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: &

Monday, January 28, 2013

Scouring the Nation (Part 15) Retrospective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image Sources:,,,, and

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Conference USA Preview

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

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

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

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Scouring the Nation (Part 14) Retrospective

In this edition of "Scouring the Nation (Part 14) Retrospective", I take a look back at some of the talented players from last year that I was not able to review due to time constraints. Some may be pursuing basketball careers overseas or hoping to land a minor league role in the United States. In this edition, I examine some of the top NAIA talent (Division I) and players from Division III. 

The first prospect that I will focus on in this segment is NAIA Division I Player of the Year Cameron Gliddon. This 6'5 Concordia (CA) guard was one of the more versatile players outside of Division 1 a year ago, and he led his team to an NAIA Division I National Championship. First and foremost, though, Gliddon thrives as a shooter and demonstrates considerable promise coming off of screens. 77.3% of his field goal attempts were from beyond the arc. In the contests that I witnessed, Gliddon received the vast majority of his points by properly rubbing off of screens to free himself for easy looks. Gliddon possesses nice mechanics on his shooting stroke and was able to connect on 41.5% of his three point attempts. While he typically shoots the ball off of curls, Gliddon also is capable pulling up off the dribble. For the most part, Concordia's offense flowed through his perimeter shooting ability, and he was savvy enough to use this strength to get to the basket and find open teammates at times.  Like many of the talented Australians that came through Division I basketball (St/ Mary's Matthew Dellavedova and many others), Gliddon is a fundamentally sound player with a high basketball IQ. He knows when to shoot the ball and plays within his team's offensive sets. For Concordia, that entailed looking for his shot off of screens and even attacking the basket occasionally. Even though he is very strong protecting the ball, Gliddon does not possess an elite handle and will likely not be able to create his own shot at the next level. Despite this, he was able to find open teammates off the dribble, averaging 2.26 assists per contest and posting a 1.87 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio. Additionally, Gliddon is fundamentally sound with his post entry passing. And, while he did not typically attack the paint very often last season, he was able to draw fouls when he did. He is physical when attacking the basket and is not afraid to bang inside for rebounds. He averaged 3.6 boards per contest and was particularly effective on the defensive glass. On the defensive end, Gliddon is not exceptionally quick from a lateral standpoint. However, when playing with Concordia, he understood his team's defensive sets and was rather intelligent with his rotations. Gliddon also is rather savvy playing the passing lanes and picking people's pockets. He averaged just under 2.0 steals per game and was very active creating extra opportunities for his team. Overall, Gliddon is a player with a clear role at a higher level of play. If he can continue to improve his handle and lock down on defense, he should have a long career overseas.

While Gliddon has tremendous potential at the next level, his teammate Edward Willis may only be able to play in the minor leagues due to his size at the forward position. Willis is a 6'4 power forward (ala former Indiana player AJ Moye) who plays with a tremendous amount of aggression on both ends of the floor. He is athletic and plays strong on the interior, leveraging his strong base to draw fouls and obtain deep post position. Despite being undersized, Willis has decent length and is able to shoot over opponents at times due to his high release point. He uses these physical tools to face up in the post and attack at the rim. Willis does a nice job of sealing his man on the block. He is then able to out-quick bigger players to the bucket, using either hand and finishing. Willis has a very good first step, but is not dynamic enough with his ball skills to convert to another position. His handle needs to be refined and is only serviceable from the free throw line in. He also needs to cut down on his turnovers, as he averaged a near 0.5 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio, which is very bad if he hopes to play beyond NAIA basketball. While these turnovers are mostly due to his average interior passing and loose handle, Willis is generally a good decision maker who understands spacing and moves well without the ball in his hands. He constantly is open on cuts to the basket and he works hard to free himself under the hoop. He also makes fundamentally sound post entry feeds when temporarily stationed on the perimeter. And while he is not an exceptional shooter, his free throw shooting form shows some promise, and he may be able to extend his range for consistent mid range jumpers. (maybe even learning to connect from beyond the arc as well) Still, he was able to draw 5.89 free throws per contest due to his exceptional leaping ability and propensity for attacking the body of shot blockers. Aside from his face up game in the post, Willis also possesses a nice turnaround jumper, which he implements effectively against bigger competition. In terms of his toughness on the glass, Edward Willis is incredibly active on the boards. He possesses good box out fundamentals and is very physical when pinning his man with his lower body. Willis' length and run-jump athleticism also factor in here. He ended up averaging 5.1 rebounds per game, but this number significantly understates his impact boxing out on the glass, as he was able to ward off his opponents and often opened up opportunities for his teammates. On the defensive end, Willis possesses excellent lateral quickness for his size, and may be able to develop into a perimeter defender with a post game on offense. He moves his feet well, and has nice awareness on this end, trapping the ball at times and being at the right place at the right time. He hedges very well, and does a nice job recovering to his man. Willis is also productive on this end of the floor, collecting 1.5 steals per game. He does a nice job stripping the ball without fouling and is disruptive in the passing lanes, fronting the post when necessary. He also works hard to obtain positioning on the block. Overall, Edward Willis is one of the more unique players that I have come across who may be able to function at a higher level of play due to his versatility on the defensive end.

