Now that Opening Night is behind us, at least for nine of the 11 teams in the WAC, it is time to take a look at some of the top performances around the league.
Again, as is the narrative of WAC Hoops Nation, we will look at the five Division I games.
1 – Tyon Grant-Foster – GCU
What a debut in a GCU uniform, right? How about a debut on the basketball court for the first time in almost a year? Not too bad for the former DePaul and Kansas transfer. The 6’7 senior guard was 10-15 from the field and scored all 30 points in just 24 minutes. Not to overreact to an exhibition game, but Grant-Foster had 23 points in the Lopes’ exhibition win over Embry-Riddle.
The length, athleticism and ability to shoot the basketball make this a perfect fit. Here is a little tidbit I keep reminding people after Monday. WAC Preseason Player of the Year Ray Harrison only had three points in a 21-point win.
Can you imagine what will happen if both Grant-Foster and Harrison go off on the same night many times in 2023-24? It’s another special combination that Bryce Drew has cooking in the desert.
2 – DaJuan Gordon – UT Arlington
Let’s be real. 2022-23 in Las Cruces was a mess and we never got a real good look at this talented guard. Plus, there were too many mouths to fee so he wasn’t able to show off his offensive skills. It is amazing what a change of scenery can do for a player. In the case of Gordon, that scenery came at College Park Center on Monday night.
Gordon went off for a game-high 24 points to help lead the Mavs to a 75-71 win over Oral Roberts. Gordon’s performance was key for a team that earlier in the day confirmed Phillip Russell will not be eligible for the 2023-24 season.
We will get to see Gordon in person again on Saturday when the Mavs host UT Tyler.
3 – Braden Housley – Southern Utah
There hasn’t been a lot of talk surrounding the Southern Utah. men’s basketball program this offseason. For good reason. Todd Simon left. Tevian Jones, Harrison Butler, Maizen Fausett, Cam Healy, Drake Allen, Jason Spurgin all left or moved on to bigger things. It is a complete rebuild in Cedar City. Rob Jeter has a tall task ahead of him. But, there were three players that stayed in a Thunderbird uniform. Mr. Housley redshirted last year. And to Rob Jeter’s benefit, that was a big boost for the 6’4 point guard from Lehi, Utah.
Playing in his first collegiate ball game, Housley went for a team-high 22 points and had six rebounds and three assists in the T-Birds 1-point loss at CSU Bakersfield. I was told by someone close to the SUU program that Housley is a baller and will be special. If Monday night is any indication, that forecast is accurate. Housley was 7-16 from the field, 3-9 from distance and got to the free throw line six times, making five.
4 – Ali Dibba – Abilene Christian
15 points. 7-14 from the field. Five rebounds, Three assists. And one MASSIVE win at Oklahoma State. There really isn’t much more to say. Ali Dibba, when locked in, is one of the best players in the WAC. And going up against the big boys, showed that on Opening Night in Stillwater. A key moment happened between Dibba and another member of this list late in the game. After a free throw cut the lead to four, Dibba ran a go route and threw down a two-handed breakaway dunk. It is part of his repertoire. Keep an eye on him throughout the 2023-24 season.
5 – Airion Simmons – Abilene Christian
11 points. 11 rebounds. As the late Stuart Scott would say, “cool as the other side of the pillow.” Along those lines, playing with a massive chip on his shoulder. That is what you get with Airion Simmons. He is a leader and people follow. On Monday night, Simmons led. Rebounding, defending, and scoring among bigger defenders. It is super hard not to like what Simmons does when he is on the floor. And his teammates reciprocate that attitude. It is what helped the Wildcats get a big road win to start to the 2023-24 season.