Monday, March 2, 2015

Senior Spotlight 2014-15 (1st Installment)

In "Senior Spotlight", I explore some of the top seniors across college basketball and assess their potential from a professional standpoint. In today's segment, the first of the year, I take a look at South Carolina's Tyrone Johnson.

After being relegated to the bench with a foot injury towards the end of his junior season, the Gamecock's Tyrone Johnson is back this year and bringing senior leadership to his South Carolina  squad under head coach Frank Martin. Johnson is a combo guard with lead guard potential at the next level. Hailing from Plainfield, New Jersey, Johnson has made noticeable strides converting to the point guard slot, but still has some work to do before he can become an impact player at a higher level of basketball.

When noting his current strengths, one would be remiss if failing to mention Johnson's gifts on the defensive end of the floor. It should first be noted that Johnson has made significant strides in this area since his first season with the Villanova Wildcats, and especially since his high school playing days. While Johnson's output does not jump out as far as defensive statistics are concerned, posting a modest 2.12% steals % (40th in the SEC) - which happens to be in-line with fellow defensive stalwart Tyler Ulis, he possesses strong fundamentals on this end of the floor. For instance, he rarely bites on pump fakes, and has strong lateral quickness. His quickness enables him to double down on the post at times, and recover to his man on the perimeter if a kick out pass is made. Johnson is particularly effective on close outs and does a nice job disrupting without fouling out on the perimeter (2.84 fouls per 40 minutes, good for 25th in the SEC). In his matchup with standout Vanderbilt freshman Riley LaChance, Johnson was incredibly active fighting through screens and getting enough pressure to disturb LaChance's shooting rhythm. It should be noted that as soon as South Carolina shifted to the 1-2-2 zone and Johnson no longer had the sole responsibility of covering him, LaChance broke out, scoring the majority of his 19 points during this juncture.

Johnson brings senior leadership to the table and boasts a strong basketball IQ on defensive rotations, shifting inside when necessary and acting the part of a savant in anticipating ball movement. And while he does possess good size for a next level point guard at 6'3, he does tend to struggle defending bigger players. For instance, in his matchup with Aaron and Andrew Harrison, he struggled with their superior size and length, particularly when recovering to defend the rim. With that said, he did a nice job closing out on the perimeter and it should also be noted that he will not always have to contend with players that have comparable size to the Harrison twins at the next level. Overall, Johnson possesses strong defensive awareness and the ability to actively contest shots without fouling.  

On the opposite end, Johnson is an adequate playmaker who finds open shooters, but has struggled to find his shot at times this season. While Johnson was able to keep defenses honest a season ago by connecting at a 42.1% clip from three on a limited number of attempts, Johnson has been on a cold streak for much of this year, choosing to pass the ball back outside rather than squaring up for an open jumper - much to Frank Martin's chagrin. When he does opt to shoot, Johnson's stroke possesses decent mechanics with solid fluidity, but Johnson could stand to work on the consistency of his motion (elevation/elbows in particular). With that said, he could be turning things around from a shooting perspective, given his 28 point breakout performance (on 7-10 shooting, 1-2 from three) against Mississippi State most recently. In terms of his playmaking ability, Johnson is a strong slasher with a solid crossover dribble who can take a defender off his spot in a hurry. While he could stand to develop a Euro step maneuver when getting all the way to the rim to avoid charges, Johnson does have the requisite hangtime and strength to finish at the hoop.

That said, he will have to improve upon his finishing ability/ overall shooting (connecting on a paltry 41.2% of his two point attempts) if he hopes to receive any minutes at a higher level of play. Importantly, Johnson is very unselfish with the ball in his hands. While he tends to swing the ball far too often instead of getting into the teeth of the defense, particularly against the 2-3 zone, Johnson does hit open shooters on drive and kick plays. He also has good vision out in transition and is very underrated as a post entry passer, with a strong ability to lob over the top of the defense and find his open big man. That said, he has often been too passive at times to attack the basket (3.9 fouls drawn per 40 mins vs. 6.2 last year in a shortened season), instead settling for simplistic kick out passes. This is likely due to his lack of confidence hitting his perimeter stroke, as defenses can now back off of him a bit. Importantly, it remains to be seen (as far as I have seen) how he would function on a nightly basis in a high pick and roll offense, where his big man does not opt to flare out for the open three pointer.