Aside from Willis and Gliddon, 6'2 combo guard Austin Simon had a major impact for Concordia's squad last season, contributing in a plethora of ways. Simon is a do-it-all player who is versatile enough to convert to the point guard slot if he is willing to improve his handle. Of all his various strengths, Simon does his best work attacking the basket and getting to the line. Simon is fairly strong with the ball and attacks with reckless abandon once he sees an opening. He draws contact well and is able to finish in spite of his rather ordinary strength/weight. (175 lbs.) Simon is very athletic when he gets in the lane and this enables him to draw fouls at a pretty high rate relative to how often he has the ball in his hands. He averaged 4.76 free throws per game last season and his statistics actually understate his impact in this regard. Aside from finishing strong at the rim, Simon is also a capable passer, which leads me to believe that he can play point guard down the road. He averaged 3.05 assists per contest and was generally a good decision maker with the ball in his hands, unselfishly opting to feed the post and swing the ball around the perimeter at times. And, if he is cut off in the lane, Simon has a decent pull up jump shot in his arsenal. While he was streaky at times last season, Simon did do some damage from beyond the arc as well. He shot 35.5% from distance and chose his spots fairly well. Aside from his offensive impact, Simon is a very good rebounder for his size. A year ago, he averaged 4.7 boards per game and made his mark on both the offensive and defensive glass. On the defensive end, Simon has great hands and is able to strip the ball away from the opposition. He is extremely active with his hands, and tends to get in foul trouble when he is overaggressive. In terms of his production on this end, Simon averaged 1.55 steals per game. If he can cut down on his tendency to foul, Simon has the lateral quickness to become a rather good defender. All in all, Austin Simon is a noteworthy player who may be able to play at a higher level in the Americas.

Last and certainly not least, 6'10 258 lb. forward Tommy Granado was a huge reason why Concordia (CA) was able to earn a National Championship title last season. While Granado is somewhat 'vertically challenged', he made his mark on both ends of the floor at the NAIA level. Granado is a fundamentally sound post player who utilizes his body well to create space and score inside. He scores most of his baskets from three feet in, but does have good form on his shot and may be able to extend his range in time. Granado does a nice job of carving out space on the block and physically overwhelming his opposition. He is skilled enough to score when physically challenged with a decent jump hook, but he typically is able to out-muscle post players for layups. As a result of his tenacity in the paint, Granado shot a staggering 64.8% from the floor and connected on a respectable 76% of his free throw opportunities. While he did not get to the line as often as one might expect, he did not always receive the ball from his teammates in the flow of the offense. He was often able to create extra possessions on the offensive glass (he was his team's best offensive rebounder) and finished plays through tip ins and tip outs to open shooters. In terms of his utility in offensive sets, Granado functions well as a screener at the top of the key and might eventually become a good pick and roll option. He is also a good post entry passer and is willing to give the ball up to open teammates if they have better looks at the bucket. In terms of his prowess on the glass, Granado does a nice job of securing boards by boxing out and using his superior strength to physically overpower his opponents. He averaged 6.7 rebounds per contest, and should improve on this number if he eventually cuts weight and is able to get to loose balls quicker. On the defensive end, Granado needs to shed some weight in order to become more mobile. He fought hard a season ago and was able to even play defense on the perimeter at times. However, because he is vertically challenged, he does not block shots at a high rate and is more of a positional defender. Still, he struggles to obtain good positioning on defense because of his lack of lateral quickness. If he can shed some weight and improve his quickness on the defensive end, Granado may be able to make an impact in the Americas.

