In this addition of "Scouring the Nation", I examine NAIA prospect Fayzon Richey, several other NAIA talents, as well as standouts from NAIA Division II.
Listed as one of my top 30 prospects outside of Division I, 6'3 combo guard Fayzon Richey is one of the better shooters in the nation. He can score in a variety of ways and moves very well off the ball. Richey rubs well off of screens and does a nice job of shooting on the move without his feet completely set. In the contests I watched, he hit several tough, fading pull up jumpers with multiple defenders in his face. Because his squad, Saint Gregory's, does not really have any other serious offensive threats, Richey is an indespensable part of his team's sets. With that said, while he did have several breakout games where he connected on 5 or 6 three point shots (such as the contest where he hit 5 threes and single handedly upset #5 Rogers State), Richey only shot 36.2% from three on the year. If his teammates can learn to create their own shot, Richey will likely shoot a much higher percentage from the field. This is largely due to his textbook mechanics and good lift on his jump shot. This positive shooting mechanics are further captured by his 85.9% free throw shooting percentage (on 184 attemtps). Moreover, Richey is able to square his body to the basket very quickly and connect on deep shots. Because he is such a capable three point shooting threat, Richey implements a believable shot fake, which often draws his defender in the air and can lead to either a foul or an easy layup. Apart from this fundamentally sound maneuver, Richey has a quick first step and is very aggressive going to the basket.
In terms of his overall offensive output, he averaged 21.18 points per game and shot a fairly efficient 47.9% on the year, despite being the attraction of most opposing defenses. When he does drive in the lane and draw two or more defenders, Richey typically shares the ball with his big men, and regularly sets them up for easy baskets. He also willingly kicks the ball out to the perimeter to set up easy three point attempts. Despite his unselfishness, his teammates failed to finish countless plays, and this led his assist numbers to be understated. With that said, if Richey hopes to play some lead guard at a higher level, he must cut down on the 3.00 turnovers per game that he averaged last season. Given how many possessions he had with the ball in his hands, this figure is not all that surprising though. On the defensive end, Richey is pesky, and he gets up into his man, giving him headaches and foiling opposing coaches' gameplans. He has very good lateral quickness and does not reach all that often. Instead, he forces opposing players into very difficult shots, embracing a more positional defensive style ala Shane Battier. With that said, he does have good hands, and was able to collect 1.18 steals per contest. Further, Richey is an adequate help defender, and he really worked hard in the contests I witnessed to cover his teammates' missed rotations. Overall, Fayzon Richey does virtually everything for his Saint Gregory's squad, and is one of the more promising combo guards outside of Division I. He has one more season to prove his mettle on a national scale and potentially draw some NBA draft workouts.
Contrasting Richey's style of play, Lubbock Christian point guard Rashad Sample was one of the best distributors in the nation at the NAIA level last season. This 6'0 lead guard averaged an impressive 6.33 assists per contest and constantly looked to set his teammates up for easy baskets. He found shooters in the corner for open jump shots. Sample also made several flashy no-look passes in the contests that I watched. On one play, he hit an open three point shooter with picture perfect no look set up. Further, he did a great job of executing pick and roll sets, consistently finding his teammates. When carrying out these plays, Sample did a fantastic job of slowing down the tempo, such that the game was played at LCU's pace. While Sample does have a very good handle, he does turn the ball over a bit too much, averaging 3.53 turnovers per contest. Still, this meant that he posted a very good 1.79 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio for the year. And, even when he does lose the ball, Sample never really forces the action. Also, he is often able to recover on those possessions and get the ball back. In terms of his offensive efficiency, Sample scores most of his points from inside the arc, and shot a solid 45.5% from the field. He does have a serviceable shooting stroke for pullup jumpers, and can stretch defenses from beyond the arc. With that said, his three point shooting percentage declined from an impressive 49.6% (on a limited 42 attempts) to a mere 31.0% (on 100 attempts). If he continues to develop this aspect of the game, he could conceivably play at a higher level of basketball. Additionally, Sample is a good rebounding guard for his size due to his respectable athleticism, as he averaged 4.13 rebounds per contest. On the defensive end, Sample displayed excellent lateral quickness and reaction timing. He averaged 1.63 steals per contest and does a nice job of shadowing his man. Rashad Sample was one of the better point guards in NAIA basketball last season, and will likely move on to a career overseas if he can improve his perimeter shooting consistency.
Two other players deserve a mention for Lubbock Christian. 6'4 shooting guard Douglas Williams is an electric athlete who benefitted greatly by playing alongside Sample. He shot an efficient 49.6% from the field overall, and 33.7% from beyond the arc. But, Williams generally opted to attack the basket or shoot a pullup jumper from the midrange when he had the ball in his hands. Further, Williams' handle is fairly effective and allows him to blow by defenders. He also has a blazing first step and can put his defender on his heels very quickly. As such, I found it very surprising that Williams only shot 53 free throw attempts last season. If he hopes to play basketball beyond college, he must improve his willingness and aggressiveness to take contact and get to the line. Williams' athleticism also shows through with regard to his rebounding. At 6'4, he led his team with an impressive 5.97 boards per contest. In terms of his ability to distribute the basketball, Williams posted a 0.46 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio, which must be improved upon if he hopes to get any playing time at a higher level of basketball. On the defensive end, Williams was versatile enough to defend bigger players. And, he had excellent hands, swiping the ball away from big men who were just about to attack the rim. His 1.37 steals per game demonstrated his impressive athleticism and potential.
Williams' and Samples' frontcourt counterpart Jeff Ayisire displayed some talent on both ends of the floor at times. The 6'4 forward shot a very efficient 57.9% from the field, but did not attempt a long range shot. He must perfect his long range stroke, unless he wants to retain his current position in a lower minor league. In order to do this, Ayisire must improve his shooting mechanics and correct his abysmal 55.8% shooting at the line. And, despite functioning as a forward, Ayisire only averaged 3.80 rebounds per contest. However, he was most impressive on the defensive end, where he, like Williams and Sample, had very quick hands and averaged 1.15 steals per contest. Overall, Ayisire has enough lateral quickness to defend at a high level, but must refine his shooting touch and improve his rebounding figures before he can latch on to a professional squad.
