Top Ten Thursday: Must-See Players

Major networks are re-tooling their lineups with new shows and new seasons for their current programs. This is a crucial time for TV. Get an early following with your pilot, and you might stay on the air. Botch your show’s debut, and you’ll be looking for work soon.

College basketball has a variety of players who are must-see TV, too. When these players are on TV, you should be watching. Trust me on this one. They’re not one-hit wonders.

College Basketball’s Must-See Players

  1. Trevor Releford (Alabama): He’s listed at 6-foot-1 (I’ve stood next to him and there’s no way he’s that tall). But he plays like he’s 6-10. Releford often charges into the lane as if he’s twice his size. He’s bumped, pushed and hacked by guys who dwarf him. Doesn’t care. He loves the contact. Next play, he goes back into the gauntlet. (He’ll inspire you to go to the gym for pick-up ball and demand the rock in the post even though you’re only 5-6.) You have to love Releford’s heart. He’s averaging 12.8 ppg and 3.2 apg. And he’s as determined as any player in the country. Watch him.

  2. Draymond Green (Michigan State): He’s 6-7, 230 pounds and he’s averaging 15.9 ppg and 9.8 rpg for the Big Ten’s best team. Forget the numbers, though. Green is must-see TV because he employs every legal, physical maneuver to impact the game. You face Green, and you’d better bring bandages. Michigan State is playing Izzo Ball again, because the Spartans have regained their toughness. Green is as tough as they come.

  3. Noah Hartsock (BYU): So you’re watching Noah Hartsock play and you’re not overly impressed. He’s not flying through the air for monster dunks every night or gliding above the rim for SportsCenter-worthy swats. Then your buddy hands you Hartsock’s stat sheet and you’re like “Whoa! He went 9-for-12 and scored 21 points?!?!” Suddenly, Hartsock gets added to your “Wait, why aren’t more people talking about this guy?” list. Then, you send me a thank-you email. My reply: “I told you.”

  4. Kyle Weems (Missouri State): During his team’s upset at Creighton, Kyle Weems mean-mugged for the entire second half. He wasn’t mad. That’s just how he plays. He’s got that Kobe DNA. He doesn’t hate anyone, but he’s not about to become Facebook friends with every opponent, either. Weems, the Missouri Valley’s’ reigning player of the year, is averaging 16.1 ppg for a Missouri State team with legit NCAA tourney hopes. Don’t expect to see Weems smile much. But that’s a good thing.

  5. Michael Dixon (Missouri): Dixon was a late addition to my list. I saw him play in person for the first time during Wednesday’s Iowa State-Missouri matchup. As the Tigers surged late, Dixon got angry. Every time he made a play, he pounded his chest, yelled an expletive and/or turned to his teammates and screamed “Let’s go!” You could probably tell Dixon, a 6-1 guard averaging 12.8 ppg, that he’s won the lottery and his response would involve a lot of screaming and a “Let’s go!” to whoever made the phone call. You wonder how an undersized Missouri team plays so big? Well, the Tigers have a roster full of fiery guys. Dixon is at the top of the list.

  6. Anthony Davis (Kentucky): Yes, I know you’ve seen him. But have you DVR’d him? If you DVR a Kentucky game, you can go back and watch Davis’ X-Men-like efforts as much as you want. Further scrutiny will lead to more “Wow!” moments for college basketball fans. Did Kentucky’s 6-10 star just block that shot or did he extend his limb and snatch the ball mid-air even though it was near the top of the backboard? Was that a dunk or a qualifying mark for a spot on the U.S. long jump team? He’s a freakish athlete. I’ve found, however, that if you go back and really pay attention to what he does when he’s on the floor, you’ll come away even more impressed by Kentucky’s double-double machine.

  7. Juan Fernandez (Temple): Here’s what you need to know about Temple’s assists leader (4.2 apg). In a crucial matchup against a Top-5 Duke squad, Fernandez threw multiple behind-the-back passes. But they weren’t the forced plays that one might find on some old And1 mixtape. They were natural, like the Argentinian had been competing that way his entire career. He’s had some recent struggles with turnovers. But pay attention to Fernandez when he’s on the court. He always makes the game more interesting.

  8. Joshua Smith (UCLA): I know UCLA has been disappointing this season. And Smith’s weight issues have contributed to those challenges. Why watch Smith? Because he’s 6-10, 305 pounds and he’s playing for the Bruins, not the Raiders. Plus, he plays 18 minutes per game, and he has an effective field goal percentage of 56 percent. Ben Howland says the big man is getting into shape, which should be a boost for UCLA. Once a game, some gutsy defender will try to stand in front of Smith, usually after he’s filled out the proper life insurance forms. Smith doesn’t jump very high. But he just commands so much space that the defender struggles to get position to defend him. Or he’s absorbed. Big Man. Big TV.

  9. Dion Waiters (Syracuse): I don’t know the young man who’s averaging 12.9 ppg for No. 1 Syracuse. But when I watch Waiters play, I always assume that one of his missions is to embarrass na├»ve defenders on fast breaks. It always happens so fast. Syracuse forces the turnover, Waiters runs up the floor and because he’s 6-4 and athletic, you anticipate a nice dunk in transition. … And then he finishes with some flush that would have earned a 9.0 in the 2000 NBA dunk contest. But he’s doing this during an actual game. Guys who complete dunk-contest-level slams in games are worth the price of admission.

  10. Austin Rivers (Duke): During the Duke-Ohio State game in November, I sat in front of a couple of guys who’d played the game at a high-level in both college and the NBA. And every time, Rivers did one of those “Even Daddy couldn’t do that” crossovers, a collective “Ooh!” would come from those former pro players. It’s hard to describe Rivers’ dribbling ability. But basically, he takes the ball and treats it like a Yo-Yo. He’s still working on the art of finishing. His crossover alone, however, is worth DVR-treatment. Replay a Duke road game and check out the faces of opposing fans when Rivers goes Tim Hardaway on a defender. They all share the same look that says, “That crossover was nasty, but I can’t really say that because he’s the enemy.”