Meet Some All-American Alternatives

Their names aren't Joakim Noah, Tyler Hansbrough, Arron Afflalo, Aaron Gray or any of the other four Florida starters who are All-American candidates. But don't be surprised if some of the guys listed here end up with a lot of All-American mention in March.

I think this will be referred to as my Alternative All-American Team.

None of these five selections is from a program belonging to a BCS conference, none was particularly heavily recruited, and not a one of them has yet played in an NCAA Tournament game.

None of which really matters, though, does it?

If you're a diligent college basketball fan and actually read, cover to cover, any or all of the preseason magazines scattered to the supermarket or book store winds in the past few weeks, you should be familiar with each of them.

If not, you will be soon enough – say, before Jan. 1 – if you're willing to put in a little extra time searching out their games in that seemingly endless basketball realm created by cable and satellite dishes.

Fire up!

Let me introduce, as one of the AAA post players, Jason Smith of Colorado State.

The 7-foot, 240-pound 20-year-old, by way of Platte Valley High in Kersey, Colo., (population: an estimated 980), averaged 16.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.1 blocked shots per game for a team that won just four games in the Mountain West Conference but was 16-15 overall.

Smith was already on the NBA talent evaluators' radar after a spiffy freshman season (10.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game). But they locked into him after performances last November against Colorado (16 points, six rebounds, five assists and three), Denver (22, 13 and four) and Auburn (21 and 11).

He only had double-figure rebound totals in two Mountain West games but the perimeter skills Smith demonstrated for the Rams (because of the likes of 7-0 Stuart Creason and 6-9 Michael Harrison, Coach Dale Layer can afford to play him facing the basket) more than off-set those numbers.

A strong performance in front of NBA scouts with the other adidas Superstar Camp "counselors" in Suwanee, Ga., in July – when the other "counselors" also included Florida's Joakim Noah – has him a consensus first-round possibility come 2007.

Filling the other AAA post position is another junior, Fordham's Bryant Dunston (6-8 and 233).

His coach, Dereck Whittenburg, can't stop raving about Dunston, as a player and even more so as a young man with the kind of work ethic that more highly touted players should envy – or at least emulate.

Dunston, who is from Queens, has the same kind of inside-outside skills that another Atlantic-10 standout, David West, put on display at Xavier a few years back.

Now it is on to Western Kentucky where Coach Darrin Horn has a player in Courtney Lee who averaged the kind of numbers (17.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists) as a sophomore that would have already made him a college hoops household name if he attended college in Louisville or Lexington instead of Bowling Green, Ky.

The 6-5 Lee usually played his best (31 points and five steals vs. UAB; 21 and five vs. UOP; and 21 points, 14 rebounds and five steals against Arizona) against the Hilltoppers' toughest comp.

And there is something to be said about that.

Pencil him in as the obvious preseason choice for Sunbelt Player of the Year.

Who is the best college player in Illinois for the coming season?

Coach Bruce Weber has one of the best sophomores in the Big Ten (Jamar Smith) for the University of Illinois, while Jerry Wainwright does so in the Big East (Wilson Chandler) for DePaul.

But my choice is a senior, 6-7 and multiple-skilled (yeah, he's often the point guard for his club) Blake Schilb of Loyola of Chicago.

In his team's final six games (it finished 19-11 and is the Horizon Conference favorite) last season, Schilb averaged 23 points and eight rebounds and nearly five assists).

He'd impact the fortunes of a few other Big Ten and Big East teams other than Illinois and DePaul, that's for sure.

Long Beach State's (and the Big West's) all-time leading scorer, Lucious Harris, played 12 years in the NBA.

And if those who remember Harris see the 49ers play this season and wonder why 6-3 guard Kejuan Johnson looks oddly familiar, facially, they've got an eye for faces – or, more accurately, basketball bloodlines.

Johnson is Harris' nephew.

Johnson, who starred at Artesia High in Lakewood, Calif. (which also turned out 1995 John R. Wooden Award winner Ed O'Bannon, Ed's brother Charles and another former UCLA Bruin – and now Miami Heat player – in Jason Kapono) is the most underrated point guard prospect in the West.

He (and backcourt mate Aaron Nixon) will get plenty of exposure to NBA scouts this season, especially when the 49ers travel up the 405 Freeway to visit USC and UCLA, and in games with Big West opponent Cal State Fullerton, which has another NBA prospect at the point in Bobby Brown.

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