Saturday, April 12, 2014

Early Portsmouth Preview - Invites

The following is a list of the invites as of today:

Andre Dawkins, Duke
PIT Website

Davante Gardner, Marquette
PIT Website
DJ Covington, VMI
PIT Website
Jake Odum, Indiana St.
Website

Z Mason, Chattanooga
Website

Kendrick Perry, Youngstown St.
Website
Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
Website

Kendall Williams, New Mexico
Website

Mark McLaughlin, Central Washington
Website

Tyler Stone, Southeast Missouri
Website
Troy Huff, North Dakota
Website
Javon McCrea, Buffalo
Website

Garrick Sherman, Notre Dame
Website

Jason Brickman, LIU Brooklyn
Website

Taylor Braun, North Dakota St.
Website
Travis Bader, Oakland
Website
Akil Mitchell, Virginia
Website
Jamil Wilson, Marquette
Website

Alec Brown, Wisconsin Green Bay
Website

Shawn Glover, Oral Roberts
Website

Tim Frazier, Penn St.
Website
De'Mon Brooks, Davidson
Website


Turned Down
Billy Baron, Canisius
Website


Check back for more updates!


(Photo courtesy of www.ysusports.com)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Projected Portsmouth Invitational Invites 2014

The following is my composite list of the seniors that should receive Portsmouth invites, in no particular order. 


Kendrick Perry, Youngstown St.
Bryce Cotton, Providence
DeAndre Kane, Iowa St.
Andre Dawkins, Duke
Michael Dixon Jr., Memphis
Joe Jackson, Memphis
Geron Johnson, Memphis
Roberto Nelson, Oregon St.
Jordan Bachynski, Arizona St.
Isaiah Sykes, UCF
Kendall Williams, New Mexico
Javon McCrea, Buffalo
James Bell, Villanova
Billy Baron, Canisius
Xavier Thames, San Diego St.
Will Sheehey, Indiana
Aaric Murray, Texas Southern
Troy Huff, North Dakota
Z Mason, Tennessee-Chattanooga
Jason Brickman, LIU Brooklyn
Mark McLaughlin, Central Washington
Davion Berry, Weber St.
Chaz Williams, UMass
Jerrelle Benimon, Towson
Davon Usher, Delaware
Devon Saddler, Delaware
De'Mon Brooks, Davidson
Shane Southwell, Kansas St.
Aaron Craft, Ohio St.
Melvin Ejim, Iowa St.
Preston Wynne, Vanguard
Will Yeguete, Florida
Justin Cobbs, California
George Beamon, Manhattan
Jeronne Maymon, Tennessee
Ronald Roberts, Saint Joseph's
Halil Kanacevic, Saint Joseph's
Jordair Jett, Saint Louis
Davante Gardner, Marquette
Taylor Braun, North Dakota St.
Travis Bader, Oakland
Langston Hall, Mercer
Torrey Craig, USC Upstate
Brady Heslip, Baylor
Tyreek Duren, LaSalle
Markel Starks, Georgetown
Kadeem Batts, Providence
Kareem Jamar, Montana
Talib Zanna, Pittsburgh
Daniel Miller, Georgia Tech
Sam Dower, Gonzaga
Richard Solomon, California
Justin Jackson, Cincinnati
DJ Covington, VMI
Drew Crawford, Northwestern
Pablo Bertone, Florida Atlantic
Jeremy Ingram, North Carolina Central
Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
Brandon Goode, Norfolk St.
Malcolm Miller, Southern
Tyler Stone, Southeast Missouri St.
Trevor Releford, Alabama
Mike Moser, Oregon
Josh Huestis, Stanford


Anticipated Declines:
Doug McDermott, Creighton
Adreian Payne, Michigan St.
Cleanthony Early, Wichita St.
Deonte Burton, Nevada
CJ Wilcox, Washington
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Shabazz Napier, UConn
Patric Young, Florida
Dwight Powell, Stanford
Devyn Marble, Iowa
Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall
Russ Smith, Louisville
Keith Appling, Michigan St.
Cory Jefferson, Baylor
Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh
Devon Collier, Oregon St.
Markel Brown, Oklahoma St.
Alec Brown, Wisconsin Green-Bay
CJ Fair, Syracuse
Joe Harris, Virginia
Jordan McRae, Tennessee
Cameron Clark, Oklahoma
Juvonte Reddic, VCU
Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
Casey Prather, Florida
Akil Mitchell, Virginia

Monday, March 10, 2014

Around the Nation (Part 1)

In my segment, "Around the Nation" I explore all of the top talent from around college basketball, spanning NCAA Division I to NAIA Division II, and everything in between.

In this edition, I focus on Thomas (Ga.)'s Justyn Watkins, and Coastal Georgia's Reggie Burke and Kentorey Johnson.

Talented senior Justyn Watkins is a 6'5 190lb combo wing with bouncy, DI-level athleticism. In his contest against Coastal Georgia, Watkins was dominant, and eventually hit the game winning shot, a fitting ending to an extremely impressive performance. Watkins is a rangy forward with strong athleticism and a penchant for attacking the basket. He boasts a strong first step with an excellent second gear, something rarely seen at this level of play. With that said, he sometimes tends to struggle finishing through contact at the rim due to his wiry frame, which could stand to add about 20-30 lbs. Additionally, his average handle may cause him some issues at the next level. While he often starts his drives from the top of the key, his handle is rather simplified when he attacks the basket. He tends to jab step and then pass-fake before attacking, which typically gets his defender off guard. However, once he actually puts the ball on the floor, Watkins is rather predictable, opting for line drives and failing to attack with his off-hand or implore hesitation moves en route to the hoop. With that said, he can improve in these areas and, despite his loose handle, he did not have the ball stolen from him in the contests that I witnessed.

In terms of his offensive prowess, Watkins is adept at attacking the basket from just about any angle and will make basket cuts to get open or camp out on the perimeter, if this benefits his team's spacing. Watkins is a willing cutter and screener, and often utilizes these screens to either pick-and-pop or roll to the basket for an easy finish. At the end of his first contest against Coastal Georgia, Watkins was face guarded at the end of the game and freed himself by setting a series of picks and then slipping behind the defense. When attacking the rim, Watkins has the hangtime athleticism to finish with the best of them. He also has a finesse game, and is comfortable utilizing a floater in the lane or a half hook shot. When he is not in attack mode, Watkins keeps defenses honest from the perimeter. While he will need to improve his abysmal three point shooting on the year (22.4% from 3), Watkins is capable pulling up from the midrange and can hit shots with a hand in his face. Watkins has a nice, high release point on his shot and quickly gets it off, making it difficult for most players to defend him once he gets the ball in his hands. With that said, Watkins sometimes tends to hold the ball too long and shoot it on the way down, which lowers his accuracy from distance. But, when he finds a shooting rhythm, Watkins is very difficult to stop due to his ability to beat you off the bounce or pullup for a jumper utilizing his tremendous run-jump athleticism.

