By Kyle Beery
Every year in college basketball there are a handful of players that seemingly come out of nowhere and take the sport by storm.
Take, for example, Duke’s Grayson Allen. He had a pretty solid freshman campaign during the 2015-2016 regular season, but put himself on the college basketball map with a standout performance in the NCAA Tournament that helped the Blue Devils to a national title.
He went from relative unknown to star the following season, though he has — dare I say — tripped up a few times throughout his career. Still, despite character issues with Allen, he has become one of the best players in the country.
While the NCAA Tournament can have a magnifying effect, we see breakout players during the course of every regular season, too.
For the purposes of this list, these are players that either transition from role player to star, or put up eye-popping numbers that can draw a little NBA buzz, even if their teams aren’t great.
Example No. 1: Donovan Mitchell had been an under-the-radar role player during his freshman season at Louisville and broke out last year for 15 points and three assists per game, turning himself into an NBA Draft Lottery pick in the process.
Example No. 2: Marcus Keene. Remember him? Though he played for Central Michigan, Keene led the nation in scoring and became the first player to average 30 points per game in 20 years.
So here are seven guys that you might not know who have the potential to be household names by the end of the season.
*Note that freshmen are not included in this list — there will be a separate freshman watch list
Cane Broome, junior guard, Cincinnati
Cane Broome sat out last season after transferring from Sacred Heart, where he dominated the Northeast Conference for two years. The 6-foot Broome averaged 23 points, five rebounds and three assists during his sophomore year with the Pioneers.
He is now eligible for a Bearcats team that could make a lot of noise this season. Cincinnati is ranked 12th in the Associated Press Preseason Top 25 and returns 73 percent of its possession minutes from last season.
Broome will undoubtedly see an increase in the level of competition he faces compared to the NEC, but after a year of practicing against an NCAA Tournament team and with a solid supporting cast, he could become a sleeper for American Athletic Conference Player of the Year. Of course, he’ll have to compete with the likes of Landry Shamet (AAC newcomer Wichita State), Shake Milton (SMU) and teammate Gary Clark, among others.
Broome is quick, he can shoot from deep, he can drive the lane, and he’s got hops. He figures to slide in nicely to the Bearcats rotation.
Mike Daum, junior forward, South Dakota State
Disclaimer: this one might be cheating.
A lot of people probably heard about Mike Daum last spring when he scored 37 points in the Summit League championship game, leading to a lot of hype heading into the NCAA Tournament.
The 6-foot-9 floor stretcher eclipsed the 30-point mark 12 times last season, twice exploding for more than 40 points, including a season-high 51 points against IPFW in February. He’s certainly drawing NBA hype as the season approaches.
Daum and the Jacks may be in position to become a trendy March Madness upset pick as they were a few years back with star guard Nate Wolters, though the upset hype did not come to fruition as they ultimately ran into eventual runner-up Michigan. Nonetheless, with his size and long-range ability, Daum could get his team to the 12-13-seed range by season’s end.
Sean McDermott, sophomore guard, Butler
It would have been easy to cheat again and list Butler’s Kamar Baldwin here. But Big East fans certainly know who Kamar Baldwin is. Northwestern fans know the name, too.
And Baldwin had a chance to show the nation who he is during Butler’s run to the Sweet Sixteen last season. Though still on the verge of a major breakout, Baldwin isn’t the name that goes here.
It’s Sean McDermott. The 6-foot-6 redshirt sophomore who sat out his freshman season and saw only about 10 minutes off the bench last year. The deep threat that put in the offseason work it takes to become a starter.
McDermott’s career high is just seven points (three times last season), but he has seemingly made major strides that have landed him in Jordan’s starting lineup. He played well in the team’s four-game trip to Spain over the summer and shot the lights out in the Dawgs’ two exhibition games (9-of-13 overall, 5-of-9 from deep).
With four key seniors gone from last year’s Sweet 16 team, two recruits gone via transfer, and a new coach, the Bulldogs are entering another transition season. While former coach Chris Holtmann handled his transition in 2014-15 nearly flawlessly, LaVall Jordan might have a bit more of a challenge in doing so this time around.
He has Baldwin, seniors Kelan Martin and Tyler Wideman to lean on, but McDermott, a virtual upperclassman, will be also key for Butler if they intend on getting back to the NCAA Tournament this year.
B.J. Taylor, junior guard, UCF
I’d be willing to bet that not many casual college basketball fans have seen many Central Florida games over the last couple years. That may change this season. Johnny Dawkins’ Knights may make a run at an NCAA Tournament bid this season, one year removed from making it to the 2017 NIT semifinals.
Most everyone has heard of 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall, who is quite mobile for someone his size. While he figures to play an important role for the Knights as they try and reach the next level, the go-to guy for UCF will be B.J. Taylor.
Taylor averaged 17.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game last season. Though he still has room for improvement around the perimeter, Taylor has shown he has what it takes to be the lead guy. He even showed flashes of a clutch gene when he hit a pair of free throws with one second on the clock to give UCF a comeback win over Illinois State in the second round of the NIT.
Udoka Azubuike, sophomore center, Kansas
Remember the name. Udoka Azubuike.
I’ll save you the trouble right now. That’s “you-DOE-kuh ah-zuh-BOO-kee.”
The 7-foot center had his freshman year cut short by a wrist injury before Big 12 play even began. He started the last six games before his injury, averaging 7.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in that span, including a 17-point performance in his first career start.
He’s back and he’s healthy for the Jayhawks this season and will anchor the frontcourt of a team that might play with four guards on the floor at times this season. Azubuike racked up 33 points and 18 rebounds across 51 minutes in the team’s first two exhibition games.
It may take a little time to get him back up to speed against good competition, but he has the potential to be the best true center college basketball has seen in quite a while. His post game is comparable to that of former Purdue Boilermaker and current Portland Trailblazer Caleb Swanigan, but Azubuike doesn’t have the ability to step out for a perimeter shot.
D’Mitrik Trice, sophomore guard, Wisconsin
The younger brother of former Michigan State star, Travis, D’Mitrik Trice is on the cusp of becoming a solid Big Ten player.
He didn’t see much playing time on a Badgers team that made its way into the Sweet 16 last season. He averaged just 5.6 points per game, but shot a solid 41.8 percent from three point range.
He’s the second leading returning scorer for Greg Gard’s team, as the Badgers lost four starters from a year ago. He’ll be the No. 2 guy alongside national player of the year candidate Ethan Happ. It might be tough sledding for the Badgers this year, but Trice could help them hang around in NCAA Tournament discussion until the end of the year.
Cyril Langevine, sophomore forward, Rhode Island
Much like UCF, Rhode Island is a bit off the beaten path when it comes to casual basketball fans. The Rams made some noise in the NCAA Tournament last season, but many still probably don’t know who Cyril Langevine is.
With the loss of Hassan Martin (13.6 points, 6.8 rebounds per game last year), Langevine slides into the Rams’ starting lineup. He got just 3.2 PPG last year, but his 6-foot-8, 225-pound frame bode well for URI, who enters the season as the favorite to win the Atlantic 10.
He scored nine points on a perfect 4-for-4 from the field in the Rams’ second-round loss to eventual Final Four team Oregon. He put up 17 points and eight rebounds in an exhibition game against Buffalo.
The Rams will certainly miss the post presence of Martin and Kuran Iverson, but Langevine will help them win some games in coach Dan Hurley’s system.