Roles players don’t get all the hoopla that superstars get. That’s just not the way the sports world operates. There may be some articles written or some acknowledgement given. But, for the most part media insist on following the superstars, guys that put up all the points or stuff the stat sheet. However, many coaches would say that it is the role players who make the biggest impact on wins and losses. Which sixth man will step off the bench and have an immediate impact? Which role player can come off the bench and hit a big shot or shut down an opposing player who is going off? So, let’s take a look at some of the role players to keep your eyes on in 2021-22.
Gabe McGlothan – GCU
Without Gabe McGlothan coming off the bench in 2020-21, GCU doesn’t win a share of the WAC regular season title. It’s as simple as that. The numbers weren’t off the charts. McGlothan averaged 6.1 points and 5.3 rebounds off the bench for GCU. Not staggering. But, that’s not what GCU needed. They needed an energy boost and McGlothan was that boost.
“I see my role on this team as an energy guy, someone who comes off the bench and really just tries to at least maintain or increase the level we’re playing at from the first group,” McGlothan said after the title-clinching, regular-season finale.
It remains to be seen if McGlothan will get his chance to start at GCU. According to GCU insider Paul Coro, “it would make sense, but you’d also lose that impact he has to change a game off the bench.”
For the sake of that argument, look no further than the WAC tournament semifinal against Seattle. McGlothan had 9 points and 8 rebounds in just nine minutes off the bench in the first half. McGlothan’s totals for the night were 14 points and 14 rebounds as GCU won by 34.
Tre Armstrong – CBU
The California Baptist Lancers have a 3-headed monster in Ty Rowell, Reed Nottage and Tre Armstrong. Armstrong doesn’t get the attention he probably deserves. That’s only because Ty Rowell is the floor leader and Reed Nottage is one of the best 3-point shooters in the WAC. But, Armstrong has a big role to play especially when either Rowell or Nottage aren’t shooting well.
The 6-5 sophomore from Tasmania averaged 11.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game for the Lancers in 2020-21. All this while starting all 31 games last season for Rick Croy. Armstrong’s ability to move without the basketball, finish around the rim, and his physicality are easily noticed when the Lancers take the floor. Armstrong shoots 40 percent from the floor and 37 percent from beyond the arc.
Mahki Morris – ACU
Again, another player on this list whose stats don’t jump out at you. ACU guard Mahki Morris was one of the first options off the bench for the Wildcats in 2020-21. Morris appeared in all 29 games for ACU and averaged 6.6 points and 1.9 rebounds. And with ACU losing two of its top three scorers from the 2020-21 season, Morris will not be thrust into a bigger role.
If you remember, Morris was among the seniors who demanded ACU hire Brette Tanner as head coach or else they wouldn’t play. Morris has been in the program since 2019 and played in 46 games for the Wildcats. In the round of 32 against UCLA, Morris had a season-high 14 points.
Nigel Hawkins – SFA
The 6-4 junior guard was the first option off the bench for Kyle Keller in 2020-21. And again, the stats aren’t overwhelming. Hawkins averaged 6.4 points, and 2.4 rebounds in 20.8 minutes of floor time. And while all the attention will be on Gavin Kensmil, Roti Ware and David Kachelries, Hawkins will be the floor general off the bench when called upon.
The UTEP transfer takes care of the basketball as he only committed 24 turnovers on the season. Hawkins also shoots the ball well as he shot 43 percent from the field in 2020-21. And if he has to score, he can. Hawkins had seven double-digit scoring games for the Lumberjacks last season.
Aaron Nettles – Seattle
Seattle has the top two scorers in the WAC in guards Riley Grigsby and Darrion Trammell. The Redhawks return everyone from 2020-21 and as you have read, I am pretty high on this team heading into 2021-22. With the way Grigsby and Trammell score and with the addition of Houston transfer Cam Tyson, there are some names that will go unknown but have a significant impact on this roster. Aaron Nettles is one of those names.
Nettles has been at Seattle since 2017-18 and has appeared in over 100 games for the Redhawks. In 2020-21, Nettles was averaging 10.1 points, 2.1 assists and 1.7 rebounds per game before missing the final six games of the season due to injury. In 8 of Seattle’s 14 games, Nettles scored in double figures including a season-high 20 point-game at Dixie State on Feb. 5.
Keep an eye on these role players as they can really impact their squads in both a positive and negative manner. But, they are players coaches rely upon to have significant impacts on the floor.