Last offseason saw the top three scorers for Rice men’s basketball each depart via transfer, leaving the door wide open in terms of replacement offensive production. No returning player had averaged more than 10 points per game on the Owls’ 23-12 squad from the 2016-17 season; it was clear that Rice needed to find a new offensive focal point.

Enter junior guard Connor Cashaw. After averaging eight points and five rebounds over 34 starts last season, he’s upped his game significantly so far this season, putting up 16.1 points, 6.7 rebounds — both of which lead the team — and 3.1 assists, second to sophomore guard Ako Adams. He alone has accounted for nearly a third of the Owls’ overall win shares, according to Sports Reference LLC.

Cashaw credits much of his improvement to the help of the coaching staff and the support of his teammates.

“Having a team that believes in me and is working with me every day [has] been amazing,” Cashaw said. “[Head coach Scott Pera] lets me be a vocal leader, stay on the young guys and ultimately grow as a team.”

While playing basketball at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, Cashaw shared the court with Jalen Brunson, now a star guard at Villanova University. Together, they led their team to Class 4A state championship in 2015. According to Cashaw, it was with Brunson that he first found a real passion for basketball.

“When I moved to Chicago [in] fifth grade, I met one of my best friends: Jalen Brunson,” Cashaw said. “We worked out every single day of the summer [and] every single day after practices, and that’s when I knew. I just fell in love with the game.”

But after spending his early childhood in Atlanta and his formative basketball years in the Chicago area, Cashaw has now found a home here in Houston. During his time at Rice, he said he has greatly enjoyed the time spent with his teammates.

“I think we’re brothers for life,” Cashaw said. “Going through the hardest workouts of my life, SEAL week, Coach [Pera’s] very tough on us, so doing all that together is a bond for life.”

When he’s not working out or practicing with the team, Cashaw said he spends much of his free time watching films and basketball games.

“I love movies: The Godfather, Good Will Hunting [and] Get Out,” Cashaw said. “I [also] love talking about movies, like criticizing the reviews and things like that.”

But even in his down time, Cashaw is still looking for ways to improve his game. He said he takes particular inspiration from Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum.

“I try to model my game after [McCollum],” Cashaw said. “I think he’s a great scorer, a mid-range guy. He came from [Lehigh University] — a mid-major school — and he’s a leader, he speaks well and he dedicates a lot to his team.”

So what does the future hold for a star scorer like Cashaw? According to him, basketball will always be in the cards.

“[I] definitely want to pursue a professional career, [whether] that’s overseas or in the NBA,” Cashaw said. “I love this game and I want to do it until I can’t anymore.”