Six Super Sophs

Cal's Ryan Anderson and Davidson's Stephen Curry are among the rising sophs to watch

April 19, 2007

By Bryan Armen Graham



Bryan is a basketball editor for and contributes on a regular weekly basis.
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There could not have been a more emphatic and appropriate punctuation to the year of the freshman than Kevin Durant's sweep of the top six national player of the year awards.


But the unprecedented depth of this year's landmark freshman class might not hit home until next season -- when the group's second tier moves into the foreground after headliners like Durant, Ohio State's Greg Oden and Washington's Spencer Hawes have inked deals with their respective NBA teams.


Here's a quick look at six returning sophomores who are expected to build on their promising rookie campaigns:


Ryan Anderson, Cal


The 6-foot-10, 245-pound native of El Dorado Hills, Calif., shone in his first collegiate season playing for a team that struggled with injuries and inconsistency but enjoyed the occasional high-profile victory -- like an upset of top-seeded UCLA in the Pac-10 quarterfinals. The freshman pivotman provided a steady interior presence, averaging a team-high 18.2 points to go with 8.2 rebounds and garnering all-conference honorable mention. But it's his uncanny ability to score from beyond the arc that will continue to create matchup nightmares for opposing coaches until Anderson takes his unique skill set to the league. Look for the Bears, who return seven of their nine top scorers, to make their second NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2002-03 season.


Darrell Arthur, Kansas


Arthur, who came this close to signing with Baylor as a prepster before postponing his announcement and reconsidering Kansas, posted modest numbers for a team that was tricked out with NBA-caliber talent. But his averages -- 9.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots -- are that much more impressive considering the Dallas native averaged just 19.0 minutes. Given the premature departures of Brandon Rush and Julian Wright for the pro ranks, expect Arthur to thrive in an expanded role.


Stephen Curry, Davidson


Among first-year players, only Durant poured in more points than the Southern Conference freshman of the year. The son of 18-year NBA veteran Dell Curry averaged 21.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists for the Wildcats, surprise SoCon champions after losing seven seniors from the previous season's NCAA Tournament team. With their top eight contributors returning -- including the entire starting lineup -- Curry's numbers should only balloon for underappreciated coach Bob McKillop.


Taj Gibson, Southern California


With teammate Nick Young making an early departure for the NBA Draft (and Gabe Pruitt possibly following), the 6-foot-9, 210-pound Gibson becomes an even more essential piece to a group looking to build on this year's Sweet 16 appearance. The native Brooklynite carried the undersized Pac-10 contenders on the glass with 8.2 rebounds per game but had trouble avoiding foul trouble -- as his seven disqualifications would indicate. If he can improve his discipline on the defensive end, there's no reason Gibson can't find a place on the all-conference first team.


Jordan Hill, Arizona


Hill's freshman numbers might not pop off the page but the ATL native didn't really grow into his lunch-bucket hero role until late January. The voracious rebounder posted three double-doubles over the last 12 games, including a 15-point, 14-board effort in the Pac-10 quarterfinals. With interior staple Ivan Radenovic graduated, Hill has a golden opportunity to play his way into the starting lineup as a second-year player.


Tajuan Porter, Oregon


The Ernie Kent-coached Ducks like to force turnovers, get out into the open court and never take two points when three will do. In fact, only three NCAA Tournament teams attempted a higher percentage of their field goals from beyond the arc than Oregon. It's the ideal system for a gifted long-range bomber like Porter, who averaged 3.1 three-pointers while connecting on a team-best 43.7 percent of his shots from downtown. The Detroit native loses a first-rate quarterback with the graduation of All-American point guard Aaron Brooks but should continue to thrive in a system that's tailor-made to his talents.

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