Corey Chandler is a former top 100 recruit who landed at Rutgers, before eventually turning up at William Paterson for his junior season of play. At Rutgers, Chandler was a slashing combo guard who did a nice job getting in the lane and finishing at the rim. The 6'2 guard's game changed considerably in the interim, as he is now a full-time scoring point guard who creates for his teammates. In the contests I watched, Chandler was able to beat his man off the dribble with a decent handle and a solid first step. He is physically strong attacking the basket, demonstrating good body control and a decent finishing ability. When he does decide to drive, he does an excellent job initiating contact and getting to the free throw line. He averaged 5.71 free throws per contest, and connected on a decent 75.0% of his attempts last season. Chandler was able to score on most of his scoring drives and he finished well at the rim. When he decided to get his teammates involved in the games I witnessed, Chandler displayed good vision and was able to kick the ball out to open shooters once he got deep in the lane. He averaged 4.21 assists per contest and was instrumental in orchestrating the William Paterson offensive sets. But, because he had the ball in his hands so often, Chandler turned the ball over at an alarmingly high rate, averaging 4.43 turnovers per game. This must be corrected if he hopes to play at a higher level of professional play. Despite this weakness, Chandler is a capable shooter who is best shooting off the bounce. He uses the threat of his mid range shot to open up driving opportunities and is fairly crafty with the ball. Still, he was very inconsistent from beyond the arc a season ago, shooting a paltry 28.6%. Chandler must improve on this aspect of his game if he hopes to keep defenses honest at a higher level of play. Further, Chandler is physical on the glass and collected 5.9 boards per contest last season. On the defensive end, Chandler possesses good lateral quickness and was very productive a season ago. He averaged just under 1 block per game, and 2.64 steals per contest. Chandler demonstrated above average athleticism on the defensive end and was very active with his hands. Despite this, he fouled under three times per game and was an essential part of WPU defensive schemes, often directing his man towards his team's shot blockers. All in all, Chandler is a player with a lot of untapped talent who must play under control if he hopes to obtain a role at a higher level of play. He is active defensively and has the quickness to play in the pros.

Division III Third-Team All American Aris Wurtz is a 6'5 combo forward who likes to mix it up on the inside and on the perimeter. He averaged a remarkable 25.0 points per game last year. The Ripon College standout is not super quick off the dribble and does not possess a reliable enough handle to attack off the dribble professionally. However, Wurtz excels with his in between game. He likes to post up against bigger players on the block. From there, he exploits his quickness advantage to draw fouls and attack the basket. Wurtz possesses decent footwork for a combo forward and is able to out-quick bigger players inside. He does a nice job of obtaining positioning on the block.  He carves out space nicely, and attacks with a fairly reliable go-to move and counter. While this element of his game will not be as pronounced at the next level due to significantly better help defense, Wurtz does a nice job facing up and draining jump shots in the paint. In particular, he does a good job going to his reliable fadeaway jumper. Wurtz has good body control and uses his physical strength to obtain separation. When he does attack the rim, Wurtz does a nice job of drawing contact, as he averaged 6.27 free throw attempts per contest last year. He typically made the most of these opportunities, demonstrating solid form and connecting on 83.3% of his attempts. He can finish through contact, and was able to draw 'And 1' opportunities in the games I witnessed. In terms of his strength inside, Wurtz possesses decent box out fundamentals and is able to secure rebounds at a fairly high rate, particularly on the defensive end. Despite being undersized, Wurtz is physical and has a good knack for locating the ball, as evinced by his 6.4 rebounds per game. While Wurtz was a good combo forward at the Division III level, his potential mostly rests in his versatility. Wurtz is a capable three point shooter, and is able to keep defenses honest from the perimeter. In the contests that I watched, he was able to post up, and then move to the perimeter when his teammates were unable to find him. This regularly resulted in open three point looks. Wurtz possesses decent lift and solid mechanics on his jumper. Last year, he connected on 43.0% of his three point looks on 107 field goal attempts from that distance. Wurtz moves well without the ball and shows some promise coming off of screens. As a result, he may be able to play exclusively on the perimeter at the next level if he learns to tighten his handle. Because this is not an area of strength, Wurtz is not particularly effective getting his shot off the dribble. He does not often create shots for others, but is unselfish and knows when to swing the ball around the perimeter. On the defensive end, Wurtz has a lot of work to do. He was regularly matched up with taller post players, and he often either fouled them or gave up post position, frequently allowing jump hooks in the lane. When he defended out on the perimeter, he did a nice job against Division III competition, but it seems as though he does not possess the lateral quickness to defend at a much higher level of play. If Wurtz can continue to refine this aspect of his game and continue to improve physically, he may be able to carve out a niche overseas as a catch and shoot player.   

