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The Sweet 16: Baltimore's best college basketball players

16. Dylon Cormier, Loyola

Jimmy Patsos was ecstatic to keep Cormier home for college. The Greyhounds coach was not only getting a first-team Baltimore Sun All-Metro player in Cormier, but also a player that would later prove to be his top local recruiter.

After Cormier's pledge, Loyola landed commitments from St. Frances point guard R.J. Williams, Xavier transfer and City grad Jordan Latham, Milford Mill small forward Tevin Hanner and St. Frances center Josh Forney. Williams is now a freshman at Loyola and Latham is a sophomore, while Hanner and Forney will arrive next fall. Patsos credits Cormier, a 2009 Cardinal Gibbons grad, with starting the Baltimore-to-Loyola movement.

"He gets active in the recruiting process," Patsos said. "He tells them what he really likes about Loyola and playing in the league. He loves the league. He's just a great guy."

Cormier's freshman-year success certainly aided his recruiting pitch. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound combo guard started 27 of 30 games for the Greyhounds as a freshman, averaging 8.1 points and three rebounds. Cormier expects his role to expand this season.

"This is the best team I've seen in years at Loyola," Cormier said. "We'll be tough to play. We're [one of] the biggest, strongest teams in the league this year. I'm real excited about this season. We've got a lot more to show."

15. Jamar Briscoe, Charlotte

Briscoe, a 2008 Cardinal Gibbons grad, sat out the 2009-10 season after transferring from North Carolina Central, where he was the second-leading freshman scorer in the country. His sophomore-year production came up a bit short of what he accomplished against a lower level of competition as a freshman, but Briscoe easily proved himself to be one of the Atlantic 10's top newcomers.

"I'd say he had a really good year," said Charlotte coach Alan Major. "Just with our limited numbers, it really puts almost an unfair kind of pressure to ask a guy to handle the ball, take care of the ball and take great shots, defend at a high level and play 35-plus minutes a game. … But … for what we asked him to do, I thought he had a very good season."

A 5-foot-10, 165-pound point guard, Briscoe started 28 games, averaging 12.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.5 steals. He guided the 49ers (10-20) to three huge upsets: a 49-48 win over then-No. 7 Tennessee, a double-overtime triumph at Georgia Tech, and a 66-62 home win over Xavier. He's hoping for more noteworthy victories as a junior.

"I want to win, man," Briscoe said. "I'm trying to win. Like I said when I came here, I want to win. I know I've got the chance to play in the A-10, but I want to play in the Atlantic 10 championship. Everybody's got a chance — every team in the conference. But I want to win it, man. I really do."

14. Brendan Bald, Vermont

Expectations among Vermont fans were likely tempered for Bald last season after the former Severna Park star averaged just 2.9 points and 9.9 minutes as a freshman. But John Becker, a Catamounts assistant who was elevated to head coach after the 2010-11 season, wasn't dismayed by Bald's debut. He expected the 2009 Anne Arundel County Player of the Year to make major strides as a sophomore, and Bald delivered.

"He did really well offensively and defensively in the league," Becker said. "He can really guard and take the opposing team's best wing player out of the game."

Bald finished his sophomore year as Vermont's second-leading scorer at 11.3 points per game and its top 3-point shooter at 41 percent. He also served as a lockdown defender on the wing. For his efforts, Bald was named the America East Defensive Player of the Year, in addition to earning third-team all-conference honors. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound wing is primed for an even bigger role this season.

"I'm definitely going to be looked on as an aggressive scorer, and I'm still going to have to lock up the other team's best player," Bald said. "I'm going to have a larger role this year. My team's going to depend on me a bunch. We've got a lot of good guys coming back, a lot of guys that are going to step up. … I think we're going to have a good year and surprise some people in the postseason."

13. Eric Atkins, Notre Dame

After four years as Mount St. Joseph's starting point guard, primarily coming off the bench for the Irish was a strange feeling for Atkins. But the two-time Baltimore Sun first-team All-Metro selection had no problem whatsoever playing a supporting role for Notre Dame, which went 27-7 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last season.

"I think I had a really good experience as a freshman last year," Atkins said. "Coach Brey told me before the season that pretty much everything was going to be done just the way it happened. He told me how my playing time was going to be. I knew how it was going to play out."

