Last night’s matchup between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Maryland Terps in the Dean Dome had the feel of a Final Four game. In front of a sea of 20,000 people awash in Powder blue, Tar Heel senior guard Marcus Paige, the ACC preseason co-player of the year, returned from a broken bone in his right hand that had sidelined him for the season’s first two weeks to score 20 points and dish out five assists.
He looked fantastic, going 4-for-5 from beyond the 3-point line and 7-for-12 overall from the field. You will not find a prettier jump shot in all of college basketball. Paige’s counterpart in the Maryland backcourt and another candidate for the title of the country’s best point guard , Melo Trimble, was even more spectacular.
Trimble put up 23 points and dished out 12 assists to lead the Terps, who were eventually undone by their 22 turnovers, which the Tar Heels converted into 21 points in their 89-81 victory.
I wouldn’t be surprised if UNC guard Nate Britt’s ankles filed felonious assault charges against Trimble after last night’s game. The 6-foot-3 sophomore floor general from Upper Marlboro, Maryland abused the Tar Heels on the break, dribbling off of high screens, splashing from deep and facilitating for his teammates.
His crossover is simply wicked and if he keeps dropping opponents like he has been, he might soon be mentioned in the pantheon of wheelchair-inducing ankle-breakers like God Shammgod at Providence, Steph Marbury and Kenny Anderson at Georgia Tech, Tim Hardaway at UTEP, Allen Iverson at Georgetown and Pearl Washington at Syracuse
Paige and Trimble are among a strong crop of point guards this year. Heading into the season, here is a list of some others who are among the very best at the position, guys who will give their teams a chance to advance in your March Madness brackets.
BRONSON KOENIG, Wisconsin – He will not wow you with speed and athleticism, but I love how he manages to get to whatever spot he wants to off the dribble.
I’m pretty certain that the folks sitting next to me behind the basket in Madison Square Garden on November 22nd were annoyed with my constant loud exaltations of “Action Bronson!” every time he did something special during Wisconsin’s thrilling 74-73 win against VCU, when he hit 9 of his 14 shots to score 22 points.
GARY PAYTON II, Oregon State – He’s definitely his daddy’s son, one of the country’s best perimeter defenders, GPII is averaging 19 points, eight rebounds, five assists and an amazing four steals per game. His shooting percentages, a point of concern last year, have improved dramatically as he’s connecting on 44% of his three’s and 55% overall from the field.
DEMETRIUS JACKSON, Notre Dame – With Jerian Grant now playing for the Knicks, Jackson will be the main man in South Bend for the next two years. He can score attacking the rim, in the mid-range and from deep. He’s gotten better each year, elevating his scoring numbers from six points per game as a freshman to 12 last year and 18 this year. He is very fun to watch when he has the ball in his hands.
A.J. ENGLISH, Iona – English might have already put forth the best individual performance we’ll see this year when he dropped 46 points last night in Iona’s win over Fairfield. He hit 13 three-pointers and also handed out eight assists. Averaging close to 26 points per game thus far, he has a chance to lead the nation in scoring and assists this year.
KAMAU STOKES, Kansas State – The 5-foot-11 freshman from Baltimore was nowhere to be found on the elite high school rankings, but that was more of an indictment on the "scouts" not understanding what they were seeing than anything else. He has one of the purest shooting strokes in the country.
If you missed his 24-point explosion against North Carolina on November 24th, where he splashed 6 of his 8 attempts from deep, you missed something special. He’ll bump his head early on, but once he begins to understand the pace of college ball, when to facilitate for others and when to unleash his offensive gifts, this natural born leader will shock many who’ve never heard of him.
D’VAUNTES SMITH-RIVERA, Georgetown – Is it just me, or does it seem like he’s been on the roster since 1996? He’s had uncharacteristic struggles early this year, but dropped 30 last night against the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. He rebounds, plays “D”, takes care of the ball and scores with efficiency.
CAT BARBER, North Carolina State – The current ACC Player of the Week, Barber averaged 26 points, eight assists and six rebounds in three games last week. There is no guard in America that does a better job of getting to the free throw line. On Friday, he poured in 37 points against Winthrop. He had 16 points and four assists in last night’s 66-59 loss to Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
TYRONE WALLACE, Cal – If you’re on the east coast, you’re probably asking, “Who?” But if you’re up on the Pac 12 and West Coast hoops, you know that when things get tight, “You better call Tyrone! Call him!!!”
If you love lefty guards with nutritious mid-range game, this is your guy right here. The 6-foot-5 senior is shooting a career-best 51% from the field this year while averaging 18 points, six rebounds and five assists per game.
JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova – Only a freshman, Brunson will take some time to adjust to the college game. But come NCAA Tournament time, watch out! It didn’t seem to take him too long to make that adjustment, as he was named to the all-tournament team when the Wildcats won the NIT Season Tip-Off Tournament at the Barclays Center in New York. Villanova is a Top 10 squad and their upcoming game on Monday against the unbeaten Oklahoma Sooners should be plenty of fun.