Another one of the leading scorers in NAIA Division I who attracted some attention last season was sophomore transfer Brad Karp. The 6'4 shooting guard averaged 23.59 points per game and displayed tremendous scoring instincts all year long. The former Valpo transfer really left his mark from the field, connecting on a scorching 59.6% of his field goal attempts. From reviewing film, it is clear that Karp scores the ball in a variety of ways. He loves to shoot a runner in the lane, and can even get this shot off through contact. (despite the fact that this shot is normally used to avoid the defender) He can connect on this shot with a great deal of efficiency, but is also willing to drive the ball all the way to the rim, as evinced by his 182 free throw attempts last season. Further, Karp is not afraid to bang inside, and even attempted to post up in the contests that I witnessed. His turnaround jumper could use some work, but he did demonstrate some impressive moves to free himself from his defender. In terms of his ability to get to the rim, Karp must improve on his handle, as he was capable of dribbling past his man in 1 on 1 scenarios, but lost the ball when he was met with double teams. Further, his first step is not very explosive, but he is crafty and skilled enough to get his shot off against virtually anyone. Because of the offensive threat that he poses, he is able to utilize his handle to get him places on the floor. But, if he refines it a bit and learns to implement the change of pace dribble, he can become a more diversified offensive weapon at the next level. Karp is willing to get out and run in transition, and was able to dunk the ball ahead of the pack on numerous occasions.
In terms of his proficiency from beyond the arc, Karp hit a noteworthy 37.5% of his attempts. If he can improve his handle, Karp will likely end up taking less contested three pointers, and, in all likelihood, he will become even more efficient in this facet of the game. In terms of his hustle and leaping ability, Karp was an excellent rebounder for his size and gathered 8.50 rebounds per contest. He was very good on the offensive glass, with nearly half of his rebounds coming on this end. While he is not known for his passing, he does have an Assist to Turnover Ratio that is below 1 to 1, meaning that he needs to distribute the ball more frequently and cut down on his giveaways. In the contests I watched, he tended to lose the ball due to either a sloppy handle or because defenders converged on him when he drove into traffic. On the defensive end, Karp demonstrated decent awareness at times, and has the athleticism to become a serviceable defender at the next level. While he is not quick laterally, he did have the leaping ability and awareness to block 1.09 shots per contest. He also has very good hands, which he regularly turned into transition opportunities, as he picked the pockets of the opposition 1.56 times per game. Karp must learn to play better help defense because he does tend to give up easy baskets instead of switching. Overall, Karp was one of the most dynamic offensive weapons in NAIA Division I last season. He will have two more years to improve his three point shooting efficiency and perfect his handle. In all likelihood, Karp will land on a top flight team overseas due to his diverse skillset.
Two of Karp's teammates also stood out, and will spend another season playing for Saint Xavier (Illinois). Lead guard Anthony Grant is a sparkplug that generally does his damage coming off the bench. Grant is a slasher who is very quick moving towards the basket, and is strong enough to finish through contact. His superior first step allows him to get to the basket in half court situations, but he is also capable of beating the opposition down the floor. As such, Grant is effective in transition and is more than capable of getting to the line. In the contests I watched, he tended to change the pace of the game when he was functioning as his team's lead guard, opting to score on run outs or to simply catch his defenders off guard. He also is capable of scoring on post up opportunities, and he used his strength advantage to overpower slower and weaker point guards. His back to the basket post moves are very similar to Kobe's stylistically (only), as he can connect on fadeaway jumpers or utilize superior footwork to get to the basket with swift maneuvers.
On the year, Grant scored often, averaging 13.07 points per game on 53.1% shooting from the floor. His efficiency is largely attributable to his ability to hit jumpers on the move as well as from the mid range. Grant will likely not have to improve his shooting form at the next level, as he shot 79.2% at the line. However, Anthony Grant must look to extend his range to keep defenses honest. At the next level, he will face quicker defenders and given his current style of play, they will have an easy time anticipating his moves on offense. If he can learn to connect from long range and shoot more frequently from that distance (28.6% on 14 attempts last year), then he may be an effective weapon for a team in the minor leagues or in the Americas. While Grant did post an Assist to Turnover Ratio above 1 to 1, he must look to fill the role of point guard more frequently. Because his teammate Green starts as the lead guard, Grant often does not obtain a role as a lead distributor, as evinced by his 1.76 assists per contest. On the defensive end, Grant is extremely effective and is able to lock down opposing point guards due to his combination of lateral quickness and good hands. He hounds offensive players by effectively shadowing them in man to man scenarios, and he is rather physical when the player he is guarding receives the ball. Further, his quick hands allowed him to collect a solid 1.35 steals per contest last season. With that said, he is primarily a positional defender who uses his superior lateral quickness to shut down the opposition. Overall, Grant is a player who must work on his range and his passing. However, he is already a sparkplug scorer who can energize a team and really get after the ball on defense.
