Because of their roles in a cheating scandal at Harvard, co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry withdrew from the prestigious university and missed the entire 2012-13 season, opening the door for Princeton and other rivals to make a run for the Ivy League title. The Tigers came close to dethroning the reigning champs, but the Crimson prevailed atop the standings before upsetting No. 3 seed New Mexico in the Round of 64.
Without Casey and Curry, someone else needed to step up. Wesley Saunders did, averaging 16.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game and earning a unanimous First Team All-Ivy selection.
Saunders missed out on Player of the Year honors—that accolade went to Princeton’s Ian Hummer—but Ivy League coaches tabbed the junior guard/forward as the conference’s best player in an exclusive poll given by The Other 26.
I asked the question, “Which six players in the conference would you most want on your team, regardless of position?” to the league’s coaches. Thirteen coaches from seven different schools responded, and 10 of them listed Saunders as one of their six. Coaches could not vote for players on their own team.
There are many qualities about Saunders that separate the junior from his peers, including his abilities to get to the rim and play multiple positions. As one coach put it, “[Saunders is the] best player in the league. Doesn’t shoot it great, but is so good going to the rim that he doesn’t need to.” Saunders did shoot poorly at times last season, including a 1-for-11 outing in the 3rd Round of the NCAA Tournament, but still managed to finish second in the Ivy League in scoring. Saunders’ size and speed makes him a nightmare matchup for both guards and forwards, and an improved shot would make him even better—a scary thought.
Closely following Saunders were Cornell’s Shonn Miller and Brown’s Sean McGonagill, who appeared on nine and eight ballots, respectively. Both players joined Saunders on the 2012-13 First Team All-Ivy.
Miller, a do-it-all junior forward, averaged 11.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.9 blocks per game last season. One coach said that Miller “affects the game on both ends of the floor with his athleticism like not many can,” and another dubbed him “the most athletic player in the league by far.” Cornell may not have had much success last season, finishing 13-18, but Miller and sophomore guard Nolan Cressler give the Big Red a solid 1-2 punch for the next two years.
McGonagill, an undersized shooting guard, stands at 6-foot-1 but compensates with a terrific scoring touch and a tough-minded approach. One coach said that McGonagill is “a great shooter, but the best quality is his toughness!” Another described the senior as a “tough kid who wills his team to victory.”
Alongside Matt Sullivan, McGonagill helped vault Brown from seventh place in the Ivy League in 2011-12 to fourth place in 2012-13. Sullivan graduated, but with McGonagill and the bulk of last year’s roster back, Brown could be a sleeper in league play.
Harvard’s Siyani Chambers (7), Penn’s Tony Hicks (7) and Princeton’s Denton Koon (5) rounded out the top six vote-getters.
Chambers, last season’s Ivy League Freshman of the Year and First Team All-Ivy selection, hit the ground running as the Crimson’s rookie point guard. He played an astonishing 37.8 minutes per game and averaged 12.4 points and 5.7 assists.
“[Chambers] is the best point guard in the league, can control tempo, and score when his team needs him,” one coach said. “Speed kills, and he kills everyone with that.”
Hicks, a sophomore guard, averaged 10.4 points per game as a freshman, and displayed his scoring potential throughout his first collegiate season, pouring in at least 20 points on four separate occasions. An All-Ivy honorable mention last season, Hicks, described by one coach as “a relentless scorer,” is poised to become one of the league’s elite players.
Koon, also an All-Ivy honorable mention in 2012-13, saw his scoring average jump from 5.1 points per game as a freshman to 10.5 points per game as a sophomore. One coach raved about his “always improving skill set,” which the Tigers could use to make up for the loss of forward Ian Hummer, last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year.
And, of course, you can’t forget about Casey (4) and Curry (3), who return to Harvard after spending 2012-13 away from the team. Casey was a First Team All-Ivy selection in 2011-12, while Curry made Second Team All-Ivy.
Referred to as the “most talented and versatile player in the league” by one coach, Casey, along with Kenyatta Smith, Steve Moundou-Missi, and Zena Edosomwan, is part of one of the deepest Ivy League frontcourts in recent memory.
Also receiving votes: Laurent Rivard, Harvard (4); Cedric Kuakumensah, Brown (4); Justin Sears, Yale (3); Miles Cartwright, Penn (3); Kenyatta Smith, Harvard (2); Darien Nelson-Henry, Penn (2); Nolan Cressler, Cornell; Gabas Maldunas, Dartmouth; Alex Mitola, Dartmouth; Maodo Lo, Columbia.