College basketball: 7 of the most dazzling athletes in the country
With all due respect to the fundamentally sound enthusiasts, there’s nothing like watching the best athletes in the game defy what you previously thought was possible.
We’re breaking down the best dunkers, jumpers and speedsters in the country. Here are seven of the best athletes you’ll see this upcoming season.
Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State
So this happened. Your obligatory reminder that Wigginton is just 6-1:
He posterized Khadeem Lattin, one of the best shot blockers in the country. Wigginton splits the double team, elevates from further out than most other guards would even fathom, gets incredibly high, finishes with authority, and somehow manages not to injure himself on the landing (an underrated part of this dunk).
Sometimes, a player’s athleticism manifests in one play. While the casual fan likely knows Wigginton’s name because of that dunk, his explosiveness helps him in other ways. He averaged 16.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists as a freshman for Iowa State. Wigginton was easily the Cyclones’ best shot creator; it’s easy to understand why defenders struggled to stay in front of him. Wigginton can get to a spot whenever he feels like it because of his elite speed.
His efficiency needs to improve, but that should come with age. Wigginton has star potential.
Daniel Gafford, Arkansas
A fun exercise: type Daniel Gafford’s name into YouTube and try to keep your viewing experience under five minutes. It’s tough.
Here’s 12. Sorry, there’s a lot to digest:
Gafford is a modern center. He blocks shots (averaged 2.2 per game as a freshman), catches lobs, is a supreme rim-runner, and can hang in ball screens. Gafford’s jump shot is developing nicely, but his athleticism and length (estimated 7-2 wingspan) are his essential attributes.
6-11 centers should not be able to windmill dunk in transition:
Gafford makes that look easy. The Razorbacks have an absolute stud in the middle.
Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga
Hachimura has the speed and explosiveness of everyone on this list, but combines those with bulk. At 6-8, 225 pounds, Hachimura is a wrecking ball.
He’s a power athlete who’s starting discover what he’s fully capable of on a basketball court. After sitting most of his freshman year, Hachimura averaged 11.6 points per game as a sophomore and could crack 15 as a junior. He’s way too fast for most bigs and significantly stronger than most wings, as you’ll see in this reel:
We appreciate thunderous dunks and third-row rejections from college basketball’s top athletes. But sometimes, athleticism affects the game in more subtle ways.
Take the first play of the above video, for instance. Hachimura switches out onto Ohio State’s Jae'Sean Tate, one of the best attackers in the country. Hachiumura mirrors him step for step with no help and blocks his shot, leading to a Gonzaga fast break. The list of players who can do that is tiny.
He's poised for a huge year in 2018-19.
Jalen McDaniels, San Diego State
McDaniels is rail thin, but he has an outstanding second and third jump and pairs it with impeccable timing. You’ll see several tip dunks in this short reel:
One clip in particular stands out:
Proof of McDaniels’ athleticism: he's a big man listed below 200 pounds, but still averaged 7.5 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per game. He can get bullied by beefier centers in the post, but McDaniels is an ace at switching onto perimeter players in ball screens, a staple of any mobile big.
Considering his slight frame, it feels like McDaniels could become even more explosive with some work in the weight room this offseason. Keep an eye on this guy.
Sagaba Konate, West Virginia
Konate’s trademark two-handed blocks are just absurd. Here are all 116 of his blocks from the 2017-18 season:
The reason why Konate is so impressive is because his measureables aren’t. At 6-8 with an average wingspan, he shouldn’t be one of the most feared shot-blockers in the country. But he’s probably the most feared, and it’s because of his rare combination of athleticism and anticipation.
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If you don’t have time to watch all 116 of Konate’s blocks, just watch this one to see what we’re talking about:
He just met Mikal Bridges at the rim and ruined his day. Konate is no slouch on the offensive end either. He averaged 10.8 points per game and is a beast on the boards.
West Virginia’s center is one of the most fun guys to watch in the country.
Kerwin Roach, Texas
Roach is similar to Wigginton – a relatively small Big 12 guard who can sky with the best of them. Exhibit A:
Note how high he got, of course, but even more impressive is how he powered through three Blue Devil defenders (including 6-10 Javin DeLaurier).
Roach regularly makes plays like that and uses his perimeter burst to create shots for the Longhorns. To be clear, his skill needs to catch up to his athleticism. Roach is turnover prone and hasn’t always been efficient offensively, though he shot a career best 44 percent from the floor as a junior.
Texas could look to run more in 2018-19 with Mo Bamba’s departure, and Roach is an ideal fit for an up-tempo system. His final year in Austin should be an exciting one.
Zion Williamson, Duke
We haven’t seen Williamson play a minute of college basketball, so there’s not much context we can add. Just know that his dunk reels are legendary, and if you haven’t seen one yet, here you go.
We don’t know how good Duke will be, given its inexperience. But the Blue Devils will certainly be entertaining.