Aside from Grant, Saint Xavier uses 5'9 Roosevelt Green as their primary point guard and starter. This junior has many positive aspects to his game, but must look to cut some weight in order to be able to keep up with the faster pace at the professional level. With that said, he has adequate speed for the NAIA I level, and is very intelligent with the ball in his hands. Green usually opts to make the right plays, as evinced by his 2.74 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio. And, he normally looks for his teammates first, enabling him to average an excellent 6.24 assists per contest. Green does a nice job of feeding the post, but is also a willing distributor on the perimeter, where he often finds open three point shooters. In the contests I watched, Green hit post players streaking to the basket with 'pinpoint' bounce passes. Green also has a very good handle- he is strong with the ball in his hands and often shields it with his body, preventing most players from taking the ball away. Green is not shy taking contact either, as he occasionally runs through screens or picks up offensive fouls when he is too overly aggressive. While he can get to the basket and create opportunities for himself and others, Green struggles finishing at the rim, as demonstrated by his paltry 38.2% field goal percentage. He must improve in this area if he hopes to continue playing at a higher level. Additionally, he must perfect his three point shot and not attempt awkward set shots which might be easily blocked. Green connected on a mere 33.1% of his attempts a season ago. If he picks his spots more wisely and stops shooting under duress, he should be able to improve his efficiency significantly. On the defensive end, Green has some of the best hands in NAIA Division I. He averaged 2.17 steals per contest and was effective at poking the ball away or playing the passing lanes. With that said, his lateral quickness is good, but not great, meaning that he may have to gamble at the next level to achieve the same level of effectiveness taking the ball away. Overall, Green is a player who must look to become more efficient and improve his shot selection; otherwise, he makes very good decisions with the ball in his hands and would be a viable option playing in the minor leagues or in the Americas somewhere.
Another major NAIA standout (other than Richey, Sample, and Karp) is Olivet Nazarene's Antonio Marshall. The 5'9 Marshall plays way taller than his listed height and is dynamic on both ends of the floor with his tremendous quickness and athleticism. Marshall has some of the best vision of players in the NAIA, and has used this to execute very difficult plays. He averaged 4.58 assists per game last season and posted a 1.89 to 1 Assist to Turnover ratio, indicating that he limited his turnovers. In terms of his passing repertoire, drawing from the contests I witnessed, Marshall made an unbelievable Lebron James-esque one handed pass from the one baseline on the in bounds all the way downcourt for an open layup. On another play, he turned the ball over but snatched the opposing player's pass out of the air and returned it for a layup. These two instances indicate his above average combination of vision and athleticism. Further, Marshall regularly makes fundamentally sound post entry feeds using the bounce. He also shares the ball around the perimeter and hits open shooters, particularly when he is able to secure deep positioning near the basket. Marshall has a very quick first step and is crafty with his dribble. He employs hesitation and stop and go moves, which enable him to get to the basket early and often. A year ago, he was able to draw 139 free throws and he connected on 87.1% of his attempts.
In terms of his shooting ability, Marshall is very streaky, but can be deadly when he catches fire. He shot 36.6% from beyond the arc and 45.5% from the floor last season. In the contests I watched, he was able to knock down NBA range three point shots off the dribble and off of screens. He only needs a little bit of daylight to release his shot, and his confidence from making jumpers reverberates through to impact other facets of his game; once he has hit a few contested jumpers, he then becomes more aggressive driving to the basket and plays with a greater fluidity. Further, Marshall has great potential to achieve success in the pick and roll game, and regularly fed his teammate, Streets, after the big man set ball screens. Due to his athleticism, Marshall is also a very good rebounder for his size- he averaged 4.32 boards per contest last year and was effective on the offensive glass, helping his team secure second chance points. On the defensive end, Marshall is very aggressive and has the lateral quickness to stay with most players. He does tend to play overly aggressive at times, and this may limit his playing time. However, he averaged an impressive 1.81 steals per contest and was dynamic locking down some of the opposition's point guards. He regularly took his steals the other way for an easy two points, turning them into transition opportunities. On the whole, Antonio Marshall is one of the better guards in the NAIA and he has a real chance to assert himself on a professional level if he can improve as a long range shooter and cut down on the number of fouls that he commits.
Teammate Brandon Streets is a very impressive role player who, at 6'7, is a bit undersized, but like Marshall, affects the game in a variety of ways. Streets does a nice job of posting up inside, and regularly attacks the body of opposing players, thereby picking up fouls. While he played in less than half of his team's contests, he had 92 free throw attempts on the year, which meant that he shot 5.41 free throws per game. Streets has an array of moves that he goes to in the post with varying degrees of success. He is best when sealing his man on the block and then reverting to a spin move inside. Because he is so physical in establishing position, he often draws a foul before even receiving the ball in the post. Streets has very good footwork on his back-to-the-basket opportunities, and prefers to use the glass whenever he can. Further, Streets moves well without the ball, cutting to the basket for easy lay up opportunities. And, he has shown signs that he could be effective in pick and roll scenarios. Streets is also an adequate passer out of the post or on the perimeter, where he makes very good post entry feeds. He averaged 3.29 assists per contest and posted a 1.47 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio, indicating that he was a viable threat either to score or involve one of his teammates. His positive decision making is a quality that differentiates Streets from some of the other post players in the NAIA. Additionally, this solid basketball IQ enabled him to pick his spots and shoot 55.0% for the year. Streets understands his limitations and regularly turned down open perimeter jumpers in the contests I saw; moreover, he only attempted five three point field goals all year. At a higher level of play, he must improve his long distance and mid range shooting, as his ability to stretch defenses will be more critical as a professional. Streets is a good rebounder who boxes out and vies for position inside. He averaged a respectable 7.35 boards per game and was effective at grabbing both offensive and defensive rebounds. On the defensive end, Streets functioned predominantly as a positional defender a year ago, stepping in for charges and giving offensive players headaches. He really disrupted Karp's offensive flow when guarding him and picked up several turnovers on him. Streets has good hands and lateral quickness, and this helped him to collect 0.94 steals per contest. Overall, Streets is an elite role player who understands his limitations and is effective as a hustle player and a position defender. He is not a bad option for any team looking for an intelligent role player.
