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Big South preview: Xavier Cooks, Chris Clemons, and Ahmad Thomas lead the conference awards watch

Clemons became a household name during the Big South Tournament. Next, he could be Player of the Year.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Butler vs Winthrop Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Big South had a wealth of talent last year, mostly coming from the youth of the league. As we near the start of the season, here are the preseason awards for the conference. Don’t be surprised to see some familiar names among the elite, as those players who led the way last year are surely capable of putting together even stronger performances.

Player of the Year:

Chris Clemons, G, Jr., Campbell

The super athletic scoring machine that is Chris Clemons is the easy pick for Player of the Year. The second-leading scorer in the nation last year has returned for his junior season, and will look to keep torching the league. His 25.1 points per game came in a variety of ways. He has deep range, can take you off the dribble, and is excellent in creating in isolation if necessary. I anticipate his assist rate to increase and his defense to improve as well.

Defensive Player of the Year:

Ahmad Thomas, G, Sr., UNC Asheville

Thomas is looking to repeat as Defensive Player of the Year. The opposition should be on high alert when handling the rock around Thomas — he averaged 3.0 steals per game last season, ranking fifth nationally. Even at 6’3, he can defend on the perimeter and move down to battle on the block against the post.

Freshman of the Year:

Phlandrous Fleming Jr., G, Fr., Charleston Southern

It is a toss-up for Freshman of the Year, as there are several candidates that fit the bill. Fleming, however, has the best opportunity to be productive and crack the starting five for Charleston Southern. He averaged 21 points per game in his senior year of high school and was effective in all areas of the game, which bodes well for the Bucs. He also averaged eight rebounds, two blocks, three assists, and two steals per game. With his skill-set, he could have an immediate impact on a unit in need of some depth.

First Team

Xavier Cooks, F, Sr., Winthrop

Don’t be shocked if Cooks ends up being Player of the Year, because he can do it all on the court. Coming off a year in which he averaged 16.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game, he’s displayed his versatility efficiently. He’s a 50 percent field goal shooter, can handle the ball, and is a willing creator for his teammates.

Ed Polite Jr., F, Jr., Radford

The double-double man is on the verge of a strong year depending on his team’s development. He shot 49 percent last season, leading to 11.9 points per game, mainly dominating on offense around the rim. As he continues to expand his game to the perimeter, his repertoire makes him hard to handle. Let’s not forget that he owns the glass, pulling down a league-leading 9.5 rebounds per contest.

Ahmad Thomas, G, Sr., UNC Asheville

Thomas is more than just a defensive threat. He was third in the Big South in scoring last year (18.0 ppg), best in field goal percentage (54.4), and seventh in rebounding (6.6). Expect more of the same in his senior campaign.

Chris Clemons, G, Jr., Campbell

The words have been spoken. See above.

Caleb Homesley, G, R-So., Liberty

Homesley is admittedly a dark horse selection to sneak onto the first team. He’s a stat sheet stuffer that commands a team like a four-star general. Before suffering a knee injury early last year, Homesley was putting up amazing numbers, leading Liberty in points (12.9), rebounds (6.3), assists (2.9), and blocks (0.9) per game. With the depth and offensive weapons around him, he can surely improve on those numbers.

Second Team

MaCio Teague, G, So., UNC Asheville

This is a tough one because Teague is an absolute stud. Coming off his Freshmen of the Year and all-league first-team season, Teague has the savvy to make big-time plays consistently. He isn’t afraid of the moment and can score in all phases on offense. He shot 45 percent from the arc, used his size to get the rim, got to the foul line at a high rate and shot 88 percent while there.

Ryan Kemrite, F, R-Sr., Liberty

Kemrite can get it done on the wing or shift down and be effective in the post. He led Liberty in scoring at 13.3 points per game and shot 48 percent from the floor. On a team that likes to space the floor using the pick and roll, having Kemrite to spot up is vital to its success. He moves well without the ball, and his keen understanding of angles allows him to create space and utilize his shooting touch. Don’t leave him open or give him space because it could be a long night for your squad.

Christian Keeling, G, So., Charleston Southern

Keeling is a dynamic scorer and great rebounder that deserved every bit of his All-Freshman team selection last season. As he moves back to his natural position at shooting guard, his 6’6 frame will give him an advantage to shoot and slash over smaller defenders. Look for him to improve on his 17.3-point-per-game average.

Myo Baxter-Bell, F, R-So., Liberty

Baxter-Bell is one of my favorite players to watch compete. His low-post game is smooth and physical, with exceptional footwork and a soft touch in the face-up game. He came on strong in the second half of the season, which has to be a confidence booster coming into the year.

Andre Fox, G, Jr., High Point

High Point will count on Fox as one of the main players to pick up the scoring production lost with the departure of Miles Bowman, Jr. Fox ranked in the top 15 in the league in scoring with 12.7 per game, but his role should expand. He’s more of a slasher than perimeter scorer, and his athleticism in attacking the paint is his strong suit.