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Big South returners: Ed Polite Jr., Xavier Cooks, and the rest of the top forwards in 2017-18

A stretch 4 or a power forward, take your pick.

NCAA Basketball: Radford at Penn State Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Each day that passes brings us one day closer to November and the start of season. While we wait, we continue to break down the top returners in the Big South.

As basketball concepts, styles, and player development expands, the evolution of the forward position has seen the biggest shift. More post players have enhanced their skill sets to ball-handling and perimeter shooting. The question is, are you a traditionalist or forward-thinker in terms of what you are looking for in your front court.

The Big South gives you options.

5. Jahleem Montague - Longwood

Montague’s career for the Longwood Lancers started out disastrously when he suffered a season-ending ACL tear. A transfer from Palm Beach CC, Montague was efficient with limited offensive touches. He is an excellent finisher around the basket with good size at 6’9, mixed with plenty of athleticism. If you like big men who can run the floor and play above the rim, Montague is your guy. If fully healthy, which he appears to be, Montague provides the Lancers with some much-needed support in the post. More good news for him and the Lancer faithful: He has three years of eligibility remaining.

4. Ricky Madison - High Point

A staple within the High Point Panthers starting rotation last season, Madison was your prototypical glue guy. Accepting whatever role necessary, Madison excels on the glass, defensively, is emerging offensively, and has the intangibles needed for success. His 5.9 rebounds per game were good for eighth in the conference. Madison is one of the better low-post defenders in the league, as he understands positioning and using quality footwork to challenge opponents in the paint. The Panthers lost three of their four top scorers to graduation, so while Madison only averaged 6.8 points last season, he will have the opportunity to contribute much more.

3. DJ Laster - Gardner-Webb

Laster is a dynamic forward who brings versatility to the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs front line. He can play both with his back to the basket and has the ball-handling skills to attack. Laster does his best work between the mid-post and elbow, where he can catch and shoot, as well as use his athleticism to maneuver through the paint. Laster possesses the ability to step out and shoot it with range, particularly in spot-up shooting scenarios. He averaged eight points and four rebounds in his sophomore campaign, playing just 18 minutes per game. The departure of all-Big South performer Tyrell Nelson affords Laster the opportunity to soar in 2017-18.

2. Ed Polite Jr. - Radford

Explosive, powerful, slasher, and polished are all adjectives to characterize Polite Jr., who nearly averaged a double-double in his sophomore season, scoring 11.8 points per game and grabbing 9.5 rebounds. His efforts on the backboard notched the top spot in Big South and was good for 31st nationally. What makes him a special player is his ability to impact the game in multiple phases. Truly encompassing an all-around game, Polite Jr. ranked in the top 10 in the Big South in four categories — total rebounds, offensive rebounds, blocks, and steals. He plays within himself, but for the Radford Highlanders to have success in 2017-18, he will have to be the focal point on both ends.

1. Xavier Cooks - Winthrop

Cooks is as smooth as Andre 3000 flowing over a soulful southern hip hop track. The 6’8 senior lefty has produced an excellent career for the Winthrop Eagles that will only get better. He defends, rebounds, scores, handles the rock, and shares with his teammates. Cooks put up 16.5 points per game, and can score in a variety of ways. He is dangerous in the open floor due with his ability to rebound and push the ball as if he were the point guard. He shoots the mid-range jumper with high efficiency and is a capable shooter from distance. He was second in the Big South in rebounding, grabbing 9.1 boards per game. Look for Cooks to be First Team All-Big South again, and don’t be surprised if he is Player of the Year.