Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Spotlight on the Conference Championships Part 1 Belmont vs. East Tennessee St.

Like most battles that occur prior to selection Sunday, the Atlantic Sun’s championship game provides a viable source of entertainment with the conference automatic bid up for grabs. Belmont, who returned the vast majority of their production from a year ago, looked to punch their ticket to the Big Dance by potentially defeating an emerging East Tennessee St. team in the post-Tim Smith era. The results of this contest were clearly one-sided. East Tennessee St. is still in the process of rebuilding and Belmont reaped the benefits by flaunting their considerable experience and winning in a decisive fashion. While the outcome failed to provide the usual competitive edge found in most conference championships, the structured basketball and noteworthy individual performances added a degree of entertainment to an otherwise lopsided victory.

Justin Hare- Hare is the focal point of the Belmont offense. He is the consummate point guard who is an offensive option from the perimeter, but also a serviceable playmaker. Hare is a very intelligent player that is able to read defenses and implement given plays with considerable accuracy. While he would serve a complimentary role on an NBA squad, he is not a liability on the offensive end. Moreover, he is deceptively quick and athletic- often able to beat his man off of the dribble or to simply shoot over a perimeter defender. In this contest, he was very accurate from beyond the arc. Hare shot 3-5 from behind the three point line and was able to prevent any East Tennessee St. run. He possesses average height for a professional point guard at 6 feet 2 inches; thereby, his abilities may translate to a higher level of basketball. On the defensive end, Hare must improve his lateral quickness in order to compete in the NBA. Multiple squads employ more individual-oriented defensive schemes and this could become problematic for Hare at his current rate of development. With that said, Justin is a Portsmouth Camp candidate who should receive several looks from NBA scouts after another year with his Belmont squad.

Boomer Herndon- Boomer- Hare’s counterpart in the paint- is arguably one of the more tantalizing prospects. At 6’10, 255 pounds, Herndon is hard to contain at the midmajor level. He is a capable scorer and rebounder that uses his physique to bulldoze over smaller opponents. While this in and of itself does not necessarily indicate that he is a prospect, Boomer is also fundamentally sound- he occasionally employs a hook shot and uses his footwork at times to gain positioning. With that said, he must develop a go-to move in order to be successful. While he possesses a variety of post moves, he does not consistently utilize one. However, his considerable size and length should allow him to adopt the hook shot as his signature move. Defensively, he is not quick in the open floor. But, he is able to deter shots because of his physicality in the paint. His disadvantages primarily lie in his conditioning. Boomer is unable to play consistent minutes because he does not possess the wherewithal to withstand a thirty minute span of playing time unless it is intermittently broken up by several trips to the bench. This lack of speed and inability to play the entire game will force him to pursue a career overseas- where the season is far shorter and less physically exhausting. With that said, Boomer has a wealth of potential and could find a niche on a European squad in need of size and strength up front.

Courtney Pigram- Following in the footsteps of Tim Smith, Pigram is an undersized point guard that exploits his quickness as a means of scoring and dishing to his teammates. This East Tennessee St. product is a capable slasher who has decent court vision and a knack for finishing close to the basket. Pigram is clearly this team’s leader and this is demonstrated when he shoots at critical junctures in the game. On this occasion, he was unable to achieve any sort of rhythm offensively and thus he struggled mightily from behind the arc. But, he was confident enough as the team’s leader to continuously try to look for his own shot- yet he was able to recognize that his teammates were worthy alternatives and he did not let his ego cloud his decision making. Normally, Pigram is a threat to score from the midrange or from beyond the arc. His quick release makes him hard to defend at times. Defensively, he has quick hands and decent positioning. But, he is undersized and probably will not thrive against bigger guards at the next level. Pigram is one of the most potent offensive weapons in the Atlantic Sun and should receive some Portsmouth Camp consideration next year.