Division III standout Shane Manor deserves some mention for his performances at Wisconsin River Falls in the WIAC. While he has a rather narrow frame, Manor has very good length and height at 6'5. This lefty has a serviceable enough handle to get in the teeth of the defense and cause some damage. And, while he was not always effective scoring the basketball, he was able to contribute in other ways in the contests I saw. Ultimately, his leadership and productivity on the court culminated in a WIAC tournament championship victory over Division III POY Chris Davis' squad. After struggling to find his shot for most of the game, Manor was assertive late and scored to put the game out of reach. In terms of his tendencies, Manor primarily scores from the mid range, rarely attempting shots from behind the arc. He has a nice form and is able to get good lift on his shot. He typically scores off the bounce, and is able to pull up at any point of his drive. When attacking the rim, Manor is not terribly explosive, but his first step is effective enough to keep defenses off guard. When he does pull up for his shot, Manor is fairly efficient from the field and is a good rhythm shooter. Manor is also able to slash to the rim and demonstrates nice poise in selectively choosing when to attack, as he rarely is called for an offensive foul. When he does get to the basket, he does a nice job of drawing fouls. This is evinced by the fact that he got to the line 5.28 times per game in 2011-2012. And he demonstrated solid form on his free throw stroke, hitting 77.7% of his attempts. Offensively, Manor has a very good basketball IQ, and knows when to shoot and pass the ball. As a result, he connected on a staggering 55.6% of his shots last season. When he is not looking to score the ball, Manor does an excellent job finding teammates. The lefty is capable of making post entry feeds on the move and has the vision to thread the needle through multiple defenders. He has a fundamental understanding of how to make post entry feeds as well. When Manor was isolated in the contests I witnessed, he did a nice job of slashing and kicking the ball out to the wing for an open three point shot. He is most adept at making the wrap around pass to teammates for easy finishes. Defensively, Manor is very much a mixed bag, and most of his productivity on this end will probably not translate to the next level. He plays with decent assertiveness on defense, but is prone to mental lapses, often failing to close out on perimeter shooters or not fighting hard enough around picks. He has decent lateral quickness for the DIII level, but this will probably not translate in the pros. I project him to be slightly below average defensively, depending on what league he ends up playing in. With this said, Manor is fairly productive and has decent anticipation in the passing lanes, as he averaged just over a steal per game last season. He has good vertical athleticism and is also able to play effective help defense at times. Overall, Manor is a great player at the DIII level, who might be able to adapt to a lower division overseas or in the Americas due to his savvy basketball IQ and efficient offensive play.