All in all, Tyrone Johnson is an experienced talent with the requisite skillset to become a solid role player at a higher level of basketball. He must continue to perfect his shooting stroke and refine his court awareness, but he should receives some looks when his college career is finally over.


(Images via fansided.com, tampabay.com, and wltx.com)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Top 105 D1 Seniors

In my return to the blogosphere, I compile a list of the top ranking NBA prospects in the "tweener class" (seniors) of Division 1 this year.  

1) Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
2) Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
3) Delon Wright, Utah
4) Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse
5) LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State
6) Anthony Brown, Stanford
7) Juwan Staten, West Virginia
8) Darrun Hilliard, Villanova
9) Larry Nance Jr, Wyoming
10) Norman Powell. UCLA
11) Treveon Graham, VCU
12) Andre Hollins, Minnesota
13) Quinn Cook, Duke
14) Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara
15) Jonathan Holmes, Texas
16) Ryan Boatright, UConn
17) Yanick Moreira, SMU
18) Denzel Livingston, Incarnate Word
19) Joseph Young, Oregon
20) Corey Hawkins, UC Davis
21) Josh Richardson, Tennessee
22) Shannon Scott, Ohio State
23) Derrick Marks, Boise State
24) Dez Wells, Maryland
25) LaDontae Henton, Providence
26) Rayvonte Rice, Illinois
27) Jordan Sibert, Dayton
28) Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa
29) DJ Newbill, Penn State
30) Levi Randolph, Alabama
31) Sam Thompson, Ohio State
32) Marcus Thornton, William & Mary
33) Keifer Sykes, Wisconsin Green Bay
34) Wesley Sanders, Harvard
35) Wayne Blackshear, Louisville
36) Tyler Haws, BYU
37) Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss
38) Amir Williams, Ohio State
39) Kourtney Roberson, Texas A&M
40) Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
41) D'Angelo Harrison, St. John's
42) Branden Dawson, Michigan State
43) Aaron White, Iowa
44) Lawrence Alexander, North Dakota State
45) Joshua Smith, Georgetown
46) TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma
47) Chasson Randle, Stanford
48) Briante Weber, VCU
49) Brad Waldow, St. Mary's
50) Ryan Harrow, Georgia State
51) Richaun Holmes, Bowling Green
52) Deshawn Delaney, New Mexico
53) Maurice Walker, Minnesota
54) Kenneth "Speedy" Smith, Louisiana Tech
55) TJ McConnell, Arizona
56) Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State
57) Rashad Madden, Arkansas
58) Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame 
59) Cady Lalanne, UMass
60) Darion Atkins, Virginia
61) Youssou NDoye, St. Bonaventure
62) Sir' Dominic Pointer, St. John's
63) David Kravish, Cal
64) Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast
65) Kyan Anderson, TCU
66) Keon Moore, Winthrop
67) Travis Trice, Michigan State
68) Askia Booker, Colorado
69) Mikh McKinney, Sacramento State
70) Kiel Turpin, Florida State
71) JJ Avila, Colorado State
72) Chris Jones, Louisville
73) JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
74) Mike Caffey, Long Beach State
75) DeVante Lacy, Washington State
76) David Laury, Iona
77) Dustin Hogue, Iowa State
78) JJ O'Brien, San Diego State
79) Corey Walden, Eastern Kentucky
80) Royce O' Neale, Baylor
81) Marcus Thornton, Georgia
82) Jacob Parker, Stephen F. Austin
83) Jerrell Wright, LaSalle
84) Raheem Appleby, Louisiana Tech
85) Juwan Howard Jr., Detroit
86) Thomas Gipson, Kansas State
87) Carson Desrosiers, Providence
88) Myles Mack, Rutgers
89) Rodney Cooper, Alabama
90) Jeromie Hill, Texas San Antonio
91) KT Harrell, Auburn
92) Ty Greene, South Carolina Upstate
93) Matt Carlino, Marquette 
94) Chip Armelin, Southern Miss
95) Julius Brown, Toledo
96) Phil Greene IV, St. John's
97) Nino Williams, Kansas State
98) Daishon Knight, Illinois State
99) Maxie Esho, UMass
100) Traevon Jackson, Wisconsin
101) Matt Stainbrook, Xavier
102) Zaid Hearst, Quinnipiac
103) Isiah Umipig, Seattle
104) Jabril Trawick, Georgetown
105) Javier Duren, Yale

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)