Atkins may have had a modest season statistically for the Fighting Irish last year (averages of 5.8 points, 3.2 assists and 1.8 rebounds), but the 6-foot-2, 183-pound sophomore proved to Notre Dame coach Mike Brey and other Big East observers that his best was yet to come.

"I'm just looking for him to make a big jump so that by the end of the season, Eric Atkins will be referred to as one of the better guards in the Big East," Brey said. "I feel strongly about his career here. It makes me sleep well at night, knowing he's the guy running the team for three more years."

12. Devin Brown, Holy Cross

When Brown wasn't working on his game this summer, the City grad was interning at GE and plotting his post-graduate plans for entering the business world. That summer balancing act of books and basketball was typical for Brown. Over the past three years at Holy Cross, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior has emerged as a seemingly model student-athlete at the academically rigorous institution.

"One of the [business] professors pulled me aside and said, 'He's absolutely going to be a star,'" said Holy Cross coach Milan Brown. "[This is] what kids who go to Holy Cross do. They're going to play and be about academically trying to set themselves up for the future and where they're going to work. He goes just as hard going for 30 points as he does in [in the classroom]. He's done both. He's talked a lot about being good in both avenues."

Devin Brown's academic success mirrors his basketball prowess. As a junior, Brown averaged a team-best 15.6 points, reaching double figures 21 times. Brown converted on 81.1 percent of his free throws and 36.6 percent of his 3-point attempts. The former Knights standout, who was a second-team All-Patriot League player last season, would trade all his individual accolades for a winning senior season with the Crusaders (8-21).

"I wish I would've been able to do more to help the team — taking [better] shots, grabbing more rebounds, finding the open man, getting a few more steals, motivating my teammates better when I'm on the bench, pushing the team more in practice," Brown said. "A lot of things I could have done."

11. Kevin Thompson, Morgan State

Commemorative basketballs line the walls of Todd Bozeman's office, with each one signifying an important moment in his Morgan State tenure.

There are basketballs to remember MEAC championships, NCAA tournament appearances, wins over high-major opponents like Maryland and Arkansas, and several other notable accomplishments. For each of those highlights, Kevin Thompson was there.

"He's been part of every last one of them," Bozeman said of Thompson, who averaged 13.1 points, 9.1 rebounds for the Bears as a junior.

If Bozeman has his way, Thompson will be part of a few more tribute-worthy moments this season. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound center has played in two NCAA tournaments, but the Bears missed out on the postseason last year. Bozeman hopes Thompson, a Walbrook grad, is saving his best effort with the Bears for last.

"[I want him to] lead, really work and develop a worker's type of attitude," Bozeman said. "If he does that, he really could lead the nation in rebounding. And he could be a force to be reckoned with … and end his career like how he started, which would be in the postseason."

10. Sean Mosley, Maryland

Mosley is the first person to admit that his junior season was a disappointment. The Terps missed the postseason, and the second-leading scorer in Maryland high school history averaged just 8.1 points and shot 26.9 percent from 3-point range. First-year Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, however, is a firm believer in Mosley's ability, and is counting on the former St. Frances star to be a leader and a major producer for the Terps this season.

"He's a much better shooter than I thought looking at his numbers," Turgeon said. "His form is good shooting the ball. Hopefully it'll carry over in games. He's a much better shooter. He's tough kid, a strong kid who guards multiple positions because of his strength. He's just a great leader for us. You can tell he's serious about doing what's best for the team and leaving his mark. He's been great."

Mosley may not have turned into the college player some analysts predicted four years ago. But the 6-foot-4, 210-pound wing has no regrets about his time in College Park, and he's eager to end his career on a high note.

"It's a blessing to be here at the University of Maryland," Mosley said. "I'm playing at the highest Division I level. The three years have been great. We've been to the [NCAA] tournament two out of the three years I've been here, got [an ACC championship] ring when I was here. This is my last year. I just want to go out being remembered and having a great season, making the tournament and playing my best. Last year wasn't the best season for me or the [team]. But I think this [coaching] change is definitely for the better. We're looking forward."

9. Antonio Barton, Memphis

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound point guard read the comments and heard the whispers about him riding older brother Will Barton's coattails to a high-major basketball scholarship.