On the defensive end, it is difficult to assess where Watkins stands, as his team plays him out of position at the five and forces him to guard the post. Against Coastal Georgia, he struggled to defend post players and often gave up easy looks close to the hoop. While he has the tools and lateral quickness to be a decent defender, his lack of upper body strength and lack of focus/awareness really hurt him on this end. And while he did show some flashes of defending out to the three point line, it was too limited of a sample size to draw any definitive conclusions about his perimeter defense. Watkins tends to bite on shot fakes and is easily drawn off his feet. With the proper training and physical conditioning, Watkins does have some potential to develop into a decent defensive player due to his physical length and solid quickness. In terms of his rebounding abilities, Watkins has the leaping ability to gather rebounds, but does not always consistently put a body on his man to prevent offensive rebounds. And, on the other end, he tends to camp on the perimeter at times and does not aggressively assert himself on the glass despite his excellent athleticism. In terms of passing, Watkins is a willing team player who will make the extra pass to set his teammates up, as he did on several drive and kick opportunities against Coastal Georgia, but he still could stand to improve in this area and see the floor better. All in all, Watkins is an intriguing player with the raw quickness and run-jump athleticism to play professionally.

On Coastal Georgia's side, the team is led by big lead guard Reggie Burke. While Burke was tentative in the first contest of his that I witnessed, he is the team's leading scorer and floor general who looks to take over basketball games in the big moments. While he does not possess blazing quickness, Burke is a shifty guard who has an adequate enough first step to blow by people, and is also crafty enough to utilize change of pace dribble moves in the lane. Burke provides a steadying presence for his teammates and is fairly consistent walking the ball down the floor and slowing tempo down when he does not have numbers. He can also push in transition. Burke has a strong upper body and is able to take contact and finish strong at the rim. He is also crafty and athletic enough to maneuver in mid air when required. To drive his defender off balance, Burke frequently turns to a repertoire of shot and head fakes, drawing his man off guard, before attacking the rim. On several occasions, Burke was able to contort his body in mid air to avoid defenders. Burke also possesses a reliable handle and utilizes a solid crossover move to draw defenders off balance before either stepping back for a jumper or taking the ball to the rim. Given his size at 6'2 185lbs, Burke is a good rebounder, averaging 4.7 boards per game, often turning defensive rebounds into fast break opportunities.

In terms of his decision making, Burke is a good one-pass, drive-and-dish player who can attack and then kick out to open teammates. He usually will utilize penetration to feed either open big men inside or hit three point shooters on the perimeter. With that said- due to the simplicity of most of his passes- he is not super advanced in this area, but typically opts for the right play, as evinced by his 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio despite commanding significant defensive attention. Burke willingly feeds the post and utilizes fundamental post entry feeds the majority of the time. When he is not attacking/feeding teammates, Burke typically opts to pullup from beyond the arc. He often dribbles into two pointers or will shoot long balls off the catch, or after a few dribbles. Burke connects on 37.6% of his three point tries and is fairly reliable in this regard, particularly when left open. With that said, Burke still occasionally will kick his legs out on three point attempts, and this throws off his shooting rhythm. Burke must maintain his consistency from beyond the arc and shoot the same way every time. With that said, Burke regularly comes through in the clutch. Specifically, Reggie Burke, on one occasion, crossed over his man and hit a game winning step back three. 

On the defensive end, Burke plays strong and is able to drive his man off the spot when attacking the basket. He often uses his superior size and strength to force players into tough shots, and possesses great recovery speed. Despite this strength, Burke sometimes does get hung up on screens, and must do a better job fighting over the top. He also only has average lateral footspeed and needs to consistently maintain a stance. With that said, Burke leverages his superior strength and awareness to make a difference on this end of the floor, leading to approximately 2 steals per game. All in all, Reggie Burke is a good lead guard with an ability to control tempo and keep defenses honest from beyond the arc.

Burke's counterpart in the frontcourt, Kentorey Johnson, is an athletic 6'7 power forward with the handle to transition out to the perimeter. While he mostly opts to play in the post at this level, Johnson has demonstrated on countless occasions that he possesses the handle to get to the rim from the three point line and in. Johnson has a very good first step for a big man and is regularly able to out-quick his opponents to the hoop. When he attacks the rim, he drives with reckless abandon, bulldozing over anyone who gets in his way. Due to his faceup activity, Johnson draws a considerable amount of fouls (212 free throw attempts on the season). Johnson relentlessly pursues the basket when he catches the ball in deep and is very difficult to contain when he catches the ball near the hoop. Johnson does an excellent job sealing his man on back-to-the-basket post up moves and employs the necessary ball fakes and head fakes to draw his defender off guard. Further, he works hard to establish position in the post and is difficult to move off the block despite weighing just upwards of 200 lbs. Johnson possesses a nice jump hook in his arsenal. With that said, Johnson could stand to improve his footwork and his go to post moves. While he is effective at this level, he may be overmatched against bigger, more athletic big men, and must rely on footwork to separate himself.

Johnson could play some minutes as a small forward at the next level due to his decent lateral quickness and nose for the ball. While he did not defend out on the perimeter in the contests that I witnessed, he demonstrated decent lateral footspeed and relentlessly pursued the ball on both ends of the floor. This translated to just under 1 block and just over 1 steal per game. His activity defending post entry feeds was admirable, as he regularly deflected the ball out. In terms of his rebounding, Johnson was aggressive on the glass, averaging 7.1 rebounds per contest. Impressively, nearly half of these rebounds came on the offensive glass, where Johnson fought hard for positioning on almost every play. In terms of his shooting, Johnson possesses a medium range jumper and is capable of connecting on shots off the bounce once he hones certain elements of his game. While he must learn to extend his range at the next level (only a 24.8% 3 pt shooter), Johnson is a capable threat if left open. If he could improve in this area to complement his interior game, Kentorey would be very difficult to stop on the offensive end. His decision making could also use some improvement, as he frequently turns the ball over when doubled inside and does not always look for open teammates out of the post. Instead, he will keep attacking with a head of steam, leading to a paltry 0.43-to-1 Assist-to-Turnover ratio. Overall, Kentorey is an undersized tweener with a power post game and the body of a next level small forward. Johnson is more than capable of carving a role out overseas if he chooses to continue playing basketball after his career is finished at Coastal Georgia.


(Image Source:tunighthawks.com & coastalgeorgiasports.com)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Portsmouth Invitational Suggested Rosters 2013

We are about a week away from the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, and I feel that now is an appropriate time to provide roster suggestions for the event. The PIT is a tournament featuring 64 of the top senior professional prospects in the country. It is where, in recent memory, Jimmy Butler made a name for himself.

Before unveiling my suggested rosters, it should be noted that I have estimated that 35 players will decline their invitations to the tournament. While I have no idea who is going to accept his invitation, I left out the following players intentionally: Mason Plumlee, CJ McCollum, Jeff Withey, Nate Wolters, Solomon Hill, Michael Snaer, Mike Muscala, Ryan Kelly, Khalif Wyatt, Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams, Isaiah Canaan, Carrick Felix, Elias Harris, James Ennis, Brandon Paul, Richard Howell, Erik Murphy, Kenny Kadji, Pierre Jackson, Anthony Marshall, Alex Oriakhi, Kenny Boynton, Christian Watford, Zeke Marshall, Colton Iverson, Jackie Carmichael, Peyton Siva, Erick Green, Brandon Triche, James Southerland, Laurence Bowers, Arsalan Kazemi, Seth Curry, and Michael Lyons (injury).

As a point of reference, 28 players declined their invitations last year due to either the perceived strength of their stock, injuries, and scheduling conflicts.


*Indicates that they have accepted their invitation already

Team 1
PG Matthew Dellavedova, St. Mary's*
SG Shane Gibson, Sacred Heart
SF Will Clyburn, Iowa State
PF Derrick Nix, Michigan State
C Reggie Johnson, Miami (Fl.)

