Eduardo Martinez is The Sporting Nation's authority on Latinos in college basketball, providing an annual detailed look at the top players in the game across the country. Here's the 2015 season-opening edition as college hoops tips off this weekend from coast to coast.
We’ve been spoiled the last two years with Latinos playing important roles for their respective teams in college basketball. Puerto Rican Shabazz Napier propelled Connecticut all the way to the national championship in 2013-2014, which led to him being drafted No. 24 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. This past season, Dominican Karl-Anthony Towns and Puerto Rican Devin Booker drove Kentucky to the Final Four. Towns was drafted No. 1 by the Minnesota Timberwolves and Booker went No. 13 to the Phoenix Suns.
There may not be as much heavy star power as year’s past, but there’s still plenty of depth for Latinos in college basketball this season. Here’s my top 10 list:
1. Angel Rodriguez; Miami; Redshirt Senior; Point Guard; Native of Puerto Rico
Miami had an up-and-down season last year, finishing 25-13 and losing in the championship game of the NIT. Angel Rodriguez and his leadership at point guard went a long way in keeping the Hurricanes competitive. Rodriguez led Miami in assists, steals and free throws attempted and made. He was also one of two players on the roster who was a double-digit scorer at 11.9 points per game. Miami will once again rely on Rodriguez to lead them into postseason play.
Seton Hall got off to a surprisingly great start last season, going 13-3 in their first 16 games while earning a No. 21 ranking in early January. Angel Delgado was an integral component to Seton Hall’s start, an anchor in the interior, dominating the glass to the tune of 9.8 rebounds per game and 10 double-doubles. That dominance led to Delgado earning the Big East Rookie of the Year award. It’s safe to expect more double-doubles in Delgado’s sophomore season.
3. Adrian Diaz; Florida International; Redshirt Senior; Center; Cuban
Adrian Diaz thrived in a larger role at Florida International after transferring over from Kansas State, becoming an elite rim protector for FIU. Diaz led Conference USA in blocks, and ranked seventh in the country with three blocks per game. Additionally, Diaz was a double-digit scorer who shot 60 percent from the field, including seven double-doubles. He even recorded a triple-double against UAB, totaling 14 points, 13 blocks and 12 rebounds. With previous leading scorer Dennis Mavin gone, Diaz figures to play an even bigger role in 2015-2016.
4. Patricio Garino; George Washington; Senior; Wing; Native of Argentina
Patricio Garino once again provided strong play from the wing for George Washington in 2014-2015, as they finished 22-13 and earned an NIT bid. Garino led his team in scoring, steals and field goal percentage. His play caught the eye of the Argentine national team, who selected Garino to their 12-man roster in the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship. Playing alongside legends like Andres Nocioni and Luis Scola, Garino averaged 7.7 points and 1.3 steals in 25.6 minutes per game in 10 contests. Argentina finished in second place, losing to Venezuela in the championship game. This invaluable experience should bode well for Garino and George Washington in 2015-2016.
5. Gian Clavell; Colorado State; Senior; Guard; Native of Puerto Rico
Gian Clavell was a key reserve for a Colorado State team (including Mexican standouts J.J. Avila and Daniel Bejarano) that won a program-record 27 games last season, only to be snubbed from the 2015 NCAA Tournament and relegated to the NIT. He was nearly a double-digit scorer on a team with several offensively talented players. With Avila, Bejarano and Stanton Kidd gone, Clavell takes the throne as CSU’s top offensive threat. If CSU’s lone exhibition game is any indication, Clavell is more than ready for the added responsibility. He scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 30 minutes in a blowout victory over D-II foe Colorado State-Pueblo. I was at the game, and it’s easy to envision Clavell averaging 15-plus points per game this season. CSU needs him to do so.
6. Aaron Valdes; Hawaii; Redshirt Junior; Wing; Cuban and Mexican
Hawaii experienced its second consecutive 20-win campaign and was one win away from making the NCAA Tournament, with breakout star Aaron Valdes leading the way. Valdes led the Rainbow Warriors in scoring and rebounds in his first season as a full-time starter. He proved to be a dangerous scoring threat, erupting for 20-plus points 7 times, including a career-high 34 points against Cal State Northridge. Hawaii will need Valdes to be more consistent this time around, which will go a long way towards them making postseason play.
7. Adonys Henriquez; Central Florida; Sophomore; Guard; Dominican
Adonys Henriquez had a standout freshman year as a double-digit scorer and more than capable shooter from beyond the arc. He led the Knights with 65 3-pointers at a team-best 39% rate. His continued progress should once again land him at 10-plus points per game.
8. Cezar Guerrero; Fresno State; Redshirt Senior; Point Guard; Mexican
Despite a 15-17 record in 2014-2015, Fresno State is considered a darkhorse in the competitive Mountain West Conference thanks to their dynamic backcourt play, with scoring point guard Cezar Guerrero at the helm. Although he was ineligible in the first semester, Guerrero provided Fresno State with another double-digit scorer from the backcourt. His 3-point shooting improved from 34% in 2013-2014 to 42% last year, a significant improvement from a player whose shot selection left a lot to be desired. Marvelle Harris will lead this team, but Guerrero will be a nice complimentary piece.
9. Nehemias Morillo; South Florida; Senior; Wing; Native of Dominican Republic
2014-2015 stats: 10.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg in 27.9 mpg
Nehemias Morillo was one of the few bright spots for first-year head coach and fellow Dominican Orlando Antigua. South Florida finished 9-23, but return Morillo and productive big man Chris Perry. They’ll be joined by talented newcomers Jahmal McMurray, Angel Nunez (Dominican), Roddy Peters and Luis Santos (Dominican). Morillo should provide stability and experience at the wing position and will play an important role for an improved USF team.
10. Jose Rodriguez; Texas Southern; Redshirt Senior; Dominican and Puerto Rican
Jose Rodriguez had a great start to his Texas Southern career in 2013-2014, helping lead his team to the NCAA Tournament. He had success against high-major opponents, scoring inside and outside as well. While his team still made the NCAA Tournament this past season, Rodriguez was forced to watch from the sidelines in street clothes, missing the entire season due to an injury. Rodriguez will be counted on to produce this season, much like he did in 2013-2014.
Others to keep an eye on:
Mitchell Badillo; Incarnate Word; Senior; Point Guard; Mexican
Ray Barreno; Portland; Junior; Center; Mexican
Michael Carrera; South Carolina; Senior; Power Forward; Venezuelan