Prior to the 2018 Central Basketball Association season, Memphis' Jameel Best had focused his entire life on the gridiron as a football player, playing tight end for NCAA Division-I Ole Miss University before transitioning to defensive end for NCAA Division-I Mississippi Valley State University.
Earlier this year, the 23-year-old Memphis-native decided to extend his athletic career in the post-graduate world by converting into a basketball player and use the CBA as a springboard for advancement in the sport.
The 6-foot-9 center certainly did not disappoint in his first full season of playing basketball, as he not only frustrated his opponents in attempting to defend against his large frame, but he also carried the Memphis Rail Runners to their first winning season in team history.
In eight regular season games and one playoff game this year, Best shot 56.4% from the field, averaged 18.8 points per game, and scored in double-digits in each game including four games featuring 20+ point scoring totals.
But it was on the glass where Best had the significant advantage and effect over his opponents, where he posted double-digit rebounds in every game, averaging 15.4 rebounds per contest. He further posted a league-record 59 offensive rebounds this season, and finished the year second in the CBA with 139 total rebounds.
Some of Best's top performances this year were also mind-boggling: 20 points (9-for-15 from the field) and 20 rebounds (9 offensive) in an overtime victory versus Bowling Green; 24 points (9-for-14 from the field) and 16 rebounds (7 offensive) in handing Middle Tennessee its only regular season loss of the season; and 27 points (11-for-18 from the field) and 17 rebounds (8 offensive) in the playoff defeat against Indianapolis.
As a result of being one of only four players this year to average a double-double, where through his performances that mesmerized scouts with his raw talent, in which he also carried his team multiple times to victory and a playoff berth, Best has been named as the 2018 CBA Most Valuable Player.
Prior winners of the award include: Illinois guard, Tyron Criswell (2017, University of Nevada) who was a former NBA D-League draft pick and earned a contract in Israel after the 2017 CBA season; Columbus forward, Brett McKnight (2016, University of Akron), who was also a former NBA D-League player and played in Taiwan through the CBA Global Opportunities Program after the 2016 CBA season; Mississippi guard, Mardracus Wade (2015, University of Arkansas), who earned three NBA D-League contracts in the last three years after playing in the 2015 CBA season and playing in Taiwan as part of the CBA Global Opportunities Program; and Fort Wayne guard, Antonio Cannon (2014, Indiana Tech University) who has played internationally in Brazil and Canada through the CBA Global Opportunities Program.
Although his team was not successful in the 2018 CBA Postseason Tournament, Middle Tennessee head coach, Nathan Willhite, turned around a club that suffered through its worst season in organization history in 2017.
One year after making it to the CBA title game in 2016, Middle Tennessee collapsed to a 1-7 record in 2017, leading to the return of Willhite for the 2018 CBA season, who had previously coached the team in the league from 2013-2015. During that time period, Willhite led Middle Tennessee to its first league championship title in 2014, and posted a 17-10 record in that span, including a 3-1 record in the playoffs.
This year, Willhite led Middle Tennessee to a 7-1 regular season record, including 4-0 at home, while guiding the team as the best defensive squad in the league, where they allowed a league-low 85.0 points per game. including allowing only 83.5 points per game on the road on their opponent's home court.
By taking essentially the same Middle Tennessee roster that went 1-7 last year and finished in last place in the league, and converting that to a 7-1 record this year and a second-seed in the playoffs, Willhite's accomplishments have earned him Coach of the Year honors for the 2018 CBA Season.