SF/PF DJ Stephens, Memphis
SG Alex Falk, West Liberty
PG Carl Jones, Saint Joseph's
----------------------------------------------------
Team 2
PG Elijah Johnson, Kansas
SG Rodney McGruder, Kansas State
SF Maurice Kemp, East Carolina*
PF Ray Turner, Texas A&M
C Vander Joaquim, Hawaii

PF Chris Evans, Kent State*
SG Tyrus McGee, Iowa State
PG Junior Cadougan, Marquette
----------------------------------------------------
Team 3
PG DJ Cooper, Ohio
SG Durand Scott, Miami (Fl.)
SF Kevin Parrom, Arizona
PF Romero Osby, Oklahoma
C AJ Matthews, Farmingdale State

PG Jordan Hulls, Indiana*
PF Andrew Smith, Butler
SG Scott Suggs, Washington
-----------------------------------------------------
Team 4
PG Rotnei Clarke, Butler*
SG Sherwood Brown, Florida Gulf Coast
SF Jamal Olasewere, LIU Brooklyn
PF Jake Cohen, Davidson
C Reginald Buckner, Ole Miss

SG Brandon Givens, North Carolina Wesleyan
PF Taylor Smith, Stephen F. Austin
PG Larry Drew II, UCLA
------------------------------------------------------
Team 5
PG Cashmere Wright, Cincinnati
SG Dwayne Davis, Southern Miss
SF Ryan Broekhoff, Valparaiso
PF Jack Cooley, Notre Dame*
C Tony Woods, Oregon

SG Angelo Sharpless, Elizabeth City College
PF Jamelle Hagins, Delaware
PF Gregory Echenique, Creighton
-------------------------------------------------------
Team 6
PG Mark Lyons, Arizona*
SG Travis Releford, Kansas*
SF Stan Okoye, VMI*
PF Murphy Holloway, Ole Miss
C Mouphtao Yarou, Villanova

PF O.D. Anosike, Siena*
PG Abdul Gaddy, Washington*
SF/PF Karron Johnson, Shaw University
---------------------------------------------------------
Team 7
PG Kerron Johnson, Belmont
SG Ramon Galloway, LaSalle
SF Robert Covington, Tennessee State
PF Keith Clanton, UCF*
C Aziz N'Diaye, Washington*

PF Brock Motum, Washington State
SG Colt Ryan, Evansville
PG/SG Dexter Strickland, North Carolina
---------------------------------------------------------
Team 8
PG Travon Woodall, Pittsburgh
SG Tyler Brown, Illinois State
SF Terrell Vinson, UMass
PF Brandon Davies, BYU
PF/C Jared Berggren, Wisconsin

C Marcus Goode, Benedict College
SG Ian Clark, Belmont
PF Carl Hall, Wichita State


Others Receiving Consideration:
Vincent Council, Providence
Aric Miller, Armstrong Atlantic
Steven Pledger, Oklahoma
Trey McKinney-Jones, Miami (Fl.)
Kwamain Mitchell, St. Louis
Milton Jennings, Clemson
Devin Booker, Clemson
Dante Taylor, Pittsburgh
Scott Wood, North Carolina State
Terrell Parks, Western Illinois
Jordan Henriquez, Kansas State
DeShawn Painter, Old Dominion
CJ Harris, Wake Forest
Travis Taylor, Xavier
Malcolm Armstead, Wichita State
Trent Lockett, Marquette
Lamont Jones, Iona
DJ Richardson, Illinois
Kevin Foster, Santa Clara
Mike Rosario, Florida
Will Cherry, Montana
Kevin Young, Kansas
Ed Daniel, Murray State
Ian Hummer, Princeton
Kevin Dillard, Dayton
Darien Brothers, Richmond
Dennis Tinnon, Marshall
Jawanza Poland, South Florida
Byron Westmoreland, Bowie State
Anthony Dorsey, Truett McConnell
Travis Wilkins, St. Catharine's
Marcos Knight, Middle Tennessee State
Keith Steffeck, William Penn
Kevin Braswell, Charlotte
AJ Davis, James Madison
Alex Hall, Drury

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Expanding Your Basketball Horizons (Part 2)

In my “Expanding Your Basketball Horizons” series, I unveil the most talented players outside the bounds of Division I basketball and assess their future prospects at a professional level of play.

In this edition of "Expanding Your Basketball Horizons", I review one of the most talked about prospects outside of Division I in 7'0 Farmingdale St. product AJ Matthews. While his physical gifts and athletic talent really separate him from his peers, Matthews is still very much a raw prospect at this stage of the game.


Hailing from Van Arsdale High School in Brooklyn, Matthews only started playing basketball during his sophomore year. In his three years of high school basketball, Matthews steadily made improvements and inevitably caught the attention of some big name programs. After they realized that he would fail to qualify academically, these top flight programs stopped recruiting him and Matthews eventually wound up at Monroe College. He moved to Broward Community College for his sophomore season and really stood out there. Following his completion of junior college, Matthews did not meet the academic requirements at Fairleigh Dickinson and instead decided to play alongside long time friend and former high school (and JUCO) teammate Ryan Davis at Farmingdale St. Considering his path to Division III basketball and his progression up until now, it is clear that Matthews is far from a finished product despite his fairly advanced age for a college senior.

First and foremost, it is clear that AJ Matthews' physical tools distinguish him from other Division III standouts aspiring to play professional basketball. Standing at a lengthy 7'0 220 lbs, Matthews could stand to add some weight to his frame. While he is not a super quick leaper, AJ is an effortless jumper who can get up to block shots and challenge players at the rim. 

In terms of his offensive repertoire, Matthews is solely an inside weapon at this stage. He scores most of his baskets at the rim or within five feet of the hoop. Matthews is fairly active moving when his teammates have the ball, and is often on the receiving end of easy lay ins off of basket cuts and alley oops out in transition. He especially likes to backcut baseline. In these instances, Matthews finishes with authority and really makes some spectacular plays by any standard. His outstanding combination of both length and leaping ability allow him to catch exceptionally high alley oops and post entry feeds. This provides him with either easy baskets or superior post position inside, and makes it very difficult to contest him without fouling. Even when matched up with a taller player on Purchase College, Matthews was able to leverage his combination of quickness and athleticism to score over his opponent. However, he did tend to struggle at times to obtain positioning against shorter, more physical players, who were occasionally successful in chesting him out of the paint. For the most part, though, he was able to physically overwhelm these opponents by responding with similar physicality. Looking ahead, because of his high center of gravity, he may initially struggle to obtain deep positioning against stronger interior players at a higher level of play. Against such opposition, Matthews must learn to counter by slashing across the paint and beating his opponent to the spot, before flashing and sealing his man.  

