Dec. 1, 2004
One beautiful aspect of college basketball this season is the return of so many big stars. Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants are back at North Carolina. I love the veteran experience at Kansas with Wayne Simien, Aaron Miles and Keith Langford. NC State has Julius Hodge leading the way.
Duke has Shelden Williams, J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing in the lineup. Syracuse features Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara. Mississippi State returns Lawrence Roberts, while Notre Dame has Chris Thomas back.
Yes, there so many great players back. But let's give some respect to the sleepers -- the guys on my All-Rip Van Winkle team. These guys have had some brilliant performances, and it's their time to shine, baby!
They should get on SportsCenter and have anchors like Dan Patrick, Stuart Scott, Linda Cohn and Rece Davis singing their praises. These sleepers are PTPers for their teams, and their coaches and teammates are familiar with them.
Now it's time to get them more exposure nationally. Here's my All-Rip Van Winkle team:
Curtis Withers — Charlotte's 6-8 junior averaged 16.3 points and 9.5 rebounds (posting 16 double-doubles) for coach Bobby Lutz last season as the 49ers went 21-9. Lutz always puts together a dangerous team. Withers will be a contender for C-USA Player of the Year, along with Francisco Garcia of Louisville, Sean Banks of Memphis, Travis Diener of Marquette and Jason Maxiell of Cincinnati. America should keep an eye on Withers as a star on the horizon.
Kelly Whitney — Seton Hall's junior forward may get more time in the spotlight now that Andre Barrett has completed his eligibility. Whitney is capable of averaging a double-double.
Craig Smith — Boston College's junior forward has impressed opponents in the Big East, but he hasn't received enough national publicity. Smith is aggressive inside and he should have a big season for coach Al Skinner.
Paul Millsap — Louisiana Tech's 6-8 sophomore led the nation in rebounding last season at 12.5 rebounds per game, only the second freshman to accomplish that feat (Loyola's Kenny Miller did it in 1987-88). Millsap shot an impressive 59 percent from the field, averaging just under 16 points while posting 20 double-doubles. This kid can flat-out play, and coach Keith Richard is looking for big things from him during his season.
Taylor Coppenrath — Vermont's senior forward impressed a lot of people last season with his performance in the America East tournament. He also made a big splash last year when he scored 38 points in an early-season 68-67 loss at UCLA. Coppenrath would love to help the Catamounts get back to the NCAA Tournament in Tom Brennan's final season as head coach.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.