Aside from the aforementioned talent present at the NAIA Division I level, other standouts in NAIA II really caught my attention. Noted as one of the top talents in NAIA Division II, Mike Kennedy stands out in a number of ways. The undersized 6'6 power forward was one of the best post options for his level of play. He utilizes his wide base (220 lbs) to clear space on the block, where he finishes utilizing good footwork. However, he functions primarily as a faceup 4, who looks to receive the ball around the free throw line and then drive it in. While his handle could use some work, it is serviceable enough to allow him to get to the rim. Additionally, he is deceptively quick off the dribble and can get to the rim in a hurry; he utilized this quickness advantage against more lumbering big men. Kennedy is constantly in attack mode when playing and finishes tip ins and is athletic enough to score over players after grabbing offensive rebounds. Due to the quality of shots that he was accustomed to taking, Kennedy finished shooting an efficient 51.0% from the field on 465 field goal attempts. As a result of his attack mentality, Kennedy got to the line a lot last season, shooting 195 free throws and making an average 70.3% of those attempts. Kennedy has room to grow at the line. Additionally, he is capable of stepping out and hitting the perimeter jumper as well, but usually was able to get deep post positioning or easy baskets closer to the rim. He must extend his range, though, as he will be asked to play on the perimeter more often at a higher level. He shot a mediocre 30.8% from three point range this past season. In terms of his effort on the glass, Kennedy is a very good rebounder, who cleans up on the offensive end and exhibits ideal box out fundamentals. He averaged 8.74 rebounds per game, 42.8% of which were on the offensive end. Because he was a dominant post scorer this past season, he often received double teams. And, Kennedy was more than capable of passing out of these situations, averaging 2.21 Assists per game and posting a 1 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio, a figure which can be improved upon - especially if he does not function as the focal point of an offense at the next level. On the defensive end, Kennedy is deceptively quick and athletic, blocking 0.59 shots per game and stealing the ball 1.50 times per contest. In the contests I watched, Kennedy got up and blocked three shots as a help defender. Moreover, he has quick hands for a player his size, and he picked the pockets of multiple players. Further, he is aggressive denying in the post and uses his low center of gravity to his advantage, 'chesting' players out of position and further out onto the perimeter. Overall, Mike Kennedy is a complete, undersized forward who must improve his jumper if he hopes to land with a good team overseas. He has the skillset to play at a higher level, but he must adjust to a different position and learn to defend quicker players.
Kennedy's backcourt mate Nicholas Frazier was one of the most promising freshman in the nation outside of Division I this season, and was a top 3 freshman in NAIA Division II. The 6'2 lead guard has good height and awareness for a point guard, and has the chance to develop into one of the better players in the nation. Frazier does an excellent job of distributing the ball inside, and he hit Kennedy regularly. He made several impressive crosscourt passes in the contests that I watched as well. And, when it came down to crunch time for his team, Frazier played with poise, swinging the ball around the perimeter and not forcing the action down the stretch. With that said, Frazier averaged only 1.88 assists and 1.85 turnovers per contest. He must look to establish himself as a full time point guard next season despite his impressive shooting numbers. A year ago, Frazier shot a scorching 47.0% from three point range, one of if not the best mark for a freshman at any level. Frazier is able to get his own shot and picks his spots on the floor. When he was not lighting it up on the perimeter, Frazier did a nice job of taking the ball to the rim, dunking on players and getting to the line as well. He got to the line 156 times last year, but only converted on 67.9% of those attempts. He will likely improve on this percentage next season, as he does have a very good shooting stroke. Further, Frazier has remarkable athleticism for a player at this level. This coupled with his solid handle allowed him to get anywhere he wanted to on the floor, enabling him to shoot 54.6% from the field last season. On the defensive end, Frazier was an effective position defender who did not reach very often. He averaged only 0.79 steals per game, but was active locking down his man. His good height and length should allow him to succeed at this level and the next. Overall, Frazier is one of the most promising young players at the NAIA Division II level, and he has a chance to become the best player at this level in a couple of years if he continues to develop as a point guard. And, his ideal size and skillset will allow him to compete at a higher level of play once he graduates.
Other than Kennedy and Frazier, St. Louis College of Pharmacy standout Shawn Menckowski is a fundamentally sound combo guard with an ability to distribute the basketball. He was the focal point in his team's offense and averaged 20.38 points per game, despite being on the receiving end of defensive traps and collapsing defenses. Menckowski is effective working off the dribble, implementing a change of pace dribble to get by his man. He is fairly crafty in this respect and is agile enough to get by his man in spite of his mediocre first step. He normally lulls his man to sleep before making a quick move to the rim. With that said, Menckowski predominantly uses his right hand to break defenders down and must learn to switch to his off hand when attacking the basket- otherwise he will be too predictable at the next level. Menckowski does a good job of involving his teammates, and is willing to dish the ball off when driving to the basket. In the contests I watched, he was crafty with his passes and rarely got the ball stolen when he committed to distributing the ball. Additionally, he made several pretty wrap around passes to cutting big men in these games. He also understands when to feed outside shooters, and set them up for open shots on numerous occasions.
Even though he is capable of getting his teammates involved, he does not always opt to make the easy pass or reset his team's offense. He instead tends to force the action when a play breaks down. Despite his strong handle, Menckowski received several double teams and closeouts from help defenders when he faced IU East. They were able to throw him off guard after he beat his initial defender and he attempted a jump shot. He must learn to improvise more on the court and not settle for the play that he initially committed to. For instance, on the aforementioned play, he likely could have distributed the ball inside, but instead settled for a contested jumper. As a result of these poor decisions where he was stuck committing to a particular move, he posted a 0.637 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio. Additionally, he tended to force quick shots on the perimeter. He connected on 36.3% of his three point attempts last season and this percentage should have been higher given his poor shot selection. It should be noted that Menckowski is a deadly shooter when given the time to set up his shot. He hit 78.7% of his free throw attempts, and has good form on his set shots. However, Menckowski struggles shooting off the dribble because he often rushes shots when defenses collapse. As a result, he shot a paltry 39.7% from the field. It also should be noted that he employs very nice pump fakes that often get the defender in the air. He is very creative in this element of the game. On the defensive end, Menckowski is average to below average laterally and he is lazy on closeout shooters. He has decent hands, but must put in more consistent effort on the defensive end. Overall, Menckowski is a an interesting player with glaring strengths and weaknesses which can be improved upon. If he can continue to develop his basketball savvy and work on his shot selection, he may be able to play overseas somewhere.
