A look at five players to watch at Golden 1 Center on Friday other than UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball:
Jr. Dillon Brooks, F, Oregon
Why watch: A year after the Ducks made the Elite Eight, they’re back for more with Dillon averaging 16.3 points, 2.9 rebound and 2.7 assists. The Pacific-12 Conference Player of the Year is one of five finalists for the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award.
What they’re saying: “He’s more than a scorer. He’s got a charisma about him, something special that gives his team confidence and an intangible quality of toughness. He’s a clutch player, one of the best players in the country.” – Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley at the Pac-12 tournament.
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Fun fact: Brooks had no idea where Oregon was – never mind the town of Eugene – while being recruited out of Mississauga, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. Now he considers the Pacific Northwest home.
Fr. Justin Patton, C, Creighton
Why watch: Long, athletic, explosive big men are always fun to watch, and Patton has risen from unknown prep prospect as a junior to 5-star recruit in his senior season to sudden NBA curiosity. The 7-footer is averaging 13.1 points and 6.2 rebounds.
What they’re saying: “I mean, holy moly. He runs the floor, he’s got good hands, he can shoot a little bit. At this point, he’d be the second or third best big man in the draft at worst.” – An Eastern Conference NBA scout to Sports Illustrated in January.
Fun facts: Nicknamed “Big Muddy,” Patton aspires to someday meet comedian Kevin Hart, who is a tad shorter at 5-4.
Jr. Gary Clark, F, Cincinnati
Why watch: He averages a modest 10.7 points, but Clark can be emphatic when he does score, including a dunk that topped ESPN’s Top 10 highlights against Memphis last month. And Clark can be ferocious on defense, averaging eight rebounds per game over three seasons.
What they’re saying: “Clark’s very aggressive, quietly. He’s never going to show his emotion on his shirt, but when he gets mad, he’ll definitely tell you. He never steps out of his shell, but there’s definitely fire inside his shell.” – Cincinnati teammate Troy Caupain to GoBEARCATS.com in November.
Fun facts: Clark’s favorite passion outside of basketball is fishing. He was on a bass-fishing team in high school in Clayton, N.C., and laughs recalling how Bearcats teammates got their fishing line caught in trees.”
Sr. Hassan Martin, F, Rhode Island
Why watch: The best interior presence for the Rams since Lamar Odom keyed an Elite Eight run in 1998, Martin was a late bloomer who blossomed into a two-time All-Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year. At 6-7, he is averaging 14 points, seven rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots, showing plenty of pop after tearing his quad earlier this season.
What they’re saying: “He needed to play an NCAA Tournament for me to feel whole, for the program to feel whole. We couldn’t let him walk out the door, walk across that graduation stage – a guy of his character, a guy of his greatness – without (an NCAA berth).” – Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley to the New York Post.
Fun facts: Martin said he appreciates the unique names of his siblings, including Kareem, Malik, Qadir, Talib and Salim. His parents are named Sharice and Kareem Martin.
Fr. TJ Leaf, F, UCLA
Why watch: UCLA’s fast-paced offense has Lonzo Ball as the triggerman and a lot of finishers, including Leaf, who had 32 points against Washington State, 15 rebounds against Pacific and is averaging 16.2 points and 8.3 rebounds. He’s a finalist for the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year award.
What they’re saying: “His overall production has proved what he can be as an NBA player. He scores very efficiently, and he’s rebounded at a high level. Any time a guy does that in both areas, you have something to talk about.” – An NBA scout to Bleacher Report.
Fun facts: Leaf’s was born in Tel Aviv where his father, Brad, played pro ball. After moving to the U.S. with his family at age 2, Leaf played for his father at Foothills Christian High in El Cajon and played for Israel in summer 2015 for the FIBA Europe Under-18 Championships in Australia.