2004: Big Man Invasion

Raise your hand if it seems like college basketball continues to become a more guard-dominated game? I better see that hand up.

Look at the current NCAA scoring statistics. There isn't a power forward or center among the Top 10 scorers in the country. Boston College's Craig Smith is the leading big man scorer in the nation and he's 15th. Only Michael Sweetney and Ron Slay join him in the Top 25. Get this: just one center is listed among the Top 50 leading scorers in the college game.

Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Hakeem Olajuwon, Derrick Coleman, Chris Webber? Where are you? (A hand goes up in the back of the room). "I know, I know," says one recruiting analyst. "They're in the Class of 2004!" Correct.

Provided the pirates from the NBA don't plunder the high schools ranks next season, college basketball is set to replenish itself in a big way. There are some terrific prospects currently playing as high school juniors.

Let's start with Dwight Howard. The Southwest Atlanta Christian standout ruled the paint at ABCD Camp last summer. He's long, strong and a fine athlete. He might be the No. 1 big man in the class; emphasis on might.

Prentiss, Miss., hulking beast Al Jefferson is pretty darn good. He's wide, athletic, quick off his feet and he's been scoring and rebounding at a pretty good rate since his freshman season. He was once the undisputed heavyweight champion and No. 1 player in the class. He's still in the conversation but it's crowded at the top.

Last month, Alabaman DJ White toed the line with Kansas signee David Padgett and acquainted himself well. He's supremely skilled won't be satisfied unless his name is mentioned with the elite big men in the class.

Ever heard of Brian Johnson? The Virginian was the youngest player on the U.S. Junior National team last summer. Some observers said he was the best player on the team too. This guy has a motor, a body and a track record of success.

Brian Butch commanded all the headlines when he picked Wisconsin in the fall. Well, he's going to have to make space and share the spotlight with Greg Steimsma in 2004. Another Wisconsin native, Steimsma is a big time shot blocker. What a pair the Badgers will feature in the fall of 2004.

Ah, Texas. Such a rich basketball state the past few years. Down in Dallas, there's a Chris Bosh play-a-like named Lamarcus Aldridge. He has the same body and game as Bosh. Need we say more?

Folks, there are so many good big men in this class it's flat out scary. We didn't even mention Bremerton's Marvin Williams and that's because he's so skilled he'll probably lead our small forward list or at least share space at the top with Josh Smith of McEachern.

Guys like Kalen Grimes, Ra'Sean Dickey, Tello Palacios, Mike Williams, Randolph Morris and the list goes on and on. It's an awesome class of big men and if you value post players boy are you going to love 2004.

Now, a few things could happen that could change the course of this class. First and foremost the NBA will steal a few of them. Bank on it because it's going to happen. We'll lose an elite player or two or maybe four to the pros. But, right now this class still looks deep enough to withstand a fair share of NBA defections.

The flipside is that if by some stroke of magical luck reigns down and all these guys go to college? Yikes. If you dare to dream, think of world in which Sean May, Chris Bosh, Paul Davis, Kendrick Perkins, Ndudi Ebi and James Lang are battling these youngsters? Man, it could be awesome.

Bad news part two of this scenario is that some of these guys might lose focus. The majority of them we've talked about have been so good inside the paint they might get bored and fall into the most common big man trap of all: the perimeter. Sure, it's a fun place to hang out on occasion and we love bigs who can step out, but not at the expense of losing their dominance inside.

It's February. It's cold. Some of us have cabin fever. If I can just make it to April for the start of the traveling team season. Then, I'll get to see some of these guys trade paint.

I can hardly wait.


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