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Elijah Brown might be college basketball’s must-see act this season

Chris Coduto/Icon Sportswire

People will often claim that college basketball lacks star power. They’ll assert that, save for the coaches and hyped-to-the-gills freshmen, there aren’t enough name-brand players in the sport. While that’s a mostly fair assessment — casual fans were unaware of Buddy Hield until he was jammed down their throats — it doesn’t mean players worth watching don’t actually exist.

To get ahead of the national curve — but not for Mountain West Conference fans — Elijah Brown is that talented player we need to know about right now. In fact, we should have properly realized his excellence last season, but many of us failed to do so.

The New Mexico Lobo guard flourished last season. A 6-4 bucket-getting marvel, Brown was so good last season that he entered his name in the NBA Draft, then decided to return for at least one more season in a college uniform.

His return makes the Lobos a legitimate threat in the Mountain West and to be a Cinderella in March.

Brown started his college career with Butler. After one ho-hum season with the Bulldogs, he transferred out, sat a year, and then began showcasing his skills to the world in 2015-’16. He averaged a mind-boggling 21.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game that season. Furthermore, he scored 20 or more points in 18 of New Mexico’s 33 games.

Very simply, Brown is an elite college off-guard. His All-Mountain West First Team honor was justified last season, and he’s the primary reason for optimism in Albuquerque this year.

Obviously, it is worth noting that his production was for a team that went 17-15 last season, which helps explain why many didn’t notice Brown’s crazy numbers.

Despite having a rather talented overall roster, the Lobos lacked (and still do) a competent point guard. That void has forced Brown to be a jack-of-all-trades player, though he is uniquely suited to be a volume-shooting, high-scoring savant.

A former three-star prospect coming out of high school, the lack of hype previously surrounding Brown also explains the minimal amount of fanfare he received last season — that, and getting lost in the college basketball community after being forced to sit out a season after transferring.

This is not lost on the lefty.

“I’ll be honest; I know just about everywhere I played, people haven’t had high expectations of me necessarily just because they haven’t seen what I can do,” Brown said in April.

He elaborated:

“I’ll tell you, I was a lot more confident in myself than, sorry to say, but you guys (media) and a lot of the other people out there. I kind of had a feeling of what I was capable of and I wanted to go out and prove that, but I would have got much more out of it if we had won at the level that I wanted to win at … I really wanted to win. I wanted a ring and that didn’t happen, so. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Circling back a bit, Brown entered the NBA Draft process not necessarily to get drafted, but to get feedback. In fact, the coaching staff urged him to attend as many pre-draft events as possible to get more advice from those at a higher level. Whether or not that results in tangible improvement remains to be seen, but getting some tips from people whose very lives are invested in turning prospects into better players can’t be a bad thing.

That might be the scariest part here: Brown, who was already stupid good last season, is coming back for another year, presumably improved.

As you can clearly tell by Brown’s (over) 14 field goal attempts per game, what he lacks in hype he more than makes up for in confidence. When announcing his return to New Mexico, the guard didn’t just say “I’m back” or some similarly meaningless cliche.

Instead, he set the bar incredibly high — especially for a team that didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament last season.

“It’s time to focus on winning a national championship for the Q,” Brown tweeted. “Thankful for the process but it’s time to get to work!!! #LOBONATION”

10 March 2016: New Mexico Lobos head coach Craig Neal gestures during the second half of the Mountain West tournament college basketball game against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, NV. The Wolfpack beat the Lobos 64-62. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Icon Sportswire)

New Mexico Lobos head coach Craig Neal gets to guide Elijah Brown for one more season. He hopes that his star player can lead UNM to the NCAA Tournament. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Icon Sportswire)

A national championship is unrealistic; New Mexico hasn’t even made the Sweet 16 since 1974, and has never won a Sweet 16 game. Yet, that doesn’t change the fact that one of the nation’s most prolific scorers is back for yet another season, and this time around, New Mexico is likely to be a far better team.

Heed this advice now, as it will be jammed down your throat the closer we get to March: The Mountain West Conference will probably be a multi-bid league this season. In turn, New Mexico will not only be fun to watch, but should make a strong push to the Big Dance. New Mexico’s entertaining style and an improved Mountain West should enable Elijah Brown to become one of the nation’s very few, but legitimate, “must-see” college basketball players this season.

A uniquely gifted scorer on a 17-15 team won’t leave a national imprint, but if New Mexico improves to a considerable extent, national viewers won’t have as many excuses to ignore Brown on January and February nights.

Elijah Brown might be college basketball’s must-see act this season

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