense in the backcourt as well. Tavon Blackmon has a great handle for running the point and knows how to change the pace and complexion of a game. This is set up to be a team in the truest word, and doesn’t need a “guy” like Professor McGonagill was “the guy” for years.
Brown was projected to finish fifth in the league in the Ivy preseason media poll, a projection that doesn’t do this roster justice. With its plethora of standout sophomores, this program is set to compete for the Ivy title in 2015-16 even more seriously than it will this year. But for now, Brown is still one of the most complete, under-the-radar teams in the Ivy League.
#1 – Longji Yiljep – Guard – 6-5, 180 – Sr.
The Nigerian native missed all but four games last year due to injury and still is injured.
#2 – Leland King – Forward – 6-7, 220 – So.
King’s continued development will go a long way towards determining whether Brown is truly an Ivy contender this season or just middle of the pack again. He was named by Sports Illustrated as one of the top five sophomores in the nation to have a breakout season, and for good reason. He logged 18.2 minutes as a freshman and made those minutes count, notching 9.6 points per game and shooting 45.4 percent from the floor while displaying consistently impressive athleticism at both ends of the floor. What should be most exciting for Bears fans is how strongly King came on at the end of the season, when his scoring average shot up to 15.3 points per contest in the final nine games of the season, adding 6.7 rebounds per contest to boot. King’s only a sophomore and has already shown he can do it all. If Brown finishes better than its projected fifth-place slot in the conference, King will be the reason why.
#3 – Steven Spieth – Guard – 6-6, 200 – So.
Another stellar sophomore, Spieth ranked ninth in the Ivy League last year in minutes played, starting all 29 games as a freshman. Think Martin trusts this guy? He’s efficient from the floor, has a very high basketball IQ and doesn’t turn the ball over much. He can even step into a sharpshooting role, nailing 15 of 28 threes taken last season. Spieth is always a mismatch in Martin’s favor waiting to happen and will continue to be so for years to come.
#10 – Tavon Blackmon – Guard – 6-0, 170 – So.
Blackmon started 27 games as a freshman, notching 3.5 assists per game and establishing himself as a focal point of the offense. He looked increasingly comfortable at the point as the season wore on and is easily one of the league’s most promising young point guards and ball distributors.
#11 – Joe Sharkey – Guard – 6-2, 190 – Sr.
Injury wiped out his junior campaign, and I wouldn’t count on too much from Sharkey in 2014-15.
#12 – J.R. Hobbie – Guard – 6-4, 190 – So.
Brown’s primary sharpshooter, Hobbie can light it up with the best of them, nailing 43 percent of his treys as a freshman and earning Ivy Rookie of the Week honors thrice. He was a bit of a one-trick pony last season, but his trick can be lethal when he’s hot.
#13 – Patrick Triplett – Guard – 6-4, 210 – Fr.
Despite his ability to play either guard position or even at the three, Triplett probably won’t see much playing time in a loaded backcourt as a freshman, but hey, he likes people-watching!
#21 – Cedric Kuakumensah – Forward – 6-9, 245 – Jr.
The two-time defending Ivy Defensive Player of the Year is a shot-swatting machine, patrolling the paint with authority. He does everything hard. One time, he threw a pass out of bounds towards the press row during a game I was covering, and the ball would have taken my head off if I were a couple of inches to the left. (Brown’s press row is the nearest to being on the court out of all Ivy arenas too.)
Anyway, Kuakumensah is a necessary paint presence for a team with ample sharpshooters, point play and pure scorers. Watch Kuakumensah and you’ll see why Brown finished second in the league in offensive rebounding and first in defensive rebounding and blocks per game. Quite simply, his imposing presence anchors this team.
#22 – Tyler Williams – Guard – 6-1, 175 – Fr.
Not likely to make a significant impact this season.
#25 – Jason Massey – Guard – 6-5, 200 – Fr.
Very athletic at the two or three spots, playing time is up in the air.
#31 – Miki Ljuboja – Forward – 6-8, 230 – Fr.
Highly touted rookie. A wait-and-see proposition. (Though aren’t they all?)
#32 – Zeve Sanderson – Guard – 6-1, 180 – Sr.
A NYU transfer, it’s hard to gauge what Sanderson’s impact will be. For now, he gets the “Best Name on the Roster” award.
#33 – Kyle Haber – Forward – 6-7, 180 – Fr.
Strong shooter, but see Ljuboja, Miki.
#42 – Dockery Walker – Forward – 6-7, 220 – Sr.
Left the team two seasons ago after a knee injury. Notched 6.1 points per game a year ago and proved himself a streaky scorer with favorable shot selection. Can make a difference in the paint and will be relied on even more this season.
#45 – Rafael Maia – Forward – 6-9, 245 – Sr.
The Brazil native is back and healthy after injuries plagued him last year. Complemented well by Kuakumensah, Maia led the conference in rebounding for the second straight season and will continue to provide top-notch defense for the Bears this season. He’s efficient in the paint and along with Kuakumensah will outmuscle other Ivies’ frontcourts consistently.
#50 – Jon Schmidt – Forward – 6-7, 215 – Sr.
Missed all of last year due to injury and, pending recovery, isn’t likely to appear much in 2014-15.
We continue our Ivy roster previews next week, starting with Princeton on Monday.