Manor's teammates are notable for their performances as well, although they have more holes in their games and would likely only be able to play at a lower division in the Americas. The first player worth mentioning is standout point guard Brian Kimble, who really led his team's attack against Wisconsin-Whitewater. Kimble is an athletic 6'1 point guard with the handle and savvy to feed his teammates with the game on the line. It is worth mentioning that Kimble is more of an offensive initiator and does more than the statsheet is able to capture. He consistently slashes to the hoop with good aggression and a sense of purpose. He has good vision on his attack and has a nice enough first step to keep defenses off balance. While he did turn the ball over 2.68 times per game last season, many of the mistakes were miscues by his teammates, and he was often able to recover in these situations. In fact, sometimes when he loses the ball momentarily on drives to the hoop, he is often able to recover by stealing it back. In terms of his vision, he kicks the ball to open shooters once he gets ahead of his man. Kimble also feeds the ball inside regularly, showing a decent ability to pass over defenders, with only the occasional miscue. His poise offensively clearly provided a spark for his team last season. And, he was even able to assert himself offensively in the games I watched. While he is not a shooter by any stretch, (27.3% from 3, and 43.6% overall) Kimble does make shots when they matter most, late in the game. In fact, he was able to put his team ahead with an open three point look. He does a better job shooting when he receives a screen off the dribble. He can connect off one or two dribbles as well, and is not markedly more efficient at either. Kimble does a decent job of getting to the line and draws contact when he looks for his shot. On the defensive end, Kimble projects as an impact player at a lower level of play. He led his conference in steals as season ago, and has very active hands. Kimble also has good lateral quickness and is able to stay with just about anyone. He is a physical defender and is patient enough on defense to wait for the right moment before forcing turnovers. (instead of gambling) Kimble is a decent help defender and is a vocal leader on this end of the floor. Further, he is athletic enough to challenge effectively on closeouts. Kimble is a player to keep in mind.

Aside from Kimble and Manor, 6'4 wing Aaron Anderson is a player to take note of as well. Anderson is a lengthy wing who is proficient from behind the arc. He connected on 38.3% of his attempts last season, and was better than his percentages demonstrate. Anderson has a very nice stroke, but has a bit of a slow shooting motion, which often leads to players challenging shots that would otherwise have been released without difficulty. He moves fairly well without the ball and does a good job of spacing on the floor. He connects from beyond the arc either off the catch on a drive or handling the ball out in transition, where he can pullup and bury shots with no defense back. Anderson is a capable jump shooter from inside the arc as well. Anderson only very rarely drives to the hoop, and typically settles for jumpers with a hand in his face. Anderson is fundamentally sound passing the ball as well, and was able to feed Wade Guerin in the post with a nice post entry feed. Defensively, Anderson is a work in progress, but better than expected. While he possesses good length, he is not particularly quick from a lateral standpoint. However, he plays hard on this end, and did a really nice job defending the post at times, standing his ground and forcing misses. He does gamble a little too often in transition though. Overall. Anderson is a nice hustle glue guy who chases down rebounds, tracks down loose balls, and can keep defenses honest from three point range.

While Kimble had arguably the most impressive performance against Whitewater, big man Wade Guerin was not far behind, with his yeoman's work inside. Guerin is a 6'8 bulky forward who is not overly mobile, but is not hindered by his limitations as much as one might think. While he is not particularly quick off the dribble, Guerin was able to get in the lane at times against Whitewater, and made some nice moves scoring through contact. Guerin's handle is serviceable and he can get to where he wants on the floor. Guerin is aggressive attacking the rim and can withstand a lot of physicality; in fact, he embraces it. Guerin received most of his first half offense in the Whitewater contest off of basket cuts and feeds from Kimble and to a lesser extent Manor. He does a nice job of using his body inside to create space and is more mobile on the block than most would anticipate, given his lack of explosive athleticism and quickness. Guerin is a back to the basket player at times, but can also faceup. His handle is fairly effective from the free throw line in. When he is doing a nice job scoring inside, Guerin must do a better job of anticipating and passing out of double teams. He turns it over more often than one might expect when defenses converge. Guerin's form is fairly effective, and while he does not have great lift, he can keep defenses honest at times. He is able to shoot jumpers at the top of the key, but often settles for three point baskets, which are somewhat out of his range. When he does decide to get to the rim instead of opting to shoot the jumper, Guerin "bulls" by defenders, but is crafty enough to avoid charges. On one particular play, he actually had a very impressive scoop shot in the lane after beating his man off the dribble. Guerin is good on the offensive glass for tip ins, and is fairly effective rebounding the ball overall, averaging 7.57 boards per contest. On defense, Guerin is laterally challenged, but does a decent job on post ups. He must watch his physicality at times though. With his limitations in mind, Guerin does have surprisingly good hands on defense and was able to poke the ball away on multiple occasions in the contests I watched.

