Some secrets are just too good to be kept secret. One of the best kept secrets in college basketball over the past few seasons has been the play of the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders under 16th-year head coach Kermit Davis.
Two years ago, the Blue Raiders shocked the world when they knocked off No. 2 seed Michigan State at the NCAA tournament as a No. 15 seed. They followed that up this past season with a 31-5 record, a second consecutive Conference USA championship and another first round upset as a No. 12 seed over No. 5 Minnesota.
With a 56-15 record and a 79 percent winning percentage during that time, the secret is officially out of the bag and people across the U.S. are starting to take notice that Middle Tennessee is really good.
Davis spoke about the new found attention his program has been receiving.
“I can sure sense it in recruiting,” he said. “I think our players sense it and we’re now fighting for national attention in preseason, but I think with schools like ours you’ve got to reprove yourself every year that you do belong.”
Although the team lost two of the most storied players in school history to the pro’s in Reggie Upshaw and C-USA Player of the Year JaCorey Williams, the Blue Raiders return their entire backcourt and will be led by a series of veteran guards.
In the same manner that the secret is out about the talent level at Middle Tennessee, the secret is definitely out about how good senior guard Giddy Potts has become. Potts was second on the team in scoring last year (15.3 PPG), and also grabbed 5.3 rebounds per game. He’s become a national fan favorite.
Davis revealed a few other secrets about Potts.
“He’s the most dynamic, vocal leader that we’ve ever had,” he said. “What’s unknown about him (Potts) is that I think he’s the best rebounding guard in college basketball.”
In order to replace the outgoing talent, Davis brought in some gifted youngsters, as well as Alabama graduate transfer Nick King. King was a top-50 recruit out of high school and played two seasons at Memphis, where he competed in 62 games and averaged 5.9 points per game. He then transferred to Alabama and sat out the required year. He only played in seven games last year before his season was cut short due to a lung infection.
Davis said another major key to the Blue Raiders success this year will be 6’10’’ senior center Brandon Walters, who he said has the talent level of one of the top-10 centers in all of college basketball.
One of the freshmen that Davis expects to make an immediate impact is Canadian Therren Shelton-Szmidt. The 6’5’’ guard from Mississauga, ON played at Hamilton Heights Academy (TN) alongside fellow Canadians Shai Alexander, who will play for Kentucky this year, as well as Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who is expected to be a star for Virginia Tech.
Davis had high praise for Shelton-Szmidt.
“He could be the most talented freshman we’ve ever had here,” he said.
Overall, Davis is grounded in his approach to this season and says that he understands that winning over 30 games again may be an unrealistic goal to set for his program. He does, however, feel that Middle Tennessee should be spoken about in the same vein as other mid-major programs that have achieved national prominence, and compared the state of his program to where VCU and Gonzaga were just a few years ago.
With the secret out of the bag about Middle Tennessee, expect the Blue Raiders to be in serious contention to “three-peat” as C-USA champions, and be front and center come March.