2008-09 Team Capsules
By Kyle Whelliston
Special to ESPN.com
LeBron James famously didn't go to college, but he tells anyone who asks he would have gone to Akron. Now, the Zips will have a little LeBron with them every time they step out on the floor. In June, the school signed on to wear uniforms produced by the Cleveland Cavaliers star's boutique LJ23 Nike label. "I'm from Akron and the University of Akron is my hometown school," said James in a statement. "I want to make sure that Coach [Keith] Dambrot's guys look great head to toe."
Despite just six victories in 2007-08, folks in Muncie are happy to have a year's worth of distance between them and the turbulent, racially charged Ronny Thompson era. Billy Taylor often had to make do with 6-foot-5 post players last season, but the talent-rich contingent of seven new recruits is hitting campus this fall. Jarrod Jones
is a 6-8 power forward who was pursued by high major schools until an untimely leg injury struck during last summer's recruiting season. And versatile 6-5 wing Maurice Hubbard
was lured out of Virginia, despite interest from in-state schools like VCU, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
, a 6-7 Cincinnati product, had a real eye-opener of a first season. He made his initial statement in his third collegiate game, scoring 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting in a win over the Big East school from his hometown. Knight went on to lead the team in rebounds with 7.3 per game. If he can achieve greater consistency and cut down on his fouls, he'll be a star in this league.
The Bulls were edged out for an NCAA autobid in 2005, falling in overtime to Ohio in the Mid-American title game. Since then, their win total has dwindled each season, culminating in a 10-20 (3-13 MAC) disaster last season. It's a young team that returns all its starters, most notably 6-1 senior Andy Robinson
(13.1 ppg). But if Buffalo's cold streak continues, Reggie Witherspoon's hot seat should provide warmth to the entire city all winter long.
This program has struggled to find an identity since a 2003 NCAA berth and a first-round win over Creighton, but the Chippewas' 8-8 record was its first .500 mark in conference play since that breakthrough campaign. It was also good enough for second place in the weak MAC West. An improvement will be difficult in the wake of two key departures, however. Giordan Watson
scored 16.4 ppg and took nearly 24 percent of the team's shots before graduating in March, and second-leading scorer Nate Minnoy
(8.8 ppg) transferred to a Division II school.
This Great Lake State directional school hasn't enjoyed a winning record since 1999-2000, but the compass is pointing slightly upward after an 8-8 MAC season. Promising 6-6 forward Brandon Bowdry
, named to the league's all-freshman team in 2006-07, broke his foot after the freshman season and redshirted last season. He'll be back at full strength, and so will 6-0 senior guard Carlos Medlock
, who led the Eagles with 14.8 ppg.
The Geno Ford era will begin without dynamic forward Haminn Quaintance
, whose senior season manifested itself as the statistical equivalent of a Swiss army knife. But Kent State gets one more year from 6-0 MAC POY Al Fisher
, who turned heads with a 28-point performance in a BracketBuster win over nationally ranked Saint Mary's. Incoming power forward Justin Greene
is a Big Apple banger who scored 11 ppg for Abraham Lincoln High and helped his school win the NYC Public School Athletic League championship at Madison Square Garden in March.
Gone is Tim Pollitz
, the undersized power forward who singlehandedly lifted the RedHawks to the 2007 MAC crown and paced a historic upset at Illinois with a 17-and-13 double-double. But Michael Bramos
, who led the team in points (16.3 ppg), steals and blocks in 2007-08, returns as a potential POY candidate. A prospect to watch is point guard Kramer Soderberg
from Missouri, son of former Saint Louis head coach Brad.
Shooting guard Darion Anderson
, who attended Chicago's Boys To Men Academy before joining the Huskies, put up man-sized numbers in his first collegiate season. The sophomore-to-be was the team's leader in scoring (12.2 ppg), assists and minutes, and he collected three big-boy double-doubles (points and rebounds) despite his 6-2 frame. A bright spot in an otherwise sad season, Anderson was named the MAC's Freshman of the Year.
The Bobcats didn't make it out of the MAC quarterfinals as a No. 4 seed, losing to upset-minded Miami by 13. But the new College Basketball Invitational proved exceedingly benevolent, and Ohio earned its 20th win at home against Brown before losing to Bradley. Now, the program will try to make do without its double-doubling star Leon Williams
. Muscular 6-6 forward Jerome Tillman
(13.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg), who earned double-doubles of his own against eventual NCAA teams Saint Mary's and Temple last season, will return as a senior.
Toledo's Savage Hall is in the midst of a long-overdue $30 million upgrade. After an eight-game tumble in the standings, the Rocket roster is getting an overhaul as well. Stephen Albrecht
is a 6-3 shooting guard from Indiana who was rated No. 37 nationally at his position by Scouts Inc. Toledo will get a frontcourt boost from a pair of 6-9 recruits, long-armed Bay Area import Ian Salter
and local all-city product Zac Taylor
. Larry Bastfield
, a 6-foot point guard, played for Team Melo, an AAU squad sponsored by Denver Nugget Carmelo Anthony.
Team rebounding leader Joe Reitz
, a 6-7 forward with tree-trunk arms, helped the Broncos to a MAC West title and a place in the tourney semifinals before leaving campus. He was last seen trying to pack on 50 pounds in an attempt to make the Baltimore Ravens as an offensive tackle. His eventual replacement went in the opposite direction. Flenard Whitfield
was a 6-7 star tight end in high school who chose basketball over football, much to the chagrin of Florida, Texas, Michigan and LSU.