Mike Smith- This freshman guard/forward was the one bright spot for East Tennessee St. in this contest. This 6’6 player was able to penetrate in the lane and score on multiple instances. When Belmont began to pull even further away towards the middle of the game, Smith was the sole member of ETSU that kept fighting. This freshman was fearless on the glass and attacked the rim with reckless abandon. What makes him so intriguing is that he is able to go inside- yet he still possesses a potential perimeter game. His midrange shot was fairly accurate in this game, but his three point percentage was dismal. If he can extend his range, he can be effective at the professional level of basketball. Smith utilizes his upper body strength to score and draw fouls. And, he possesses considerable poise- for a freshman- at the free throw line where he shoots 80 percent. Defensively, he employs his athleticism to force the offense player to over-dribble and no significant holes stood out at this end of the floor. Currently, Smith stands out as a potential Atlantic Sun star who has the tools to play at the professional level.

Division Two Basketball at a Glance: St. Augustine's vs. Virginia Union

Several players of note distinguished themselves and therein have an opportunity to flourish overseas. While most Division 2 contests are off the radar of many scouts, this fairly obscure stage produces considerable talent that flies under the radar. Look no further than NBA greats Ben Wallace and Charles Oakley- two big men who hail from Virginia Union- to find talent that initially competed at the Division 2 level. In this edition, perennial powerhouse Virginia Union and their competitor in the CAA tournament- St. Augustine- are examined.

Virginia Union

Brad Byerson- This burly big man is a former West Virginia transfer who has really come into his own throughout his time at Virginia Union. After the losses of Crockett and Hargrove a year ago, this team’s dynamic dramatically changed. Reminiscent of its former glory, Virginia Union relies predominantly on Byerson’s inside post presence. In this contest, he failed to disappoint. Despite being slightly undersized, Byerson was able to collapse the St. Augustine defense in the paint and open up the game for his teammates. His sheer upper body strength alone should make him a prominent player overseas. Brad has excellent body control- he is able to draw charges and attack the basket while creating space. Regardless, he is still undersized for the power forward position and should develop some semblance of a perimeter game. It is not too much to expect this from a player who has drastically improved his free throw shooting. Modifying this in-game element to incorporate the soft touch he possesses on his free throws should not be an extremely difficult task. On the defensive end, Byerson has quick hands and is able to capitalize off of similar sized opponents by collecting steals and blocking shots. He has a tendency to reach and this makes him foul prone. Down the stretch in this contest, Byerson failed to seal the game. He missed two critical free throws late in the game- culminating in a surge by St. Augustine. The rowdy crowds overseas can often fluster a player. And if Byerson is unable to maintain his composure in a Division 2 contest, I wonder if he will falter down the stretch at times.

LaKeith Blanks- This guy was the glue that held Virginia Union together down the stretch. Periodically, Virginia Union fell into a slump and needed someone to take on the brunt of the scoring load. Blanks reveled at this opportunity and showcased his ability on a high stage in the conference tournament. With Barry Jones of St. Augustine firing on all cylinders, Blanks was able to put away his opponents for good by hitting a show with 19.8 seconds on the block. Throughout the course of the game, Blanks displayed his acrobatic athleticism by throwing several thundering dunks down. He was an excellent one on one player and was able to penetrate to the hoop virtually at will; his body control enabled him to get passed the defender. Furthermore, he is a very intelligent player; therein, he was able to attack Nicholas King and take him out of the game. Blanks still has time to gain recognition because his eligibility has not expired.

Chris Greene- Greene is a thin player who possesses all the fundamentals to succeed on the European plateau. This 6’5, 175 pound wing is an accurate three point shooter who is also able to get to the line. Like his VU counterparts, Greene employs excellent body control to straddle the defender and then pull up for a shot. Moreover, he is an adept ball handler and utilizes a change of pace dribble to get by his defenders. Greene is a very intelligent player who is aware of his opponents. For example, he broke away from his defensive assignment to hustle down court for the wide open full court pass and lay-in. With that said, Greene must strengthen his body in order to compete in a more physical brand of basketball overseas. Greene is a consummate basketball player who could easily become a productive at some professional level.

