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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Men's Basketball

Veteran players to lead young basketball squad


Corey Davis Jr. is one of several junior-college transfers who will look to make an impact for coach Kelvin Sampson’s team. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

Coach Kelvin Sampson and the men’s basketball team are on a mission to make it to the NCAA tournament this year. Despite losing four seniors, the Cougars are hungry to make their first tournament appearance since the 2010 season.

With back-to-back years going 12-6 in conference play, Sampson will need his young players to step up and his veterans to take the initiative of leading them.

With a unique roster that has both experience and young talent, here are some players to know for the 2017-18 season.

Redshirt senior guard Rob Gray Jr.

Coming off a career year in which he led the conference with 20.6 points per game, Rob Gray Jr. still has doubters, and he will look to prove them wrong. The senior guard enters his final season rocking a new hairdo and a new mentality on the offensive end. He’ll try to be more of a playmaker by getting his teammates involved in the offense.

Gray has led the Cougars in scoring the past two years with his uncanny ability to get in the paint while still being a threat from beyond the arc and midrange. But Gray will look to complete the last piece to his game by creating open looks for his teammates. He averaged only 2.9 assists last season, so look for him to showcase his passing ability and add to his assist total.

Redshirt senior forward Devin Davis

Starting his collegiate career at the University of Indiana, Sampson recruited Devin Davis, an Indiana native, to play for the Cougars last year. Now a senior, Davis knows what to expect and is ready to do whatever it takes to help the Cougars win games.

His last year was a constant struggle, battling different foot and hand injuries that kept him sidelined for 11 games. But when he was on the court, Davis produced for the Cougars and was an effective rebounder, averaging 5.4 rebounds a game. Davis will ensure the Cougar’s new big men are all on the same page and will be there to lead them on and off the court.

Senior guard Wes VanBeck

Wes VanBeck may not look like it but, the 6-foot-3 shooting guard is one of the most integral parts of the Cougars’ offense. From walk-on freshman to starting guard, VanBeck has had quite the journey.

After two years of sacrifice and dedication to the Cougars, he not only earned a spot in the rotation, but earned a full athletic scholarship in August 2016. His work ethic is evident on the court as well as in the classroom, as he was a part of the 2015-16 American Athletic Conference All-Academic Team.

Look for the sharpshooter to continue his efficient shooting and to continue to make plays on the court with his hustle and effort on both sides of the ball.

Junior guard Corey Davis Jr.

This is Davis’ first year with the Cougars, but the junior point guard has played for two other junior colleges. He played for Angelina Community College his freshman year, averaging 13.4 points per game and 5.8 assists per game. Davis then transferred into San Jacinto Junior College, where he was an NJCAA All-American First-Team selection.

Now Davis has a chance to compete for the Cougars under Sampson, who looks to have a committee system at point guard rotating Davis and junior Galen Robinson. Look for Davis to push the offense to play at an up-tempo pace and create opportunities to score early in transition.

Honorable mention: sophomore guard Armoni Brooks

Armoni Brooks, a three-star recruit out of high school, has blossomed into a fine perimeter player who exploded for a career-high 22 points in the Cougars’ first game this season against McNeese State. Brooks had the luxury of learning from Gray and former Cougar guard Damyean Dotson last year and is now poised to follow up his freshman year with a breakout season. Look for him to come off the bench to provide a quick scoring punch mainly from behind the arc as the sixth man, similar to Vanbeck last season.

The Cougars are 4-1 with a game Wednesday at 7 p.m. against New Orleans at Texas Southern’s H&PE Arena.

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