These four seniors for Wisconsin River Falls really contributed a lot on both ends of the floor. They did also have junior Ollie White, who put them over the top in their matchup with Wisconsin Whitewater. White is a fairly athletic 6'7 215 lb big man who is much stronger than his physical measurements reveal. He is active on offense, tipping the ball in and finishing through contact. He does a nice job of maneuvering around players and shielding the ball with his body. White does a very good job of drawing contact, as evinced by his 4.75 free throw attempts per game last season. He has decent footwork in the post, but could use some work in that respect. White has a decent stroke, but very rarely steps out to hit three point baskets. On the defensive end, White has very good hands and is able to poke the ball away from bigger players. He may want to add to his frame if he hopes to play post defense at a higher level. He is laterally quick and is active with his hands. White averaged over a steal a game last season out of the post. All in all, White is a good athlete who may be able to develop into a role player at a lower level of play in the Americas if he continues to work on his game. It will be interesting to see if he adjusts to a lead role this season.

While River Falls had impressive players (and I've already reviewed Whitewater's MVP Chris Davis) 6'0 backup point guard, Quardell Young actually caught my attention for his ability to play with such poise in limited minutes. Young came into the game and instantly provided an offensive impact, getting to the line frequently attacking the rim. He has a good first step and is strong enough to finish through contact. Young has a pretty wide frame and may be able to add even more muscle to his frame. The freshman found teammates and even rebounded in traffic, demonstrating considerable athleticism and vision. After watching him, I expected Young to have a breakout year this year, and so far he has increased his production considerably, averaging 12.5 points per game on an efficient 54.9% shooting. (and 35.3% from three point range) He is certainly a young player to keep an eye on down the road.

Two other Division III weapons from Marietta College deserve some attention here. 6'6 200 lb wing Trevor Halter is not an exceptional athletic specimen, but was extremely serviceable in his time at Marietta College. While he played in limited minutes in 2011-2012, Halter was a high impact player the season before, shooting an impressive 45% from beyond the arc on 140 attempts. His penchant for long range shooting should help him obtain a niche role at a higher level of play, despite his limited playing time in his senior campaign. Aside from his outside shooting stroke, Halter is also capable of pulling up from the mid range, hitting 52.9% of his shots overall. He is strong going to the basket as well and drew 4.06 fouls per contest when he received significant playing time. Even though Halter is a fairly strong shooter, he surprisingly only shot 64.3% at the line in his time at Marietta College. Even though Halter is fairly physical, he was not a great rebounder relative to his size. On the defensive end, Halter uses his strength, but is not exceptionally quick from a lateral standpoint. He is not overly active with his hands either, but he still averaged over 2.4 fouls per contest. Overall, Halter is a player to keep an eye on due to his size and proficiency from behind the arc.

Teammate Kevin Knab is a 6'6 undersized post player who is aggressive inside and obtains most of his points getting to the basket. Knab is a fairly distinguished post player at the Division III level and is capable attacking defenders and drawing fouls. He averaged 6.23 fouls drawn per contest and he played very physically on the block and going for rebounds. Knab has decent back to the basket moves and can also face up. He is capable shooting the ball from inside the paint and is very efficient scoring, hitting 59.3% of his field goal attempts in 2011-2012. Knab is a fundamentally sound rebounder, who challenges much bigger opponents. He averaged 6.3 boards per contest last season. On the defensive end, Knab does a good job of being physical in the post. He is not exactly foul prone and is active with his hands at times. In general, Knab is an undersized forward who would likely be able to play minor league basketball due to his aggressive nature on both ends.