Tim Young- While he is not exactly a prospect at this point, Young will be around next year and will most definitely play a more central role towards Virginia Union’s success. Tim’s energy off the bench was contagious and the effort he put forth was certainly noteworthy. He was able to attack the basket and draw defenders- placing Byerson in a position to score off of a pass or rebound. His instincts will continue to benefit this Virginia Union squad and possibly earn him a spot overseas- assuming he plays a pivotal part in the offense next season.

St Augustine

Antonio Fitzgerald- By and large, Fitzgerald was the most complete player in this contest. Despite a sub par performance on his part, his team came within striking distance and nearly pulled ahead of a very talented Virginia Union squad. This happens to be the second instance that I watched Fitzgerald play. And, his performances were strikingly dissimilar. In the first contest, Fitzgerald proved to be an Iverson-like scorer at the Division Two level. He had a beautiful perimeter stroke and was able to penetrate at will. However, in this contest, Antonio had a poor game from the field- unable to find any sort of rhythm. This game was clearly an aberration because he demonstrated consistent production throughout the course of the season and proper mechanics on his shooting touch, which seemed to be failing him. Fitzgerald is a very strong guard who has an excellent first step. His quickness and passing ability were strong assets in this contest. He involved his teammates considerably and demonstrated a great deal of poise as the lead guard. Fitzgerald is a multidimensional player because he consciously reads defenses and is able to move the ball inside and out. He also handles passes of varying speeds. His talents are very much reminiscent of Dominic James with a more consistent shooting touch. Fitzgerald must improve his defensive intensity and become more of a factor on this end of the floor. Furthermore, he became flustered against the Virginia Union zone- something that is typically seen in basketball overseas. If Antonio can tailor his game to become a prototypical European point guard and learn to confound zone defenses by playing more instinctively, he will have a successful professional career.

Nicholas King- King disappointed in this contest and was never able to get into sink offensively. Nicholas- the other half of the Augustine backcourt duo- missed multiple shot attempts. Although he possesses a nice three point shooting ability, King failed to display considerable production from behind the arc. Still, he contributed by collecting several rebounds and attacking the basket. King is an intelligent player and simply had a poor performance at a critical juncture in the season. Overall, he did not display any ability that was out of the ordinary- although he does possess excellent form on his three point shot. If he was able to obtain more looks, I’m sure that he would have asserted himself and retained his role as the second best player on the team. Overall, I think that King has the ability to play at a higher level of basketball, but will have to become more consistent in order to stand out.

Jeff Sullivan- Sullivan was one of the more promising prospects of the night because he more-than held his own against the physical presence of Brad Byerson. Despite being a mere 6’8, he was able to alter shots and disrupt passing lanes. Sullivan was excellent defensively and employed considerable length to collect rebounds. Despite his thin frame, his quickness is an excellent asset for a post player. On one occasion, he was able to dribble in transition and lead a fast break. This makes me hopeful that he can alter his position and possibly play a small forward role for some squad at a higher level. He simply has to develop a more consistent outside game. In this contest- however- he shot the ball very well (7-10 from the floor) and collected a double-double against one of the more imposing big men in Division Two basketball. Sullivan contributes energy and intensity whenever he is on the floor and will attain a lead role next season after King and Fitzgerald graduate.

Barry Jones- Jones was one of the more surprising players in this contest. Initially, he seemed like another experienced role player for St. Augustine’s who was content with his status and relied primarily upon Fitzgerald and King to provide most of the scoring punch. As the game progressed, Jones took on a more prominent role. His shots began to fall and soon enough- the St. Augustine’s offense was running through him. At the height of his shooting spree, Jones made three 3 point shots within a two minute span (late in the second half)- giving St. Augustine’s the lead and making a name for himself. While he never fully obtained star status, Jones was a consistent role player who provided instant scoring off the bench. Barry should be able to find a job in a low level European league at some point in the near future.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Archived: Georgia Southern vs. College of Charleston

Upon viewing the aforementioned contest- which occurred prior to the Southern Conference tournament- several prospects emerged as potential NBA summer league candidates.

