Take a poll of casual basketball fans and ask them, “can you name the top 5 scorers in the league?” Undoubtedly the answers would include LeBron, Kobe, Dirk, etc. In other words, the best players on the best teams. Ask the same question of college basketball fans and likely get the same answers, players on Kentucky, Syracuse, Duke, Ohio State, etc. are sure to be among the responses.
One difference, in college basketball, the best players on the best teams doesn’t necessarily mean being among the leaders in a statistical category. When people scour the boxscores of any given game their eyes usually gravitate to the points column first. After all, we want to know how many our favorite players scored the night before.
So who leads the country in scoring this season in college basketball? His name is Reggie Hamilton and he plays at Oakland University averaging 25.1 points per game. Not exactly a household name. In fact you would have to get to #7 on the list Terrell Stoglin (21.7) of Maryland to find a school that would resonate with the casual fan.
A closer look at the list does show something expected. There is a group of players from the same conference among the nation’s elite scorers. What conference do they play in? The ACC? No. The Big East? Nope. The SEC? Try again. Strike three. Four of the country’s top 12 scorers (as of Feb. 16th) play together in the Summit League. That’s 33%!
The what? What is a Summit League?
The Summit, as it is referred was originally founded in 1982 as the Association of Mid-Continent Universities (AMCU). The name was shortened to the Mid-Continent Conference in 1989. The current name was adopted in 2007 when South Dakota State and Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne joined the conference.
The currently configured 10-member conglomeration with schools spanning the Midwest from Michigan (Oakland University) to Utah (Southern Utah) will drop to nine schools in 2012 with the departures of Southern Utah to the Big Sky Conference and Oral Roberts to the Southland Conference and the addition of Nebraska-Omaha.
In addition to South Dakota State, IPFW, Southern Utah ,Oral Roberts and Oakland the Summit League houses Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI), Missouri-Kansas City, North Dakota State, University of South Dakota and Western Illinois.
None of these schools would likely roll off the tongue of the everyday college basketball fan, but yet the Summit League is home to a third of the country’s top 12 scorers? Believe it or not, yes it is all true.
Reggie Hamilton, Oakland’s senior guard is the nation’s leader in points, he pours in 25.1 points per contest. Nate Wolters leads South Dakota State in scoring at 21.8 points per game, putting 6th in the nation. IUPUI’s Alex Young currently ranks 9th scoring 20.8 a game. Oral Roberts’ Dominique Morrison is on the cusp of the top 10 scorers at 20.3 placing him 12th.
Yes these four young men are ahead of any member of a current member of the top 25 that plays in a power-6 conference. To find one of those guys you have to go all the way to 33rd where you will find Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom at 18.4 points per game.
Who are these guys and where did they come from?
Let’s start off in Rochester, Michigan at Oakland University, the home of the country’s second leading scorer Reggie Hamilton. The native of South Holland, Illinois attended Thornwood High School where he lettered in football as well as basketball. The 6’1 guard led his team to a 23-7 record averaging 17 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals a game as a senior.
After high school Hamilton actually began his collegiate career at another Summit League school, Missouri-Kansas City. In 2007-08 he was named to the Summit League’s All-Newcomer team, the only true freshman to earn the honor. Hamilton averaged nearly 12 points a game in his first season.
Midway through his Sophomore season Hamilton asked for and was granted his release from UMKC. He admitted,” Having the point guard role in high school, I was more of a scorer. I didn’t adjust to that role my freshman year.”
He landed at conference foe Oakland, and after sitting out the 2009-2010 season due to NCAA rules regarding transfers, he made an immediate impact for the Golden Grizzlies in 2010-11 helping lead them to a 25-10 record, a Summit League Championship and a bid to the NCAA Tournament before falling to #4 seed Texas 85-81 in the first round. In his first season with Oakland, Hamilton averaged 17.6 points and 5.3 assists per game. He led the team in scoring 13 times, including in the loss to Texas where he had 25 points and 5 assists.
Entering his senior season Hamilton found himself unquestionably as the leader of coach Greg Kampe’s squad. Reggie was the only returning senior on the team it was up to him to guide this young team.
Led he has, in assists with 4.9 a game, in steals with 2.1, in free throw percentage at nearly 90% and in scoring at a clip of 24.8 per game. Hamilton has led the Golden Grizzlies in scoring in 21 of their 28 games so far this season. He has eclipsed the 30-point mark a staggering 11 times and surpassed 40 twice, in road wins at Valparaiso (41) and Western Illinois (40).
