Last season’s SMU basketball team was led by seniors Nick Russell and Shawn Williams, but some promising freshmen played roles in the Mustang’s success. With Russell and Williams graduated, last year’s freshmen will need to take on bigger roles as sophomores this year. The trio of Sterling Brown, Ben Moore and Keith Frazier is up to the task, and each has shown growth in practice so far. Virginia Tech transfer Ben Emelogu, also a sophomore, will play a big role too. Here is a closer look at each of the sophomores.
Sterling Brown came to the Hilltop from Maywood, Ill. and started 26 games as a freshman. He was not counted on to be a scorer, but he was an effective from the guard position and was arguably the Mustangs’ second-best defensive guard, behind Russell. Now the role of top defender is Brown’s to lose, but he knows he will have help.
“I feel like I [have to step up], but at the same time, everyone is going to have to step up,” Brown said. “Everybody’s individual defense is going to have to be key, so it’s going to be a team effort.”
Another sophomore from the Prairie State is poised for a big leap. Forward Ben Moore was a spark plug off the bench in 2013-14, but he could get some starts with Markus Kennedy likely out for a majority of the nonconference season. Moore looks stronger and his mid-range game has improved, but his best work comes on defense. Coach Larry Brown has also used Moore as a point guard in practice, which Moore says has still helped him learn his usual forward position.
“From a point guard’s perspective, you have to know every position,” Moore said. “I’m seeing different things that the forwards should do, especially on defense, like hedging and stuff on screens.”
The most talented of the sophomores is guard Keith Frazier. A former four-start recruit and McDonald’s All-American from Dallas, Frazier brought a lot of hype to the Hilltop. But he did not have the freshman season most expected. He averaged only 14.8 minutes per game, and while he shot 39 percent on three-point attempts, he forced some shots and he struggled on defense.
This year, Frazier has bought in to Coach Brown’s teaching. He has improved his defense, passing and shot selection. However, he sometimes reverts to last year’s erratic play. Coach Brown pushes Frazier, but Frazier responds well to it because he knows his coach pushes him because he cares. That care is one of the reasons Frazier is confident heading into this season.
“My confidence is really high,” Frazier said. “I always feel confident in my game, I’ve never doubted that. I feel like I’ve improved on my defense, I’m more aggressive on offense. I’m more mentally focused, I’m mentally there, and I’m ‘in the game.’ Last year, I was kind of floating around, wasn’t really engaged.”
Frazier can be a star if he continues to grow like he has, and while he still has room to improve, he could being the year as one of the Mustangs’ starting guards.
Ben Emelogu joined the party late. He played his freshman year at Virginia Tech, also serving as a team captain. When Emmanuel Mudiay opted to play overseas, Emelogu decided to play close to his hometown of Grand Prairie, Texas and transfer to SMU. He brings versatility and much-needed guard depth behind Nic Moore. Emelogu’s clearance was unexpected by most, but was a big relief for Emelogu himself.
“I was asking (Coach Brown) every day, ‘coach are we going to hear something?’” Emelogu said. “I just tried to focus and prepare in case of the best outcome. We’ve just been preparing like I was going to play from the start.”
The sophomores are instrumental to SMU’s success this season, and each of them has matured since coming to the Hilltop.