In a powerhouse conference like the ACC, high-quality talent is everywhere to be found. Unfortunately, many do not look past the Tyler Hansbroughs, the Tyrese Rices, or the Jack McClintons when acknowledging such talent. We take a look at five players who, to this point, have been largely uncelebrated in the conference but will be difference-makers for their teams in the 2008-2009 season.
Gani Lawal – Sophomore, Forward, Georgia Tech
Coming off a freshman season in which he was given experience as a full-time starter, Lawal is expected to be a key component of the Yellow Jackets’ frontcourt this upcoming season. Although he shot a team-best 57 percent, Lawal has the size and versatility to produce much better numbers than his 7.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game from this past season. In addition to ability comes opportunity as the sophomore finds himself on a team that is currently in the rebuilding process. The Yellow Jackets lost their top two scorers from last season including forward Jeremis Smith who was also ranked ninth in the ACC with 7.1 rebounds per game. Lawal will be called upon to fill the void.
Terrence Oglesby – Sophomore, Guard, Clemson
The range that Oglesby has from the 3 point line is, at times, ridiculous. As a freshman, he had a 40.3 three point field goal percentage last season, good for fourth best in the conference and was one-tenth of a percentage point higher than herald teammate K.C. Rivers. Ogelsby came through for the Tigers when it mattered most in the game. His game-winning trey that capped a 20-point second half rally against the Maryland Terrapins in early March was considered by many to be the top highlight of the Clemson’s entire campaign. Such a performance earned Ogelsby his second ACC Rookie of the Week honors of the season – pretty good for a guy who did not start a game for the Tigers in 2007-2008.
Rakim Sanders – Sophomore, Guard/Forward, Boston College
Though he ranked second on the team in almost every offensive category last season, Sanders went unnoticed by many due to the play of a more gifted teammate. He may not be of the same caliber as teammate guard Tyrese Rice, but Sanders has the potential to be a star in his own right. As a freshman, he started every contest and averaged 11.3 points per game. He’s already proven himself as a viable threat as a versatile shooter as both his field goal and three point field goal percentages were better than Rice’s.
Ishmael Smith – Junior, Guard, Wake Forest
One half of one of the most productive backcourts in the ACC, Smith showed consistency in his sophomore season, posting almost identical numbers to his freshman season stats. Following a freshman campaign in which he led the ACC in assists per game, Smith ranked fifth in the category as a sophomore while raking 11th in minutes per game. There is not much that is eye-catching about Smith (other than perhaps his speed) and to say there is a good chance he will overshadow the play of teammates James Johnson, Trey Teague, or Al-Farouq Aminu this upcoming season would be unrealistic. But Smith gives the Demon Deacons exactly what they need though, an unselfish workhorse who makes his teammates better when he’s on the floor.
Deon Thompson – Junior, Forward, North Carolina
Tar Heel forward and 2008 Naismith College Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough stole a lot of Thompson’s thunder and exposure in the frontcourt last season but the sophomore still was able to put up some promising numbers. Thompson ranked first on the team and fifth in the ACC with 1.3 blocks per game while ranking second on the team in offensive rebounds per game (1.9). Although he averaged less than 22 minutes per game last season, the mere fact that Thompson started every game except one for the Tar Heels should be a testament to his potential and exemplifies the confidence that head coach Roy Williams has stored in him. If Thompson doesn’t make some noise this season, he will be in the limelight down low in 2009 with the departure of Hansbrough.
Honorable Mention: Malcolm Delaney (Sophomore, Guard, Virginia Tech), Mamadi Diane (Senior, Forward, Virginia), Lance Hurdle (Senior, Guard, Miami)
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