We’re in the dark, dead-of-winter, blah days of January. As you channel surf, looking for something to watch other than Luka Garza pouring in another double-double or reruns of The Office, here are some exciting to players who play on teams that don't dominate the sports channels. These are mid-major stars you may never have heard of but are definitely worth watching, and guys you may want to know come March.
Perhaps the two most famous mid-major stars ever who led their teams to March prominence are Steph Curry and Larry Bird. Curry, as a sophomore, became a household name by bombing in 3’s from all over the court and leading Davidson to the Elite Eight in 2008, and before Bird became a Boston Celtics megastar, he cemented his legacy by leading the rag-tag Indiana State Sycamores to the NCCA Finals to face Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans in 1979.
The criteria for the list is no players from the American Athletic Conference, SEC, B1G, Big East, Big 12, ACC, or Pac-12 are eligible, as well as Gonzaga. These conferences don’t qualify as mid-majors, at least for me, and Gonzaga is Gonzaga. My list, my rules. Yours may vary.
With Penn State's season going nowhere fast, let's take a look at five players who might make your college hoops viewing a bit more entertaining. In the process, you might just become someone who can wow your friends with your hoops knowledge as you break down the games of the next potential Jameer Nelson, Wally Szczerbiak, or C.J. McCollum.
Justin Turner, 6’4” SR Guard, Bowling Green
At the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, Justin Turner, a career 17.4 PPG scorer, considered the NBA draft and, also entered his name in the transfer portal but opted to stay at Bowling Green for a 5th year, much to the delight of Falcons fans. Turner has led the Falcons in scoring for three straight years, the 8th player in school history to do so, and has been first-team All-MAC the past two seasons. He is the leading candidate to be Player of the Year in the MAC this year.
Last year Turner averaged 18.8 points per game (PPG), 4.6 rebounds per game (RBG), and 2.5 assists per game (APG) and entered the 2020-21 season needing 343 points to break the BG scoring record of Anthony Stacey (after 14 games he is now just 57 shy of the record). Thus far, he is averaging 20.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 5.4 APG, and 1.3 steals per game (SPG) while shooting 90% from the FT line and playing 34 minutes a game for the 10-4/6-2.
The numbers don’t begin to tell the whole story for Turner. Most volume scorers now are elite shooters from behind the arc, which Turner is not. He is a good, but not great 3-point shooter at 31%. Turner has a unique game, not shooting from distance and not scoring at the rim. Instead, he excels in the mid-range, scoring on floaters and mid-range jumpers out to 17 feet. He is a true wing who can create his own shot and a leader who is looking to bring home the Falcons’ first MAC regular season Championship since 2009 and lead his team to their first NCAA Tournament since 1968.
Tevin Brown, 6’5 JR Guard, Murray State
Murray State, located in southwestern Kentucky, has become a top-notch guard factory. Remember Isaiah Canaan? He was the 34th pick of the 2013 draft by the Houston Rockets. Cameron Payne? Oklahoma City Thunder made him the 14th pick of the 2015 draft. Ja Morant? All-American and 2nd overall pick of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2019 and named NBA Rookie of the Year in 2020. All of them honed their craft at Murray State.
So, who is the next guard who will star for the Racers? That would be Tevin Brown. Brown is excelling in Murray State’s guard-oriented offense, which should come as a surprise to nobody. Brown has started every game in his career after taking a medical redshirt in 2017-18. Last season, Brown was named first-team Ohio Valley Conference as a sophomore, leading Murray State in scoring at 17.9 PPG, good for 5th in the OVC. He was the only player in the OVC’s top-10 in scoring and assists and entered his JR season with 960 points. So far this year, while playing 34 minutes per game, Brown is averaging 13.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.4 APG, and 1.5 SPG.
Brown is capable of putting on a show any given night. He can light it up from behind the arc, making 175 threes during his first two seasons at a 39% clip, but Brown is not just a catch-and-shoot guy. He can create his own shot and is showcasing more of that ability this year, however, his elite shooting prowess will overshadow all other aspects of his game.
While Belmont projects as the team to beat again in the Ohio Valley this season, and Murray State has struggled to a 5-6/2-4 slate, Brown may be able to lead the Racers to an OVC crown and the NCAA tournament with some support from others. You can be sure that Coach McMahon will be drawing up plays in their system to find Tevin Brown open looks each game and he’ll continue draining them with regularity.
