There’s nothing better than enjoying a front row seat to the growth and breakout of players as they navigate their college careers. Some experience an early epiphany. Others pop late. Whenever the arrival occurs, it’s special to see the transformation from role player to standout — and the ripple effect on a team.
Here are five Atlantic 10 players, as of mid-October, poised to take that step this year. While I didn’t intend to spotlight players from only one class, considering several juniors and even a senior, I landed on these five sophomores.
VINCE WILLIAMS: Sophomore – VCU
The 6-foot-6, 210 pound wing oozes versatility and slotted in as a valued contributor as a freshman in 2018-19, averaging 4.9 points and 3.3 rebounds in 15.4 minutes of action. That’s a surface scratch for what’s possible from Williams in the coming years, as his innate athleticism will serve him well on the offensive end and in helping the Rams maintain the defensive prowess they rediscovered in year two under Mike Rhoades. As VCU color analyst Mike Litos texted me earlier this week, “Vince is one of those guys who is a half-play ahead of everybody else. He has size, length, uses his body well and is a disruptive player — a nice way of saying he’s a pain in the rear for opponents.” Keep an eye on this pain in the rear from the opening tip this year. He has the all-around game, tools, and IQ to make life miserable for many.
LUKE FRAMPTON: RS Sophomore – DAVIDSON
In a late February 2017 matchup, Rhode Island’s E.C. Matthews dunked over 6-10 Davidson’s Will Magarity. It was nearly a full season after he returned from a season-ending knee injury the year before. It was a light bulb moment. Matthews finally knew he could trust his body. You might argue that redshirt sophomore Frampton (10.3ppg, 3.2rpg in 18-19), who returned last year from his own knee tear, already broke out. I’ll respectfully disagree. There’s a lot more in the tank and Frampton will have his light blub moment soon enough. Last season he was mostly a catch-and-shoot option for Bob McKillop. That’s going to end as the 6-5, 200 pound guard now readies for act two of his reminder tour. He’ll switch from wearing No. 34 last year (in honor of his late father) to No. 14 this year. Expect to see him return as a multi-facet scorer and also as an initiator of contact similar to teammate Jon Axel Gudmundsson. The productivity is going to continue rising in the coming years, as will Frampton’s profile.
The 6-foot-6 wing (8.1ppg, 5.2rpg) scored in double figures in eight of 10 games between late December and early February before a balky knee frustrated his effectiveness down the stretch. With a minor procedure to address the nagging knee in the offseason, he should be ready to roll. That’s good news for David Cox’s team. Martin is one of the most fluid players in the league, possessing the ability to shoot it but also slither through defenses like few can. On the opposite side, his length and agility allow him to guard multiple positions which offers the Rhode Island coaching staff lineup flexibility. Martin had a tendency as a freshman to float and defer on offense for long stretches — then burst. With a year of experience and confidence under his belt, the time is now to assert himself more consistently and be a threat to defenses every possession. If he does, we’ll be looking at a 5-plus point per game jump, increased impact on both sides, and a burgeoning young star.
DOMINICK WELCH: Sophomore – ST. BONAVENTURE
Schmidt found another one for the Bonnies. Actually he found another three in Welch, Osun Osunniyi, and Kyle Lofton, but the latter two get more attention. After breaking a toe early in his freshman season Welch (7.5ppg, 4.4rpg, .361 3PT) missed nine games and came back a different player. Mark Schmidt recently said Welch’s freshman year in-season improvement was one of the greatest surprises of his 30-year career. And if you know Schmidt, you know the art of bullshitting is not his preferred method. As for Welch, the long, 6-5 guard is active on the glass and, like his teammate Lofton, he doesn’t want for confidence. While the shot selection could and will improve as he matures, as the saying goes, it’s easier to put out a fire than to light one. He’s addressed his ball handling in the off season as he looks to round out his offensive game, while all the measurables are present for him to grow into a plus-defender.
FRED THATCH, JR.: Sophomore – SAINT LOUIS
I was leaning towards Thatch, Jr. anyway… and then read this quote from Saint Louis head coach Travis Ford in Blue Ribbon: “There won’t be a better freshman to sophomore jump from anybody in our league.” It remains to be seen whether Ford’s bold prognostication will prove out, but Thatch (4.3ppg, 2.7rpg) does have the tools and opportunity right before him. The 6-3 guard averaged 19.3 minutes per game on an NCAA Tournament team a year ago and will be relied upon heavily with the departures of Javon Bess, Tramaine Isabell and Dion Wiley. Thatch is tough, and, along with Jordan Goodwin, forms a formidable defensive duo that should snuff out many opposing sets before they can even be initiated. He’ll generate his offense opportunistically as he continues to improve on that side of the ball. I see a Stanley Burrell (Xavier, 2004-08) type of impact as he progresses; and Burrell was one helluva player. Thatch Jr., can be too.
Chris DiSano, is an Atlantic 10 television analyst and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano, who was named an NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44