The senior has stepped on the gas pedal late in the season, averaging over 31 points a game over his last five contests. Helping him climb to the top of ladder among the country’s scoring elite Look for him to do whatever it takes to help his team be successful in March. He is, after all their leader.
The only underclassman in the Summit’s four horsemen is South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters. The St. Cloud, Minnesota native led his high school (St. Cloud Tech) to back-to-back third place finishes in the state tournament and left the school as its all-time leading scorer with 1,767 points.
Nate landed at South Dakota State in part because, “I chose SDSU because they were the 1st division one team to offer me a scholarship and wanted me to play pg.” He said other teams saw him as more of a shooting guard and he wanted to run the point. In his freshman season he averaged 10.1 points while garnering All-Newcomer honors for his efforts. Entering his sophomore season Wolters was given the reins to run the team and be its full-time point guard. He started all 31 games for the Jackrabbits last season and led them in points, 19.5 and assists, 6.1 per game. He was as consistent as they come in the Summit League last season, scoring double-figures in 29 of his 31 games, knocking in at least 20, nine times and 30 four times. He earned 1st team All-Summit League honors, the first SDSU player to ever do so and was named to the All-Tournament team at the Summit league tournament where he led the Jackrabbits with 30 points in a quarterfinal win over Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne, and 23 points in semifinal loss to Reggie Hamilton and Oakland.
Going into his Junior season Nate wants to take the next step with SDSU and win a conference championship and make the NCAA Tournament. He has done his best so far to make that happen, having scored in double figures in every game, scoring at least 20 in 15 of his 27 games and 30 or more in five of them. His 21.8 scoring average is not only 2nd in the conference but puts him 6th in the entire country. Wolters is not just a scorer, he also leads the team in assists with 6.0 per game.
He got the season off to a good start scoring 32 and dishing out 11 assists in a win over Western Michigan. He then recorded his second double-double of the season with 21 points and a career-high 12 assists in a 92-87 loss to Oakland, a game in which Travis Bader hit 10 3-pointers and scored 37 off the bench for Oakland.
Wolters is also 2nd on the team in rebounding at 5.0 a game. The 6’4 guard is leading head coach Scott Nagy’s troops by example and doing a little bit of everything to help them achieve the ultimate goal.
Wolters drew interest from schools in other conferences but says he enjoys playing in the Summit, “Playing in the Summit League has been a lot of fun, good mid major conference with some great players.” Opined Wolters when asked about his experiences thus far in the Summit League.
While only a junior, Nate has a lot more fun to experience, not only the rest of this season but in his senior year as well. Perhaps a first-ever trip to the NCAAs will be chief among them for he and his teammates.
Alex Young was named the 2008 Indianapolis City and Indianapolis Public Schools Player of the Year as a senior at Northwest High School. He averaged 18.6 points and 13.7 rebounds in his final season. The choice of where to go to school was easy for the Indianapolis native.
He chose to attend Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis because he says, “So my family can still come to the games also IUPUI was the school that recruited me the most heavily and also I could play immediately here.”
Play immediately he did, seeing action in 30 games (21 starts) in his freshman year which saw him lead all Summit League freshmen in scoring with a 10.8 average. His sophomore season his production jumped up to 18.3 points per game, but also saw him grab 4.5 rebounds a contest.
What changed for Alex? After his freshman year he, “realized how the college game went, just overall confidence and believing in my ability.”
His junior season saw him earn 1st Team All-Summit honors for the second straight season. His 19.7 point average led the conference in scoring, his 17 games of scoring 20 or more points also led the conference. He again increased his contributions on defense his 6.4 rebounds were good enough for 7th in the Summit. Young registered double figures in scoring in 32 of the 33 games he played and notched three double-doubles.
Young continued to do more than score, while leading the team in scoring he ranked second in rebounding (6.4) and assists (2.4).
His senior campaign started off with a bang before he even took the court, being voted the Summit League’s Preseason Player of the Year by the coaches. That could be a lot of pressure for a player to live up to. So far it looks like Alex has been up to the task.
He has averaged 20.9 points per game which puts him currently 9th in the country and 3rd in the Summit. He has topped 20 points in 17 of his 26 games this season, and 30 points three times including a 43-point 9 rebound game in a win over Western Kentucky. The 43 points was the most scored by a Jaguars player since becoming a division one program, and he did it while shooting a scorching 14-20 from the field.