Additionally, Frostburg St.'s Troy Dockett is an offensive specialist who will be able to make an impact in the minor leagues as a shooter. Dockett was able to get mid range shots off the bounce in the contests that I witnessed, and he was fairly efficient from the field overall, shooting 47.8%. With that said, he could stand to do a better job finishing at the rim. Because he is mostly a jump shooter, he did not get to the line often last year. Despite his limitations offensively, Dockett is most promising as a specialist three point shooter. Last year, he connected on a blistering 50.0% of his 136 three point attempts. Dockett possesses good shot selection and was very valuable to his team hitting shots off the catch. On the defensive end, Dockett was productive, averaging 1.5 steals per contest. Still, he must look to become more of a lockdown defender. And, at 6'0, he gives up some size, so players will be able to shoot over the top of him. Still, he has good instincts on defense and may be able to make up for his lack of size by forcing turnovers. Finally, Dockett is not a pure point guard, and must work on integrating his teammates before he can develop into a specialist at a higher level of play. His below 1 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio is alarming for a player that will likely have to play point guard at the next level, even if his greatest strength rests off the ball.

Undersized Emory guard Austin Claunch also made a name for himself last season. Standing at 5'9, Claunch made a huge impact for his team in virtually every statistic. He not only was able to score the ball attacking the hoop and from beyond the arc, but also got to the line driving to the basket. He averaged just under four trips to the line per game, and this is fairly remarkable considering how unselfish Claunch is as a player. He is a capable three point shooter who hit 36.6% a season ago, but was actually more proficient from this distance when he was not responsible for such a large portion of his team's offensive output. Claunch picked his spots well on the floor and shot 46.0% from the field. Even though he was a capable scorer at Emory, Claunch made his mark with his passing ability. He did a nice job of getting in the lane and dishing to open teammates, and was effective out in transition. Claunch was one of the top passers in Division III last season, orchestrating his team's offensive sets with remarkable efficiency. He ended up averaging 7.2 assists per game, and this is a very high number at the Division III level, where it is not a given that one's teammates will finish at the rim. On defense, Claunch is below average due to his height, but he displays some good quickness on this end. Claunch may be able to run offensive sets as a backup point guard due to his unique court vision if given the opportunity.

Another guard with outstanding court vision is Rust College's William Montgomery. The 6'2 point guard had one of the best handles in Division III a year ago and was able to find his teammates on most possessions. Montgomery is the epitome of a pass first point guard. His impact of this level of play is very reminiscent of Kendall Marshall's at UNC. He has good height for a point guard and is able to push the tempo and find open teammates. Markeith Wilson was a good option for Montgomery due to his ability to stretch the floor. Montgomery constantly has his head up and is able to alley oop the ball to his big men in halfcourt sets or in transition. Also, he creates a lot of open opportunities by driving in the lane and making chest or bounce passes to cutters. In terms of his ability to pass off the bounce by getting defenses to converge, he is also reminiscent of Scott Machado. Montgomery is a capable three point shooter and can keep defenses honest, even though this is not his greatest strength. (and he can be fairly inconsistent in this area) He is a decent rebounder and is able to clean up plays on the glass despite his size. Like Machado and Marshall, Montgomery's weakness is on the defensive end. He must do a better job of keeping his stance and not giving up uncontested drives. He rarely steps in to take charges, and he definitely must improve as a positional defender. Overall, Montgomery was one of the few players outside of Division 1 who can impact the game solely by creating for his teammates. He is a good leader and floor general who should play at the minor league level.

Finally, Salem St.'s Daniel Clark is a 6'5 senior shooting guard who is capable of hitting perimeter shots. He has a nice looking stroke and range on his jump shots. Clark is also a good rebounder, who boxes out and utilizes his size to the fullest extent. Further, he is very unselfish with the ball in his hands, and was willing to come off the bench if it impacted his team for the better. He regularly looks to swing the ball from side to side, and helped Salem St. run crisp offensive sets. On defense, he does not possess great lateral quickness, but was able to rotate effectively most of the time. He has a decent understanding of helpside defense and uses angles to cut his man off on this end.

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