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February 7, 2013

All-CAA Dream Team

Around this time last year I thought of a fun column idea and put it to practice. My goal, as written then, was to "create the best roster 1 through 12, using just one player from each CAA team. Your team must consist of exactly three freshmen, three sophomores, three juniors and three seniors."

I figured it could be a yearly staple, and a task that fans and other writers could emulate and compare.

Then VCU had to go ruin it by leaving the CAA for the Atlantic 10. That leaves us with just 11 teams, and an imperfect system (next year we'll be down to 10 teams). No reason to scrap the whole thing though.

For this year's version, let's tweak the rules and allow for one of the classes to have just two members. We're still choosing one player from each CAA squad, so our roster will be 11-deep - still plenty deep enough to do some damage.

Coaches typically use an eight or nine-man in their rotation - and in this ideal world, with an all-star team, they certainly wouldn't need to be any deeper. But the goal here is to be strong top to bottom, and not just stack the best eight while merely filling the other slots with loose ends.

Below is my roster. Feel free to debate it, challenge it and make one that's better.

Freshman: R.J. Hunter, guard, Georgia State: Hunter isn't just the runaway pick for Rookie of the Year in the CAA, he's becoming a legitimate Player of the Year candidate. He's fifth in the CAA in scoring (17.3 points per game), and leads all freshman guards in field goal percentage (.445). "I've seen him do some special things," pops Ron Hunter said after R.J. scored 38 against Old Dominion on Saturday. "When he gets on a roll he's incredible that way."

Freshman: Andre Nation, guard, James Madison: The ubiquitous 6-5 guard is another player who should earn superlatives outside the rookie realm. Coach Matt Brady said Nation is "as good as a freshman defender as there is in the CAA," and the truth is that Nation is one of the best defenders in the league, period. He's also second among freshman in scoring, averaging 9.1 per game.

Freshman: We'll leave this space blank, under the new rules of the game.

Sophomore: Damion Lee, guard, Drexel: The reigning Rookie of the Year has made the leap as a sophomore, and he's now one of the most dangerous scorers in the league. Just ask George Mason guard Sherrod Wright, a fellow expert in bucket-making. "You can't give him open looks," Wright said after Lee scored 29 in a comeback win over the Patriots last week. "Any type of open look, he is going to make." In terms of NBA potential, Lee ranks up there with Hunter as the top bets in the CAA.

Sophomore: Quincy Ford, forward, Northeastern: Ford's numbers are extremely similar to the ones he posted last year - not that it's a bad thing. He's following a big freshman campaign with a quality sophomore season, this time on a team contending to win the league. The 6-foot-8, 212-pound Ford can play and guard multiple positions, making him a sweet fit on a dream team like this. Just plug him in with other quality players, and he'll produce.

Sophomore: Taran Buie, guard, Hofstra: The Penn State transfer is shooting around 35 percent, but sometimes efficiency numbers fail to consider significant factors. He's one of two scholarship guards on Hofstra's active roster, meaning he has a bit too much responsibility. "Taran's a shot-maker," coach Mo Cassara said. "He's a big-time scorer. He wants the ball in his hands at the end of the game." On this team, he won't need to lead the offense.

Junior: Jerrelle Benimon, forward, Towson: It's the consistent excellence that makes Benimon a no-brainer for this team. He records a double-double more than 65 percent of the time and is capable of stat-lines like 30+18, which he did in a loss at Temple in December. More often though, his dominant performances have led to Towson victories. "He's carried us on many nights," coach Pat Skerry said. After transferring from Georgetown, Benimon has turned into the Colonial's best big man.

Junior: Sherrod Wright, guard, George Mason: When coach Paul Hewitt said last month that Wright was "playing as well as any player I've ever coached," it was quite a compliment, considering the future NBA talent Hewitt directed at Georgia Tech last decade. Wright carries Mason's offense, but to just call him a scorer would be underselling his value. He rebounds and defends well for a shooting guard, and has the type of body that could make him a darkhorse to join some of Hewitt's old pupils in the pros some day.

Junior: Tim Rusthoven, forward, William & Mary: Maybe the league's best layup-maker, Rusthoven does not need a coach to run plays for him. He gets open underneath the hoop and can also stretch his range, all while in the flow of the offense. "I always felt like if you can keep him healthy on the floor, he's an all-CAA forward," coach Tony Shaver said. He's healthy this year.

Senior: Keith Rendleman, forward, UNC-Wilmington: Despite the fact that he's been UNCW's best player for three straight seasons, Rendleman has the type of game that's better suited for a more balanced lineup. On an all-star team with other players to pick up the scoring load, Rendleman could be a manic energy guy who's a terror to keep off the glass. Still, there's no knocking what he's dong as the Seahawks' star, averaging a double-double for the second consecutive season.

Senior Jamelle Hagins, forward, Delaware: With plenty of other scoring on thr roster, this rebounder/shot-blocker fits in nicely. He registers a double-double in more than half his games an has been first or second in the league in blocks per game for three consecutive seasons.Hagins has also turned himself into a reliable free-throw shooter, making more than 80 percent of his tries this season.

Senior: DeShawn Painter, center, Old Dominion: Painter has been somewhat of a disappointment for Old Dominion, considering that some publications tabbed him as a preseason First-Team player. He simply doesn't have the stamina or wealth of moves to carry offensively depraved ODU. But as an extra body on an all-star team, Painter's soft jump shot and size makes him a commodity off the bench.

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