It's always fun to pick my preseason All-Rolls Royce teams (my version of the preseason All-America teams). I selected five teams this year, from First to Fifth. You know that these PTPers want to be on my postseason All-Rolls Royce squads, baby! Players on my First Team represent four big-time conferences.
All-Rolls Royce FIRST TEAM
Point guard -- Chris Thomas | Junior | Notre Dame
Thomas made a wise decision to return to college rather than enter the NBA draft. A multidimensional player, Thomas averaged 18.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 6.9 assists last season. His quickness will help keep coach Mike Brey smiling. Thomas' stock will go up in 2003-04.
Shooting guard -- Rickey Paulding | Senior | Missouri
Paulding is an electrifying player, an incredible athlete and a high riser who can drain the 3-pointer. Last season, he averaged 17.7 points and 5.6 rebounds while shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point range (.396).
Small forward -- Julius Hodge | Junior | N.C. State
Hodge is Mr. Versatility, a guy who can drive and penetrate inside or shoot the jumper from long range. He averaged 17.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a sophomore. He can flat-out play!
Power forward -- Ike Diogu | Sophomore | Arizona State
Diogu is a big-time performer who didn't get enough publicity last year as a diaper dandy, when he averaged 19.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. The super soph will get his share of ink next season. Coach Rob Evans is thrilled to have Diogu in his lineup.
Center -- Emeka Okafor | Junior | Connecticut
Okafor is my preseason choice for national player of the year. He's a great shot-blocker and rebounder who has improved his offensive moves and skills each year. Last season, he averaged 15.9 points, 11.2 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game. Connecticut could boast both the men's and women's player of the year in 2003-04 if both Okafor and Diana Taurasi win the award. I wonder who the big person on campus is there, baby!
All-Rolls Royce SECOND TEAM
Point guard -- Jameer Nelson | Senior | St. Joseph's
Nelson had a great season last year, averaging 19.7 points per game, but he made a wise decision to return to college for his senior season instead of jumping early to the pros.
Shooting guard -- Romain Sato | Senior | Xavier
Another Atlantic 10 standout, Sato will have to come up big and improve on his 18.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game now that David West has moved on to the NBA.
Small forward -- Luke Jackson | Senior | Oregon
Jackson is a player who can really do it all, scoring, rebounding and shooting the trifecta. He will miss his teammate, Luke Ridnour (now with the Seattle SuperSonics). Look for coach Ernie Kent to call on Jackson to do more this season.
Power forward -- Darius Rice | Senior | Miami
Rice is capable of shooting the trifecta, evidenced by his 36.4 percent shooting mark from long range. Just ask Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, as Rice lit it up big-time against the Huskies last year, scoring 71 points in two games.
Center -- Arthur Johnson | Senior | Missouri
Johnson is a strong, tough force in the middle for coach Quin Snyder's Tigers. He put up 16 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game in 2002.
All-Rolls Royce THIRD TEAM
Point guard -- Raymond Felton | Sophomore | North Carolina
Felton is one of UNC's super sophs, along with guard Rashad McCants and big man Sean May. I expect Felton to have a big year under new Carolina coach Roy Williams.
Shooting guard -- Ben Gordon | Junior | Connecticut
Gordon is a multidimensional scoring wizard for my preseason No. 1 team. Last season, Gordon averaged 19.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game.
Small forward -- Hakim Warrick | Junior | Syracuse
Warrick was one of the most improved players in America last season, and I see him getting better and better. Look for him to prosper -- blocking shots, making the 3, running the court in transition and being a go-to threat now that Carmelo Anthony is in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets.
Power forward -- James Thomas | Senior | Texas
Thomas is a Windex man, a solid rebounder who averaged 11.0 rebounds along with 11.1 points per game last season. He will have to do more now that T.J. Ford has left for the pros (drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks).
Center -- Channing Frye | Junior | Arizona
The Wildcats are excited about Frye's development in the middle. Frye is a tough rebounder and scorer on the interior.
All-Rolls Royce FOURTH TEAM
Point guard -- Bracey Wright | Sophomore | Indiana
Wright had a great diaper-dandy season for coach Mike Davis. Wright can flat-out shoot, and he led the Hoosiers in scoring as a freshman (16.2 ppg).
Shooting guard -- J.J. Redick | Sophomore | Duke
Redick also was a successful diaper dandy last season -- and he can also shoot the lights out. He is Duke's leading returning scorer (14.5 ppg).
Small forward -- Matt Freije | Senior | Vanderbilt
Freije doesn't get much publicity, but he posted solid numbers (17.9 ppg) in the SEC last season. Just ask the Commodores' opponents if this guy can flat-out play!
Power forward -- Wayne Simien | Junior | Kansas
Simien was bothered by a shoulder injury last season. He will have to come through for new coach Bill Self now that Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich have moved on to the NBA. Simien is a force on the glass and has posted an excellent field-goal percentage (.646).
Center -- Sean May | Sophomore | North Carolina
Like Simien, May's season was hit hard by injury last season (broken foot). He's so tough to stop close to the basket.
All-Rolls Royce FIFTH TEAM
Point guard -- Chris Duhon | Senior | Duke
My backcourt is an All-ACC combination, with Duhon joining McCants. Duhon didn't have a great statistical season in 2002-03, but he does so many things to help the Blue Devils win.
Shooting guard -- Rashad McCants | Sophomore | North Carolina
McCants had a solid season as a diaper dandy. He should be even better with the year of experience. UNC coach Roy Williams is happy to have him in his lineup.
Small forward -- Josh Childress | Junior | Stanford
Childress should be very productive for coach Mike Montgomery and the Cardinal.
Power forward -- Jason Maxiell | Junior | Cincinnati
Up front, I expect big things from the talented Maxiell in 2003-04.
Center -- David Harrison | Junior | Colorado
Harrison is a strong rebounder who can block shots and score on the interior.
Competition Keen For All-Rolls Royce Honors
There are lots of talented players across America, and the competition was keen for these honors.
But that competition would have been even keener if some NBA early-entries had made wise decisions and withdrawn from the draft. Guys like Maurice Williams, Rick Rickert and Carl English could have stayed in school and been on one of my preseason All-American teams. But they now face the tough task of making an NBA roster without a guaranteed first-round contract.
Other underclassmen leave early and make NBA rosters -- but for them, it's on-the-job training and lots of pine time in the pros instead of the quality experience and quality minutes they could have had in college. NBA champions Tim Duncan and David Robinson, both four-year collegians, learned so much at the college level.
Too many kids make the mistake of giving up their college eligibility, jumping too quickly to the NBA. The NBA's level of play has dropped tremendously because of the developmental stage it has become rather than being a finished product.