His teammate, Luke O'Brien excelled in many of the areas that Menckowski struggled in this past season. O'Brien generally played under control for the most part and posted a 1.12 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio. He typically made the easy passes and generally involved everyone in the offense, rarely playing "hero" basketball. O'Brien has a decent first step, but has an average handle, and as such, generally tends to attack on straight line drives to the basket. He does a nice job moving without the ball and is usually an option out of trapping situations, as he regularly moves towards the ball. O'Brien, much like Menckowski, involves his big men in the offense, and he makes fundamental post entry feeds. O'Brien does a nice job of drawing fouls relative to the number of shots he attempts from the floor. (68 FT attempts compared to 127 FG attempts) On the defensive end, O'Brien gets his hands in the passing lanes and is a pesky defender. He can step in and take charges and he also has the hands to strip players of the ball, which he did several times to all NAIA II standout Marcus Isaac. He is quick laterally and a very good weapon on this end. Overall, O'Brien is a fundamentally sound role player who may be able to succeed in minor league basketball.
Mount Vernon Nazarene point guard Robbie Taylor was one of the more underrated players in the NAIA Division II this past season. While he did not garner any national accolades, he was one of the more fundamentally sound players in the nation at his level and he did everything for his team. Not only was he a capable offensive weapon, but Taylor also did a nice job of distributing the ball to his teammates and getting everyone involved in the action. Statistically, he averaged a solid 3.59 assists per contest. He hit cutters on a regular basis, and even threaded the needle on occasion to hit post players for easy baskets. He consistently fed open three point shooters, setting them up for easy attempts. He was most effective at this after getting in the lane and drawing the defense towards him. And, despite the fact that the ball was constantly in his hands, he posted a 1.55 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio, which is fairly good given his circumstances. Considering his size, at 5'11, he was a good rebounding guard, finishing with 3.28 boards per contest.
Offensively, Taylor was not as efficient from the field as he should have been, connecting on a paltry 42.1% of his field goal attempts. With that said, teams began to converge on him, particularly later in the season, when they realized that he was one of the only players for Mount Vernon Nazarene who could create his own shot. Taylor possesses a fairly quick first step and the upper body strength to finish through contact. He exhibited good body control in the contests that I watched him play, and would make running one handed layups by shielding the ball with his body and drawing 'And 1' opportunities. With that said, Taylor must improve his mid range game and work on his shot selection, even though he played such a crucial role for his squad. His step back jumper in particular could use some work and he air balled several attempts that I witnessed. If he is able to latch on to a team overseas, he will likely function as a complimentary player and will probably not have to deal with defenses geared towards primarily stopping him. As such, he will have to become more efficient from the field and look to improve on his 35.6% 3 point %, which was fairly good considering the degree of difficulty of his shots and the sheer number of attempts. (160 3pt attempts) Taylor is also versatile moving without the ball, and was able to score off of backdoor basket cuts when he did not have the ball in his hands. Finally, Taylor is also effective functioning as a post option, and was able to exploit strength mismatches on occasion, utilizing a combination of power post moves as well as a turnaround shot when he was met by the help defense.
On the defensive end, Taylor displayed excellent tendencies and functioned as a ball hawk for his team. Not only is he strong enough to move players off their spots, but he has quick enough hands to deflect the basketball. As such, he was one of the leading ball thieves in NAIA Division II with 2.00 steals per contest. Taylor exhibited good quickness and nice defensive fundamentals, forcing point guards to give up the ball and leading his team on effort plays. Further, he followed his man off the ball and prevented any layup opportunities. Overall, Taylor was one of the more underappreciated leaders on the court this past season despite his poor efficiency. He created for his teammates, rebounded the ball, and played soundly on the defensive end. Taylor should be able to play abroad if he can cut down on his turnovers and continue to improve his shooting from the floor.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Aaron Evans did a good job of leading his team and actually achieved some success and attention nationally. When he went head-to-head with Taylor, he was able to effectively distribute the ball to his teammates, making a nice one handed pass to a cutting big man. He did a decent job of driving inside and drawing fouls when Taylor was not on him. However, he struggled to stay in front of Taylor and was forced to the bench with foul trouble. With that contest in mind, Evans was a much more efficient player year round for his squad. While he did on occasion take contested fadeaway jumpers, his shot selection was very good and he connected on 49.4% of his attempts, fairly efficient for a player who always had the ball in his hands. And while Evans does not have ideal range (32.9% from 3), he does have good form on his shot and has the potential to become a good long range shooter if he puts the time in. His 77.9% free throw percentage was very good, and he was able to get to the line fairly regularly. In terms of his ability to distribute the basketball, Evans averaged 3.03 assists per contest and was able to involve his teammates. He did not always opt for hockey assists and was willing to pass the ball around the perimeter to help orchestrate plays and throw opposing defenses off. He did turn the ball over a little too much at times, but his 1.44 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio was fairly good considering how often he created offense for his squad. However, he must learn to prevent himself from jumping in the air when he makes passes because this really increases the number of turnovers that he commits. On the offensive end, Evans does a good job of getting to the rim and finishing inside, weaving through traffic and often scoring over bigger players. He is capable of finishing with either hand and is deceptively quick attacking the basket. Evans likes to score on reverse layups as well. Defensively, he does tend to get caught in the air and regularly bites on pump fakes. However, he has decent recovery speed and is able to block some shots if his defender gets in front of him. He has average lateral quickness on the defensive end, though, and does not project as anything more than an intelligent defender at the next level. Overall, Evans is a great leader who scores efficiently and is deceptive with his quickness and athleticism. He should find a home somewhere after this coming season.