"It was just like rumors on the internet," Antonio Barton said. "I would read it. [They said] that I would be a good practice player, or I was just a throw-in for my brother. Those type of things."

It took all of one game at Memphis for Barton to show how foolish those anonymous commenters were in their dismissal of him. In Barton's first career regular-season game, the 2009 Lake Clifton graduate scored a game-high 17 points, in addition to contributing five steals, four assists and three rebounds in leading the Tigers to a 104-40 win over Centenary.

That game was the first of many in which Barton proved that he not only belonged at a big-time basketball school, but that he was one of the most promising freshman point guards in the game. On the season, Barton was Memphis' fifth-leading scorer at 8.2 points per game. He started 12 games for the Tigers, who finished 25-10, including a 10-6 mark in Conference USA.

"This kid can flat-out play," said Tigers coach Josh Pastner. "He helped us win a lot of basketball games. He's a hard-nosed, blue-collar, does-his-job, low-maintenance, old-school basketball player. That's who he is. And we were fortunate to have him. I love the kid. I mean, he was our leading scorer in the NCAA tournament game [vs. Arizona]. That guy's a player and we were fortunate to have him. I knew that he was going to be a good player when he signed."

8. Brandon Young, DePaul

Jerry Wainwright recruited Young to Chicago but was fired before he ever got a chance to coach the Randallstown native. Despite the coaching change, Young never wavered on his DePaul commitment, electing to become former Clemson coach Oliver Purnell's point guard of the future — and present. While the Blue Demons labored through a 7-24 season in Purnell's first year on the job, Young emerged as a notable bright spot, cementing his status as one of the Big East's rising young stars.

"I was a freshman playing in the Big East, the toughest conference in the country," Young said. "I struggled at first, got frustrated. Then I started getting the hang of it. … It was all coming along. But it's good now."

Young started all 31 games for the Blue Demons and logged 30.4 minutes per game. Young, who played two seasons at Randallstown High and two at Friendship Collegiate in Washington, finished the year averaging 12.6 points — second on the Blue Demons behind fellow Baltimore freshman Cleveland Melvin — and a team-best 3.7 assists. Purnell is counting on the Big East All-Rookie team member to produce even more as a sophomore.

"You have a sense that this guy has got a chance to be really good, and more importantly, a guy who can become a cornerstone," Purnell said. "You can't pay for that kind of experience. As we watched him during the year, he made some mistakes, yeah, but there are also some bright spots and you realize this guy has a chance to be a special player."

7. Devon Saddler, Delaware

After graduating from Aberdeen in 2009, Saddler headed to Winchendon (Mass.) Prep for a post-grad year. Suddenly, the Delaware commitment was fielding interest from DePaul, North Carolina State, Oregon, Rutgers, Washington and other high-major schools. But Saddler never wavered in his pledge to the Blue Hens, who were treated to an outstanding freshman season from the 6-foot-2, 205-pound combo guard. Saddler averaged 13.3 points and 4.3 rebounds and was named Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year.

"Winning Rookie of the Year in such a tough league, such a highly regarded league … is quite an accomplishment," said Delaware coach Monte' Ross. "He brought a different type of intensity to our team from Day 1. I think other guys on our team really, really appreciated that. We were better from Day 1 [because of] the type of competitor he was and what he was bringing to the program."

Rookie success hasn't gone to Saddler's head. If anything, individual accolades have made Saddler hungrier for his Blue Hens to be a winning program. He's ready to do everything he can to help Delaware — which went 14-17 overall and 8-10 in conference play last season — rise in the CAA standings.

"I'm pleased so far, but I'm not settling," Saddler said. "I think this year is going to be my breakout year. [I hope] to have a great year this year. I'm working out, my jump shot is falling now [and] I'm getting more comfortable shooting off the dribble. This year might be my year. I might go off."

6. Roscoe Smith, Connecticut

For Smith, freshman year with the Huskies was an ideal introduction to high-major college basketball. While Smith was a star at Walbrook for three years and one of Oak Hill (Va.) Academy's top players as a senior, recasting himself as a role player to help UConn win the national championship was a seamless transition for the 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward.

