Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Does Rhode Island have the best college basketball guards in America?
MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Dan Hurley was speaking to about 40 coaches at the Garden State Basketball Clinic on Friday when he made a bold, but entirely possible statement to those assembled.
“We might have the best guards in the country so we’re constantly trying to find ways to get our guards shots,” Hurley told the coaches.
Does Rhode Island have the best guards in the country entering the 2017-18 season?
They’re certainly in the conversation.
Consider that the Rams have four returning guards — E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Stan Robinson and Jarvis Garrett (the father of twin boys)– who combined for 39.9 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.7 assists last season when the team won the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament championship and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s definitely the best positional talent I’ve had,” Hurley told me later. “I think it’s everything. If you don’t have great guard play, or good guard play, you’re in a a lot of trouble. Guards win in college.”
Hurley knows a thing or two about guard play.
He scored more than 1,000 points during his career at Seton Hall, and his older brother, Bobby Hurley, might well be the best point guard in the history of college basketball, having led Duke to back-to-back NCAA championships in the early 1990s.
During his tenure as the head coach at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J., Hurley coached some pretty good guards, too, including J.R. Smith of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On one St. Benedict’s team, Hurley had Myck Kabongo, Scott Machado, Aaron Brown, Mike Poole and Zack Rosen — all of whom went on to play high-level Division 1 basketball.
Hurley joked that before this group at Rhode Island, the best guards he ever had were at St. Benedict’s.
But now this Rams crew has taken the lead.
On the college level, Duke (Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr.) and Kentucky (Quade Green, Hamidou Diallo) have their regular crew of Diaper Dandies. Arizona returns Rawle Alkins, Allonzo Trier and Parker Jackson-Cartwright. Kansas has Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, LaGerald Vick and Marcus Garrett. St. John’s has Shamorie Ponds, Marcus LoVett and Justin Simon. And Villanova still has Phil Booth,Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo.
Some of them may be as good as Rhode Island’s guards, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue any of them are significantly better, and more experienced, than Rhode Island’s group which has four senior guards with NCAA Tournament experience.
“I think we’re definitely going to get it down the court a lot faster, going to rely heavily on our guards as a group,” Hurley said. “They’re one of the deepest groups in the country, senior-laden, four of them are seniors.”
Hurley loves what he’s seeing from the 6-foot-5 Matthews (14.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and the 6-3 Terrell (12.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg), in particular.
“E.C. and Jared are in great form right now,” he said. “They’re in the best shape they’ve ever been in. They’re in their college prime right now. Jared Terrell, this is probably the lightest he’s been since eighth grade. He’s always been a big strong guard and he knows what time it is now.
“And then E.C. is finally fully recovered physically from the [ACL] injury and now you bring along with that the fifth-year maturity.”
Both guys will get looks from NBA scouts.
“They’re going to be coming through quite a bit,” Hurley said. “Jared had a big-time week at Adidas Nations this summer. E.C. couldn’t go as a precaution but these are draftable guys you’re talking about and they’re going to get their shot, especially if we put ourselves back into that March equation.”
Having tasted the NCAA Tournament for the first time as a coach, Hurley and his group are anxious to get back and taste March Madness yet again.
“All summer it’s been this burning desire,” Hurley said. “Once you experience the NCAA Tournament and winning a game and winning your conference, and everything that comes with that, the excitement, it’s hard to take a step back from that.
“So it drives you every day.”
Rhody’s guards will be tested with this schedule, too. They play Alabama, Providence, Seton Hall, Iona, College of Charleston, Florida Gulf Coast and UNC Asheville.
“Nine of our 11 non-conference opponents are projected to be in the NCAA Tournament, according to the latest bracketology,” Hurley said. “These are all teams that are projected to win their league and go to the NCAA Tournament.”
Remember this when you’re filling out your March Madness bracket, don’t forget about those Rhody guards.
Follow Adam Zagoria on TwitterAnd like ZAGS on Facebook
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.