by Ryan Jones | @thefarmerjones
Whatever you know about Khris Middleton probably isn’t much.
If you’re anything less than a Texas A&M alum or an obsessive college basketball fan, you probably haven’t heard of Middleton. Despite averaging 24 wins over the past seven seasons, the Aggies don’t get much national attention. And despite entering his junior year as an All-American candidate on a preseason top-20 team, Middleton doesn’t get much national attention, either.
For the record: He knows you probably don’t know him. He’s not entirely sure why. And no, he doesn’t really care.
“I can’t really tell you,” he says in late October, two weeks before the Aggies open a season in which Big 12 coaches picked them as co-favorites (with Kansas) for the league title. “Some people come up with the hype behind them from high school or the AAU circuit. I didn’t. But it’s not something I’m real concerned about.”
On a high school scene increasingly dominated by a handful of high-profile prep powers, Middleton was never going to stand out. The Charleston, SC, native attended nearby Porter-Gaud, a small, academic-focused prep school whose most famous alumnus is fake news pundit Stephen Colbert. Middleton averaged 22 ppg as a senior and led PG to the state title game, finishing his prep career as a low top-100 prospect in the Class of ’09. “Our league wasn’t that good,” he says, “but when I played AAU, I played against the top players in the nation, and I felt like I proved myself.”
Even in a high school class light on elite small forward prospects, Middleton lacked buzz, and good-but-not-elite programs like Michigan, St. Joe’s, South Carolina and Texas A&M were his primary suitors. He ultimately signed with then-coach Mark Turgeon and headed to College Station. Middleton averaged a respectable 7.2 ppg as a freshman, but those who were paying attention might’ve noticed how much better he got as the season went on. Starting 20 of the Aggies’ final 22 games in ’09-10, Middleton averaged 15.5 ppg in the Big 12 Tourney, then posted a career-high 19 in the NCAA Tournament opener.
As a soph last season, he started every game and went for 14.4 points, 5.2 boards and 2.8 dimes per. Based largely on his versatile scoring ability, he came into the ’11-12 season as a Wooden Award candidate and first-team all-Big 12 pick. Middleton has a new hurdle in the right knee he hurt in the Aggies’ season opener, but by the time you read this, he should be back in action, and by the end of the season, an improving handle and better defensive skills may well confirm the hunch of scouts who have him slated as a possible Lotto pick.
His play alone won’t be the only reason you might soon be hearing more about Middleton. A&M is in its last season of Big 12 play before the school’s jump to the SEC, and rival fans in Waco, Stillwater and especially Austin are going to let them hear about it. There’s also the absence of new coach Billy Kennedy, who was hired in May when Turgeon left for Maryland, then took a leave of absence in October after discovering he was suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. (Turgeon is back now, but associate head coach Glynn Cyprien is handling some of Kennedy’s duties.) It’s a lot of drama for one college team to handle, especially given the high expectations for this squad. Middleton says he’s not worried.
“This being our last year in the Big 12, we’re just trying to go out with a bang,” he says. “And even if Coach is out sometimes, we feel like we’ll be fine regardless. Coach Cyprien stepped in right away, and he’s just pushing us to get better.”
Presumably, Cyprien spoke for Kennedy and everyone in Aggie Nation at Big 12 preseason media day when he told reporters, “We’re expecting big things from Khris. I think he understands that, and he’s really worked hard up to this point.”
If he keeps working, the kid who grew up idolizing Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant might have a chance to follow them to the NBA. If anything, though, Middleton’s story reminds us a bit of Danny Granger’s, another lightly regarded small forward from a low-profile Southern high school. Both played at under-the-radar college programs. Both were decent as freshmen and terrific as sophomores. Granger? He was nothing less than one of the nation’s best players as a junior and senior. And you know what he’s doing now.
And Khris Middleton? Hey, we’re not making any predictions. Just saying you might want to keep an eye on this dude. You don’t want to be the last one paying attention.