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June 18, 2007

Who's ready to make the leap?

Making the leap
Every season, a group of athletes turns the corner from role player to go-to guy. Here are some who made the leap last season, with a comparison of their scoring average from the previous season (listed alphabetically by school):
Name '05-'06'06-'07
Richard Hendrix, Alabama9.414.6
Tyrese Rice, B.C.9.317.6
Drew Neitzel, Michigan St.8.318.1
Lawrence McKenzie, Minn.9.514.9
Aleks Maric, Nebraska10.818.5
Ben McCauley, N.C. State2.114.4
Rob Kurz, Notre Dame6.412.6
Marcel Jones, Oregon St.9.215.3
Lawrence Hill, Stanford4.715.7
JaJuan Smith, Tennessee9.515.2

Michigan State guard Drew Neitzel has managed to double his scoring average year over year through the first three seasons of his collegiate career.

If he does it again he'll post the highest single-season scoring average since Bradley's Hersey Hawkins averaged 36.3 points per game in 1988.

No, no one expects the 6-foot, 180-pound Neitzel to average 36.2 ppg next season. However, there is no denying the upward mobility of his game since arriving in East Lansing in 2004. He averaged 3.5 ppg as a freshman then doubled his playing time and production to 8.3 ppg as a sophomore. Last season he exploded, raising his scoring average to 18.1 ppg and sinking 114 3-pointers, 68 more than he made the previous season.

It's the kind of career arc players and coaches dream about.

A recent post on the national college basketball message board at Rivals.com asked the question: Which player on your team will improve the most? Here's a sampling of some of the better suggestions and why they may break out next season (players are listed alphabetically by school):

Chase Budinger, Arizona: The former five-star prospect was no slouch in his freshman season (15.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg), but he can - and will - provide more next season. He'll have to: Budinger is the only one of the Wildcats' top four scorers who is returning.

Lance Thomas, Duke: The 6-8 forward averaged only about 15 minutes per game and managed 4.0 points and 2.5 rebounds. The former four-star prospect deferred to his teammates maybe too often. He shot 56.8 percent from the field and will get more shots next season.

Darrell Arthur, Kansas: The 6-9 power forward and former five-star prospect made a nice showing as a freshman (9.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.5 bpg) in limited action (19.7 minutes per game). But he has a high ceiling, and Julian Wright's early departure will mean more minutes and more shots.

Perry Stevenson, Kentucky: The 6-9 forward runs well and is a shot-blocking force, but he must add strength and muscle to his slight frame (the Wildcats list Stevenson at only 178 pounds) to improve on last season's averages (2.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg).

Marquise Gray, Michigan State: Knee injuries and a broken right foot (twice) have limited him over his two seasons in East Lansing. What would it be like if Gray were healthy for an entire season? Considering he averaged 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and shot 57.8 percent in just 18.7 minutes per game, it could be huge.

Ramar Smith, Tennessee: The freshman point guard stepped in and performed admirably (10.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists). Word is he has added some muscle to an already solid frame, and with a season under his belt will only add to last season's averages.

Wink Adams, UNLV: The Rebels lose five of their top seven scorers, so there will be lots of shots to go around. Many of them will go to this rising junior guard and former five-star prospect who averaged 13.9 points per game last season.

Marcus Landry, Wisconsin: You have to figure a guy who battled his big brother (Purdue's Carl Landry was an All-Big Ten selection last season) in the driveway growing up and battled Alando Tucker (two-time Big Ten Player of the Year) in practice the past couple of years is ready to boost averages of 5.9 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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