Freshmen Orientation: Sun Belt Conference
With freshmen unpacking their bags and getting settled into college, we wanted to take a deeper look at the incoming classes in college hoops. In this edition of FRESHMEN ORIENTATION, we take a look at the best players, the impressive classes, the guys who could be the talk of the league, HoopSeen hoopers and more.
Let’s get into the Sun Belt Conference.
HEAD OF THE CLASS
Who are the top players at every position coming into the Sun Belt Conference straight from high school? These are our staff picks.
PG Xavier Brown, James Madison
CG Jamar Franklin, South Alabama
SG Chancellor White, Louisiana
SF Davien Sykes, Texas State
PF Brandon Walker, UT Arlington
C Randi Ovalle, Troy
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Louisiana’s Chancellor White has All-Conference potential and could be one of the best mid-major players in the country after a year or two at Louisiana.
He has terrific positional size and a knack for knocking down shots with regularity. We’ve seen great wings come from the league over the years and White will cause some problems for opposing teams during his collegiate tenure. Keep a close watch on his production and trajectory. If there is anyone in the incoming straight-from-high-school freshman class in the Sun Belt who could be a recruiting steal, it is White.
THREE CLASSES THAT WE LOVE
This is, by no means, an actual ranking of the incoming freshmen classes. This is, by all accounts, three of our favorite classes. So, let’s dive into ‘em.
With a 1-2 punch of Zocko Littleton and Justin Abson, the Mountaineers have a base to build around for the next four years. Both players have All-Conference level potential over the course of their four years in Boone.
Littleton, a one-time Memphis commitment, is a terrific shot-maker and scorer. With the success that we saw from Justin Forrest during his team at the helm, it’s not crazy to think that Littleton has the same kind of potential. Double-digit scoring seasons for all four years isn’t out of the question.
Abson was one of the most important mid-major big men commitments in the 2023 class. He's big, strong and built for success in a league like the Sun Belt. Abson was one of the most sought-after mid-major targets in the class of 2022. He was a major win and a key reason why App State has one of the three best incoming freshmen classes in the league.
From top to bottom, I love the collection of talent that UTA has put together.
I'll go ahead and say it, I think Brandon Walker will be the toughest player in the Sun Belt by the time he graduates from UTA. He is big, strong, tough and willing to get into the basketball octagon for five rounds. At 6-foot-7, 215-pounds, Walker enters college basketball ready to go from day one. He is such a force in the low blocks.
Better yet, he’ll have some balance in the blocks with Damonze Woods on the other side. Also, 6-foot-7, 215-pounds, Woods is a physically imposing four man who will give Walker a nice balance to the frontline.
Terrance Ramirez was part of the stellar 3D Empire team that was crowned as the nation's best indepdenent program last season. He was a major offensive force for the squad, giving the Lone Star State squad a threat from three at a constant clip.
Chendall Weaver, a 6-foot-2 guard from nearby Mansfield, helped his team make it to the state title game. He was an All-State guard and a terrific rebounder at his position.
If you are looking for a sneaky good class, take a look at what Mark Byington and his staff are doing at James Madison.
The big draw was the addition of Virginia guard Xavier Brown. He’s a highly experienced who should see time early. You can trust him on the floor and guards tend to fair well in the style that JMU likes to run. Brown is battle-tested and built for the conference schedule.
Brycen Blaine, a Virginia native, had a big senior season at Berkmar in metro Atlanta. The 6-foot-5 guard is a super scorer with size and big play ability. Blaine was outstanding at the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions after a stellar run at Berkmar. He’s a bit of a late-bloomer and Byington’s style of play lends well to players with Blaine’s skill set.
Rounding out the group is 6-foot-9 big man Jerrell Roberson from the famed DeMatha Catholic program in the DMV. Anytime you can land a big from a national program, you can’t go wrong.
THE HOOPSEEN CONNECTION
One of the best periods of our event calendar is the Fall Preview run in September and October. Our staff sees a lot of players from all parts of the country. High school and travel coaches send us tips about players and we get a chance to see guys before the blow up comes.
We experienced that last year with current Troy freshman Randi Ovalle.
He burst onto the scene at the Alabama Preview camp last fall and steadily stockpiled compliments during his senior season. Our D’Courtland Christian asked the question - is he the No.1 player in the state of Alabama? Fair question for the 2023 graduate. He finished as the No. 2 player in our final rankings.
Christian had this to say about Ovalle:
“Ovalle’s versatility on the floor is definitely one the best; he can give work from the post and the wing with his remarkable ability to score. Ovalle handles the ball very well and has been known to get up and down the floor at top speed as a coast-to-coast scorer. He has a smooth pull-up jumper and has a solid isolation game with his elite ability to break down defenders. Ovalle is a great rebounder, and he uses his amazing IQ for the game to set his teammates up with easy looks.”
If you’re looking for a deep-cut sleeper, Ovalle is your guy.
RANDOM THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
South Alabama has a big-timer coming to town in guard Jamar Franklin. I thought Franklin was one of the best mid-major commitments of the 2022 class in the Southeast. Franklin was outstanding on our HoopSeen platform with Team Speights and showed his value as a shot-maker. The state of Florida always produces high-quality mid-major players who can impact a program. Franklin is battle-tested and comes to Mobile with an opportunity to have an impact right away.
I’m all-in with Texas State’s Davion Sykes being a major piece to the Texas State attack moving forward. The Bobcats won the Sun Belt Conference last year because they land players like Sykes. The 6-foot-6 wing from Duncanville comes from one of the most impressive high school programs in the nation and is founded on winning. He’s a high-flying, hard-playing and athletic slasher who should pair well with the current lineup at Texas State.
Big man Micah Handlogten is a sneaky good add for Marshall. The 7-footer from North Carolina had a nationwide recruitment and was coveted by a number of mid-major schools. He’ll be fun to watch develop into an important rotation player for the Herd.