Dontaye Draper- Draper was the player of highest import in this contest. He has been highly regarded as a potential Portsmouth Camp candidate because of his prowess at the midmajor level. On this occasion, Draper did not perform up to his capabilities. His midrange jumper rarely fell and overall, he had a poor offensive performance. Although his shot was off the mark on multiple instances, he compensated by getting his teammates involved and impacting the game in more subtle ways. For example, he nearly produced a triple double by tallying nine points, nine assists, and nine rebounds. He was able to run the offense regardless of his shooting accuracy and this cemented his status as a potential Draft Camp candidate. Despite his small stature- at a whopping 5’11- he fought amongst the bigs and nearly collected ten rebounds. His leadership coupled with his fearless demeanor detract from this size disadvantage. These attributes will afford him the opportunity to play at various Draft Camps and earn him a lucrative offer overseas.

Louis Graham- He was the most dominant inside presence in this contest and was the primary reason for Georgia Southern’s upset victory. Graham possesses average size and strength for a midmajor big man. Yet, he employs his length to disrupt passing lanes and contest shots. This advantage also allowed him to dominate the boards. Graham’s shot has considerable range for a big man and he might be able to convert to the small forward position at a higher level of basketball. For this to occur, however, he would need to become more adept as a face up player and his ball handling would need to improve considerably. Currently, he resembled a midmajor version of Chris Bosh; thus, he was able to exploit his considerable length and athleticism. Yet, because he plays at a midmajor level of basketball, he is not challenged by stronger big men. Due to his lack of height at the power forward position, he can be considered a bit of a tweener at this point. With his senior season on the horizon, he still has plenty of time to mold his game towards a more conventional model that would effectively account for his size and athleticism.

Donte Gennie- Gennie was supposed to be the go-to player on Georgia Southern. But, he did not perform up to his capabilities in this game. Despite taking an overabundance of shots, Donte only scored 10 points. He did not really control the tempo of the game and was utilized predominantly as a combo guard. At 6’1, he would not be an ideal prospect at the NBA level. Thus, I feel that he should continue playing in the minors or overseas. Once he is at ease distributing the ball and consistently scoring from the perimeter, Gennie could be effective. He was able to slash in the lane on several occasions- this is the first step required to make the transition from shooting to point guard. After he beats his man off the dribble, he should become more adept at kicking it out to his teammates for open outside shots. I am sure that a career in Europe will help mend these holes in his game.

David Lawrence- Lawrence was the second most potent offensive weapon of the College of Charleston attack. This experienced wing was able to go inside and counter Louis Graham at times, but he also demonstrated an outside shooting ability. Lawrence possesses ideal size and strength for an NBA small forward. He was able to collect rebounds- but he relied predominantly on his size instead of boxing out his man. Therein, I do not feel that he would be an adequate rebounder at the next level. Lawrence would need to familiarize himself with the defensive duties of the small forward position. In order to adjust, he would need more experience guarding players of similar stature and shooting ability. At the midmajor level, 6’7 small forwards are quite uncommon. So Lawrence would need a period of adjustment if he were to play overseas or in the NBA.

Tony White Jr.- At a miniscule 6-0, 165 pounds, it seems that a cool wind breeze would knock this heady player over. Despite his small stature, White is one of the most pleasant surprises in college basketball. After College of Charleston rescinded his scholarship, White decided to walk-on instead of dishonoring his commitment. After the initial disappointment, he received playing time the old fashion way- by working extremely hard in practice and displaying an impressive spot-up shooting ability. In this contest, Tony was able to provide an instant impact off the bench. Because he plays behind one of the top point guards in the conference- Dontaye Draper- White is content with his role as a wing. He capitalized in this contest by making over fifty percent of his shots and thus provided a consistent scoring punch. While he is able to benefit from his current role, White is poised when handling the ball and will be a prime candidate for the starting point guard role next season. Because of his basketball aptitude in his first year with the team, I believe that Tony White Jr. is a rising star in the Southern Conference who has the potential to make an NBA summer league squad in the future. In order to do so- however- he must add a great deal of weight to his thin frame.