A couple days ago, we revealed the honorable mentions and No. 10-6. Now it’s time to release the Top Ten athletes. If you missed the first list, here is the link. Once again, feel free to discuss in a friendly manner below.
No. 5 Zhaire Smith, G/F, Basketball
Why He Was Chosen?: Zhaire Smith is one of the most athletically gifted athletes I have seen since I’ve been a student at Texas Tech. Smith has a 42″ vertical, can run the floor and can guard bigger men despite his size. There’s a reason why he went 16th overall in the NBA draft.
He came to Texas Tech as a high three star (also a low four star) and wasn’t expected to make an impact the way he did. Zhaire became the second most important player on the Red Raiders and allowed them to be versatile and play small ball. He was a rebounding and defensive threat, and became an offensive threat near the end of the season.
This is the lone player of this list to not be on an All-Big 12 team, as he was just honorable mention, but that was likely due to his slow start as an incoming freshman. There’s no way Tech goes as far as they did without Zhaire Smith.
You can see the season stats above, but after January (where Chris Beard said the real season began) he averaged 13.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.1 spg and 1.1 bpg. That includes 12.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1 spg and 1 bpg in the NCAA Tournament. He also was a great defender who altered many shots.
Zhaire had several top plays while at Texas Tech that will be shown on highlights for a long time. He had a 360 dunk in the NCAA tournament, that is perfectly defined by this one comment, and had a Kobe-Shaq like alley-oop with Keenan Evans that would be the game winner.
His best games were against Florida in the NCAA tournament when he had 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, against Iowa State when he had 21 points, eight rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocks, and against Kansas when he had 20 points and five rebounds.
Zhaire’s final accomplishment was becoming the first one-and-done in Texas Tech history, which perhaps we thought may never happen. Smith became the first Red Raider drafted in 14 years and will likely be the first Tech player in the NBA since 2012. He opened the doors for this huge recruiting class Chris Beard had.
Along with an Elite Eight finish, the best in program history, the popularity of sport and the pressure of many nationally televised games, he deserves to be in the Top 5.
No. 4 Grant Little, OF, Baseball
Why He Was Chosen?: There were three publications that named Grant Little a second team All-American (D1Baseball, Baseball America, NCBWA), and two that named him a third team All-American (Colleigate Baseball, Perfect Game). Little also was an unanimous first team All-Big 12.
Usually that means you are pretty good. And the stats back it up for Little, as you can see above. We thought a lot of Eric Gutierrez whenever he put up the stats he did, and Grant Little has basically done better in his sophomore year in every category but home runs (by one) and fielding percentage (but two different positions).
Little came in as an older freshman, and right away earned a starting job in left field, despite being a high school shortstop. He quickly moved from the bottom of the order to lead-off due to his speed and ability to get on base. He was arguably the third best hitter last season behind Josh Jung and Hunter Hargrove.
This season, he made a huge step and added power to his game. As Billy Beane said “Good hitters develop power. Power hitters don’t become good hitters.”. His batting average rose 35 points, on base rose 60 points and slugging rose 170 points. Not only that, he became an elite defender due to familiarly and his speed, making some top plays (here and here, same game too).
His best games include a game against Kansas State when he went 4 for 5 with two home runs, including a grand slam, and nine RBIs. Against Oklahoma State, he went 2 for 5 with two three run home runs. He also had a big game against New Mexico when he went 2 for 5 with a home run and four RBIs.
Little has had a few moments in the NCAA tournament that stood out, including his ridiculous numbers in the Lubbock Regional, his two-run double in the first game against Duke to get the Red Raider rally started and having a few great catches in Omaha.
The Midland native was drafted at the bottom of the second round by the San Diego Padres and will have a descent shot to make the major leagues with his draft position. A shame we only got two years to see him, but he was a great Red Raider.
No. 3 Josh Jung, 3B, Baseball
Why He Was Chosen?: The only difference between Little’s and Jung’s accolades is that Jung was a second team All-American by Collegiate Baseball. That’s it. It’s essentially 3A and 3B for these guys. But here’s why I have Jung ahead.
Jung has been a little better this postseason. Both had similar stats going into June, but Jung has passed or tied Little in a few categories. He also has one more second team selection and is projected to go in the Top 10 in the way too early 2019 MLB Draft.
Much like Little, Jung started right away as a freshman and went from near the bottom of the order to batting third his freshman year (and still batted third this season). His OPS is 1.130, which is crazy for a guy in the Big 12. He would’ve been a first team All-American likely if Jonathan India of Florida (the No. 5 overall pick) didn’t have such a good year.
He also has crazy arm talent and although he does makes mistakes in the field sometimes (.953 FLD%), he makes some crazy highlight plays that make it up. And like Little, he increased his average by 85 points, on base by 100 points and slugging 180 points.