YOGI FERRELL, Indiana– Yogi can light you up as a scorer and a passer. His best work this year came in an 83-73 win against St. John’s, when he put up 22 points, seven assists and four rebounds. Keep your eyes glued to him during tonight’s game against the Duke Blue Devils.
FRED VANVLEET, Wichita State – He’s struggling with a hamstring injury right now, but when he’s healthy, VanVleet is required viewing for any young player that yearns to run the point. Go check his resume, and how he gave Indiana, Kansas and Notre Dame that work in last year’s NCAA Tournament. He’s been to a Final Four as a freshman, quarterbacked an unbeaten squad through the regular season as a sophomore and is already Wichita State’s all-time leader in assists.
JAMAL MURRAY, Kentucky – When I saw what the 6-foot-5 freshman from Ontario did with the Canadian National Team at this summer’s Pan Am Games, all I could say was, “John Calipari done did it again!” His shot-making ability off the bounce is exceptional. With so many outstanding players on the Wildcats roster, his numbers will not reflect his scoring acumen. But if you saw him in the November 17th matchup against Duke, you already know the deal.
TYLER ULIS, Kentucky – My favorite guard in all of college hoops. There’s nothing I love more than a floor general who is a gifted and willing passer. Ulis’ vision and leadership are beyond exceptional. His 18-point, six-assist, four-rebound and two-steal performance to open the season against Duke is the blueprint for what an elite college point guard looks like.
ISAIAH BRISCOE, Kentucky – With Briscoe, Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray, Wildcats head Coach John Calipari starts three players in his backcourt that will be starting point guards one day in the NBA. That’s crazier than 100 black pastors getting played like a game of Three-Card Monte by Donald Trump. With Ulis sidelined with an injury, Briscoe stepped in at the team’s primary ball-hander against Illinois State and had 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Big and durable, the 6-foot-3 freshman from Newark, New Jersey has a 6-foot-8 wingspan, which allows him to effectively guard all three perimeter positions. His agility, hops, muscular frame, handle, scoring ability and defensive hunger are a rare combination.
KRIS DUNN, Providence - Dunn is expected to be the first point guard selected in the 2016 NBA Draft. If you want to know why, peep his recent resume against Arizona and Michigan State, two squads with Final Four potential. The 6-foot-4 junior went 7-for-9 from the field against the Wildcats, scoring 19 points and dishing out eight assists. He followed that up with 21 points, seven assists and five rebounds against the Spartans. He impacts the game on both ends of the floor.
His ability to switch gears and directions at his size, with speed and strength that is tailored for the pro game is pretty fun to watch. He knows when to score and when to get his teammates off. His skills in the pick-and-roll, along with his on-ball defense are bananas.
Texas Freshman Kerwin Roach’s dunk against Texas-Arlington last night had me speaking in tongues. The last time I saw a little guy dunking on people like that in college, it was some skinny freshman at Georgetown named Allen Iverson. Goodness gracious, young fella. They don’t make no roach spray for that right there!
On Thanksgiving, our beloved game lost a true legend and pioneer in Guy Lewis, who coached the Houston Cougars for 30 years. Lewis was instrumental in the South’s integration of college basketball. He compiled a record of 592-279 at the University of Houston, led them to five Final Fours and was twice honored, in 1968 and 1983, as the national coach of the year.
Lewis twice changed the complexion of basketball with an understanding towards where the game was headed. He signed the school’s first two African-American players, Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney in 1964 while many southern schools stubbornly fought against integrating their programs.
That was the beginning of a run of 27 straight winning seasons and 14 years with 20 or more wins. His 1968 promotion of a contest between UCLA and their great center Kareem Abdul Jabbar, aka the artist formerly known as Lew Alcindor, and his squad featuring “The Big E”, Elvin Hayes in front of over 52,000 fans at the Houston Astrodome was a watershed moment in the emerging popularity of college hoops on the national scale.
His Phi Slamma Jamma squads of the early ‘80s was an early peek at what basketball would look like in the 21st century. They were progenitors of the above-the-rim style that would strong arm and stylistically brand the college game. Before Michigan’s Fab Five came along, teams like the University of Louisville’s Doctors of Dunk and those Houston teams with Benny Anders, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon were America’s first true basketball embodiment of the soon to emerge urban aesthetic and hip hop cultural explosion.
Olajuwon went on to become the greatest international superstar the game has ever seen, a man whose greatness opened the floodgates for the likes of Drazen Petrovic, Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Dikembe Mutombo, Serge Ibaka, Boris Diaw, Tony Parker, Kristaps Porzingis and many others, both past and present.
At the tip-off of this NBA season, 100 international players from 37 countries and territories were on opening day rosters.
Lewis’ emphasis on the high-flying, up-tempo offense that used the dunk as its main weapon energized the sport in ways that no one else did.
Guy Lewis was 93 years old.