Another sought after player who matched up with Aaron Evans was Grace (Ind.)'s Bruce Grimm Jr. Grimm Jr. has good potential as a jump shooter at the next level if he can refine his shot selection and learn to not get so frustrated when his shots are not falling. In his matchup with Evans, Grimm Jr. displayed a nice release on his shot, and was able to get it off in no time. He did a nice job of coming off of screens and forcing his defenders into them. And, even when it appeared like he was going to attempt an off balance shot, he was able to square his body to the basket, which improved his chances considerably. With that said, Bruce Grimm Jr. must improve his shot selection- he connected on a paltry 40.7% of his field goal attempts and 30.7% of his three point attempts. With those percentages, he would not likely obtain a central role in any offense at the next level. However, his good form and consistency on his shot demonstrate that he likely underwent significant shooting slumps this season and may be able to play better in the future. In terms of his point guard abilities, Grimm Jr. averaged 4.31 assists per contest and was able to get the ball down low with some consistency. With that said, he needs to cut down on his 3.00 turnovers per game and become a more reliable decision maker. Further, when a defensive player limits him like Evans did on the occasion I watched, he tended to get frustrated and began to attempt difficult shots. He missed fadeaway 14 Footers and difficult shots off of one of two dribbles with a defender in his face. This frustration eventually culminated in a technical foul. As such, he must continue to learn to control his emotions on the court and look to make more sound decisions with the ball in his hands. On the defensive end, Grimm Jr. has good quickness and very good hands. He was able to gather 1.63 steals per contest and was always a threat in the passing lanes. Overall, Grimm Jr. is an improving player who will have one more season to prove his mettle and assert himself as a solid player on a national scale.
Grace (Ind.)'s Duke Johnson is also an intriguing prospect who may have a shot to make an overseas roster for this coming season. It is very rare that you find a nimble 6'11 big man with a decent skillset at this level of play. Johnson has the potential to receive playing time for an overseas squad if he can continue to improve and work on his weaknesses. In the contests I watched, Johnson was able to catch the ball on some poor post feeds by his teammates. He has decent hands and was able to grab passes which should have gone out of bounds. On the offensive end, Johnson is nimble and employs his shoulders to shrug off his man and score. He has good face up post moves and is able to drive past defenders with good quickness. He also has a decent looking running hook in his post arsenal and could get this shot over most of the competition in NAIA Division II. Further, he finished well near the basket, and connected on 51.9% of his field goal attempts. He also has a good shooting form and the potential to develop a jump shot to stretch the defenses. He shot 73.6% from the line and has a nice touch on his shots. With all this in mind, however, Johnson is way behind in terms of his strength around the basket. He must put on considerable weight to bang with professional defenders, as he struggled to hold position on the block against undersized players. He struggled to finish through contact most of the time, and had difficulty sealing his man. Additionally, while he has good size, he is a very poor rebounder due to his strength limitations, as he averaged only 6.47 rebounds per contest this season. Johnson does possess good box out fundamentals, but he struggles to hold position due to his lack of bulk. With that said, he is also a strong passer with 2.23 assists per contest, kicking the ball out to open three point shooters and always keeping his head up, even when posting up. On the defensive end, he is a mixed bag as well. He averaged 1.20 blocks and 0.77 steals per contest, and was strong deflecting the basketball. He regularly changed shots and made several good help-side recoveries to block shots. He has good quickness and is able to cover a lot of ground in a limited period of time. However, like many shot blockers, he does have a tendency to bite on fakes and has strength concerns are also applicable here. He allows players to obtain deep post position due to his poor lower body strength and is more of a positional defender in the post. His lateral quickness is not great either, but he compensates with good length and recovery instincts. Overall, Duke Johnson is one of the more intriguing players at this level of basketball, and should be able to make a roster somewhere due to his potential if he can hit the weight room and add some girth.
Davenport's men's basketball squad also produced several talents who may be able to continue to play at the professional level. 6'2 guard James Nelson was the catalyst behind his team's high octane offense. He typically functioned off the ball, but was able to look ahead in transition and provide his teammates with open layups. With that said, Nelson will likely play off the ball at the next level given the fact that he averaged below a 1 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio. (2.33 Assists and 2.42 Turnovers per game) In spite of this weakness, Nelson was one of the more dynamic offensive weapons in NAIA Division II. He is capable of employing stutter step dribble moves and has the handle to get to the rim and finish among traffic. Nelson is athletic enough to finish on up and under drives. He also utilizes a fairly reliable runner when he is looking to avoid contact. Additionally, he is a very good jump shooter, who can pull up from beyond the arc or dial in from mid range. He has a good rotation on his shot and is efficient shooting the ball, connecting on 42.9% of his three point attempts and 49.8% of his field goal attempts overall. Further, Nelson is aggressive when he has the ball in his hands and gets to the line fairly often, hitting 73.1% of his 134 free throw attempts. Nelson's good athleticism and quick first step allow him to get to the rim often. But, these qualities also help him on the glass, where he is one of the most dynamic rebounders at his size, averaging 4.83 boards per contest. (27.5% of which were on the offensive glass) Defensively, Nelson is quick laterally and very aggressive going after the basketball. He does tend to leave his feet at times, but he typically is one of the more capable one on one defenders on his squad. Nelson regularly turns steals into open transition baskets, and he averaged a solid 1.69 steals per contest last year. Overall, Nelson is one of the more dynamic combo guards that I have covered. He is effective at many different facets of the game, but must learn to play some point guard if he hopes to obtain playing time in some of the top leagues overseas.
