If you are looking for the ultimate writing atmosphere, here it is: I have the last batch of seven freshmen for you to consider before I start my Top-21 list next week based on a ranking of a variety of stats; the temperature is perfect - not too hot, not too cold; and, I am listening to the new Beck record streaming via NPR. I really like Beck, so this should be one inspired column. Or, maybe I'll just be distracted by his new album, "Morning Phase," and you will get second shrift. Either way, here are a few more first-year players.
Hallice Cooke, guard, Oregon State Beavers
At the beginning of the season, Swedish junior Challe Barton started at point guard next to scoring threat Roberto Nelson. That is no longer the case as 6-foot-3 Cooke has taken over and has been playing well against conference opponents. In his last five games, the New Jersey native has scored 11 points four times and made 61.1 percent of his 3-pointers (11-of-18). He is hitting a robust 54.8 percent of his long-range shots on the season as the Beavers make a surprising run at an NCAA Tournament bid.
Tahj Shamsid-Deen, guard, Auburn Tigers
Unless the Tigers make a near miraculous run in the SEC tournament, there will be no ticket for the Big Dance for the 12th straight season. Auburn may have found its point guard of the future in the 5-10 Shamsid-Deen. He has started throughout the season and is averaging 9.4 points and 2.9 assists and has scored at least nine points in six of his last seven games. Shamsid-Deen is not much of a 3-point threat yet and has only 30.2 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
Hassan Martin, forward, Rhode Island Rams
As the Rams' season has gone sour (URI has lost 10 of its last 12 games), coach Dan Hurley has had more time to look to the future. Martin has been given more minutes and is starting to provide dividends. He has snatched at least nine boards in four of his last five games. He had his second double-double of the season on Feb. 12 against Dayton (14 points and 13 rebounds) and followed that performance with nine points and 10 rebounds against Duquesne last Saturday. He fouled out of both games, so over exuberance may be an issue.
Alec Wintering, guard, Portland Pilots
If this column has a theme, it is freshmen point guards. Wintering is another who is the field general for his team as a first-year player. The 5-10 North Carolina native is a bit spotty as a shooter, but he has shown an excellent ability to set up his teammates. Wintering is averaging just 7.8 points on 34.7 percent from the field, but is leading the team with 4.6 assists. He has tallied double-digit assists three times, most recently on Feb. 13 with 10 dimes in the win over Loyola Marymount.
Jeremy Major, Pepperdine Waves
The Waves actually have two freshman point guards. Amadi Udenyi opened the season with an injury, which in turn opened the door for Major to get major playing time. After scoring in double digits in 13 of 16 games from late November to late January, Major has lost his scoring touch. In his last six games, he has averaged just 5.5 points, but has found other ways to contribute (mainly, 5.0 assists). He showed the ability to be a scoring point guard and should progress in his second year in Malibu.
Blake Simmons, guard/forward, Evansville Aces
Simmons is the son of Aces coach Marty Simmons. It isn't just nepotism that is getting him playing time as the 6-5 swingman is averaging 9.9 points and 3.0 rebounds. In his last four games, Simmons has averaged 14.8 points and has hit five 3-pointers. The Aces are rebuilding, but Simmons and sophomore guard D.J. Balentine (23.1 points) give them a solid backcourt nucleus. If the elder Simmons can bring in some productive bigs, we might hear from the Aces in the near future.
Marlon Beck, guard, Binghamton Bearcats
Like Pepperdine, the Bearcats feature a pair of freshman point guards. Beck teams with Yosef Yacob to do the bulk of the ball handling for Binghamton. Neither player can shoot a lick, but I went with Beck because he provides a few more assists and has been playing a bit better lately. He is coming off a 17-point performance to lead the Bearcats past New Hampshire in overtime on Feb. 12. Beck scored a season-high 27 points on Nov. 13 against Cornell. He hit six 3-pointers in the win, but his shooting has fallen way off in conference play.