While there is no action on the basketball courts around the American Athletic Conference, important things are happening.
NCAA football and basketball athletes can return to campus for voluntary workouts beginning June 1. Schools are working on the COVID-19 health guidelines for that return – precautions that could include steps such as small groups in weight rooms, closed locker rooms, face coverings for coaches and no high fives.
Not all schools are in a hurry. Tulsa will bring back its athletes on July 6.
The AAC basketball rosters underwent significant change after the abbreviated 2019-2020 season and that turnover no longer seems unique. Transfers or the lure of a salary mean coaches should plan for departures most seasons.
For Wichita State basketball fans, the loss of several rotation players to transfer seemed devastating in late March, then less so when fans noticed similar scenes at other schools. When former UConn guard Alterique Gilbert committed to the Shockers for his final season, the mood changed and his choice boosted recruiting efforts that followed.
“We feel like, as a team, we have gotten more athletic,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said in April. “We addressed some immediate needs and also set ourselves up for the future with guys who are just going to get better and better every day.”
Wichita State rebuilt its backcourt with junior-college guards Craig Porter, jucorecruiting.com’s No. 15 prospect and Trevin Wade, brother of Shocker senior forward Trey Wade. Junior-college forward Clarence Jackson has three seasons of eligibility.
The departures included guards Jamarius Burton, Grant Sherfield and Erik Stevenson, all of whom contributed significantly to Wichita State’s 23-8 record and its status as an NCAA Tournament at-large possible. Replacing them, as well as senior center Jaime Echenique, is not easy. Many coaches are in a similar situation.
Wichita State brought in seven newcomers in April. With Gilbert as the prominent addition, coaches believe they recovered to add talent to returners such as forward Dexter Dennis, guard Tyson Etienne and Wade. Backup center Morris Udeze planned to leave and changed his mind.
“I told Alterique that, from a coaches’ perspective, he struck fear in our hearts as we prepared for games against UConn,” Marshall said in April. “He’s a dynamic playmaker, shot-maker and defender. Craig can handle either guard position because he’s long, athletic and plays so hard. He can handle the ball, shoot, distribute and even block shots.”
No first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection returns, so the Shockers aren’t alone in revamping their roster. And, as Houston can attest, the lure of professional money may change rosters unexpectedly.
Memphis Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year Precious Achiuwa is a certain first-round NBA Draft pick. Houston lost guard Nate Hinton, a second-team all-conference pick as a sophomore, to professional aspirations recently.
From the second-team all-conference selections, only East Carolina forward Jayden Gardner and Houston guard Caleb Mills are back.
And UConn, which won the 2014 NCAA title and then went 32-40 in conference play in its final four seasons, is gone for the Big East. The American will proceed as an 11-team conference without one of its charter members and down a national brand for men’s and women’s basketball.
So, if your team looks a lot different – fear not. That is the way it is in much of college basketball.
Cincinnati, which tied Houston and Tulsa at 13-5 atop the conference standings, loses all-conference seniors Jarron Cumberland and Trevon Scott. The Bearcats added grad transfer Rapolas Ivanauska, a 6-foot-10 center, who earned Patriot League Player of the Year honors at Colgate in 2019. Michigan guard David DeJulius also transferred to Cincinnati, although he may sit out the upcoming season.
Despite the loss of Hinton, who averaged 10.6 points and 8.7 rebounds, the Cougars likely remain the preseason favorite.
They are No. 9 in the CBSSports.com top 25 and 1 rankings, the lone American team listed. In addition to Mills, All-Freshman guard Marcus Sasser and guards Quentin Grimes and DeJon Jarreau are back from a team that went 23-8 and finished No. 22 in the Associated Press poll. A recent knee injury to starting forward Fabian White Jr. is expected to rob him of the 2020-2021 season.
Tulsa returns guard Brandon Rachal, who averaged 12.1 points. Arkansas transfer Keyshawn Embery-Simpson and Georgia Tech transfer Curtis Haywood sat out last season and will help the Hurricane backcourt.
SMU – 19-11 last season – also appears to enter the 2020-21 season largely immune to turnover. The Mustangs return third-team all-conference picks Tyson Jolly and Isiaha Mike, in addition to Kendric Davis and Feron Hunt. USF also might be capable of a move up the standings – if forward Alexis Yetna recovers from injury after missing all of 2019-2020 and three transfers help.
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Memphis – 21-10 during a tumultuous season – is relying on transfers to restock, some of whom may not be eligible this season. Forward DeAndre Williams, a transfer from Evansville, joins forward Landers Nolley, who averaged 15.5 points at Virginia Tech. The Tigers also return guards Lester Quinones and Boogie Ellis and forward D.J. Jeffries.
Tulane dismissed leading scorer Teshaun Hightower in April after he was arrested and charged with murder in Georgia. The Green Wave also landed seven recruits, five of whom are transfers from NCAA Division I schools.
Temple’s six-man class includes two transfers. Leading scorer Quinton Rose, a senior, averaged 16.4 points and the Owls finished 14-17 for their first losing season since 2014. UCF added Louisville transfer Darius Perry as a graduate transfer to team with Darin Green Jr., who averaged 10.1 points as a freshman, in the backcourt.
Due to ongoing concerns with the COVID-19 virus, the American Athletic Conference has suspended all spring sporting events until further notice.