by Dan Gardella 

It’s no secret that over recent years, the University of Rhode Island is a program that has established consistent success. A program that was built up by current UConn head coach Dan Hurley still holds itself to the same standards. It was only two years ago when the Rams made back to back appearances in the NCAA Tournament and won a game in each of those years. 


While David Cox has taken over for Hurley, one thing remains the same: strong guard play. 


Former Rhode Island guards such as E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell became the star-studded backcourt for those Ram teams that competed with Power 5 programs. When the Rams upset Oklahoma in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, it was Matthews and Terrell, both senior stars, who led the charge. 


But sitting in the shadows was freshman Fatts Russell. 


Following the departures of Matthews and Terrell prior to the 2018-19 season, Russell got the keys to the backcourt and produced nearly 14 points per game for a Rhode Island team that finished eighth in the Atlantic 10, but upset top-seeded VCU in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. 


After a full year of starting under his belt, Russell, along with the strong core the Rams brought back, looked to find themselves back near the top of the Atlantic 10, which is a familiar sight to many who have followed the program in recent years. 


Early on in the 2019-20 season, the Atlantic 10 has shown its depth of strong teams early in the season, highlighted by Dayton, a team ranked in the top 15 of the country, led by likely lottery-pick Obi Toppin. 


But it’s time to start looking at Rhode Island, and Fatts Russell, just a little closer. 


While Rhode Island is off to a 6-3 start to the season, the Rams boast wins against Alabama and in-state rival Providence, along with a narrow five-point loss to West Virginia on a neutral court. The biggest key for David Cox’s team this year? Russell. 


The junior guard has shown that he is ready to continue the tradition of all-league caliber guard play in Rhode Island. Through nine games, Russell is averaging 21.4 points per game, which leads the Atlantic 10, and has scored 20+ points in each of his last seven games. 


Diving deeper into his statistics, Russell has improved his shooting both from the field and from three-point land significantly between last season and this one. He is also fifth in the conference with just over five assist per contest, and is second in steals, with 3.3 takeaways per game. 


Rhode Island welcomes Western Kentucky to the Ryan Center this Saturday for another marquee mid-major showdown. Following that, they travel to Middle Tennessee State and Brown before beginning conference play against Richmond.