We’re still more than a month away, but we’ll start previewing different elements of the upcoming season in the coming weeks. Our goal is to prepare you to watch both the Huskies and our Pac-10 opponents with as much insight and background as possible.
So, with that in mind, here are five big men new to the conference this season who will do their best to give fits to Quincy Pondexter, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Darnell Gant, and the rest of the Husky frontcourt:
Stepheson was a role player on UNC’s 2008 Final Four team, averaging 4.3 points and 4.5 rebounds, before sitting out last season as part of the transfer process. The only player in the conference not wearing a Bruins uniform with Final Four experience, Stepheson could step in and immediately be the Trojans’ most productive player after Dwight Lewis.
With Leonard Washington ineligible for the first half of the season, Stepheson should start from day one for the Trojans and projects as a double-double threat. If Stepheson does indeed live up to the high expectations of him coming out of high school (he was Scout.com’s #55 player in the 2006 class, ahead of Wayne Chism, Russell Westbrook, and Luke Harangody), the Trojans can be a little better than many are projecting them to be. Maybe not good, but a little better.
Nelson could eventually be the heir apparent to Jon Brockman as the conference’s best rebounder. He’ll have to prove he can do it at this level, of course, and also prove that a torn meniscus suffered playing football in late 2008 has healed completely. The word on Nelson is that he’s big enough and tough enough to contribute immediately at Westwood.
Even if not this season, Nelson should prove a force to be reckoned with on the boards for the Bruins and develop into a consistent scorer in the post as well.
6’9″, 250, Fr. (Ukraine)
It will be a surprise if Natyazhko doesn’t start for the Wildcats right away, since he’ll be the most talented center on the roster almost by default. Effective scoring from the outside and the post, Kreal won’t be expected to produce too much on the offensive end early on. Coach Sean Miller will instead look for his new center for rebounding and shot-blocking, and to improve on defense, thought to be his biggest weakness.
If he can put together a nice freshman year, expect whispers of Natyazhko leaving early for the NBA, possibly after the 2010/11 season, given the fact that he’s already got a nearly NBA-ready body.
6’8″, 265, Jr. (South Plains JC)
With Jordan Wilkes departing, Sanders-Frison likely slots in as the Bear’s man in the middle. This gives Cal the enforcer it mostly lacked last year, when Harper Kamp tried to play that role, but is just too unathletic to be counted on as a starter on a team with championship aspirations.
Sanders-Frison is expected to clog the middle, work on the boards, and even occasionally pop out for a fifteen-footer. Most of his offense, though, will come right around the basket where he’ll get opportunities on put-backs and dishes from Cal’s talented backcourt.
6’9″, 215, Fr. (Australia)
With only two returning players on the roster taller than 6’7″, the 6’9″ Motum will find himself teaming with DeAngelo Casto in the frontcourt early in his tenure at Wazzu. The most productive player on Australia’s U19 team, Motum projects as more of a finesse big man than departing Aron Baynes.
If Motum can translate his scoring ability (13.6 ppg for the Australian U19 team) to the Pac-10, he could team with Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto to give Ken Bone the offensive talent he needs to install a slightly less deliberate style in Pullman.
Hey, thanks for coming!