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Senior Year, Take Two: The Top Players Back for a Bonus College Hoops Season

COVID-19 granted a unique opportunity to return for a fifth season of college basketball, giving a new look to the sport.

The impact of the unprecedented, pandemic-influenced 2020–21 college basketball season will continue to be felt in ’21–22 and beyond. The NCAA’s decision back in ’20 to not count the likely disrupted year against players’ eligibility will allow dozens if not hundreds of “super seniors” to suit up for one more go-around. This should have major implications for the sport, which will be older and deeper than it has been in several years. It also could threaten several all-time records thanks to players playing more games.

Here’s a look at some of the best men’s players coming back to college, both those staying at the same school and those using the extra year to transfer.

Staying at Same School

Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels, Villanova

The returns of Gillespie and Samuels vaulted the Wildcats into the preseason national title conversation. Few players in the country are as accomplished as Gillespie, who owns a national title ring from his freshman season and a Big East Player of the Year trophy from this past season. Meanwhile, Samuels’s versatility makes him a great fit in Jay Wright’s offense, and the 6' 7" forward has improved every season of his college career.

Jordan Bohannon, Iowa

Bohannon, known not just for his skills on the court but also for how outspoken he has been regarding name, image and likeness rights, will become the longest-tenured player in men’s college basketball history if he stays healthy. He needs just 15 more games played to pass former Ohio State guard David Lighty for the NCAA’s all-time men’s Division I games played record. And unless another extenuating circumstance comes about that causes the NCAA to let players have a fifth season of eligibility, that record may never be broken.

Nate Watson, Providence

Watson finally put it together in his senior season at Providence, blossoming into one of the nation’s best post players in an otherwise-disappointing year for the Friars. His decision to return for a fifth year was huge for Ed Cooley’s club, which lost star guard David Duke to the NBA this spring. Watson could be another player that profits significantly from the new NIL rules thanks to his more than 660,000 followers on TikTok.

Alex Barcello, BYU

There may not be a better shooter in the country than Barcello, who has helped lead BYU to back-to-back top 20 finishes in KenPom for the first time since the Jimmer Fredette era in Provo. The Arizona transfer hit more than 47% of his threes in 2020–21 despite being the Cougars’ No. 1 offensive option. He should be in for yet another strong season.

Geo Baker, Rutgers

Another leader of the #NotNCAAProperty movement, Baker has been a trailblazer both on and off the court since stepping foot on the Rutgers campus in 2017. Once an unheralded recruit, Baker helped lead Rutgers to its first men’s NCAA tournament win since the early 1980s and set the Scarlet Knights on a path toward sustained success under Steve Pikiell. Rutgers does lose three starters from the historic ’20–21 team, but Baker and Ron Harper Jr.’s return give Pikiell’s club a chance to dance again in ’22.

Grant Golden, Jacob Gilyard and Nathan Cayo, Richmond

Last season was supposed to be a special one for Richmond, and it began in dream fashion with a win at Kentucky. But the Spiders collapsed after dealing with multiple COVID-19-related shutdowns and injuries, missing the Big Dance. The returns of Golden, Gilyard and Cayo give Richmond one last crack at A-10 glory with this core. Golden’s unique passing ability as a big makes him one of the toughest covers in the country, Gilyard is well on his way to setting the NCAA men’s all-time steals record and Cayo is a 1,000-point scorer in his own right.

Paul Scruggs and Nate Johnson, Xavier

The high-scoring backcourt duo of Scruggs and Johnson is back in Cincinnati for another year with the Musketeers. Scruggs was leaning toward turning pro before reversing course in late March, and should be considered among the nation’s most complete players. He’s one of just six returning players in the country who averaged at least 14 points, 4.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game last season. Johnson’s biggest asset is his shooting ability: He shot 45% from three last season, second in the Big East.

Trent Frazier, Illinois

With more than 100 starts and nearly 1,500 career points under his belt, Frazier provides an experienced shot-maker and defender for an Illinois team that loses star guard Ayo Dosunmu. Frazier has embraced role changes throughout his career, becoming one of the best point-of-attack defenders in the Big Ten in addition to a major weapon from three. His leadership will also be key as the Illini continue to develop talented young point guard Andre Curbelo.

Taz Sherman, West Virginia

Sherman exploded in his second season at WVU in 2020–21, blossoming into one of the better scorers in the Big 12. The JUCO product averaged more than 13 points per game in less than 25 minutes per game. He also balled out in his team’s biggest games, pouring in 26 against Baylor and 25 against Kansas in the final month of the regular season. His return to Morgantown is huge for the Mountaineers after early pro departures of star point guard Miles McBride and big man Derek Culver.

