Jermaine Sanders. Shaquille Thomas. Jermaine Lawrence. Shall we play "Rock, Paper, Scissors"? That may be the best way of figuring out who is going to be starter at small forward this season. In fact, they may all start at the "3" at some point this season. All three bring something strong to the table and all three will play significant minutes.
No offense to JaQuon Parker. In my mind he will go down with the likes of Immanuel McElroy and Pete Mickeal as my favorite small forwards of all-time. But, Parker was limited talent-wise. In the case of Thomas and Lawrence, you cannot say the same thing. Sanders is a little more limited, but on the surface he is still more gifted than Parker, who got every ounce of ability from his body.
Much like the point guard battle, the competition for time at small forward/wing is fierce. I named Thomas, Sanders, and Lawrence, but Titus Rubles could see time there as could Deshaun Morman in a smaller lineup. For the most part, however, it's going to be one of the main three.
Let's not waste time here. If you've read any of my previous posts or tweets about Shaq Thomas you know I love his potential. His performance in the Creighton loss during the NCAA tournament kept the Bearcats afloat for a long stretch while the rest of the team slept. In case you forgot, here's a snippet
Shaquille Thomas huge Put Back Dunk (via CipherHighlights)
But it's not just the dunking that has most everyone excited. Shaq shot 6-of-9 in that game and they were mostly pull-up jumpers from around the foul line. That's a dangerous weapon to have. Not too often anymore you have a 6-7 guy who is deadly from the mid-range. Guys either are dunk-only or three-only. It's rare to find a guy with a mid-range game and Shaq displayed it for sure. Obviously he will expand his range only to make him more dangerous. He did make three of eight from deep last year, but that (hopefully) isn't going to be his game. Slashing, dunking (of course), drawing contact and getting to the foul line where hopefully he can improve on his dismal performance (13-of-27) there last year.
I could probably write/salivate all day about Thomas, but to keep this under 1000 words, let's move along. Jermaine Sanders came to UC with a knack for scoring. After averaging 18.1 points his senior year and being named to the All-New York State team, he hasn't necessarily showed it off yet. He has in spurts. He displayed his beautiful jumper several times last year shooting an impressive .368 (13-of-48) from behind the line, but never got in a groove. Making matters worse (in one man's opinion) is his apparent lack of tenacity. He seems to drift off and get lost in the action. For a guy 6-5, his career high in rebounds is five. This is going to be a crucial year for Sanders. With Thomas making a jump and Lawrence on the roster now, Sanders could be watching a lot of action from the same place he spent the majority of his time last year: the bench. If you believe the "reports", he is right there neck-and-neck with Thomas and Lawrence for the starting spot. We'll see soon enough.
Now, Jermaine Lawrence. Mick was quoted in this post about how impressive Lawrence has been during practice. There is no denying his talent. As a 41-year old man (yes I am) who likes food, it's hard to imagine a person who eats constantly yet can't put on weight. That seems to be the case right now with Lawrence who they are desperately trying to add weight and strength to. He missed all but a handful of games from his senior season due to a wrist injury so not only might his game be a little rusty, but the added physicality of college ball might wear on him a little unless they can get some weight on him.
Either way, he's going to have to play. You can't keep a talent like that on the bench especially given the apparent unknown quantities of the Bearcats' offense. Time and time and time again we were all scratching our heads last season as the Bearcats struggled to score. Boy did they ever struggle to score. Enter Lawrence.
Jermaine Lawrence Mvp Mary Kline Classic Basketball Highlights - Kansas , Florida (via BallasTV2)
We're only 10 days away from finding out where these guys stand. Make no mistake though, if Jermaine Sanders does not play much, it likely won't be because he's not any good. And that is a great thing for this program. I keep saying it but I really like the potential of this team. There are more athletic, skilled players on this roster than last year's. Whether or not they can take that next step toward being as tough defensively as the previous teams remains to be seen. But there are athletes on this squad.
POLL QUESTION NOTE: Please do not vote for who you WANT to start the opening game. Vote who you THINK will. Get in the head of Mick and his staff. Who brings the best combination of offense AND defense and yes that includes rebounding on both ends.