With regard to his favorite post moves, Matthews relies predominantly on quick faceup drives, often preferring to attack the rim with a spin move off the dribble. While his handle could stand to be refined a bit, it is currently serviceable enough for straight line drives when he decides to attack the basket. Additionally, Matthews has a fairly quick first step off the dribble and is able to begin  drives further out toward the perimeter. When he does decide to faceup, though, Matthews must have better awareness of his feet when pivoting, as a good percentage of his turnovers come from shifting both feet before putting the ball down on the floor. In terms of the other post moves in his arsenal, Matthews also boasts a deadly running and stationary hook shot, which he can hit with either hand. He is often able to connect on a running lefty hook, and does a nice job of shielding his body from the defender. Matthews is also able to implement his hook shot off of a post entry feed as well. Because he is able to create separation, it is likely that he will be able to get this shot off at a professional level of play. In terms of his weaknesses in the post, due to his high center of gravity, Matthews is not much of a back-to-the-basket option and could stand to add a drop step and counter move to complement his post game. Also, Matthews must work to not put the ball on the floor in traffic. At the Division III level, he is accustomed to receiving anything from double teams to even quadruple teams on some plays. When guards are collapsing down on him, he must learn to have better awareness not to put the ball down on the floor. With that said, Matthews does an excellent job of drawing fouls at this level. He averages 10 free throw attempts per contest and is usually able to draw fouls when attempting to pass out of double teams or when finishing after obtaining deep post positioning inside. Matthews makes 65.8% of his free throw attempts, but could improve significantly on this figure if he bent his knees more on his shot.

Further, Matthews shows some promise as a pick and roll option. He has very quick feet and is able to set screens and dart to the rim for easy entry feeds. Also, he possesses the instincts to slip screens and cut to the hoop when his defender overcommits. Matthews is a handful to contain in this regard, and often finishes these plays with authority. In terms of his intangibles as a screener, Matthews does a nice job of running opponents into his picks, both at the top of the key and in the paint. However, when playing against teams that are good at defending the pick and roll in halfcourt sets, Matthews must learn to become more of a 'pick-and-pop" player, setting himself up for easy jumpers on the wing.

While Matthews has worked on his outside shooting to keep defenses honest, he must continue to refine his stroke. In the contests that I witnessed, Matthews was only able to connect on a handful of the midrange shots that he attempted. He possesses decent lift and balance on his jumpers, but must follow through more on his shots and continue to practice his outside shooting, as it will be an area of emphasis for him at the professional level.

Aside from his offensive repertoire, it is clear that Matthews has a rebounding ability that will translate at a professional level. His dominance on the glass in Division III is rather unprecedented, as he gathers a nation leading 14.2 boards per contest, and actually could be more dominant in this respect given his physical tools. Matthews currently utilizes his length and leaping ability to corral rebounds over smaller players. His wingspan enables him to get a hand on virtually every ball that comes off the rim. And, he does box out to secure rebounds inside. At a higher level of play, he will have to do more than get a hand on his man. Matthews will have to leverage his lower body more often on box outs to sustain rebounding position. When he was matched up with a more physical team, he initially struggled against their gang-rebounding mentality, but later adjusted and was able to physically overwhelm these smaller players. While I would not consider him to be one of the more physically imposing prospects, Matthews plays with a toughness bred by years of playing in the mecca of basketball. Therein, in the contests I have seen when he was physically challenged, Matthews was able to adjust and make an impact on the glass. Moreover, Matthews can stand to improve as an offensive rebounder. Instead of hunting down loose balls, Matthews has a tendency of getting back on defense early. As a result, Matthews gets most of his 4.9 offensive rebounds per game off of his own misses inside. If he were to fight harder for positioning on every play, I would expect an exponential increase in his offensive rebounding numbers. On the defensive glass, Matthews is extremely assertive and is always in position to grab rebounds and pass ahead to create transition opportunities for his teammates. AJ does a nice job of keeping the ball high after he has secured it.

As a facilitator, Matthews often finds himself at the top of the key either moving the ball side-to-side or dishing it inside to an open teammate posting up. He does a fairly good job of feeding his post man on the correct hand and is able to shift the defense when moving the ball along the perimeter. Matthews is a willing passer and is able to hit cutters if they are open. As his awareness and ability to read the defense improves, Matthews will be able to create more opportunities for shooters on the perimeter when the opposition decides to double or even triple team him.

While Matthews has a lot of room for growth on the offensive end, he may be able to make his greatest mark defensively at the next level. First, it should be mentioned that Matthews possesses good lateral quickness and regularly is able to defend on the perimeter when there is a switch off on defense. If he is going to get beat off the dribble, he does a nice job of leading the offensive player he is guarding into the help. When defending out high, he shows a decent defensive stance. Further, Matthews is a very strong shot blocker, and is able to cover a lot of ground in a hurry. He often is able to block perimeter shots on closeouts or make plays on the ball against slashers looking to attack his body. Matthews has good anticipatory instincts and is able to block shots before they are released from a player's hand, which often allows him to recover the ball and create extra possessions for his team. Matthews is able to make helpside "statement" blocks as well. With respect to his statistical productivity on this end, Matthews averages 0.8 steals and 2.8 blocks per contest. Despite this strength, Matthews does have a hard time staying out of foul trouble. He averages 3.3 fouls per contest and is often the first player that the opposing defenses attack. Matthews has learned to become a good positional defender when players get very close to the hoop. He extends his arms straight up and down and this often changes shots or leads to deflections. While he is often able to obtain positioning down low due to his quick feet, it is very rare for Matthews to take a charge. This often forces refs to make the notorious block/charge call, and thereby contributes to Matthews inflated foul total. The rest of Matthews' fouls come on silly plays off the ball, on reach ins when defending the pick and roll, or on offensive fouls brought about by using his arms to establish position on the block.

Still, Matthews thrives as a pick and roll defender at this level, doing an excellent job of hedging out and stopping perimeter players in their tracks. He often is able to turn this play into a trap situation up top. Matthews reads these plays fairly well, and has the quickness to recover to his man and jump in the passing lanes. At a higher level of play, though, it will be interesting to see if he can still trap up high without sacrificing a two-on-one situation in the paint. In terms of his weaknesses, he does not play with consistent effort in help defense situations. While Matthews does recover as a help defender most of the time, he tends to give up easy layups when he does not step in. Also, Matthews must work harder to chest his man out of the paint. Due to his high center of gravity, Matthews must do a better job of utilizing his length to deflect post entry feeds and make the catch more difficult for his opponents. If he is unable to make these adjustments, he may struggle with post defense at a higher level.

Another notable flaw that becomes evident when watching Matthews play is his poor motor at times. AJ is often the last one down the floor on certain plays, and this is usually due to the fact that he starts the possession with the defensive rebound. However, he often fails to hustle down the floor if it seems like a teammate is going to hoist a shot in a one-and-done possession. His poor motor is only really evident on the offensive end, as he always gets back to defend his man inside. Still, professionals play at a much faster pace than his Division III team, so this is a legitimate concern regarding how his game might translate. He should not be the last one down the floor on many offensive possessions, as it ruins his team's rhythm and takes precious time away for them to get into their sets. While this issue is rather alarming at first glance, one must remember that he has not been exposed to professional conditioning and this could improve his activity level significantly. Also, he has shown flashes of a decent motor at times, so his energy level may change against a higher level of competition.

All in all, AJ Matthews is a raw talent with considerable upside who will be able to receive looks at the Portsmouth Invitational. He must continue to improve his outside shot, cut down on turnovers, and work on not giving up deep post position. If he can make some strides in these areas, play with a consistent motor, and add about 20 pounds of muscle, Matthews should have a long professional career after this season. 