Fellow All American James Humphrey is one of the best prospects coming out of NAIA Division II. He is a very athletic, 6'8 forward with an inside-outside game that will allow him to play somewhere this coming season. As a result of his physical gifts, Humphrey is a very good defender and is particularly effective blocking shots. This past year he averaged 1.76 blocks and 0.89 steals per contest. Not only is this a testament to his timing and quick hands, but it also reemphasizes the fact that he is a very good athlete. In the contests I watched, Humphrey displayed very good recovery speed and was able to get up very quickly to block several shots. As a result, he should function well as a help defender at the next level. On the offensive end, Humphrey is a very efficient player who understands his limitations. For instance, he rarely forces shots and often passes the ball around the perimeter instead of taking contested jumpers. He also cleans up on the glass regularly and has the athleticism to attack the basket off the dribble. On one occasion, he implemented a nice pump fake and then drove all the way to the hoop and skied for a dunk. In terms of his prowess on the boards, he averaged a solid 5.92 rebounds per contest, which was good considering the fact that his fellow teammates were also active. Further, Humphrey is aggressive in the post and can make post passes to open teammates. He gets to the basket well, but usually prefers to take jumpers unless he is very close to the rim. Humphrey has a nice stroke and his range extends well past the college three point line. He was efficient from the floor last season, hitting 48.5% of his shots from the floor and 42.1% of his three point attempts. He was an active threat from behind the arc and attempted 107 3 pointers last season. At the next level, this bodes well for his versatility and ability to stretch defenses. Overall, Humphrey is one of the more dynamic weapons in NAIA Division II basketball, and should be retained by a professional squad next season due to his combination of size, athleticism, and expanding skillset.
Fellow senior Damacious White was also impressive in the contests that I watched. This senior pretty much did it all. He moved well without the ball, he rebounded, he implemented ball fakes, he attacked the basket, he defended, and he even nailed several three point baskets. Offensively, White is very dynamic moving without the ball and often scores easy baskets off of cuts as a result. When he does receive the ball on the perimeter or around the free throw line, White is excellent at getting to the basket and drawing contact. He has good hangtime and athleticism and is able to utilize these physical gifts as well as his basketball IQ to exploit defenders. In the contests that I watched, he regularly employed a ball fake and used it to get defenders in the air and draw fouls. On the year, he was good at getting to the line (101 attempts), but he only connected on 61.4% of his free throw attempts. This must improve for him to find a spot at the next level. White is able to finish through contact at times and usually looks to score even when he anticipates getting hit, and has an array of moves contorting his body to overpower his defender and score even after he is fouled. He has mastered the up and under move when driving to the basket as well. When he is not attacking the basket, White shot the ball well from the field this past season. While he does have a flat shot (and a form similar to Ashton Gibbs's), White was able to connect on 48.3% of his field goal attempts and 42.0% of his shots from behind the arc. He has a decent shot selection when shooting from long range, and this has helped with the development of his shot fake. White must continue to work on his shooting mechanics and follow through every time so that he can get the roll on shots closer to the rim. In terms of his passing ability, while he is not a pure point guard and does not set his teammates up very often, he did post a 1.47 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio, largely because of his lack of mistakes on the offensive end. He protects the ball well and kicks it out or works the ball around the perimeter when he cannot find an open shot. Defensively, White applies ferocious ball pressure and is able to stay in front of his man. He has good hands and averaged 1.22 steals per contest. Overall, White had a great season for one of the best and deepest teams in NAIA Division II. If he can continue to shoot at the same rate, he will be able to parlay his success last season into a role off the bench somewhere. At 6'0 in height, he is not quite a pure point guard, but he could provide a scoring punch off of the bench for a team looking for a weapon.
Sophomore teammate JaVontae Ford is cut from the same cloth as White and Nelson, and played in a similar role last season. This 6'3 forward was versatile and helped his team in a variety of different ways. He will likely obtain a much larger role in the offense next season, and could become one of the better players in NAIA Division II if he puts the time in to improve during this offseason. Ford demonstrated last season that he can score efficiently, while also getting his teammates involved. He regularly made some nice plays to cutters inside. This lefty was also to push the ball in transition and get by his defender with quick moves to the basket. He has very good speed and athleticism, and got to the line 104 times last year. This figure should have been more, but he shared the ball with his teammates, and this chemistry gave Davenport one of the best backcourts in the country. Ford has decent hesitation moves and catches defenders off guard with his change of pace dribble. He does a nice job of pushing the ball and can finish in transition on alley oop opportunities. Ford was efficient from the floor and shot 48.1% from the field. He was also rather good at hitting catch and shoot long range opportunities, as he does a nice job of squaring to the basket. Ford shot a very efficient 43.2% from beyond the three point line, (on 199 attempts) and he displayed an effective and consistent shooting form. Because of this, he was able to capitalize on most of his trips to the line, hitting 77.9% of his free throws. Ford was a good rebounder for his size as well due to his solid athleticism. He averaged 4.61 rebounds per contest, and was particularly effective on the defensive glass. In spite of these strengths, Ford will need to continue to work on his decision making, as his 0.84 Assist to Turnover Ratio was not good at all. If he is going to play at a higher level, he also must learn to play some lead guard. Seeing as he is functioning as a forward, this transition will not likely be without its hiccups. But, Ford has two years to learn how to play the 1 and 2 effectively, and he will be thrust in to a go-to role next season, with the previous three players mentioned graduating. On the defensive end, Ford has good hands and is quick enough laterally to stay with most players at this level. He averaged 1.33 steals per game, and he was very good at disrupting ball handlers. Overall, Ford is an efficient scorer who must learn to involve his teammates and grow into an identifiable positional niche. If he can move away from the forward slot and continue shooting efficiently while cutting back on turnovers, he will be a nice prospect to check back on in a few years.
Undersized bruiser Rocko Holmes matched up well with James Humphrey when they faced each other. Standing at a burly 6'5 275 lbs, Holmes does a great job maneuvering in the post. He typically shields his defender with his body, putting him on his back, and scores past him with the off hand. Holmes has a good understanding of positioning and is skilled enough to utilize spacing to create offensive opportunities. He works to get open on in bounds plays and he vies for positioning off the ball, which leads to easy opportunities when his backcourt mates keep their heads up. Holmes is extremely strong in the post, and uses this lower body strength to muscle his way against some of the best defenders at his position. He creates space with his body and does a nice job of drawing fouls. He had 163 free throw attempts last season. On the low block, Holmes has good post footwork, but occasionally uses the wrong hand. Additionally, he tends to turn the ball over when he is met by double teams. He must improve in this respect, as he averaged under a 0.50 Assist to Turnover Ratio last year. In terms of his efficiency, Holmes shot a solid 54.5% from the floor and picked his spots well, opting to kick the ball out on double teams to open shooters. However, Holmes must look to extend his range and develop more of a mid range jumper if he hopes to play at a professional level. While he only shot 69.3% at the line, he does evince good form on his shot and may be able to develop a good stroke from the perimeter. In terms of his other strengths, Holmes is effective rebounding the ball because he utilizes good box out fundamentals, collecting 7.97 boards per contest. On the defensive end, Holmes struggles to defend bigger players because of his lack of height. He averaged only 0.53 blocks and steals per game, and this is largely due to the fact that he functions primarily as a positional defender. Holmes must cut some weight in order to draw charges at the next level and get into position with swift lateral movements. At this stage, his weight does not always allow him to get to spots against some of the better interior athletes. Overall, Holmes had a solid senior season, but must look to transform his game in order to play at a higher level of basketball.