"If [playing a supporting role bothered him], he didn't show it," said UConn assistant coach Kevin Ollie. "He came in and played his role. He came in and got minutes on the defensive end. We needed a person of his versatility to stick the 1 through the 4. He just had great ability to play multiple defensive positions and bring energy. That's what he did when he came in."

The stat sheet reflects Smith's willingness to do whatever he was asked. The former Walbrook standout appeared in 41 games for UConn, starting 33. He averaged 6.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 25.4 minutes. Ask Smith about his individual performance, and he'll talk at length about the team's success.

"Each game felt like a championship game — the first exhibition game to the last game against Butler," Smith said. "We just continued to play hard and get better as a team. In the NCAAs, we just kept playing and having fun."

UConn will be without Kemba Walker's services this year, meaning Smith and other Huskies will be counted on for increased production. Ollie thinks Smith is up to the task.

"[He's improved] just off the bounce, pump fakes, getting into the lane during games a little bit more," Ollie said. "Just his basketball IQ has grown."

5. C.J. Fair, Syracuse

The 6-foot-8 small forward was a surefire high-major prospect after leading City to the Class 2A North Region semifinals in 2008. But over the next two years, Fair tore his ACL and missed his entire junior season with the Knights, and then left town to play at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. With his two-year absence from local high school competition, Fair felt like he may have faded from the Baltimore basketball scene's collective consciousness.

That feeling faded during the 2010-11 season, when Fair flashed his potential for the Orange. The former Knights star averaged 6.4 points and 3.8 rebounds in just 18.6 minutes per game. Fair hopes a summer spent working out in Baltimore will ensure that he sees more minutes as a sophomore.

"I just want [Syracuse fans] to know that I really worked on my game a lot this summer, I improved a lot," Fair said. "It will show on the court. I think they can expect to see a better, improved C.J. Fair. If I get better, and I know my teammates got better, it'll be a good, promising year."

Jim Boeheim has been impressed so far with what he's seen out of Fair this fall. It's clear to the Syracuse coach that the sophomore small forward dedicated himself over the summer to getting stronger and becoming a better shooter. There's no question, Boeheim said, that Fair has made "a big improvement" since the end of the 2010-11 season.

"He'll have more of an impact," this season, Boeheim said. "He'll get more time. We'll look to him a little bit more when he's in there. It's probably one of the most well-balanced teams we've had in a long time. I think he's one of the key guys for us. But he's on a tremendous path. I think he can be a dominant player before he leaves here."

4. Kim English, Missouri

Throughout his three years in Columbia, English has taken pride in his ability to lead. The 6-foot-6, 200-pound senior is one of the most quotable Tigers, a social-media superstar, a campus leader, and one of the Big 12's top guards. But the 2010-11 season, fell short of English's expectations. The junior averaged 10 points and a career-high 25.8 minutes. But the Tigers, who started the season 14-1, fell to Cincinnati in a second-round NCAA tournament matchup.

"Last year was real freelancing, loosey-goosey," English said. "But that style worked my first two years when we didn't have as much talent. Last season, we had seven or eight guys who could get buckets on their own. That much freedom had us bumping heads a lot and not really focusing on defense."

Senior year could be much different for English. Frank Haith left Miami to replace Mike Anderson — who left for Arkansas — as Missouri's coach, and English likes what he's seen so far out of the new system. Leaving the program in an even better place than how it was when he arrived is of the utmost importance to the former Randallstown star.

"It could be the best of my four years here — that's saying a lot," English said. "We were an Elite Eight team that won 31 games my freshman year. Next season we got to the second round. Last season was a crazy-talented team. We started the season Top 15, got to No. 8 in the country, and then we fell apart. We had so much talent, but just didn't jell together. Our chemistry now is better. We could easily be better than those three teams. But we have to do it every single day in practice. We really are preparing the right way. I'm just excited to get started."

3. Andrew Fitzgerald, Oklahoma

As a freshman, Fitzgerald appeared in 26 games for the Sooners, averaging 4.8 points and two rebounds. Then last year came Fitzgerald's breakthrough campaign. The Baltimore County resident averaged 12.6 points and five rebounds, earning All-Big 12 honorable mention honors for his efforts.