Teammate and friend Ryan Davis also deserves a mention here, as he acts as a catalyst to the Farmingdale St. offense. The 5'9 senior guard has excellent handles and is able to control the tempo for his team, settling them down at times and pushing the pace in other instances. He has very good vision and is oftentimes able to thread the needle and set up his teammates for easy buckets inside. His 4.4 assists per game are absolutely pivotal to Farmingdale St.'s offensive success. Davis also plays a fearless brand of basketball and is willing to attack much bigger players inside. Even when he does not finish, he is able to draw defenses away, creating easy offensive rebounding opportunities for his teammates. With these strengths in mind, Davis must play a more controlled brand of offense in transition. He is prone to attempting to score in one-on-two or one-on-three situations when he could easily just wait to run his team's offense. Still, Davis possesses good athleticism and physicality on the defensive end of the floor. He paces his team with two steals per game and his active hands have created numerous additional possessions for the Rams.


(Image Sources: farmingdalesports.com & sports.yahoo.com)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Scouring the Nation (Part 15) Retrospective

In this edition of "Scouring the Nation (Part 15) Retrospective", I take a look back at some of the talented players from last year that I was not able to review due to time constraints. Some may be pursuing basketball careers overseas or hoping to land a minor league role in the United States. In this edition, I examine some of the top NCAA Division II talents from a year ago, including top flight prospect Travis Hyman.


Bowie St. big man Travis Hyman was one of the top non D-1 prospects a year ago. While he was not offensively dominant from a statistical perspective, the 7-footer demonstrated some remarkable potential and eventually earned a spot at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament a year ago. (read my review here) At 7'0 235 lbs, Hyman is exceptionally agile for a big man and does a nice job of running the floor, getting ahead of defenses for easy points in transition. In halfcourt sets, Hyman scores the majority of his points off of assisted dunks. When he does receive the ball in post up scenarios, he typically attempts jump hooks or fadeaway jumpshots. He does not possess the footwork to establish position and utilize his length and strength against similarly sized competition. However, he does do a good job of shielding the ball when maneuvering inside. Hyman is aggressive attacking the basket when he decides to face up, and has the athleticism to finish against top flight competition. He takes contact well and is strong with the ball. When I did see him play at the college level, he tended to struggle at times finishing close to the basket though. This must have been due to his mental lapses at times, as he finished fairly well against tougher competition at Portsmouth. With that said, Hyman must do a better job of drawing contact. Given his physical profile, Hyman should have lived at the free throw line playing at Bowie St. However, he only got there 127 times last year, and did not make the most of his opportunities, connecting on a mere 43.4% of his attempts. There were additional factors at play though. Hyman rarely received any touches in Bowie St.'s offense, so when he did struggle to score at times, this definitely affected his confidence. In terms of his potential, Hyman must work on his shot, as he is capable of hitting quick jumpers in the paint, but struggles further from the hoop. He is not going to be able to keep defenses honest on the perimeter and on clear out attempts at the next level. If Hyman can extend his range, he will become a much more valued commodity at the professional level.


Still, Hyman's bread and butter at Bowie St. was cleaning up misses on the offensive glass. He had a knack for collecting boards, and was very physical boxing out, possessing good fundamentals on this end. Hyman is a strong finisher and regularly throws down electrifying dunks,  often on tip in putbacks. And, Hyman rarely forces the action on offense, typically attempting opportunities within his range, and dishing the ball off to open teammates inside when he can find them. Hyman's unselfish play was one of the reasons why his statistics did not jump out at scouts. While he is often willing to make the extra pass, Hyman also turned the ball over a considerable amount when faced with double teams. In the contests I witnessed, Hyman would sometimes get his pocket picked when the opposing team's guards clamped down on him in the post.

With this said, Hyman possesses the most potential at the defensive end and this is why he received such attention both from NBA and international scouts. Hyman has very nimble feet and is able to get in position to draw charges and force players to shoot over him in the paint. He regularly steps in as a help defender, and usually blocks the opposition's shots. Over the course of his four year career, Hyman was one of the best shot blockers at the Division II level. He possesses good timing, length, and athleticism to come from no where to contest. Unlike most long shot blockers, Hyman also possesses the lower body strength to hold his position in the post against stronger players. He is a tough fixture to gain position against when he asserts himself, and he is capable of getting his hand in the passing lanes. Further, when he did not outright block his opponents' shots, Hyman did an excellent job intimidating and altering shots. He was consistently involved in most plays at this end for Bowie St. and was the anchor of their defensive schemes.

Despite his numerous strengths, Hyman's advanced age at 25 may limit his potential to grow from an offensive standpoint. If he can learn to take advantage of his physical gifts, though, and continue to work on his basketball skillset, Hyman should have a long career internationally.

Teammates Jay Gavin and Darren Clark are ball dominant guards who were highly capable scoring the basketball last season. Gavin, a VCU transfer, was one of the team's best three point shooters. The long range bomber connected on 40.2% of his shots from beyond the arc.  He displays a nice form and a consistent release point on his perimeter shots, in addition to a textbook follow through.  While he typically picks his spots from beyond the arc, Gavin occasionally rushed three pointers early in the shot clock in the contests that I witnessed. However, when his shots are falling, he is very difficult to stop because he possesses the handle to get wherever he wants to go on the floor. Gavin does a nice job pulling up and hitting jumpers as well, particularly in transition. He usually is successful in retaining his balance and squaring up for running jump shots in the lane. While he is effective scoring the ball off the bounce, Gavin predominantly functioned off the ball as a shooter in his time at Bowie St. He does a nice job moving without the ball and regularly came off of screen sets to free himself for open opportunities. Also, Gavin cuts to the basket with purpose and is deliberate enough that his teammates know to look for him. He does a nice job sneaking to the rim before his defender can recover.

When he does decide to attack the basket off the dribble, Gavin possesses good strength and body control when finishing at the rim. And, he typically does a nice job of initiating contact when he gets there, averaging 4.57 fouls drawn per contest. In terms of his passing ability, Gavin does a nice job making fundamental post entry feeds. He willingly defers to teammates and is able to facilitate when he gets in the lane. However, he tends to drive fearlessly into double teams and often loses the ball. He also telegraphs some of his passes, which are often intended for players that are not spaced far enough away. As a result, he posted a 1 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio, which is subpar for someone hoping to function as a lead guard at the next level. On the defensive end, Gavin has very quick hands and was able to drive his man into traps and corral loose balls. He averaged just under a steal per game. He also has good awareness of man and ball, both locking down on his man on the outside and helping down when the ball is swung to slashers maneuvering in the paint. Gavin serves as a viable team defender who willingly plays within his team's system and has a nose for the ball.

6'0 point guard Darren Clark is a ball dominant distributor who is capable shooting the basketball, attacking the rim, and finding open teammates. Clark is a capable shooter, and is able to shoot off the catch or the dribble. While he shot a mere 34.8% from three point range a year ago, this is largely due to the fact that teams clamped down on him defensively. He served as Bowie State's number option and regularly saw traps and double teams up high. He was also fairly streaky as a shooter, and was difficult to stop when he caught fire. Clark must continue to work on his consistency from distance so that he can keep opposing defenses honest from three. Additionally, Clark has a fairly quick first step and this enables him to get in the lane, either allowing him to score or facilitate for others. When he gets in the paint, he regularly draws fouls and always puts himself in a position to score. He averaged 6.61 fouls shots per game as a senior. And, at 6'0 185, Clark possesses the necessary strength and polish to finish at the rim as well. In terms of his ability to distribute, Clark is a sound decision maker, rarely taking risks when he gets in the lane (unlike Gavin) and usually finding open jump shooters. The vast majority of his assists came on kick out passes. He averaged 4.82 assists per game and he had his head up at all times in the games that I watched.

