Rookies, Big Jelly key now and later

Michael Casagrande

Being a newcomer in a nationally ranked program is a task that involves little glory and a lot of work behind the scenes. This reality will soon hit the four freshmen entering the highly touted Western basketball squad.

Members of the incoming class hope to follow in the footsteps of sophomore Patrick Sparks and earn a starting role as a freshman. Sparks set a bevy of rookie records in his breakout season.

While coach Dennis Felton hopes another Patrick Sparks will step up this year, he feels the jury is still out on this freshman class.

“I always say you never really know how good a recruit or a recruiting class is until a couple of years later,” Felton said. “I expect that they all could make contributions, and I expect that they are all good players or else we wouldn’t have recruited them.”

In the stat book, Anthony Winchester has the most eye-popping numbers. At Austin High School in Indiana, his 34.7 points and 13.5 rebounds per contest made him a three-time all-state selection and runner-up for the prized Mr. Basketball award.

The phenom’s 2,256 career points rank him 10th in Hoosier State history.

Winchester’s dominating play helped Austin reach the semi-finals of the Class 2-A state tournament. He’ll try to bring the same skill and intensity to a Topper tournament run.

“Whether it be scoring, rebounding or playing defense, I want to do anything I can to help the team,” Winchester said.

He joins Jamaal Brown, Kevin Massiah and Danny Rumph in this year’s freshman class. Brown adds power in the paint as a 6-foot-7, 235-pound forward. The Spartanburg, S.C., native averaged 19.4 points and 12.3 rebounds his senior season.

Guards Massiah (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) and Danny Rumph (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) come in well-groomed from national prep power Maine Central Institute. Massiah averaged 16 points and five boards as a senior and Rumph put up 18 points, seven assists and two steals.

The numbers are impressive and have some Topper supporters looking to the future with glee. But Felton isn’t as easily excited.

“What they did in high school has very little to do with what they do here,” Felton said. “Again, I’d say, ask me again in two years.”

Numbers aside, the Toppers’ highest profile newcomer would be Nigel Dixon – a.k.a. Big Jelly.

The 6-foot-11, 350-pound center transferred to Western in August after three seasons at Florida State. He will practice this season but sit out games in compliance with NCAA regulations. He hopes to fill the shoes of All-American Chris Marcus next year.

“He doesn’t have to fill my shoes or anything like that,” Marcus said with a chuckle. “Next year, he will build on the skills he got from Florida State.”

Felton’s latest recruiting class took a hit on Sept. 25 when 7-foot-1, 185-pound Michael Doe quit the team and left school. The abrupt exit came as a shock to Felton, but with a stacked crew, he’s not losing sleep.

“It’s kind of like you never miss what you never had,” Felton said.