The Indianapolis native is hoping to take his hometown school to new heights in the Summit League and beyond. With an athletic 6’6 scorer to rely on IUPUI will surely be no easy out for other teams in the conference.
Dominique Morrison wasn’t even a top 3 option on his AAU team. He played for Kansas City’s Pump-n-Run where Marcus Denmon and Steve Moore, both starring at Missouri, and Kansas’ Travis Releford were all starters for that team. The Missouri native led Raytown High School to a 27-1 record as a senior averaging 25.6 points and 6 rebounds. Being behind those guys didn’t frustrate Morrison, in fact he saw it as a positive.
“I felt like it helped. Playing with guys that were going to bigger schools just made me want to work harder. Each practice was a chance to get better and improve. We actually came to ORU for a tournament and I liked the school and the gym. I believe it helped in recruitment because a lot of schools did not believe I could play the 3 because of several reasons but ORU believed in me from the beginning.” Said Morrison when I asked him how he felt about his recruitment.
Morrison started all 31 games as a freshman and was named to the Summit League’s All-Newcomer Team in 2008-09. One of his best games in his first season came in the regular-season finale against North Dakota State where he scored 17 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in a 3-point defeat.
Morrison really took off in his second season, averaging a team-high 15.6 points and 2.6 assists while grabbing 5.1 rebounds. Morrison also averaged over 35 minutes per game. Dominique scored in double figures 28 times and saved his best performances for the biggest competition. He scored 31 points and snatched nine rebounds in a November win over Stanford, Dominique tallied 21 points and 7 boards in a 1-point win over old friends Denmon, Moore and the Missouri Tigers, he also scored 17 points in back-to-back games; a loss to Louisville and a win over New Mexico.
Morrison’s junior campaign was even better than the previous two. He ended the year with a 19.5 scoring average and found himself on the All-Summit First Team for the second year in a row. During the year he led the team in scoring in nearly half the games he played (15) and the 6’6 forward led the Golden Eagles in rebounding seven times. He was even better when playing conference opponents in his junior year, averaging 20.9 points in league contests, including scorching Western Illinois for a career-high 35 on 14-18 from the field.
He was named to the All-Tournament team in March averaging 22 points and 8 rebounds in the 3 games, including a double-double 22 points and 11 boards in the championship loss to Oakland.
Entering his senior season Morrison was looking for Oral Roberts to take that final step and win the Summit League Tournament and earn the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. He has led ORU in a big way averaging 20.1 points per game, good enough for a 12th place tie in the country. He has had a game high in 17 of 30 games, including a stretch from December 18th-January 12th where he led the team in 8 straight games. Given his propensity for coming up big in big games, it should come as no surprised he threw down a career-high 38 points in a win over 2nd place South Dakota State.
Through all of the stats, all of the accolades Morrison said in his four years at ORU, “The one thing I’m the most proud of is the way we are playing this year. To have won our first regular season championship in four years is big.”
The Golden Eagles will be the #1 seed in the upcoming Summit League Tournament.
These guys may be among the nation’s elite scorers and play each other twice a year, but do they care? Do they keep an eye on what the others are doing?
Morrison says, “To be honest, I do look to see what they have done, and to see if they won.”
Wolters enjoys the competition between the group, “Its awesome being in the same conference as those guys. They are all great players and love being able to compete against them.”
Alex Young says playing in the same conference with those guys, “allows no room for error, it let’s you not get off your momentum for a while because those guys are so good. It does keep you on your game.”
All four of these Summit League stars are gearing up for the Summit League Post-Season Tournament which will take place March 3-6 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Dominique Morrison and Nate Wolters have locked up the top 2 seeds with Oral Roberts and South Dakota State respectively. Reggie Hamilton’s Oakland Golden Grizzlies are in a battle for the #3 seed with North Dakota State, both teams are 9-7 with 2 games to play. IUPUI and Alex Young hope to catch Southern Utah for the #6 seed, the Jaguars currently sit 7th at 6-10 in conference.
Keep in mind, even though over the next six weeks or so players, coaches and games from the power-6 conferences will be the ones in bright lights with their names on the marquee, March 3-6 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota will be the only place you will be able to find the highest concentration of national scoring leaders; 4 of the top 12 (through games on February 16), including the co-leader.
They are all in one place—The Summit League.
*All 2012 stats are through games played on February 16th