A few days ago I took a look back at my picks for breakout sophomores in the Big Sky last year, and was pretty happy with my efforts. Now, it's time to look into the crystal ball again and try to identify five sophomores from the Big Sky that will have breakout years compared to their freshman years.
One note... Dylan Garrity of Sacramento State is a guy I am not including on this list, but not because I don't think he is worthy. I just think that since he was the Freshman of the Year in the conference, and led all NCAA freshman in assists, it would be too easy to project him as "breaking out." It is a compliment to him, because I think he was too solid in year one to include here, and I wanted to dig a little deeper. So, the five I am choosing...
You could almost argue that he should be similarly gauged as Garrity, but I am including him on this list because I think he is going to break out in a big way. By the end of last season, Svihovec was the guy UNC went to if they needed a bucket down the stretch, and he became a leader for them. I see that continuing this year. He does not beat you with athleticism, but he knows how to play the game and get good shots. He is an efficient player and that should improve with a year under his belt. If he can be a leader defensively, and be a little more of a pure point guard (in terms of taking care of the ball and getting teammates involved), he can be an all-conference guy sooner rather than later.
Gelaun Wheelwright (Weber State)
With the loss of Damian Lillard, Wheelwright has a great chance to be the starting PG, which will give him a lot of responsibility. Last year, a lot of his offense came either off Lillard or off the fast break, so it will be interesting to see how effective he can be in a half court game. He might be the fastest player in the conference, and this allows him to get easy baskets at times. He has to improve his outside shot to keep teams honest. He shot 31% from downtown last year, but needs to get that up to ensure teams won't sag off of him. If forced to play up on him, he will beat a lot of guys off the dribble. He also had a low assist rate of 10.8%, which obviously must improve if he is going to start at the one. He has a long way to go, but you get the feeling he is only scratching the surface of his potential.
Kevin Henderson (Montana)
A lot of this prediction will depend on playing time. Minutes will be opened up by the loss of Art Steward, but there are other candidates to take those minutes. If he does play, he has the athleticism to be a difference maker defensively, and solid offensively. Against UNC last year, I saw a press featuring Will Cherry, Kareem Jamar, and Kevin Henderson, and it was lethal. There is a lot of speculation here because he only played 98 minutes last year, but I have a good feeling about Henderson's future in the Big Sky.
Athletically, there are not a lot of guys with his talent in this conference. He can play above the rim, and just make things happen that other guys can't. The unique thing about him is that he also shot 46% from three (19/41) lst year, and over 51% from two. The talent is there to be a big time player. However, like many freshman, he looked like he may have been farther along physically than mentally. Look for him to take a step closer to putting it together, which will earn him the extra minutes that comes along with that trust.
Gaellen Bewernick (Northern Arizona)
Bewernick was a rare bright spot on a bad Lumberjacks team, as he played a bit out of position but posted solid rebounding rates and efficient offensive numbers. I think NAU is going to be a lot more organized and tougher this year, and that could benefit Bewernick. With better gameplans in place, he could take the next step and become a focal point of Jack Murphy's rebuilding efforts. It can be tough to predict how a guy is going to do in a new system, but I think he has the talent to make it work.
- Keron DeShields (Montana) - Has lots of talent on the offensive side of the ball, but will be battling for minutes again in a crowded backcourt. For Wayne Tinkle, tie goes to defensive-minded guys.
- Gary Winston (Portland State) - The hardest guy to leave off. Good all-around player that should have a much bigger role in year two.
- Parker Kelly (Eastern Washington) - He had a nice impact as a freshman and should be equally solid this year, but I'm not sure he has the talent to break through and get a ton of minutes in a crowded backcourt.
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