Eli Brooks, Michigan

He was certainly overshadowed by the likes of Hunter Dickinson, Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner, but Brooks was an elite role player last year for the Wolverines. He shot 40% from three, had nearly three times as many assists as turnovers, and was a pesky defender on the other end of the floor. His return is huge for a Michigan team that will be very young otherwise, featuring Dickinson as a sophomore and several key freshmen from the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class.

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Transferring for Final Year

Kellan Grady, Kentucky

A 2,000-point scorer at Davidson, Grady heads to Lexington for his extra year with a chance to help lead Kentucky’s resurgence in 2021–22. The Boston native provides something U.K. severely lacked last season: Consistent shooting and the ability to create his own shot. He’s part of a loaded transfer class for John Calipari that also features Sahvir Wheeler (Georgia), CJ Fredrick (Iowa) and Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia).

Remy Martin, Kansas

Bill Self pursued Martin as a high schooler out of California powerhouse Sierra Canyon, and now will finally get the chance to coach the high-scoring point guard. Martin averaged more than 19 points per game in each of the past two seasons for Arizona State in Bobby Hurley’s guard-friendly system. If he improves his decision-making, he could be the next great undersized shot-creating guard for Self.

Brady Manek, North Carolina

Manek might wind up coming off the bench for new coach Hubert Davis and the Tar Heels after the late addition of Marquette transfer Dawson Garcia, but he’s still one of the most accomplished players returning for a fifth year in the country. The floor-spacing big scored nearly 1,500 points in his four years at Oklahoma. His addition points to a modernization of the Carolina offense from the Roy Williams era, who traditionally deployed more traditional nonshooting bigs.

Garrison Brooks, Mississippi State

Brooks heads to Starkville to play for his father, George, a longtime assistant coach for the Bulldogs. While Garrison’s senior season at North Carolina was somewhat disappointing, he averaged just under 17 points and 8.5 rebounds as a junior for the Tar Heels. He’s also well regarded for his leadership skills and should be an essential piece for a Bulldogs team looking to get back to the NCAA tournament.

Bryson Williams, Texas Tech

After spending the first five years of his college career playing for Rodney Terry (two years at Fresno State, three years at UTEP), Williams will spend his extra year playing for Mark Adams at Texas Tech. He provides significant scoring punch on the interior and a proven track record against big-time competition, including 23 points and 13 rebounds earlier this year at Kansas. He’ll pair nicely with Oral Roberts transfer Kevin Obanor up front in Lubbock.

Darryl Morsell, Marquette

Known as a defensive specialist at Maryland, Morsell could show more of his offensive game in a transition year for Shaka Smart and the Golden Eagles. Morsell is an elite glue guy: He defends, rebounds, passes and cuts at a high level. But with Marquette lacking experienced scoring pop, we’ll see how Smart deploys his versatile veteran.

Fatts Russell, Maryland

Plagued with inefficiency issues at times throughout an up-and-down career at Rhode Island, Russell joins a talented Maryland roster to fill the void at point guard. His best season at URI came as a junior, when he averaged almost 19 points, five assists and three steals per game surrounded by top talent like Jeff Dowtin, Tyrese Martin and Cyril Langevine. Can Russell rekindle that level of success with a strong supporting cast in College Park?

Stanley Umude, Arkansas

Umude has had a remarkable career arc, going from averaging 1.1 points per game as a freshman at South Dakota to becoming one of the best players in program history and a clear high-major talent. In 2020–21 he became just the fifth player nationally in the last 10 seasons to average at least 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists. That versatility packed into his athletic 6' 6" frame should be a fantastic fit in Eric Musselman’s system.

Marreon Jackson, Arizona State

Last year, Carlik Jones moved from Radford to Louisville as a grad transfer and became one of the ACC’s best players. I could see a similar trajectory for Jackson going from Toledo to ASU, where he’ll replace Remy Martin in Tempe. Jackson is dynamic with the ball in his hands and capable of taking over from three. It’s worth noting that Jackson won MAC Player of the Year honors in 2020–21 over Ohio’s Jason Preston, a potential ’21 first-round NBA draft pick.

Michael Flowers, Washington State

Flowers poured in buckets in his lone season at South Alabama and now will use his extra season of eligibility for a Washington State team positioned for a breakthrough year. WSU head coach Kyle Smith loves high-usage guards who can create in ball screens, from Isaac Bonton at WSU to Frankie Ferrari at San Francisco and Maodo Lô at Columbia. Flowers should fit that mold well, serving as a strong sidekick for star wing Noah Williams. 

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