Around this time last season, I had no idea what to expect from newly minted Wildcat Head Coach Jerome Tang. I’d never seen anyone gut a roster the way he gutted the Kansas State roster upon arrival. I was skeptical (at best) that he would be able to assemble a functional team, much less assemble one of the most electric teams in college basketball. An Elite 8 trip later, and I’m happy to admit that I was wrong. Coach Tang is the real deal and his talent evaluations are top notch.
He heads into this off-season with all the momentum in the world and at least three open scholarships to spend in the transfer portal (as opposed to the seven he used for the ‘22/’23 team. He has an elite freshman class on the way, a group of redshirt-freshman eager to contribute after sitting and watching for a season, and a few key returners that amassed a wealth of experience in the ‘22/’23 campaign ready to step out of the shadow of Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson and write their own story.
I had no idea what to expect last season from the human slinky out of New York. The tape I watched oozed potential, but I’ve seen plenty of guys with potential fall apart under the bright lights...not Tomlin. On a team with two All-Americans, he was considered the player with the highest professional ceiling.
At 6’10”, 220, he’s a freak of nature that can legit guard 1-5 if needed. His defense, at times, was spectacular. Consistency was an occasional issue, but what do you expect from a guy who hasn’t played much organized basketball. I expected him to come in and make an impact on defense, but I was stunned by his maturity on offense. He handles the ball like a guard, can jump out of the gym to flush lobs no mortal man should consider flushing, and confidently drills outside shots when the opportunity arises.
I’m going to go ahead and assume he returns. He has all the tools of a pro, but he needs another season to put them together. The G-League is littered with uber-talented players in need of experience that will never sniff the NBA. One more season in Manhattan will do him a world of good. The goal in the NBA is getting to your second contract, and another year of honing his game will better position him to accomplish that goal. In the meantime he gets to be the center piece of one of the most entertaining outfits in college athletics.
Carter, a transfer from Mississippi State, was one of the first players to join the Tang Gang, and played well as sophomore both as a starter and the 6th man off the bench. The former Top-150 recruit out of Oak Hill showcased hard nosed defense, and a streaky jumper that can heat up in a hurry.
As of now, I’ve got him penciled in as the starter at either the 2 or 3 next season, and it will take an incredible effort from Coach Tang in the transfer portal to put him on the bench. Carter and Tomlin will be the backbone of the roster next season. If he can take his outside shot from “consistently inconsistent” to “solid” he’s another player with pro potential. He’s much farther away than Tomlin, but he’s got a long runway and has yet to scratch the surface in terms of potential.
When healthy, N’Guessan was a key contributor at center this season. When he originally signed out of the portal, I was “meh” in terms of the addition. I’d watched him play at Virginia Tech a few times, and nothing stood out. He felt like a generic big man.
Seeing him play last season changed my mind. It’s hard to judge most of his overall work, because he was saddled with a high ankle sprain. Those things suuuuuuuuck and take forever to heal. He was healthy(ish) in the NCAA tournament and put up 10 points in 19 minutes against Montana State and provided a crucial 11 points in 17 minutes against Michigan State. He’s a plus defender and an athletic finisher around the basket with solid hands. I don’t think he’s a star, but he’s certainly serviceable as a starter next year, with the potential to be more.
Last season, Markquis and Ish were the only two returning players....period. In the upcoming season, Coach Tang starts with more, and has several players, who I will get to later, that were with the program redshirting, and should be ahead of most transfers, at least early on in the season.
As Coach Tang said, it’s his job to bring in the best talent available, and it’s up to the current players on the roster to beat them out. Tomlin is a lock to start (if he returns...please return), and Carter is close to a lock. N’Guessan is the only question mark, but unless Coach Tang lands a stud center in the portal, I think he’ll be on the court to start the game as well.