There isn't one elite boys basketball player like Matthew Hurt who will dominate the Big Nine Conference this year, but the conference is still stockpiled with talent.
The 10 players who made the cut for our "10 Players to Watch" list were all-conference selections last season, which showcases just how competitive the Big Nine could be next season. There are multiple teams that believe they could win a state title.
We can't wait to find out if they can get it done.
MORE FROM ISAAC TROTTER:
1. BJ Omot, Mankato East
Omot has the highest upside of anybody in the Big 9. The 6-foot-8 wing is tremendous. He can shoot the '3' and handle the ball like a guard while also showing off a terrific post game. The Mankato East star averaged 21 points per game as a junior to go along with 8.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists. He shot 54 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from 3-point range. Omot has already racked up offers from Division I schools Providence and St. Thomas, and more should be on the way. The Big Nine's basketball talent is terrific but Omot stands above the rest due to his versatility and explosiveness. Omot is a threat to dunk every single time in transition, but he's also mastered the ability to get to his spots in the halfcourt. His ability to generate good looks for himself and his teammates at 6-foot-8 is special and he provides defensive versatility that every program craves. Omot is a no-doubt Division I prospect.
Highlights of 6'7 2022 wing BJ Omot at the MBCA Showcase! Holds offers from Providence, St. Thomas, and more heading into July @omot_bajedo— Fresh Coast Hoops (@FreshCoastHoops) June 20, 2021
Full game highlights: https://t.co/y8seHudgMV pic.twitter.com/S9NEvWXlGy
2. Evan Dushek, Owatonna
Dushek battled a lot of nagging injuries all of last year, but when he's healthy, he's the best big man in the Big Nine. He could easily average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game next season. His ability to finish with both hands in the lane and also stretch the floor with a reliable jumper makes him one polished big man. Dushek competes at a really high level. If he gets fully healthy, he could easily be No. 1 on this list.
3. Emmanuel Manyuon, Austin
Manyuon is the definition of a bucket-getting guard. The 6-foot-2 star averaged 20.4 points per game last season and was a major problem for opponents in transition. Manyuon is athletic and bouncy but he's also terrific with his angles in the lane. He has a terrific 3-point jumper that opponents have to respect. Austin was loaded with veteran, senior guards last year, but Manyuon will have even more shots at his disposal in 2021-22. He's got a legit chance to put up 30 every time he steps on the floor, but he has to stay consistent.
4. Mekhi Collins, Mankato West
Collins might be the best rebounder in the Big Nine. The 6-foot-5 forward is all but impossible to battle with on the glass. He grabs offensive rebounds almost at will, and he gives Mankato West a talented two-way weapon. West is expected to be a conference title contender in the coming seaosn and Collins is going to play a big part of it. He's terrific on the basketball court but he's even better football player. Sometimes, he plays like a football player on the court and that's a really good thing.
5. Jasper Hedin, Winona
Hedin is one of the elite scorers in the Big Nine. Opponets have to have a hand in his face from the moment he crosses halfcourt. He averaged 23 points, nine rebounds and three assists per game as a junior and his shooting splits were tremendous. Hedin shot 54 percent from the floor, 44 percent from 3-point range and 77 percent from the free-throw line. Winona still has a ways to go to compete with the upper echelon of the Big Nine teams, but Hedin can carry the Winhawks to new heights.
6. Buom Jock, Mankato West
Jock has the ability to be the best player on the floor whenever he wants to, such as last year when he dropped 23 points and 10 rebounds in a crucial conference game against Austin. The 6-foot-6 wing averaged 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds and he became nearly unguardable when he's draining his 3s (34 3-pointers in 2020-21). Jock changes the game with his ability to play above the rim on both ends. In a conference stocked with high-level hoopers, Jock more than holds his own.
7. Brayden Williams, Owatonna
If you like shooters, then oh boy, Williams is your guy. The Owatonna guard has legitimately 30-foot range. He drained some 3s with his feet on the logo near midcourt. Owatonna is going to be one of the best teams in the Big Nine (and state) this coming season thanks to Williams' elite shot making. He averaged 23 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game last year while shooting 43 percent from 3-point range and his mid-range game was smooth, too. He's not the biggest guy, but Williams is exceptional at creating space to get off the jumper that seemingly never misses.
8. Puolrah Gong, Mankato East
Omot is the headliner for Mankato East but Gong is a terrific Robin to Omot's Batman. He was an All-Big Nine selection last year after averaging 14.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Gong's shooting mechanics are so pure and sound. He's always ready to catch and fire, and his length creates problems for opponents on the opposite end.
9. Makuei Riek, Rochester Mayo
In a conference full of long, athletic wings, teams need a go-to wing to match up with them on a nightly basis. Mayo has one in Riek. The 6-foot-6 wing had moments of pure dominance last season and averaged 16 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 36 percent from 3-point range. He can score at all three levels. The next challenge for Riek will be to see if he can improve his playmaking and become a legitimate No. 1 scorer every single night. He certainly has the potential to be the best player on the floor in every single game. Mayo will have a new coach in Braden Markham, the third head coach in three years for Riek. It's exciting to see the upside that Riek could tap into.
10. Jaden Wysocki, Rochester Century
Wysocki broke out last year and he could assert himself as one of the best players in the Big Nine this winter. The 6-foot-6 guard got more and more comfortable as the year went on and he's had a strong summer in AAU. He's incredibly smooth and versatile on the offensive end. He flashed a smooth stroke from 3-point range and was efficient (51 percent shooting from the floor) as a junior. But he makes his money on the defensive end. Wysocki can put the clamps on opposing shooters, and he's terrific at coming off the help side and blocking shots. Wysocki might be the best player in Rochester next year and is on the radar of plenty of college programs. Expect plenty of rim-rattling dunks. If we redo this list at the end of the season, it wouldn't be a surprise if Wysocki is a top-5 player.
Logan Tuckner, John Marshall: Tuckner can flat-out shoot the rock. He's poised for a huge junior season for the Rockets.
Victor Idris, Austin: Idris is an athletic, bouncy forward who should have a much bigger role this year for Austin. With Manyuon likely to get a ton of attention from opposing defenses, Idris could be the one to really shine.
Caleb Bancroft, Century: You might not know his name yet, but you will soon. Bancroft sprouted to 6-foot-5 before even getting into high school. He's one of the best players in the state in the Class of 2025 and will be contributing for the Panthers sooner rather than later.