Their names form a Who's Who of college basketball from the last couple of years.
Duke's J.J. Redick, Gonzaga's Adam Morrison, West Virginia's Kevin Pittsnogle, Syracuse's Gerry McNamara.
Those guys earned folk-hero status at their respective campuses while delivering memorable moments year after year.
Now that these four players have departed, their teams are left with a dilemma. How do you replace the guy who has defined your program?
Duke, Gonzaga, West Virginia and Syracuse aren't the only teams seeking to answer that question. Plenty of other schools also enter the 2006-07 season counting on relatively inexperienced players to replace star performers.
Their names aren't as familiar.
Their games aren't as polished.
But the progress of these guys could determine which teams are still playing at the end of March.
We wanted to help introduce you to tomorrow's stars today by breaking down the 20 players with the biggest shoes to fill. Then we discovered that we couldn't limit this list to 20 names.
Some former players meant so much to their teams that it might take more than one guy to replace them. That's why we sometimes listed two or even three players who are filling the shoes of a departed star.
You may not recognize them now, but these guys could become household names by next spring.
Rivals.com 2006-07 Top Shoes to Fill
Gonzaga G Matt Bouldin, G Derek Raivio and G Jeremy Pargo (Adam Morrison):
Morrison played such a vital role in Gonzaga's success that it will take three men to replace last season's Rivals.com National Player of the Year. Now that Morrison and post presence J.P. Batista have departed, Gonzaga is opting for more of a guard-heavy lineup, similar to what Villanova employed last year. Although these three players won't come close to matching Morrison's superstar presence, they should do well enough to give Gonzaga its fourth consecutive West Coast Conference title. The Zags are particularly high on Bouldin, a freshman whose all-around skills should allow him to make an immediate impact.
2. Duke guards Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer and DeMarcus Nelson (J.J. Redick):
The Wooden Award winner is another man who can't be replaced by just one person. Filling the holes in Duke's backcourt got even tougher when returning point guard Greg Paulus suffered a foot injury that will keep him out for at least the start of the season. Scheyer may have to play the point in Paulus' absence. Henderson was rated as the No. 11 recruit in the nation by Rivals.com last year and could fill much of the scoring void created by Redick's departure. Nelson also should see his role expand after averaging 7.1 points per game last year while shooting 41 percent from 3-point range.
3. Connecticut G A.J. Price (Marcus Williams):
Connecticut boasted more talent than any program in the nation last year, but Williams unquestionably was the team's heart and soul. Now that Williams has taken his game to the NBA, the Huskies need to find a new point guard who can offer similar toughness and leadership. Price has encountered plenty of adversity while waiting his turn. He missed the entire 2004-05 season because of a brain hemorrhage and was suspended last season for his involvement in the attempted sale of stolen laptop computers.
4. Duke F Josh McRoberts (Shelden Williams):
McRoberts averaged 8.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game last year while serving as a complementary player to Redick and Williams, who were lottery selections in the most recent NBA Draft. Now that Williams has departed, McRoberts must change his game and develop into more of a low-post presence. We believe he can make the transition. Rivals.com has rated McRoberts as the nation's No. 3 power forward heading into the season.
5. Villanova G Scottie Reynolds (Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry):
Villanova made it all the way to a regional final last year with a unique four-guard lineup that featured Mike Nardi, Ray, Foye and Lowry. Nardi is the only player remaining from that quartet. Although Villanova will be more of a frontcourt-oriented team relying on forwards Curtis Sumpter and Will Sheridan, the Wildcats still must break in some new guards in a hurry. That puts a great deal of pressure on Reynolds, a 6-foot true freshman who could start immediately. Reynolds is versatile enough to play both guard positions and has great range on his shot, but he lacks the veteran savvy of a Ray or Foye.
6. Louisiana State F Magnum Rolle (Tyrus Thomas):
Thomas staged a coming-out party at the NCAA Tournament last year while harassing opponents with his extraordinary defensive tenacity and leaping ability. With his stock zooming at breakneck speed, Thomas decided to enter the NBA Draft - leaving the Tigers searching for a way to replace his athleticism. Darnell Lazare occasionally filled in for an injured Thomas last year and averaged 6.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. However, Rolle is the guy whose role will really expand in Thomas' absence. The sophomore forward averaged 4½ blocks per game in high school and possesses some of the same athletic traits – to a lesser extent – that made Thomas so special.
7. UCLA guard Darren Collison (Jordan Farmar):
The Bruins got a good news-bad news situation before the NBA Draft. Arron Afflalo's decision to return to school meant the Bruins would welcome back at least half the starting backcourt from last year's NCAA runner-up team. But the Bruins learned they'd have to find a new point guard after Farmar opted to stay in the draft. The presence of Collison could keep the Bruins from missing Farmar too much. The 6-foot sophomore possesses the type of skills that should allow him to fit right in. Collison better deliver, because he's the Bruins' only experienced pure point guard on scholarship.
8. Syracuse G/F Paul Harris (Gerry McNamara):
The loss of McNamara leaves Syracuse without the clutch shooter who had grown synonymous with the program over the last few years. Harris is a very different type of player from McNamara, but he should immediately inherit the leadership void left by the four-year starter's departure. The freshman reportedly even called each of his teammates and coaches to offer a pep talk before the Orange's first practice. Whereas McNamara was pretty much a pure shooter, Harris is a versatile player who could fit in at just about any position. Although Syracuse returns four starters from last year's team, don't be surprised if the Orange eventually starts to reflect this freshman's persona.
9. Washington G/F Quincy Pondexter (Brandon Roy):
Roy made such an impression during his college career that he now is the consensus preseason pick to emerge as the NBA Rookie of the Year. That leaves Pondexter with the unenviable task of trying to fill Roy's spot as a swingman to complement the backcourt duo of Justin Dentmon and Ryan Appleby. This freshman certainly has the proper pedigree. His father, Roscoe, was drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1974 after playing for Lute Olson at Long Beach State. His uncle, Cliff Pondexter, was a first-round draft pick out of Long Beach State who played three seasons for the Chicago Bulls.
10. West Virginia C Jamie Smalligan (Kevin Pittsnogle):
The heavily tattooed Pittsnogle earned folk-hero status in West Virginia after leading the Mountaineers to a regional final two years ago and getting them back to the Sweet 16 last year. The Mountaineers don't have Pittsnogle anymore, but they do have another 7-footer who can shoot from the outside. Smalligan averaged 5.2 points per game and shot 39.6 from three-point range with Butler two years ago before transferring to West Virginia. West Virginia is counting on him to contribute immediately.