"It was a great adjustment," said Fitzgerald, who played his junior season at Owings Mills before finishing his high school career at Brewster (N.H.) Academy. "I had to drop some weight so I could be on the court. … I had to adjust really fast. I adjusted my freshman year, started 11 games that season, then came out sophomore year and started every game. I kept improving from there."

First-year Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said he "didn't know much about" Fitzgerald before he got the Sooners job, but his early impressions of the junior forward were extremely positive. What about Fitzgerald's game stood out to Kruger the most?

"He can really score," Kruger said. "He's got a knack for hitting shots. He's got good touch on mid-range jumpers, good feel for the game. He really worked hard and improved his conditioning. He's done a nice job of that through summer and is doing a good job of that this fall."

Fitzgerald, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward, has simple goals for his junior season.

"Just win. Just win and make the tournament this year," Fitzgerald said. "I'm not really paying attention to all the media right now because all I know is that this team, right now, is ready to play and win this year."

2. Cleveland Melvin, DePaul

The former Lake Clifton big man is coming off a freshman season in which he averaged 17.4 points and 6.3 rebounds in conference play, earning Big East Rookie of the Year honors for his efforts.

Blue Demons coach Oliver Purnell — who counts Melvin as his first commitment at DePaul — called it "a mild surprise" that the 2009 Baltimore Sun first-team All-Metro player was so successful as a freshman.

"He's always been kind of a secondary guy on good teams — and maybe not even secondary. That might be generous," Purnell said. "Maybe the third guy on really good teams. … [But] in Cleveland's mind, he always thinks he's going to be a really good player and get better. I think he's been in situations where he's always gotten better."

The real breakout for Melvin came right after the New Year, when he averaged 26.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in games at Cincinnati and Georgetown. DePaul struggled through a 7-24 season (including a 1-17 mark in conference play), but Melvin was a consistently reliable scorer and rebounder for the Blue Demons.

"He doesn't like to lose. He's not satisfied," Purnell said. "[Leadership from him is] far more powerful [than it is from the coaching staff]. … I think he can be very good. He was an All-Big East type of player, [and] you know what that means. If you're an All-Big East player, the sky's the limit."

Will Barton, Memphis

Anything less than dominance was completely foreign to Barton. During the summer of 2008, Barton starred for Nike Baltimore Elite on the AAU circuit, earning Top 10 national rankings from Scout.com, ESPN.com, MaxPreps.com and PrepStars.com. Months later, Barton's storybook senior year at Lake Clifton ended with the Lakers capping a 32-0 season with the Class 3A state championship. Then came his prep year at Brewster (N.H.) Academy in which he averaged 20.8 points and was named the 2009-10 New England Preparatory School Athletic Conference Class A Player of the Year.

That track record of success — along with a steady stream of media hype — probably would have made any player overconfident to an extent. Barton was no different. But while the former five-star prospect couldn't possibly live up to the unreasonable predictions that some assigned to him, Barton went out and did the best he could.

"[Freshman year] was a little harder than I thought it would be," Barton said. "It didn't go exactly as I planned it to be. I still had a great freshman year, but not great with the expectations I had for myself. In my mind, as a freshman, [some people thought] I actually had a great year. To me, I played OK. An OK season. Good learning experience."

Barton's "OK season" amounted to averages of 12.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. He played in all 35 games, starting 25, and was the second-leading freshman scorer in Conference USA. He was was selected to the All-Conference USA third team and the All-Freshman team.

"Let's keep in mind that he had a good year," said Memphis coach Josh Pastner. "He was our leading scorer, our second-leading rebounder, leading assist man. He had a real good freshman year. That's why he's a preseason Wooden Award [candidate]."

Barton is getting accustomed to being a nationally recognized player. CBSSports.com ranked him the No. 32 player in the country, and he's still considered a potential NBA prospect. But talk of jumping to the league as soon as possible has ceased. Barton's priorities, it seems, have been altered a bit.

"Towards the end of [last] season, that's when I started to say, 'For us to win basketball games and perform at a high level, I have to put all my thoughts into my team and my coaches.' If I'm not winning and producing at the college level, I'll never have to worry about the NBA. … I'm just focusing on what I have to do — dominating college basketball."

mbracken@baltsun.com

twitter.com/mattbracken

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