Who Made the Best First Impression in Burlington?
Going into the 2019-20 season Vermont would add six different players to help fill out their roster. These additions came from all across the country and included two transfers (Daniel Giddens, Duncan DeMuth), two freshmen recruits (Aaron Deloney, Eric Beckett) and two walk-ons (Nick Fiorillo, Deng Adiang). With the 2019-20 now in the rear-view mirror, we can sit down and reflect on how these players performed during their first year in Burlington.
Five of the six players would make it onto the court last year, with Fiorillo the only expectation, as he would sit-out and redshirt the year for the Catamounts. Giddens and DeMuth arguably had the most hype surrounding them going into the season, as they transferred over from high-end D1 programs (Giddens/Alabama)(DeMuth/Oklahoma State). While neither would exactly set the world on fire, Giddens became an integral part of the rotation and helped stabilize Vermont’s frontcourt woes. DeMuth intiatally struggled to find his footing before succumbing to injuries, but will hopefully see a resurgence next season after a year of soaking up knowledge in John Becker’s system.
Out of the two freshmen recruits, Deloney was able to flash more during his limited action on the court. The Catamounts boasted one of, if not the best backcourts in the America East conference for the 2019-20 season and will most likely hold that title again for the upcoming year. For that reason, along with the fact that John Becker typically prefers to ease rookies into play made it tough for Deloney and Beckett to break into the rotation consistently. Deloney did manage to earn John Becker’s trust in the latter half of the year, seeing an increase in playing time, but the majority of Beckett’s minutes would come from mop-up duty.
Similar to what we saw with Beckett, Adiang’s only appearances came in the final 90 seconds or so at the end of blow-outs. As a walk-on prospect this is what’s to be expected. Because of his redshirt year the coaching staff might believe they can mold Fiorillo into a rotational piece down the road, but this past year was essentially a wash for the former Maine Mr. Basketball Finalist. Both Adiang and Fiorillo are outstanding teammates and were part of an electric bench mob for the Catamounts.
In regards to these six players, only Giddens and Deloney would add any type of significant impact to last year’s team. Let’s breakdown each player’s first year in Burlington and determine which of the two was able to make the best first impression.
The Case For Aaron Deloney
Before arriving in Vermont, Deloney was one of the top high school players coming out of Oregon. The 6’0 guard picked up numerous accolades including Oregon High School Gatorade Player of the Year, while leading Grant High School to a state championship, before ultimately finishing as the second all-time leading scorer in Oregon state history (1,823 points). Because of his outstanding career, PrepHoops listed Deloney as the #2 Oregon prospect coming out in the class of 2019.
Vermont’s recruiting pipeline typically doesn’t extend to the west coast, so it was a bit strange when word broke about Deloney’s commitment to Vermont. Nonetheless it appears to have been the right choice as Deloney looks poised to take over as the next great Catamount lead guard in the coming years.
Even with all his high school achievements, Deloney was still going to have earn Coach Becker’s trust before he’d see any significant playing time. Like most freshmen, his minutes were scarce early on, but as the season progressed, Deloney would become a fixture in the Cat’s rotation. The pint-sized west coast guard would finish his freshman season appearing in 31 games while averaging 3.6 points, 1.1 assists and 1.0 rebounds per game on a 12.2 minutes per game basis.
Throughout the season Deloney would flash his potential in spurts. During America East conference play he’d go on to drop 17 points against UMass-Lowell, along with a 10 point, 8 assist outing against Albany. The electric point guard was a true play-maker with the ball in his hands. Deloney was able to carve out a nice role for the Cat’s as an excellent change-of-pace guard giving them a much-needed spark off the bench.
Deloney was really able to find his groove over the course of the final four games, as he would go on to average 8 ppg, 3.8 apg, and 1.0 rpg over a 22.8 mpg rotation. Though Deloney would never start a game during his freshman campaign, his contributions off the pine were just what the doctor ordered for a Cat’s searching for dependable bench scoring.
The addition of Deloney proved to be a fruitful one, as the young guard was able to make a nice first impression during his freshman year in Burlington. With his dynamic play, energy and support coming off the bench, Deloney has to be considered the best Catamount newcomer from the 2019-20 season.
The Case Against Aaron Deloney
While Deloney was able to string together a solid, yet albeit unspectacular first-year campaign, there were still moments when the freshman guard struggled with consistency. In 10 of the 31 games he played in, Deloney would finish the night without a bucket. Likewise, the young guard would score under five points in 20 contests, including a seven game stretch to begin the season with a measly 2.6 ppg average.
Before any player can expect to see extended minutes on the court they need to first earn the trust of Coach Becker. Deloney would do so in the latter half of the year, but even with Coach Becker’s newfound faith in him, he was still strictly used in a role off the bench. With starting guard Benny Shungu dealing with nagging injuries during stretches of the season, Deloney was able to showcase his abilities. However, it was sophomore guard Robin Duncan who would fill in Shungu’s spot in the starting rotation during his absence.
