If you’re on this website, chances are you’ve watched a good deal of Xavier basketball. You probably watched last year and the year before, despite the fact that it wasn’t always particularly enjoyable. With that as context, I’m going to ask you a simple question: who is the best player on this year’s team?
Is it Paul Scruggs, who last year was second in scoring, first in assists, and first in the hearts of his countrymen? Or maybe it’s Zach Freemantle, who led the team in scoring and rebounding as a sophomore last year? You could probably even make a stretch and add Nate Johnson; he’s not the best player per se, but his ability to space the floor with three-point shooting might make him the most important.
Xavier awards a gold practice jersey to the player who performs the best in each week’s practice sessions. This isn’t some subjective eye-test thing, either; the staff has identified a set of contributions that lead to winning basketball. Everybody on the roster gets a score every week, and the player who scores the highest wins the gold jersey.
Three weeks into the practice season, three different players have won the gold jersey. The first - and probably most predictable - was Colby Jones. Jones started consistently last year, filled up the box score, and has attracted buzz as the most improved member of Xavier’s team this year. He’s a guy X counted on last year and will be counting on this season.
Second was Dieonte Miles. Other than leading the team in consecutive vowels in a first name, he didn’t do a whole lot last year. Hampered at least partially by injuries, he played just 52 minutes spread over 8 games. A huge and hugely athletic big man with all of his eligibility still intact, he’d be a massive piece for Xavier not just this season but for years to come. He can be dominant if he stays healthy.
This week, Adam Kunkel won it. Even in a guard-heavy system, there’s a logjam in the perimeter positions. Kunkel is fighting with Dwon Odom, Paul Scruggs, Kyky Tandy, and Colby Jones for minutes. If he is competing in practice, Xavier is another quality player deeper come game time.
Much was made - and rightly so - in the offseason about Nate Johnson and Paul Scruggs choosing to come back for their super senior years. Their contributions will be foundational for what Xavier wants to accomplish this year. That the first three gold jerseys of the year were won by guys who are eligible against next year after those guys are gone and will (with the exception of Jones) be offering depth off the bench rather being relied upon to start should be reason for hope that Xavier is heading in the right direction under Travis Steele.
Either that or our best guys have lost their mojo and everyone should panic.