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Sporting News’ 2021-22 college basketball preseason All-Americans

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It is one of the peculiarities of the modern basketball scene that there are, in a sense, more high-profile centers in college basketball than there are in the NBA.

That’s just weird, right?

The league that once was patrolled by Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal selected one young man who might be described as a true center in the first round of its most recent player draft, and that guy, Evan Mobley, of course is playing power forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

MORE: SN’s preseason Top 25

This was wonderful news for the college game, better still for those teams that had a special big man on their 2020-21 teams. Of the 15 players on the 2020-21 Sporting News All-America team, only four returned for the coming season. Three were traditional centers. A fourth was a power forward who operated primarily in the low post.

It was not hard to include them on the preseason All-America squad for 2021-22. Because they’re still here, it crowded out some very capable players who easily could have been selected, as well.

MORE: One-on-one with Coach K

First team

Kofi Cockburn, C, Illinois

Last year’s stats: 17.7 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 65.4 FG

Why he’s here: Cockburn could replicate his sophomore season and be guaranteed to find a place on this list of honored players. Know what? That’s not good enough. He didn’t return to Champaign to stagnate. He came back to improve. That means building stamina – and avoiding foul trouble – so he can go more than 27 minutes a game. It means improving his footwork so he can defend on the perimeter and improving his arsenal of offensive moves. If he does all of which he is capable, he could become college basketball’s best player this winter.

MORE: Cockburn to sit three games to start year

Johnny Juzang, SG, UCLA

Last year’s stats: 16.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 44.1 FG

Why he’s here: It’s a long way from regular contributor to first-open star in college basketball. Juzang got there in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, but was it permanent or just a quick stopover? Juzang actually topped 25 points more times in the NCAAs (three in six games) than the regular season (two in 24). So he’s done it in the biggest games, but he’ll belong here if he can do it night after night, with the glamour of March far removed and defenses keying on him relentlessly. Juzang is more a scorer than shooter, but if he can become someone comfortably described as a shooter, the Bruins will be tough to stop.

Max Abmas, G, Oral Roberts

Last year’s stats: 24.5 ppg, 3.8 apg, 47.7 FG, 42.9 3-PT.

Why he’s here: Abmas led Division I in scoring last season, which seemed a cute story until ORU got into the NCAAs and starting burning better-funded opponents. And Abmas was responsible for a lot of that, going the distance in every March elimination he played – three in the Summit League, three in the NCAAs – and never scoring fewer than 25 in March Madness. So unlike some others, we’re not bumping him down to second- or third-team status merely because he plays in a mid-major league. We will say he’s going to have to ring up some big numbers to be here at season’s end, but he’s shown he can be that player.

Paolo Banchero, PF, Duke

Last year’s stats: Freshman

Why he’s here: Banchero probably is the most talented player in college basketball. There are two or three freshmen elsewhere, at Gonzaga or Memphis, who may demonstrate otherwise. But Banchero delivers an ideal combination of size, strength, grace and skill. He has the body of a power forward, the agility of a small forward and the shooting of, naturally, a shooting guard. A really good shooting guard. Banchero needs to show he can play against physicality, because he’ll certainly see plenty in the ACC. Duke will need everything he has to offer in order to present Mike Krzyzewski with a terrific final season.

MORE: Fan pledges $1 million for 4 Duke-UNC tickets

Drew Timme, C, Gonzaga

Last year’s stats: 19.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 65.5 FG

Why he’s here: On a team that didn’t lose a game until the NCAA championship, Timme was the player through whom the entire offense flowed. It perhaps should have flattered him that Baylor spent so much energy and attention on causing him to struggle in the final, but it probably was hard to look at it that way in the moment. He’ll have more help up front now, which may alter his role in the attack, but it also may make his job easier. Like so many other of the centers who are repeat visitors here, he also needs to show there’s more to his game than owning the lane. But he doesn’t need to show us that. It’s an issue for future employers. He’s already a great college player.

Second team

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Trayce Jackson-Davis, PF, Indiana

Last year’s stats: 19.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.4 apg, 51.7 FG

Why he’s here: Jackson-Davis was so good as a sophomore he made our All-America third team even though the Hoosiers had a losing record. Trust us, that doesn’t happen often. He did most of his damage last season as a low-post scorer, which is one reason he is back in college. The NBA needs to see more of him operating on offense away from the basket, which leads to the question of whether he can make those adjustments while still dominating on behalf of the Hoosiers. He’s now got an NBA-trained coach, Mike Woodson, to help him along.

Collin Gillespie, PG, Villanova

Last year’s stats: 14.0 ppg, 4.6 apg, 42.8 FG, 37.6 3-PT

Why he’s here: Let’s be honest about this: Thus far in his career, Gillespie has excelled as someone in command of his team, taking charge of the defense and, lately, at posting up defenders in the mode of his predecessor, Jalen Brunson. But you don’t become one of the top 10 players in college basketball with the numbers he put up last year. There was nothing to criticize, but neither to celebrate. He’ll have to do better to keep company with this group; he’ll either need to score more, hit more often from deep or pass more prolifically. Here’s the thing: We believe he’ll do all three.

Chet Holmgren, PF, Gonzaga

Last year’s stats: Freshman

Why he’s here: There’s really never been anyone like Holmgren in college basketball. The closest comparison we’ve been able to conjure is Kevin Durant, but Durant entered Texas doing normal shooting guard/small forward things, he just did them at nearly 7 feet tall. Holmgren does a lot of those things, perhaps a bit less smoothly but also with an inch or two more height and length than Durant. In his college season, KD blocked 69 shots. That’s an impressive number. It wouldn’t be surprising if Holmgren approached 100. There’s been some concern expressed by other analysts about how he and Timme will mix, but they’re completely different players. Of course, as we said, everyone is different than Holmgren.

Hunter Dickinson, C, Michigan

Last year’s stats: 14.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 59.8 FG

Why he’s here: Dickinson was so good in last season’s first couple months he made our second team even after struggling down the stretch. He was a transformational player for the Wolverines, helping them to a Big Ten championship, and now he will be the foundation as much of the roster turns over – albeit in a talented direction. He needs to have more and better counters to the exorbitant defensive attention thrown at him, particularly passing to gifted teammates who’ll be able to use the freedom available to them because of double-teams against Dickinson.

MORE: Big Ten loaded with traditional bigs

Emoni Bates, G/F, Memphis

Last year’s stats: Freshman

Why he’s here: Someone on a team this talented is likely to stand out, and it wouldn’t be a shock if it were freshman center Jalen Duren or veteran shooting guard Landers Nolley. Logic says the player most likely to become the star is the most talented, and that’s Bates. There’s been discussion about using him as the team’s primary point guard – because there is a vacancy there – but Bates’ versatility as a scorer and distributor might be best utilized at a forward spot where his combination of size and quickness will give him an advantage over most defenders and his versatility will unsettle most who oppose him.

Third team

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Jaden Ivey, SG, Purdue

Last year’s stats: 11.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.9 apg

Ken Lofton Jr., PF, Louisiana Tech

Last year’s stats: 12.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 56.7 FG

Buddy Boeheim, SG, Syracuse

Last year’s stats: 17.8 ppg, 2.6 apg, 38.3 3-PT

Julian Champagnie, SF, St. John’s

Last year’s stats: 19.8 ppg, 7.4 apg, 38.0 3-PT

Jabari Smith, PF, Auburn

Last year’s stats: Freshman

 



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