Davidson College men’s basketball is all about senior guard Kellan Grady to many fans, but the Wildcats’ formula for success usually revolves around having three or four key players.
The unanswered question about this season is the identity of those third and fourth players.
The Wildcats are a first-division preseason pick in the Atlantic-10 Conference, and most of the preseason buzz has surrounded Grady.
A 6-foot-5 senior guard, he is among 50 players on the watch list for the Naismith Trophy, the top individual award in college basketball. Grady, a three-time all-conference player, averaged 20.6 points in Davidson’s final 11 games last season, as the Wildcats surged in the closing weeks before COVID-19 shut down the A-10 tournament.
“The thing about Kellan is his confidence,” says head coach Bob McKillop, whose team is coming off a 16-14 season. “It makes him the person he is — on and off the court.”
Grady stepped forward as a leader during the Black Lives Matter movement in the offseason, both in the Davidson community and among college athletes nationally.
“All of that adds up to a confident, mature Kellan Grady,” McKillop says.
The second key piece of the Davidson team figures to be 6-10 junior forward Luka Brajkovic, who spent much of the offseason in his native Austria, working to improve his strength and endurance.
Brajkovic was the team’s No. 3 scorer last season but says he sometimes was overwhelmed when double-teamed near the basket.
McKillop says Brajkovic spent much of the summer working with family members to get stronger.
“I believe it really changed him mentally,” McKillop says. “I think you’ll see a change in him this year as a result of that.”
Beyond Grady and Brajkovic, who steps forward? Who are the third and fourth players the Wildcats rely so heavily on?
Three years ago, the leaders were Peyton Aldridge, Grady and Jon Axel Gudmundsson. The past two seasons, it was Grady, Gudmundsson and Brajkovic.
Gudmundsson, who averaged 14.5 points and 7.1 rebounds a game last season, has graduated.
Two leading candidates to step forward could be 6-7 sophomore swingman Hyunjung Lee and 6-3 senior guard Carter Collins.
Collins is a solid performer who scored 10 or more points seven times in Davidson’s final seven weeks last season.
Lee could be an emerging star for the Wildcats. A native of South Korea, he was Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week twice last season and made the all-rookie team — coming off the bench.
“Everything he has done, he earned,” McKillop says. “He has a great work ethic, and he has a tremendous aptitude for basketball.”
McKillop says Lee has worked hard individually, and those efforts might be about to pay off for the Wildcats.
“We look at it a lot like preparing for a Broadway musical,” he says. “You have to learn the dance steps. First, you learn to do it yourself. And then you have to do it with the rest of the team.”
Davidson basketball season outlook
As usual, the Atlantic 10 is loaded this season. Some analysts believe five or six teams could land NCAA tournament berths. Richmond is the preseason pick, with Saint Louis and Dayton expected to be the Spiders’ top threats.
Davidson is picked seventh, but development by Lee, avoiding injuries (or illness), and strong play from the freshmen could vault the Wildcats several notches higher.
Davidson’s key conference games are Dec. 30 at home against Richmond; Jan. 8 at home against Dayton; and Jan. 15 at Saint Louis.
Highlighting the nonconference schedule will be next week’s Maui Invitational, which has been moved to Asheville this season. The Wildcats open Monday against 19th-ranked Texas and will face either Providence or Indiana in the second round Tuesday. The other half of the tournament bracket has North Carolina, Stanford, UNLV and Alabama.
Davidson also has challenging nonconference games against Charlotte (Dec. 15) and Vanderbilt (Dec. 22). Both of those are at home.
Starters lost from 2019-20
▪ Jon Axel Gudmundsson (forward, graduated; expected to be signed by an NBA team as a free agent); Luke Frampton (guard; transferred to Western Kentucky).
Davidson projected starters
▪ 2019-20 stats: 17.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals per game.
▪ Grady, a 6-5 senior, is considered to be among the nation’s best college players. In the Wildcats’ final 11 games last season, he shot 48% from 3-point range. If he plays like that this season, Davidson could have a special team.
▪ 2019-20 stats: 10.0 points, 3.8 rebounds.
▪ Collins, a 6-3 senior from East Chapel Hill High, played especially strong down the stretch last season. For his size, he is a strong rebounder, notching seven or more rebounds five times last season.
▪ 2019-20 stats: 10.3 points, 5.0 rebounds.
▪ Brajkovic, a 6-10 junior, shot 52% from the floor last season. He had three double-doubles and scored in double figures 17 times. A stat to remember: Davidson is 17-4 when Brajkovic scores 10 or more points.
▪ 2019-20 stats: 8.4 points, 3.1 rebounds.
▪ Lee, a 6-7 sophomore, was in the sixth-man role much of last season. He shot 85.7% from the foul line — best on the team. Lee was leading scorer in the 2018 Under-18 Asia Basketball Championships.
▪ 2019-20 stats: 2.3 points, 2.6 rebounds.
▪ Boachie-Yiadom, a 6-8 junior from England, averaged 12.7 minutes a game last season but played considerably more minutes in late January and February. He had 11 points and 10 rebounds in a mid-February game against Saint Bonaventure.
The Wildcats seem to be in good shape here. Mike Jones, a 6-5 sophomore guard, averaged 22 minutes a game last season and shot 43% from 3-point range. Bates Jones, a 6-8 forward from Charlotte Latin, averaged 15 minutes per game. McKillop is excited about his freshman class, and a player to watch is 6-3 guard Emory Lanier, an all-state high school player. His father, Rob, is the head coach at Georgia State.
▪ Win Atlantic 10: +1000 (10/1)
▪ Win national championship: +12000 (120/1)
▪ Reach Final Four: +3000 (30/1)
Davidson basketball roster
▪ Head coach: Bob McKillop, 32nd season (594-364)
Davidson basketball 2020-21 schedule
Nov. 25 — High Point, 7 p.m.
Nov. 30 — vs. Texas (Maui Invitational), noon (ESPN)
Dec. 1 — vs. Indiana or Providence (Maui Invitational), 1:30 or 7 p.m. (ESPN or ESPN2)
Dec. 2 — TBA (Maui Invitational), time TBA (ESPN or ESPN2)
Dec. 11 — Georgia Southern
Dec. 15 — Davidson
Dec. 18 — at Rhode Island (ESPN)
Dec. 22 — Vanderbilt
Dec. 30 — Richmond (CBS Sports Network)
Jan. 2 — at VCU (NBC Sports Network)
Jan. 5 — at Duquesne (CBS Sports Network)
Jan. 8 — Dayton (ESPN)
Jan. 12 — Saint Joseph’s
Jan. 15 — at Saint Louis (ESPN)
Jan. 20 — Fordham
Jan. 24 — at Massachusetts (CBS Sports Network)
Jan. 30 — St. Bonaventure (CBS Sports Network)
Feb. 3 — at La Salle
Feb. 6 — at Fordham
Feb. 13 — Rhode Island
Feb. 17 — Duquesne
Feb. 20 — at Saint Joseph’s (NBC Sports Network)
Feb. 24 — at George Mason
Feb. 27 — VCU (ESPN)
March 2 — George Washington
March 10-14 — Atlantic 10 Tournament (at Brooklyn)