It was an exciting week for UNCG Men’s Basketball, for both present players and alumni. For starters, All-SoCon favorite and 6’10 defensive standout James Dickey made the preseason watchlist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, an award annually handed out to the nation’s top center.
Dickey was among 21 centers named to the watchlist, a prestigious distinction shared by Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, Oregon’s freshman phenom Bol Bol (son of Manute Bol, one of the tallest players to ever play in the NBA) and Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie, who helped lead his Bulldogs to an appearance in the 2017 NCAA National Championship Game.
Dickey will be the anchor for a potent Spartan defense that ranked fifth in national scoring defense in 2018, surrendering a meager 62.5 points per game. The Spartans will return with three of five starters in 2019, and will likely welcome Wichita State-transfer Eric Hamilton into the starting lineup at power forward. UNCG’s defensive productiveness should remain one of the nation’s best this season.
Dickey led the SoCon in blocks in 2018 and was named the SoCon Defensive Player of the Year last season. Barring injury or an unexpected dip in production, expect him to repeat as Defensive Player of the Year in 2019—and potentially garner national recognition along the way.
The redshirt junior was not the only Spartan to receive national attention in the past week. Renowned college basketball reporter Jeff Goodman- who left ESPN in June to join Stadium, a start-up sports website- ranked his top 30 shooters in college basketball on Thursday. Senior leader Francis Alonso was ranked as the third-best shooter in the country and second-best in the conference, trailing only Wofford’s Fletcher Magee.
Alonso, in fact, outplayed Magee in last season’s SoCon Tournament, including nailing an NBA-range game-winning three-pointer with 19 seconds left in the Spartans’ matchup with the Terriers in the tournament semi-finals. Magee would go on to miss two potential game-winners, but that didn’t stop Goodman from ranking Magee two spots ahead of Alonso as the best shooter in the country.
As the numbers go, Magee might be just a tick ahead of Alonso, but that in no way diminishes Alonso’s incredible shooting in his first three years at UNCG. Alonso averaged 15.6 points per game last season and shot over 40 percent from three. His career three-point percentage is a stellar 42 percent. His free throw percentage checks in at an excellent 87 percent, as well.
But Alonso is far from a one-dimensional spot-up shooter. He holds an array of dribbling moves and a mastery of using his body to create space for his own shot—a distinction hardly shared by Magee. Alonso’s offensive repertoire, from drawing contact in the lane to deep three-pointers, is impeccable, and is perhaps the most complete in the SoCon. His only competition for SoCon Player of the Year will come from Magee or perhaps his own teammate, James Dickey.
Saturday was also a special day for UNCG alumnus Marvin Smith Jr., who graduated in May and helped lead UNCG to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 17 years. Smith was selected in the third round (64th overall) in the 2018 G-League Draft by the Windy City Bulls, the Chicago Bulls’ G-League affiliate. He’ll be playing in the Sears Centre, 25 miles outside of Chicago. The 6’6, 205 pound forward has potential to break through into the NBA—he certainly has the measurables to do so.
He possesses solid strength, superb three-point shooting, and was known as a lockdown perimeter defender at UNCG. Such “3-and-D” players are constantly in high demand in today’s NBA. If he can establish himself as one of the premier players in the G-League, it’s entirely possible he could end up with a contract in the NBA.