The new kids on the block: UB Bulls newest players
After offseason of turnover, meet the new players for the men’s team
Junior wing Willie Conner slams down the ball during Bulls Madness. Conner is one of many new players for the Bulls this season.
Two true freshmen and a junior college transfer combined to score 55 points in the men’s basketball team’s first and only preseason game against Daemen College last week.
And they are less than half of Buffalo’s new players this season.
The Bulls’ roster is filled with new players after an offseason of turnover with the transfer of star point guard Shannon Evans, the expulsion of MAC Player of the Year Justin Moss and the graduation of impact seniors like Will Regan and Xavier Ford.
But who are these new players? The talk of the offseason was about the departed players, not the newcomers. It’s a seven-person recruiting class that could make an instant impact for a team that wants to repeat as Mid-American Conference Champions.
The Spectrum has your first look into the new Bulls.
Willie Conner, junior guard
Conner knew he didn’t want to be like his friends growing up in the west side of Chicago.
He grew up around poverty, drugs, gangs and prostitution, but he was more committed to a career in basketball. It wasn’t easy, but he was determined to make a name for himself.
“The only thing I really had was basketball,” Conner said. “I didn’t want to follow in my friends’ footsteps because I saw where they were going and what they were doing. I stayed in school, played basketball and that landed me here.”
He wasn’t a fan of his first school, Florida A&M University. He only played one season there before transferring to Odessa Community College, becoming the team’s best spot-up shooter. His 18 points per game earned him a UB scholarship.
He is the only recruit from this year’s class that is projected to start. The 6-foot-6 swingman and spot-up shooter will play alongside sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden in the backcourt.
That’s not his only role on the team this season.
“We have a lot of people that like to score the ball this year, including myself,” Conner said. I’m going to be that guy to get everyone in order on the court to play defense.”
Christian Jalon (CJ) Massinburg, freshman guard
One of the key pieces of Buffalo’s future is commonly found on the second floor of the Student Union tickling the ivories of the grand piano in the Flag Room.
Massinburg, a true freshman from Oak Cliff, Texas, comes from a musical family. His brother also plays multiple instruments and both his mother and his sister are singers. Massinburg likes to keep it as a hobby and plays organized music at church.
And music isn’t the only talent Massinburg has.
But before excelled in music, Massinburg excelled on the basketball court. He was always the best player on his team at a young age and realized he had unbound basketball potential.
“At an early age, I was really good. I was better than everybody else I played against,” Massinburg said. “I knew that God blessed me with a talent to play basketball. Starting early, I really had the passion for it.”
His MVP, all-region and all-county accolades earned him a scholarship to UB and fans saw some of his potential against Daemen, as Massinburg scored a game-high 25 points.
He is expected to be a reserve guard off the bench but is also expected to receive high-volume minutes.
Blake Hamilton, junior wing
BlakeHamilton may have more basketball lineage than former head coach Bobby Hurley.
A junior college transfer from Pasadena, California, Hamilton’s two cousins and his father all played at least the college level. His father, Kevin Hamilton, played ball at University of Texas-El Paso, while his cousin, Daniel Hamilton, is a standout player for the UConn Huskies.
His other cousin, Jordan, was a former NBA forward as recently as last year with his hometown Los Angeles Clippers.
He was the fourth player in his family to commit to a scholarship.
“I’ve seen the good things UB did last year and I thought this was a hard opportunity for me to pass up on,” Hamilton said. “That’s why I came to UB.”
He spent one season apiece at Northern Arizona and Mt. San Antonio College before coming to Buffalo. Head coach Nate Oats described Hamilton as a versatile wingman that can play multiple positions and will most likely begin the season coming off the bench.
Nikola Rakicevic, freshman wing
His name is Nikola, but everyone should call him Johnny.
“A lot of people call me Johnny here because it’s easier,” he said.
Rakicevic is a native of Serbia and is playing his first year in the United States. UB’s only foreign recruit also knows Italian and German in addition to his native Serbian and English.
He’s played for Serbia in national team tournaments, the European Championships and the U-17 World Championships. But it was something about American basketball that struck his attention.
He liked the way the coaches trained players. He wanted in on the action. He eventually made his way to Buffalo to become Oats’ new swingman.
Rakicevic is currently battling amateurism issues with the NCAA and may not play in Buffalo’s opener on Friday. Once resolved, he will be a versatile big man that will fit into the Bulls’ fast-paced system.
Nick Perkins, freshman forward
The high-touted forward grew up minutes away from conference rivals Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti, Michigan. It was Buffalo that pried him away from home.
“[Eastern Michigan] recruited me hard,” Perkins said, “but it was too close to home.”
Perkins is one of the most decorated freshmen to come into the program in recent memory. He is still raw in potential, but there are areas of his game that are polished. He’s a 6-foot-8 forward who can dribble and shoot 3-pointers.
He’s intimidating on stature when he walks around campus, but he doesn’t want anyone to be fooled by his exterior.
“When people see me play, they probably think I’m a mean type of guy,” Perkins said. “Deep down, I’m a cool dude. I’m not really too aggressive with my personality. I like to stay cool, soft-spoken with everybody.”
He is expected to be the first forward off the bench behind starters Rodell Wigginton and Ikenna Smart.
David Kadiri, junior forward
Massinburg isn’t the only musician in the 2015 recruiting class.
Kadiri, a junior college transfer, is skilled in drums and bass in addition to playing basketball. He wants to follow in his family’s footsteps.
“I’ve been into music since a young age,” Kadiri said. “My brother and my sister play three different instruments. I want to follow in their footsteps.”
He was the star player on his South Plains Junior College national runner-up squad last season. His efforts landed him a place at UB as a lanky forward who will protect around the rim and shoot jumpers.
Kadiri is fighting a knee injury that kept him out of Buffalo’s exhibition game last Friday. He has not practiced in full this week and is considered questionable for the season opener on Friday night.