Some of his best games from the past year include the game against New Mexico when Jung had the first cycle for Texas Tech since 2008, and went 5 for 5 with two home runs and eight RBIs. He also homered three times in the opening weekend against Maine, and against Oklahoma had a walk-off balk.
In the NCAA Tournament, he was near impossible to stop. An anonymous coach said the only way to beat him is if he blinks or gets a mosquito in his eye. He’s been batted .459/.535/.568 with an OPS of 1.103. He only had seven RBIs and six runs, but he was getting on base and was a hard out. Not only that but he had several highlight defensive plays.
Jung also embraces the leadership role, as he’s always ahead of the pack and leading them through warm-ups. He still has another season left at Texas Tech, and we should embrace it. I don’t know when the next time we’ll see a guy with Josh Jung’s talent at Texas Tech.
— Texas Tech Baseball (@TTU_Baseball) June 11, 2018
The sixth cycle in school history belongs to Josh Jung! He’s the only Red Raider to accomplish the feat while going 5-for-5!
— Texas Tech Baseball (@TTU_Baseball) April 18, 2018
No. 2 Divine Oduduru, 200m, Track
|60 m||100 m||200 m||4 x 100 m|
|6.64||10.1||20.27 (Outdoor), 20.18 (Indoor)||39.01|
Why He Was Chosen?: He danced. Okay, maybe that isn’t why he made it. But why he danced is why he made it. Last month, Divine Oduduru ran the 200 meter dash in 20.273 to become a national champion at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship.
However, that’s not the only reason why he made it. The Nigerian born athlete had a great freshman (indoor) and sophomore (outdoor) season in Lubbock.
During the Indoor season, Oduduru set had the third fastest NCAA indoor 200 meter all time at 20.18, which was the fastest for the 2017 season. He finished second in the event at the NCAA championships with a time of 20.47.
Oduduru also finished seventh in the 60 meter dash with a time of 6.64. He did have the conference title in the 200 meter dash and finished second in the 60 meter dash.
For the Outdoor season, Oduduru did even better. He broke the school 100 meter dash record with a time of 10.10, helped break the 4×100 meter relay record with at time of 39.01 and qualified for the 100 meter, 200 meter and 4×100 meter relay at the Outdoor Championships. He won the Big 12 male performer of the year at the Big 12 meet.
Oduduru helped the Red Raiders finish 13th in 4×100 meter relay with a time of 39.37, finished 11th in the 100 meter dash with a time of 10.12, and finally the 200 meter dash, where he was fifth in qualifying before finishing first in the event. He was a big part why Texas Tech Track and Field finished fifth at the Outdoor Championships.
He is will be a sophomore for indoor season and a junior for outdoor season for the Red Raiders, so there’s still plenty of chances for Oduduru. After competing in the Rio Olympics in 2016, perhaps he’ll play in the 2020 Olympics in a couple years.
No. 1 Keenan Evans, PG, Texas Tech
Why Was He Chosen?: Who else would you put here? A senior leader who came to Texas Tech whenever the basketball program was nothing, was just a low three star recruit, and transformed himself and the program.
He went from a player on a team that won just three conference games, to a team that could’ve won the Big 12 had he not gotten hurt, advanced to a program best Elite Eight, became an All-American by six publications and was a Top 15 finalist for the Wooden award.
His freshman year, he was a back-up to Robert Turner and played just 18.2 minutes a game. The following year he became a solid point guard who was known for having some clutch shots for Texas Tech that season. However, after that season is when he started to became the Keenan we saw last season.
Evans averaged 15.4 ppg, 3 apg and 2.8 rpg his junior year, and took over in some moments, but just didn’t have that killer/Kobe menatlity yet. He definitely had it last year, taking over for large stretches of games (Florida in the NCAA tournament, at home against Texas) and hit a game winner against the Longhorns.
In fact, that game against the Horns was the best in his career, as he had a box score of 38 points, four rebounds and three assists. Against Nevada, Evans had 32 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Finally against Oklahoma, he proved he was the best player on the floor with 26 points, four rebounds and two assists. He drew “Go Keenan” chants from the crowd, which you don’t see much for individual players.
In the NCAA tournament, he put up 55 points total in Dallas, including some clutch points late against Florida to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The toe injury hindered his performance in Boston, but Evans still tried his best to make Red Raider nation proud.
The reason why I picked Keenan Evans over the others is because 1.) a basketball player can impact a game individually more than anyone else in a team sport, 2.) he’s a senior leader who played all four years here, 3.) consistently played on the big stage, and played well, 4.) and helped his team reach a point the basketball team had never reached.
We’re going to miss Evans deeply, but Coach Chris Beard and guys like Jarrett Culver and newcomers like Khavon Moore are ready to step up. But there’s no doubt in my mind. Keenan Evans was the best athlete for Texas Tech this past season.