In addition to Holmes, three point marksman Trenton Stutzman had a very efficient year for Sterling College (Kansas). He connected on a scorching 44.8% of his 252 three point attempts. Stutzman is a very streaky scorer who can go off on any given night- for instance, his 9 three point makes against both Bethany (Kansas) and Kansas Wesleyan were a reminder that he can shoot even while contested. Stutzman does a nice job of getting his shot off around screens and is capable enough in using his dribble to get himself free. He moves very well without the ball, and with the loss of Goodrich from a season before, he received more play calls and clearly benefitted. Stutzman employs a nice shot fake and can hit the turnaround jumper when inside the arc. He does not have good change of pace handles, but he is fairly quick going both right and left in a straight line motion. This means that he can get to the hoop in a hurry, but may struggle to create separation against elite level defenders. However, even in a complimentary role, Stutzman is capable of squaring his body on three point attempts, and thus is a serious threat to fill it up from the outside. Stutzman can get to the rim, but he is not particularly keen on getting all the way to the basket. He typically dishes the ball off to his big man Brazelton or tries to draw a foul. On the year, he connected on 46.2% of his field goal attempts, but 73.25% of those shots were from beyond the arc. At 6'0, Stutzman is going to have to learn to play some lead guard. He already is fairly ball dominant, but he needs to average more than 1.29 assists per game, and even more importantly must cut down on his 1.61 turnovers per contest. On the defensive end, Stutzman has very good fundamentals, and is quick enough laterally to stay with most defenders. He is undersized at 6'0, so he may struggle if players shoot over him, as he tends to get low in his stance. At times, he did not always revert to his stance, but this was not all that often. Occasionally, he is blown by after receiving a hard pick, and he does not have good recovery instincts. However, Stutzman has good hands and reflexes, and is able to deflect and steal the basketball. He averaged an impressive 1.52 steals per contest this past season and was a menace poking the ball away. Overall, Stutzman was one of the more improved players this past season, but his height and lack of point guard skills limit his ceiling. He may be able to land on a good team due to his three point marksmanship, but he must learn to impact the game in other ways and look to finish at the rim more often.
Stutzman's teammate Cody Brazelton is another undersized forward with good athleticism and a nice motor- somewhat similar to Caleb Kennedy. Cody is an efficient weapon on the offensive end, as he shot 54.4% from the floor and scored in a variety of ways. Brazelton was capable as a back to the basket player, but he tends to take a while to get into his repertoire. As a result, he tends to turn the ball over when the double teams come over. Brazelton is very active inside and likes to get his hand around everything moving towards the rim. He cuts hard to the basket and is available for easy buckets most of the time. However, he is also very quick and has a serviceable enough handle to function as a faceup player as well. On several occasions, Brazelton protected the ball well against some of the opposition's guards and finished at the rim. On one trip, Brazelton used his superior athleticism by moving from the block all the way to the three point line to gather a steal. Then he went coast to coast dribbling past two guards and scoring at the rim. Not only does he have good anticipatory instincts, but he is very aggressive attacking the basket, and this allowed him to get to the line at a notable clip. (173 Free throw attempts last season) He has good fundamentals attacking the basket, and his believable shot fake enables him to draw fouls at a high rate. Despite his activity, Brazelton is an average rebounder and gathered 6.87 boards per game. However, he is very active on the offensive glass, and he collected many of his rebounds on this end. (35.6%) With that said, his lack of height may seriously hurt his chances to play at a much higher level. Despite this, Brazelton was excellent on the defensive end, not overplaying and really shutting down his man. Not only did he shut down Wes Jones in the second half, but he also was great as a help defender. He blocked countless up and under layups in the games that I watched, and had the vertical explosion to get up quickly. On the year, he averaged 1.03 blocks per contest. All in all, he is not an elite athlete by most standards, but is very good for this level of play. Additionally, Brazelton has good hands and collected a very impressive (for a forward) 1.10 steals per game. If Brazelton can extend his range and cut down on turnovers, he may be able to latch onto a minor league squad. He has the intangibles and decent enough athleticism to make his impact felt.
Finally, Sterling's Travis Minton deserves a mention. The 6'10 250 lb forward was efficient from the floor in his last season, connecting on 65.2% of his 23 field goal attempts. He must cut down on his weight, but he does have good potential if he can continue to improve on his overall game.
Kansas Wesleyan's Wes Jones is a 6'4 forward who graduated in 2010-2011, but he is an excellent athlete who jumps in the passing lanes and can take the ball coast to coast. He has an average handle, but is athletic at the rim and is vertically explosive enough to gather rebounds and contest shots on the other end. He gets close to the basket and finishes well inside. Jones does not shoot jumpers, which he must develop if he hopes to play at a higher level. But, he does have great quickness on his straight line drives to the hoop. Jones is a player with a lot of raw talent that has not been harnessed yet. If he can work on his game, he may be able to play in the minor leagues down the road.
(Image Sources: sgucavaliers.com, ccacsports.com, qctimes.com, marianstudentnewspaper.blogspot.com, crossroadsleague.com, mlive.com, and scwarriors.com)