Ever year, the Horizon League gets bigger. On the Sweet 16 Panther team in 2005, Adrian Tigert was playing center at 6’7” a majority of his time on the floor. This season, Tigert might get mugged if he were to go down low with big men like Eli Holman, Anthony Hill, Andy Polka and Andrew Smith. The players aren’t always taller, but they’re bigger bodies, wider and stronger.
The fact of the matter is, however, that the Horizon League has always been a guard-dominated league. I’ve made the argument that this may be the best collective back court in the history of the conference, and I stand behind that. Not only is the returning guard corp very strong, but newcomers entering the conference are also of very high quality. Let’s take a look at five rookie guards that will make an impact in the Horizon League.
Jason Calliste sat on the bench last season while he watched the Detroit Titans rattle off 20 wins, challenge Butler in two games, and ultimately finish seventh in the Horizon League. Calliste averaged 24 points and 11 assists as a senior at the Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Growing up in Canada, Calliste honed his skills as a guard by taking thousands of shots and working on passing skills. Calliste, more than any of the newcomers, embodies the “combo” guard (How appropriate, I just polished off a bag of pepperoni pizza combos). Calliste can run the fast break and a set half-court offense, which should allow Titans coach Ray McCallum Sr. the opportunity to give Ray McCallum Jr. a rest running the point.
Ray McCallum Jr. is coming into the league with easily the most fan fare. While he’s an incoming freshman and not an established college guard like Kaylon Williams, McCallum comes in with quite possibly the most fan fare of any player of Horizon League history. Fans of the conference will remember the attention Butler got when Gordon Hayward turned down big-time schools for his chance with the Bulldogs, but McCallum’s hype far outstrips even that. The fact of the matter is that McCallum wouldn’t even have thought of Detroit had his father not been the coach there, and with that comes expectations for him to blow away competition. His ability to run the point is proven, and he can score from anywhere on the court. Pairing him with Calliste will more than make up for the departure of Xavier Keeling and graduation of Woody Payne, and making Chase Simon, Detroit’s leading returning scorer, effectively a third heat.
While Ray Jr. is coming into Detroit as a highly regarded recruit, another top 150 player settled in down a state in Indiana. Jay Harris is one of the highest-rated players to come into coach Homer Drew’s Valparaiso team in a long time, but many outside of northwest Indiana don’t even know it because Harris was outshined by the commitment of Ray Jr. Starring for Oswego East in Illinois, Harris averaged a rocking 28.7 points per game for his senior season.
The intriguing thing about Harris is that he is such a high-scoring guard, and he’ll be entering the highest-powered offense in the Horizon League. There’s not a lot of space to throw the ball along, with Cory Johnson among league leaders in scoring and Brandon Wood atop the list. If there’s anything you should take to the bank, it is that the Crusaders walk into the 2010-11 season as the odds on favorites to score the most points, and Harris is a big part of that.
Butler fans don’t have to go too far to find the home of incoming guard recruit Chrishawn Hopkins, who is a native of the city and attended Manual High School. Hopkins struggles with defense, and will benefit from the Bulldog coaching staff’s defensive mentality. If Hopkins can reduce his turnovers, Shelvin Mack will pass the torch to him whenever Mack finally heads to the NBA. Hopkins will, however, be thrown into the mix early in his college career, and likely will be a part of the Butler rotation. He’s extremely athletic, can play above the rim, shoots very well from three-point land (42%) and is a numbers junkie; he averaged three blocks and three steals his senior season to go along with 26 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He won’t be shouldering the whole load while a freshman, but it’s good for Butler fans to know they have great scoring coming to campus to offset Gordon Hayward’s departure.
The problem with all of these incoming recruits is that we don’t know how they’ll react to the college game. Many players turn out to be busts because they can’t adjust to the speed of the game, or the complexity. The difference with the last player on our list is we know he’s ready for the big show. Kaylon Williams, who transferred into Milwaukee this season, spent last year at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa. The year before that, he teamed up with James Haarsma (sitting out this year at MKE) on the Evansville Aces. Williams led the Aces and the Missouri Valley Conference with 4.87 assists per game as a freshman before transferring. He’s a distributor, plain and simple. The Panthers have lacked a true point guard since Chris Hill graduated in 2006, a four-year span that saw the Panthers led by shooting guards converted to point guards. Williams has size at 6’4” 185, something that will benefit him on the defensive end against guards in the Horizon League that tend to be strong.
One of the biggest benefits Williams brings to the Panthers is consistency. The point guard only hit above 10 assists twice at Evansville, but only had one game in which he did not record an assist, a one-point loss at Wichita State where Williams pulled in seven rebounds and shot four of six from the field.
With the way guard play has already been in the Horizon League, and the players added here, suffice to say that the collective back court in the conference could rival any high-major conference. And that means one thing: we have a really exciting season ahead.
Filed under: Butler, Commentary, Detroit, Horizon League, Milwaukee, Valparaiso Tagged: | Brad Stevens, Brandon Wood, Butler Bulldogs, Chase Simon, Chrishawn Hopkins, Cory Johnson, Detroit Titans, Evansville Aces, Homer Drew, James Haarsma, Jason Calliste, Jay Harris, Kaylon Williams, Milwaukee Panthers, Ray McCallum, Ray McCallum Sr., Rob Jeter, Valparaiso Crusaders