Terry Taylor, 6’5” SR Guard/Forward, Austin Peay
The next player on my list can also be found lighting up scoreboards in the OVC. Austin Peay’s Terry Taylor landed on the All-OVC team a year ago and looks poised to have a breakout SR campaign. Taylor is the go-to scorer for the Governors and is also an elite rebounder as a 6’5” guard/forward. Taylor currently is 2nd all-time in points scored at Austin Peay with 2,156, trailing Bubba Wells by 111 points for the all-time scoring record. He is also 2nd all-time in rebounds with 1,072. He is a 3-time All-OVC selection, was OVC Player of the Year last season, and preseason Player of the Year this year. Taylor is the first player in Governors’ history to score at least 500 points in each of their first three years, and last year averaged a double-double at 21.8 PPG and 11 RPG, including a game of 26 points and 23 rebounds against league-leading Belmont.
Taylor is a very efficient offensive weapon, shooting 55% from the floor last year and 52.3% this year, and is leading Austin Peay again this season, averaging a double-double at 21.2 PPG and 11.4 RPG.
Even though you would think Taylor is a banger to rebound as he does, he can step out and shoot the 3. His percentage has slipped each year, from 43.2% as a freshman to 32% last year, but he is a legitimate threat from distance.
Austin Peay was chosen as the preseason favorites in the OVC (Let’s go Peay!), but they have struggled out of the gate, currently sitting in 7th place at 7-4/3-2. The Governors have a solid team built around Taylor, and Taylor seems to play his best when the lights are the brightest, so winning the league, taking home OVC Player of the Year honors again, and taking AP to their first NCAA Tournament since 2016 would not be a surprise.
Charles Bassey, 6’11” JR Center, Western Kentucky
The next player on my list is yet another from a Kentucky school, but this time it’s an interior player. Charles Bassey was a five-star recruit, ranked as the #6 prospect, coming out of high school, with comparisons to Dwight Howard preceding him to the Western Kentucky campus.
As a freshman on Rick Stansbury’s squad, Bassey lived up to or exceeded all expectations. The 6’11” big man dominates the middle, has incredible leaping ability, runs the floor well, and attacks the rim ferociously. As a freshman, Bassey was named to the All-CUSA team, was a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year award, and was only the 2nd freshman since 1992 (Anthony Davis being the other) to average 14 PPG, 10 RPB, 2 BPG and shoot 60% from the field. He was also named CUSA’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Bassey has averaged a double-double for his career, with his sophomore campaign limited to 10 games by a left leg injury that required surgery. That injury has not slowed him down this year, as he averages 17.6 PPG, 12.1 RPG, and 3.3 blocks per game (BPG). In his time with the Hilltoppers, he has shot over 60% from the field, and 63% on shots inside the arc.
If you think Bassey is just putting up numbers against inferior competition you would be wrong. This year, Bassey has put up 21 points and 14 rebounds in a 75-69 win over Memphis and their 6’10” big man Moussa Cisse, 15/8 against WVU’s Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver, 13/15 in a loss to Louisville, and 27/12 in a 73-71 win over Alabama.
There aren’t many dominant, true centers in the college game today, but Bassey is just that. He truly is one of the best, if not the best, mid-major players in the country. Enjoy him at Western Kentucky now, because his days as a collegiate player are likely ending after 2021.
Kellan Grady, 6’5” SR Guard, Davidson
Like the aforementioned Curry, Kellan Grady is lighting it up for Bob McKillop’s Davidson Wildcats. Grady is a star in his own right and one of the most lethal scorers in the Atlantic 10.
The 6’5” SR is a pure scorer, averaging 17.4 PPG to go along with 4.1 RPG and 2.1 APG for his career while shooting 47% overall and 37% from behind the arc and playing an astounding 36 minutes per game over his four years. Bob McKillop is known for building offensive machines and Grady looks to be the engine to drive that juggernaut this year.
Grady was the A10 Rookie of the Year in 2017-18 and First Team A10 in 2018-19. Grady currently has 1,789 career points, good for 8th all-time at Davidson and he has a chance to move into the top-3 by season’s end.
The inevitable comparisons to Steph Curry aside, Grady is much more of a scorer than a shooter. He has made 203 3’s in his career, so he is a threat from deep, but he is a good scorer off the dribble and excels at scoring while on the move. He is not an elite athlete, but is in constant movement off the ball, looking to come off screens and score. Maybe the best way to describe him is crafty, scoring in a variety of ways, but always finding the bottom of the net.
Davidson currently sits in 2nd place in 5th place in the very competitive A10. Grady and Luka Brajkovic are a formidable 1-2 scoring punch and could lead the Wildcats to an A10 title and NCAA berth. Doing so may lead to A10 Player of the Year honors for Grady and further bolster his legacy alongside Steph Curry as one of Davidson’s all-time great players.
There are many other mid-major players who fly under the radar despite big talent. These are just five worthy of your attention. Enjoy them while you can.