The 2015-16 basketball season is upon us. Excitement alone that basketball is back is one thing but there are a lot of great story lines around the basketball scene in Arizona at all levels that bring a lot of promise.
The following are new players to in-state teams that I predict could become household names by the end of the season:
Starting with the NBA and the Phoenix Suns. I don’t know about you, but there seems to be a much more pleasant feeling around this team going into the season than there was for most of last year. It could just be the feeling of promise and hope on the horizon for a team beginning a new season. But it also could because of the pieces they added. They resigned Brandon Knight and signed Tyson Chandler. Those are the big moves. One player that they added however who really intrigues me is Sonny Weems.
If you have watched the Suns this preseason, you have to be impressed with Weems and what he could bring to this team. This is a player that last played in the NBA in 2011 when he was with the Toronto Raptors and averaged 9.2 points and 2.6 rebounds. The last four years, he took his game overseas playing in Lithuania and Russia where he became one of the top players in European basketball. Weems averaged 13.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists during his most recent season in Russia.
We saw during his first stint in the NBA that he has a lot of energy and is a very explosive player. He is said to have improved his jump shot to go with his athletic ability which could make up a great piece to have off the bench in this system. I was fascinated by this sign in the offseason and now seeing in preseason and him averaging six points, four assists and just over two rebounds in the five preseason games to this point, it looks like general manager Ryan McDonough and company may have landed a possible fan favorite.
Going to the college ranks, the graduate transfer rule has been really been a hot button topic in the sport with graduated seniors with one year of eligibility left having the chance to basically become a free agent and play one year with another team without having to sit out. The Arizona Wildcats, who lost key leaders from last season, added a much needed veteran presence to their roster with graduate transfer Mark Tollefsen who has spent his collegiate career to this point with the University of San Francisco.
It is hard to take anything away from an exhibition game, but you could not help but notice the show that Tollefsen put on during the Red-Blue game in Tucson last weekend. Tollefson had the dunk that brought the house down and won him the dunk contest:
He also played close to perfect basketball during the scrimmage in which he went five-for-five from the floor and two-of-two from the foul line for 13 points as well as eight rebounds and four assists. He averaged 14.0 points and 5.4 rebounds this past season for USF, shooting 38.9 percent from 3-point range. He will play a key role, most likely coming off the bench, for Arizona this season and could become a critical piece with his 6-9 frame plus his explosion and shooting ability on offense.
For year one under Bobby Hurley, the Arizona State basketball team has plenty of new faces this season. One who could make a big impact for the Sun Devils is JUCO transfer Andre Spight. The 6-3 guard is said to be a tremendous shooter from the shooting guard position and can also handle the ball if needed to run the point.
He spent his first two years of college at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas. He was great for them early averaging 16 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists, while shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc as a freshman. Then as a sophomore was second leading scorer on the team averaging 14.8 points per game along with 3.6 assists. Spight could be quite the impact performer for ASU if he can put up anything close to those numbers and shoot the ball well for them from the outside as former shooters for this program, Jon Gilling and Bo Barnes have graduated.
Last year, the high school basketball scene was introduced to freshman Timmy Allen of the Desert Ridge Jaguars. He came in around 6-2 or 6-3 and led the Jags in scoring at 16 points per game and close to seven rebounds. Heading into his sophomore season, he isn’t literally a “new name” but Allen is coming off of a monster summer which saw him land scholarship offers from Grand Canyon, Nebraska and New Mexico State with some major programs on the west coast showing interest.
This summer in addition to adding offers, he has added some size. According to Scout.com, he now stands 6-5 and around 205 pounds. Adding that size to an already long and athletic frame has the potential for Allen of becoming one of the more dominant players in high school basketball this season. We have already seen the youth movement in this state with what players like Alex Barcello, Markus Howard, Marcus Shaver and Marvin Bagley have been able to do at a young age the last couple of years. Allen is the next to mention in this sentence of underclassmen who come up and compete with the big boys with no problem.