On the defensive end, Clark is a lock down defender with excellent lateral quickness. Clark gets into a low defensive stance and this puts him in a position to wreak havoc. Not only is he able to steer his defenders off their spot, but he is able to tap the ball away on a consistent basis. On one play in particular against Mercyhurst, he slightly deflected the ball, immediately pouncing on it while the player was recovering his dribble and calling a timeout to secure possession for his team. It can be said that he hustles hard on this end of the floor and constantly pokes and prods at the ball, while usually managing to stay out of foul trouble. As a point of reference, Clark averaged 2.39 steals and 1.71 fouls per contest a year ago, and was even more prolific in this regard at the beginning of the season. (Two-thirds of his personal fouls came in conference play) Clark is capable fighting over screens and works hard as a help defender as well, jumping out to put a hand in the face of jump shooters.

Another CIAA guard who deserves mention is former Elizabeth City College standout Marquie Cooke. The former top 100 recruit and Virginia Tech player arrived at ECSU years after leaving the Hokies program. While his senior season was last year, he was already 27 years old. And, on a side note, he played in the USBL in between the transition from Division I to Division II. (I guess the NCAA is selective in enforcing their rules; I think the USBL qualifies as a professional league where one receives some monetary compensation) Regardless of how he was eligible, Marquie Cooke was a standout player and really ran the show for his team in his two years. While he deferred more to his teammates in his senior season due to the emergence of Angelo Sharpless, Cooke's greatest strength was his ability to facilitate for others. The 6'3 guard looked to get in the lane and dump the ball off to shooters. He has a fairly good first step, but his strong handle really enables him to blow by his man. Cooke also is strong enough to finish through contact in the lane, but constantly deferred to his teammates in the contests I watched. Cooke averaged 4.21 assists per game and was strong with the ball. He rarely turned it over, and posted a 2.41 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio. Cooke utilized fundamental post entry feeds and was also willing to swing the ball around the perimeter and set up his team's offensive schemes. For this, Cooke displayed the requisite leadership to be effective in the minor leagues. In terms of his offensive tendencies, Cooke was able to penetrate and get in the lane, but he did not finish the ball well at the rim. He also had a poor season shooting the ball from beyond the arc, but rarely had open looks at the basket. Cooke was able to get to the line at a fairly high rate, shooting 3.89 free throws per contest, which was the best on his team. Also, because he has fairly good height for a guard at 6'3, Cooke was able to grab 3.7 rebounds per game.

In terms of his defensive tendencies, Cooke has good lateral quickness and excellent strength, which allows him to defend just about any point guards. He was productive on this end as well, averaging 1.71 steals per game. As is demonstrated by his steal totals, Cooke has fairly good hands and gets low enough in his stance to pick players' pockets. While he fouled 2.82 times per game, he only fouled out twice. His fairly high fouls per game statistic is probably due to his tendency to reach around and poke the ball away from behind when he is beat by a screen or off the bounce. This play usually leads to a foul call, and it seems as though Cooke is controlled enough to determine when this play is appropriate- he only fouled out twice last season. When his team went to a 2-3 zone, Cooke played in the middle and was very active stopping penetration. Additionally, in the contests I witnessed, Cooke was able to get his hands in the passing lanes. On one possession, he deflected a post entry feed off of the post player's foot. Then, a few possessions later, he made a great closeout on a shooter, forcing an air ball. Overall, Marquie Cooke is a facilitator with the experience and poise to run a minor league squad. He would be entering a league at an advanced age, but I do not foresee any issues for him adjusting to the physicality of the game.

Another Division II point guard with a chance to carve a niche in the minors is Mount Olive's Derek Staton. The 5'10 scoring lead guard is a willing passer whose scoring figures at the Division II level are understated due to his teammates not looking for him enough. Staton is a quick guard who is able to beat his man off the dribble, but is most effective shooting the basketball. He connected on 39.9% of his three point attempts last year and usually spaced the floor well, putting himself in a position to catch and shoot away from defenders. With this in mind, Staton has rather unorthodox mechanics on his shot, in what can be described as an awkward cock back motion. As a result, Staton is predominantly a catch and shoot player functioning off the ball after initially bringing it up the court. In terms of his versatility on offense, Staten is aggressive inside and is capable of hitting jumpers inside the arc. He picks his spots fairly well, and shot 42.5% from the field on the year. While Staton does have deceptive strength finishing the ball, I do not expect that he will be looking to finish at the rim on a consistent basis at the next level. His decent handle and awareness will allow him to pick his spots though. Despite his size, Staton is an adequate rebounder for any point guard, and he averaged 3.3 boards per game. He is aggressive on the glass and goes to great lengths to chase the ball down. In terms of his passing ability, Staton regularly finds open teammates, particularly on the wings. Last year, when he initiated his team's offensive sets, he would allow his team to swing the ball around the perimeter. But, he also was able to penetrate and set up open shooters. He looked for his big men as well, and Mount Olive's leading scorer Craig Hayes was a primary target. In total, Staton averaged 4.55 assists per game and posted a 1.78 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio, which bodes well for his potential to initiate the offense for a minor league team. Staton also got to the line often a season ago and does a nice job of utilizing his body to draw fouls. On the defensive end, Staton gets in a solid stance and has the quick hands to pick pockets and take the ball coast to coast for easy lay ins. He was productive enough in this regard to collect over 1 steal per contest. Staton is also aggressive with his transition defense and tends to disrupt plays or force tougher shots. Despite being undersized, Staton does a nice job closing out on the perimeter. Overall, Staton is a steady point guard who might be able to continue playing basketball now that his college career is over.

Mount Olive's leading scorer Craig Hayes also made quite an impression with his play inside. The 6'4 guard/forward was forced to play out of position due to his team's makeup, but showed some tremendous signs on both ends of the floor. In the contest that I saw, Hayes was a viable interior option, who did a nice job of using his lower center of gravity to obtain deep post position on the block. He was fundamentally sound in using his lower half to edge his man further back instead of employing his hands and picking up a foul. Hayes is extremely strong and has a fairly nice arsenal of post moves, but could stand to work on his footwork. As a result of his work in the post, Hayes shot a remarkable 60.5% from the field a season ago. Hayes did a nice job getting to the line as well, averaging 4.11 free throws per game. With that said, most of his points came from the field, and he does a nice job of going to finesse shots and shielding the ball on power post up moves. Hayes is a versatile player who can step out and hit shots on the perimeter; as such, he may be able to function on the perimeter at the next level if he can improve his handle. Last year he shot an impressive 43.4% from three point range on 76 attempts. He can step out and connect from the mid range to keep defenses guessing and did a nice job of using his proficiency shooting the ball to get his defenders off balance and drive to the basket. Aside from his potential as a jump shooter and post up weapon, Hayes is an excellent rebounder for his size, getting his hands on just about every rebound in the contests I witnessed. He has a knack for the ball and is aggressive securing position with fundamental box outs. As a result, Hayes created many extra opportunities for his team on the offensive glass and this enabled him to shoot at such a high percentage. As a point of reference, Hayes received about half of his 7.0 rebounds per game on the offensive end. Hayes was also effective on the defensive glass, fueling his team's transition opportunities. In terms of his decision making, Hayes rarely passed the ball, but also did not turn it over, leading to a virtual 1 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio. Still, this number might decline significantly if he were to transition to the wing, unless he can tighten his handle. On the defensive end, Hayes played out of position, but fought hard for position on the block. He utilized his length to challenge shots, but was not particularly productive as a defender. He averaged just over 0.5 steals per contest, and this was predominantly on post entry feeds. All in all, Hayes is a versatile weapon who must switch positions to play at a higher level of basketball.

