Returners
Cameron Tyson hit over 100 3-pointers in helping Seattle U to share of the WAC regular season title in 2021-22. Courtesy Breanna Biorato/VisuallyBreanna.

10 Returners to Watch on the Men’s Side in 2022-23

On the men’s side of WAC Hoops for the 2022-23 season, the amount of talent returning is significant. Two First-Team All-WAC selections return. The WAC Freshman of the Year returns. And two others who were Second-Team All-WAC selections return. Add in two more players who missed most of the 2021-22 season due to injury, and you have a sold list of returners.

Trey Woodbury – Utah Valley

2021-22 was supposed to be the coming out party for Trey Woodbury. The work he put in during the offseason. It was off the charts according to one of his teammates. At 6-4, 200 pounds, Woodbury is a matchup problem. He can play multiple positions and finish in a variety of ways. A knee injury prior to the 2021-22 season starting derailed what could have been a special season. However, Woodbury returned to play in the WAC Tournament. In games against Chicago State and ACU, Woodbury averaged 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds.

With another full offseason under him, keep an eye on Woodbury. With the departure of Fardaws Aimaq to Texas Tech, Woodbury will be the go-to guy for the Wolverines.

Jovan Blacksher Jr. – GCU

Despite his role changing a bit in 2021-22, Blacksher Jr. took everything in stride. And he did it well, too. Blacksher Jr. was asked to score the ball a bit more, which he did. In 2020-21, Blacksher Jr. averaged 12.0 points and in 2021-22 averaged 15.8 points. The assists were down but that was because Blacksher Jr. didn’t have the ball in his hands as much. Either way, Bryce Drew knows he has a steady floor leader in Jovan Blacksher Jr.

Despite coaching changes and the openness of the transfer portal, Blacksher Jr. has stayed loyal to GCU. And in that time, Blacksher Jr. has started 85 of a possible 85 games, helped GCU win the WAC regular season and tournament titles, and increased his scoring in all three seasons. Now, entering 2022-23 as one of the top returners, Blacksher Jr. is on the radar as a leading candidate for WAC Player of the Year honors.

Returners
Jovan Blacksher Jr. is one of the top returners to the WAC in 2022-23. Courtesy Breanna Biorato/VisualllyBreanna.

Taran Armstrong – CBU

The big question remains: what would the season have been like for CBU if Taran Armstrong didn’t miss over a month? The WAC Freshman of the Year missed nearly a month and a half due to a non-COVID illness. And that time, things were rough for the Lancers. And why wouldn’t they be? Armstrong is the floor general, has the ability to make every pass, and can knock down shots when needed. In 26 games, Armstrong averaged 10.5 points, 6.3 assists and 5.2 rebounds.

All Rick Croy and his staff did in the offseason is surround Armstrong with a strong supporting cast. With shooters like Joe Quintana, Riley Battin and Hunter Goodrick to go along with Tre Armstrong and Reed Nottage, Armstrong’s numbers will just get better.

Cameron Tyson – Seattle U

Tyson sprang onto the seen in the Pacific Northwest. The sharpshooter who returned home after a Final Four run with Houston shot 37.6 percent from 3-point land and was second on the team in scoring at 14.7 points. Here is a stat that might raise some eyebrows: 279 3-point attempts. That is 119 more attempts than the next guy on the Redhawks roster. Pretty wild, huh? Tyson knocked down 105 of those attempts. And back for another season, Tyson will probably attempt more now than Darrion Trammell has moved onto San Diego State.

Tyson was an All-WAC First Team Selection for the regular season co-champs. And now, is one of the key returners in the WAC and for Seattle U.

Airion Simmons – ACU

There was some pure, raw emotion in the eyes of Airion Simmons when the Wildcats fell short in the WAC Tournament championship game. He loves playing with his brothers on the court. And as one of the top returners in 2022-23, Simmons will get that chance again. Simmons was a Second Team All-WAC selection after averaging 11.9 points and 5.5 rebounds while starting in 34 games for ACU. Simmons shot 48 percent from the field and 34 percent from 3-point land. With Joe Pleasant returning plus a few other Wildcats who were part of the 2021-22 squad, Simmons will see is role increase as the go-to guy and the floor leader.

Roti Ware – SFA

Another one of those situations of ‘what could have been?’ On Dec. 11, playing in Dallas against Liberty, Roti Ware’s season came to an end with a knee injury. In the 10 games he did play for SFA in 2021-22, Ware averaged 11.3 points and 3.1 rebounds while shooting 41 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point land. Now, with Gavin Kensmil, Calvin Solomon and David Kachelries gone, Ware will be the focal point for Kyle Keller and the Jacks. Ware’s athleticism, quickness and ability to shoot the basketball are reasons why he is one of the top returners to the WAC in 2021-22.

Tevian Jones – SUU

Yes, SUU is new to the WAC. But, having seen Tevian Jones in person when the T-birds took on Utah Valley in Orem a few years back, fans are in for a treat. Todd Simon must have been ecstatic when he got the news Jones would be returning to SUU for another run. Length, quickness, athleticism are all words to describe Jones. And if that isn’t enough, Jones can finish at the rim in electric ways.

Jones isn’t just one of the top returners in the WAC. He is one of the top returners in all of college basketball. Jones led the T-Birds in scoring at 14.6 points per game while pulling down 4.7 boards per game. Keep an eye on him in 2022-23 as he could be a dark horse for WAC Player of the Year honors.

Justin Johnson – UTRGV

Because UTRGV struggled to win games in 2021-22, Justin Johnson flew under the radar. One of the top returners in the WAC, Johnson needs to get UTRGV in the win column more in order to garner more attention. Johnson averaged 17.7 points for the Vaqueros last season, good for fourth in the WAC. During WAC play alone, Johnson averaged 18.8 points, good for second during conference play.

Along with the points, Johnson also averaged 7.3 rebounds pre game during WAC play. At 6’6, 185 pounds, Johnson can play multiple positions and score from any place on the floor. Matt Figger will rely on him heavily in a revamped roster for 2022-23.

returners
Justin Johnson flew under the radar with UTRGV’s struggles in 2021-22. Courtesy WAC Facebook.

Freddy Hicks – Tarleton

Freddy Hicks is one of the top returners on a team that lost two of its starters in the offseason. Montre Gipson is gone as is Tahj Small. This means Hicks will have to be more of the focal point for Billy Gillispie and the Texans. And that isn’t such a bad thing. Hicks averaged 12.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in 2022-23. And that is all while playing out of position. At 6’6, Hicks constantly has to play the 4 or 5 position because the Texans lack size. But with his quickness, ability to shoot the three and beat people off the dribble, Hicks can be a game-changer. Just ask Utah Tech how that went on the opening night of WAC play in St. George.

Cameron Gooden – Utah Tech

With a new school name and a bevy of returners to its roster, there is a lot of buzz surrounding Utah Tech in 2022-23. And Cam Gooden is a big reason why. Gooden averaged 11.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and dished out a team-high 112 assists for Jon Judkins and the Trailblazers. With four of five starters returning, Gooden has a chance to make an even bigger name for himself. The ball is his hands as he is the floor general. If you don’t believe me, just realize Gooden played 969 minutes in 2021-22 for the Trailblazers. There is a lot of trust for the 5’11 junior guard out of Frisco, Texas. Now, with the Trailblazers eligible for the WAC Tournament in Las Vegas, Gooden’s leadership and scoring will go a long way in earning a spot in the tournament field.

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