The coaching staff aimed to put Deloney in scenarios where the young guard could succeed and he was able to do just that. His contributions were noticeable and helped impact games, but were they enough for Deloney to be considered the Catamounts best addition for the year?
The Case For Daniel Giddens
Much like Deloney, Daniel Giddens had a highly decorative high school career and was even considered one of the top players in the nation during his time at Oak Hill Academy. The big man helped guide Oak Hill Academy to a 47-1 record during the 2014-15 season and won a gold medal as part of the USA U16 Men’s Basketball team in the 2013 FIBA American Championship.
With high-major scholarship offers being thrown at him left and right, Giddens would ultimately decide on enrolling at Ohio State. Unfortunately his college career wasn’t met with as much gusto as his esteemed high school years. Giddens struggled initially at OSU before eventually transferring to Alabama where he’d spend his next two years. It was more of the same for Giddens down in Tuscaloosa, as the big man saw his minutes dwindle away by the game. With one year of eligibility remaining and still searching for the chance to compete on a winning program, Giddens ventured north, taking his talents to Burlington.
Based off his illustrious high school career, Catamount fans were ecstatic about the addition of Giddens, even projecting that the 6’11 center could be averaging a double-double come conference play. Officially listed a 4 star recruit via Verbal Commits, the 6’11, 240lbs Giddens was unlike any player Vermont had ever seen before. With such lofty first year expectations, could Giddens actually match the hype surrounding him?
In short, not really, but Giddens would play his heart out every game. His effort and intensity helped stabilize the frontcourt for Vermont and even managed to carve out a nice Dennis Rodman-esque role for himself over the course of the season. From a fan’s perspective Giddens under-performed, but the reality of it is that the coaching staff brought Giddens in to be a complimentary player and that’s exactly what the big man accomplished. Giddens started every game he played in (30) while averaging 3.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game off a 14.5 minutes basis.
Led by Anthony Lamb, Stef Smith and Everett Duncan, Giddens wasn’t pressured into becoming a leading scorer for the Cats. The big man didn’t possess an arsenal of offensive moves at his disposal, instead, Giddens would use his unbelievable strength and athletic ability to make highlight performing plays night-in and night-out. His high-flying dunks and hammering blocks became the new norm at Patrick Gym, with each one more exciting than the last. Giddens knew his role and stuck to it. Outside of the Galladuat contest, the big man would only take over five shot attempts just once and nor did he even attempt a three-pointer all season.
As a graduate transfer Giddens was one of the elder-statesmen on the team and often looked to help mentor younger players such as sophomore Ryan Davis, who had a breakout year coming off the bench in place of Giddens. Instead of complaining about losing minutes to Davis, Giddens accepted his role and played with a burning intensity every time he stepped on the court.
The energy and hustle Giddens played with was contagious, as his all-or-nothing style of play would bring the crowd to their feet at any given moment. Over the course of the season the big man became a fan-favorite as his towering defense protected the post. Giddens might not have lived up to the initially sky-high expectations that were unrealistically set for him, but his efforts and contributions would not go unnoticed. Without a doubt, Giddens first year impact has to make him Vermont’s best addition for the 2019-20 season.
The Case Against Daniel Giddens
As previously mentionced, the mass hype surrounding Giddens was to an extent unnecessary and unwarranted. The big man did his best to validate the coaching staff’s faith in him, but there are still plenty of Catamount fans whose green and gold colored glasses view the Giddens experiment as a failure. Widely considered one of the top high-end prospects coming out of high school, many UVM fans believed Giddens would dominate at the America East level. Unfortunately this wasn’t quite the case, but by no means should Giddens one year in Burlington be considered a failure.
Giddens has the build and stature of an NBA caliber player, but could never develop his game enough to be considered a true NBA prospect. From an offensive stand-point Giddens was completely one-dimensional – all of his points are going to come from the paint and alley-ops. The big man lacked the soft touch around the rim and often stumbled through his footwork. His all-gas-no-breaks approach energized the crowd, but would more often than not lead to unnecessary fouls and a trip to the bench. Can such a hit-or-miss player really be considered the Cats best addition?
Regardless, Catamount country would have loved to see Giddens don the green and gold for another year, but sadly the big man has exhausted all four years of eligibility. Giddens is working on completing his Masters degree at UVM and hopefully will be sitting courtside for a few games this season. If you ever get the chance to speak with this young man I highly encourage it, as his exuberant personality and humor made him an excellent addition both in the locker room and community.
Both Giddens and Deloney exhibited highlight level plays and both struggled to find their footing at times. Their liveliness and passion for the game paid dividends for the Cats as they helped lead Vermont to a 26-7 record and 12th America East Regular Season Championship. It’s clear that both Deloney and Giddens were able to make an impact in their first year for the Catamounts. Some fans might lean towards Deloney because of what he was able to accomplish in his freshman season and the type of player he could become. If Giddens was a freshman, would he be viewed as the better prospect despite his offensive limitations? However, in terms of who made the best first impression from the 2019-20 season it’s a close race, but my vote would be for Daniel Giddens by a hair. He might not have been that unicorn, but sometimes all you need is a horse.
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