Pfeiffer College's Danny Smith is another guard worth mentioning who really can put a team on his back. The 6'2 scoring guard has an offensive game that should allow him to play overseas somewhere. First and foremost, Smith's game centers around his scoring output. Smith possesses a very quick first step and a decent second burst of speed as well. He can blow by his man, and he has the body control to finish at the rim. Smith's quickness allows him to get in the lane, where he typically makes good plays. Even though he has very good quickness, Smith generally plays under control and usually is able to avoid charging. When he does get in the lane, Smith either goes all the way to the basket, adequately shielding the ball with his body, or finishes with a runner if the defender is playing back. Despite his ability to get to the rim, Smith would be best served to work on his left hand, as he really favors his right hand on drives to the bucket. Still, Danny Smith was dynamic attacking the hoop a season ago and was rewarded with trips to the free throw line. Smith attempted a remarkable 9.23 free throws per game, and while he could stand to improve from the line, he typically capitalized on his opportunities, finishing with a 70.4% free throw shooting percentage. Additionally, Smith is a capable rhythm shooter, and is able to connect on midrange pullup jumpers. He has good body control on his fadeaway jumpers, and is able to fade and move back in position to square himself to the basket. Smith's solid athleticism enables him to hang in the air as well. While he does function as a point, Smith enjoys playing off the ball at times, and is effective shooting off the catch. Smith does a nice job of getting in position to connect on open jumpers, particularly from distance. He hit 41.8% from three last season, and used the threat of his shot to blow by his defender when overplayed. This, in turn, opened up both avenues of his game. In terms of his passing ability, Smith received most of his 4.65 assists per game on kick outs to the perimeter. He often set them up for wide open shots because of his ability to draw defenses when they were collapsing. Smith occasionally made nice passes inside on the drive, but tended to prefer quicker chest passes, which allowed the ball to be deflected much easier. As a result, this allowed players to deflect the ball far more easily, leading to a higher turnover rate. In fact, Smith averaged four more turnovers in total than assists. This virtual 1 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio must be improved upon if Smith hopes to play point guard at a higher level. Defensively, Smith displayed good hands, deflecting the ball and scoring on easy run outs. He averaged just over 1 steal per game and possesses the lateral quickness to defend the lead guard spot. Smith could stand to cut down on his 2.85 fouls per game as well. All in all, Danny Smith is a good scorer who is athletic enough to play the point guard position at a higher level if he can cut down on his mental mistakes.

Teammate KC Anuna is an aggressive 6'4 combo forward in the mold of Craig Hayes, meaning that he played out of position a year ago. While Anuna's handle could use some work, he is capable on the dribble drive, as well as in the post. In the contests that I watched, he was able to spot up off the dribble, but he did have a tendency to kick his right foot forward (and sometimes both feet), which hurt his accuracy given a larger sample size. Anuna sometimes shoots on the way down as well. He must work on staying straight up and down on his jumpers and releasing at the peak of his jump. For reference, he shot 31.6% on 98 attempts from beyond the arc. Anuna is far more accurate off the catch and can likely improve on this percentage given additional practice. Also worth mentioning is Anuna's fundamentally sound shot fake, which he does a nice job of implementing to get defenders off guard. Anuna scores most of his baskets off cuts to the rim, and he does a nice job reading gaps in the defense to get himself open. Anuna is very aggressive in the paint and displays good body control getting to the rim. Anuna's greatest strength, though, is his ability to rebound the basketball. He averaged 7.0 boards per game, which is extremely impressive for a 6'4 player functioning as a forward. In the contests I saw, he was very aggressive boxing out and preventing his man from rebounding over the top of him. He has good lower body strength and has a knack for locating the ball. He was also a capable offensive rebounder, and his numbers are understated there given the fact that he oftentimes tended to camp out on the perimeter.

Defensively, Anuna is somewhat below average in terms of his lateral quickness. He was forced to play in the middle of the zone at times, and he was often forced to match up with big men. In those instances, Anuna did an excellent job of holding his own and edging his man out towards the perimeter due to his solid strength. Anuna also has the length and activity level to block shots and gather steals. Last season, he averaged about a steal per game and was not much of a shot blocker, probably because he was often matched up with bigger players. With that said, Anuna must do a better job of fighting around screens and work to angle himself so that he does not get beat off the dribble. His recovery defense once this happens was not great either. Overall, Anuna is a nice hustle player who is versatile enough to serve as a role player at some professional level if he can improve his handle and in between game.

Brevard College's lead guard Gaither Hendrix is one of the most impressive players mentioned in this edition of 'Scouring the Nation'. While he does not share the typical physical profile of an elite guard at a very husky 6'1, Hendrix is one of the more savvy players found at the Division II level. At Brevard, he functioned as both a point and as a combo guard. Because he was required to contribute to such a large portion of his team's offense, his turnover statistics are highly inflated from what I was able to see on film. Hendrix is first and foremost an opportunistic scorer. He has a YMCA, 'ground bound' game. Even with limited athleticism, Hendrix has a rather complete offensive arsenal, from midrange jump shots, to floaters in the lane, and three point shots. Hendrix uses just about every opportunity to free himself from defenders. As such, he thrives running around screens and really has a fundamental understanding of how to run his man into them. He utilizes picks to fade out and bury exceptionally difficult three point attempts as well as easier pullup jump shots. From the perimeter, Hendrix has virtually unlimited range and is able to square himself up for fading shots from NBA range. When curling closer to the hoop for mid range jumpers, Hendrix has decent lift on his shot and is capable of fading away. Also, from the midrange, Hendrix is able to post up and receive a catch before connecting on contested turnaround jump shots. He does a nice job using his body to create space, and this allows him some leeway when attacking the basket due to his subpar first step. Hendrix plays at a rather methodical pace, but is able to implement stop and go moves dribbling to the rim. He could stand to fine-tune his handle before playing abroad though. When Hendrix does get to the basket, he uses his body to create separation and finish at the rim. He is often able to score through shot blockers by properly shielding the ball and quickly getting it on the glass. Hendrix is able to score on up and under shots and possesses an elite running one hander in the lane. In this respect, his offensive game is highly advanced. He is often able to score past shot blockers and even was able to hit a runner around the free throw line over two defenders in one contest I witnessed. He knows when to go glass in the lane and he has a soft touch around the hoop, as evinced by his high percentage shooting the ball from two point range. Hendrix usually creates for his teammates when attacking the basket, particularly when he is able to split two defenders. In those instances, he consistently finds teammates who rolled to the basket. Hendrix also plays within himself in tight games and typically finds perimeter shooters after he attempts to penetrate to the basket. Hendrix understands spacing very well and has the vision to thread the needle to teammates. He would be best served functioning as a pick and roll player due to his excellent vision and his ability to stretch the defenses. In terms of this strength, Hendrix shot a mere 35.8% from long range, but this severely understates his impact when he has his feet set beyond the arc. Hendrix is a knock down shooter who defenses converged on consistently a year ago. With single coverage, I have little doubt that Hendrix could develop into a solid backup point/combo guard (energizer) off the bench at a higher level of play. On the defensive end, Hendrix has decent hands and is able to corral just under 1 steal per game. And, he does play with a great deal of intensity for his team. However, Hendrix must work to cut weight in order to be able to chase players around screens and increase his overall mobility. He currently gets hung up by screeners and is not very quick to the ball defensively on loose balls. Hendrix possesses a decent understanding of help defense and regularly aided his teammates when they were beat last year. Gaither Hendrix also possesses many leadership intangibles, as he was almost able to single-handedly lead his team to victory against nationally ranked Lincoln Memorial. All in all, Gaither Hendrix is a clutch player with a fairly high basketball IQ, whose turnover numbers were highly inflated given his considerable usage. If he can shed weight and increase his lateral mobility defensively, and add hesitation dribble moves to his dribble drive game, Hendrix could become difficult to stop as a professional.

West Alabama guard Alquan Mendenhall is worth mentioning due to his proficiency shooting the basketball. The 5'11 combo guard is very quick and prides himself on his shooting ability. Mendenhall functions primarily off the ball, running hard around screens and then catching the ball and squaring nicely for open shots. He has great balance and a good release point. Further, Mendenhall only needs a little bit of daylight to get his shot off. In the contests that I watched, he squared his body to the basket very quickly, and was able to knock down some very tough contested shots both from beyond the arc and from the midrange. In terms of his ability from three point range, Mendenhall connected on 38.1% of his attempts. And, 78.81% of his shots came from this distance. With that said, he is a far better shooter than these numbers account for. He often faced double teams and defenses centered around preventing his shot. Also, his shot selection could stand to improve. Mendenhall took a variety of off balance three pointers and connected at a remarkably high rate. Further, Mendenhall is also a good rhythm shooter and uses the threat of his penetration for pullup jumpers. His handle allows him to create separation and his quick release enables him to connect on shots with little difficulty. It should also be mentioned that Mendenhall is a willing passer despite functioning best off the ball. When coming off of curl screens, he constantly looks for open teammates rolling to the basket. He exhibits decent fundamentals on his post entry feeds as well. With that said, Mendenhall posted a 0.62 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio mainly because he played off the ball and faced multiple defenders. However, he occasionally made poor plays forcing the issue or driving into traffic as well. This must be improved upon at a higher level, where he would be expected to play some spot time at point guard. On the defensive end, Mendenhall has fairly quick hands and was able to average just about 1 steal per game. Further, he did a nice job on closing out perimeter players and getting a hand in their face without fouling. With that said, due to his height, players will likely be able to shoot over the top of Mendenhall at the next level. All in all, Mendenhall is an intriguing shooter and fairly underrated in his ability to heat up from the field. He is a likely candidate for a minor league job if the opportunity presents itself.

Conference foe Jamar Moore of West Florida is a 6'6 wing with some potential to play at a higher level. Weighing in at 215 lbs, Moore was able to physically overpower most perimeter players and big men at the Division II level. He scored most of his 17.8 points per game on the interior, where he bullied smaller players and exhibited good body control. Moore attacks the basket with reckless abandon and thus is often able to draw fouls and finish through contact. He has decent hangtime, and he uses this ability to drive through bigger players. And while he functioned predominantly as a forward at this level due to his considerable size, Moore possesses a decent handle, which will allow him to play on the wing as a professional. Because he does not have an elite first step, Moore compensates with what looks to be the beginning of some decent stop-and-go hesitation moves. At the very least, he has a low dribble and is a capable straight line driver with either hand, albeit at a methodical pace. Because much of his game revolves around his slashing ability, Moore showed some promise passing the ball off the dribble. He regularly got in the lane and dished the ball off to teammates at the rim and occasionally hit open shooters as well. In several contests that I witnessed, Moore was able to make wrap around passes and other dump downs in order to set his teammates up for open layups. Overall, Moore averaged 5.60 assists per contest and posted a fairly impressive 1.49 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio. As a long range shooter, Moore hit only 33.33% of his 27 three point shot attempts. This must improve if he hopes to function as a shooting guard. In terms of his ability to get to the line and take advantage of these opportunities, Moore averaged 5.70 free throw attempts per contest, connecting on 67.8% of his attempts. If he can work on improving his initial burst off the dribble, Moore may be able to significantly improve on this number given his excellent physical profile. On the glass, Moore was a menace last season, leading his team and averaging 8.9 boards per contest. He did most of his work on the defensive glass, and was able to push the ball ahead for transition opportunities on occasion. On the defensive end, Moore did a nice job of stepping in passing lanes to either steal the ball outright or deflect it to a teammate. He was productive in this capacity, averaging 1.2 steals per game. He also possesses the vertical athleticism to occasionally recover and block shots on the interior. Whether or not Moore can function as a closeout defender on the perimeter remains to be seen. Overall, Moore has some question marks in translating to a higher level due to his tendency to play predominantly in the paint. However, there are strong indications that he can impact the game offensively in a variety of ways from the perimeter.


(Image Sources: fanbase.com, afro.com, gofalconsports.com, bctornados.com, and goargos.com)




Sunday, January 20, 2013

Conference USA Preview

1. Memphis- The gap between Memphis and the rest of this conference has once again widened. Despite losing their top offensive weapon in Elliot Williams, they bring in one of the nation's top recruiting classes. Headlined by wing Will Barton and point guard Joe Jackson, this Memphis backcourt is young and electric. Barton is expected to replace the vast majority of Elliot Williams' output, and Jackson is going to compete for the honor of top freshman point guard in the nation. His natural agility should allow him to be effective in transition and drive past most defenders in the half court. Freshman Jelan Kendrick should also receive considerable time off the bench. Complimenting this dynamic, young backcourt is junior Wesley Witherspoon, who, at 6'8, is versatile enough to play both inside and out. The Memphis frontcourt is once again anchored by senior forward Will Coleman. Coleman is a solid rebounder and post defender that is capable of finishing inside. Forward Angel Garcia may also see some minutes opposite Coleman on the interior. Off the bench, improving forward DJ Stephens could be a big surprise for this solid, young team. The Memphis of 2010-2011 is only going to get better as the season unfolds.

2. Southern Miss- This Southern Miss team should be competitive with Memphis and in the long run should make the tournament. Their greatest asset is their strong front line, beginning with their top player Gary Flowers. Flowers is an athletic forward who provides rebounding and shot blocking. He is complimented by experienced bigs Josimar Ayarza and Maurice Bolden, who should form the strongest frontline in the conference. At the guard slots, RL Horton and Angelo Johnson should control the tempo and score the basketball. Johnson will be the main distributor however. Additionally, Southern Miss brings in JUCO transfer LaShay Page, who should fill it up from all over the floor. Look for this team to consistently remain close to the top of the conference standings.

3. Houston- While the Cougars may have lost a great deal of scoring output from a season ago with the graduation of seniors Kelvin Lewis and Aubrey Coleman, this team may actually be better than they once were. Coleman's departure may be an addition by subtraction. While he was the nation's leading scorer, Coleman did have some poor shot selection at times. If several of Houston's newcomers can fill the scoring void left by these recent graduates, this team could be on a path to success through a more team-oriented strategy. Even last season, this squad thrived when Coleman limited his volume. They were 15-4 when he shot less than 21 shots. However, when he shot more frequently than that, the Cougars had a record of 4-12.