Saturday, June 19, 2010

Texas USSSA State Championship: Player Analysis

The annual Texas USSSA State Championship is an invitation-only tournament that attracts the best teams from the city of Austin and its surrounding areas. Every great team has great players, and I traveled down to Akins High School in South Austin to catch a few of the games and check out some of the talent. With so many good teams it’s hard to select only a few of them to write about, but these are the guys that stood out most.

Cameron Blue, 6’4” Senior: This guy was one of the most underrated players on the court. He wasn’t the go-to-guy for his team, but he seemed to do great things with the ball every time he touched it. His ability to change his shot while in the air and finish despite being hacked is admirable at the least. The floor was like a trampoline for him, as he sprung into the air and pulled down rebounds over some of the bigger players, including his own teammates. The only weakness I saw was his lack of discipline on defense. Any time a player pump faked, Blue was three feet in the air swatting at nothing. It’s a minor setback that should change with good coaching. What surprised me most about Blue was the fact that he could step behind the arc and knock down a three with a defender challenging his shot. His versatility and hustle made him one of the best players in the tournament.

Deon Mitchell, 6’0” Senior: There is no hesitation when I say that Mitchell is the best playmaker I’ve seen at his age. His ability to use his peripheral vision and fire no-look passes to open players was a joy to watch. He plays hard at the offensive end and as a coach you can trust him to protect the ball in clutch situations. Penetrating the lane was a success for Mitchell over and over as the defender had to choose whether to stop him from passing or laying it up, and either way Mitchell would make the decision that placed the ball in the basket. He does have a few negatives, however. When he gets really into the game, he starts dribbling too much and turns the ball over. He runs his mouth at some of the other players and the referee caught him doing it in one of the games, and Mitchell received a technical foul. There were also a few instances where Mitchell would have an open lane to the basket on the left side and instead of finishing with his left hand he’d use his strong hand and get his shot blocked. Although he can anticipate well on defense, he’ll overestimate his speed and end up on the losing end of a gamble. His strengths do outweigh his weaknesses, and I could see him playing at a mid-major college at the next level.

Jalen Harris, 5’10” Senior: Lights out shooter. Plain and simple. He’s not even six feet but I saw him grab rim in warm-ups pretty easily, and his vertical definitely helps him avoid shot rejection when he’s driving the lane. He is so comfortable behind that three point line that it’s basically automatic every time he chunks up a trey. Despite only shooting a few times, Harris had at least 15 points in his first game because he lit up from beyond the arc. Aside from his height, Harris’s biggest weakness is shooting off the dribble. On fast breaks he needs to set up on the wing and let another guard drive and kick it out. Every time Harris pushed the ball in transition his shots were off. He was the best spot up shooter in the tournament but he needs to work on his decision making on the offensive side of the ball. He has the range to play basketball at an elite school, but he’d have a much tougher time getting the shots he wanted against taller, quicker DI players. All in all, his scoring ability should take him to Division II basketball at the least.

DeAndre Byrd, 5’10” Senior:
An animal on defense, Byrd forced more turnovers than anyone else I saw in the tournament. Quick as lightening, great anticipation and the ability to pressure even a good ball handler into making a mistake are just a few of the traits Byrd has to offer. The thing that impressed me most was his ability to recover quickly after getting beat on the first step. There were some quick guards out there that would get a step on Byrd and think they have an open jumper, only to find Byrd in their face a half second later. His hustle and determination to get possession of the ball wowed me, and when he started to score repeatedly I was even more impressed. His shooting mechanics are a bit unorthodox and I wouldn’t give him the ball to shoot a game winning three pointer, but he can find ways to the basket and rebound well on the offensive glass. He definitely needs discipline; however, as once he started missing shots and his team fell behind, he threw fits and even earned himself a technical. His height and lack of shooting ability limit his future, but if anyone out there wants a lockdown defender then Byrd would be a great selection.

Quincy Boyton, 6’5” Junior: Young, so still a lot of room for him to grow. That said, Boyton was very impressive on both sides of the ball. He’s thin as a rail and quick for his size. His lean frame is perfect for shot blocking and he displayed plenty of that in the tournament. He has good anticipation on defense; he reads the guards’ eyes well when they try to make entry passes to the post. Boyton runs the floor well, getting back on defense in a hurry and running his lanes on fast breaks. He needs to bulk up if he wants to be a post player and work on his jumper if he wants to be forward. His temper needs some attending to, as he whined when a ref called something against what he saw. Certainly prone to technicals, but hopefully with age comes maturity and he’ll be poised by the end of his high school career.

Dylan Cox, 6’4” Senior:
I was able to see Cox play multiple times since he goes to my old high school, and I can already see improvement in his game since last season. Playing in District 16-5A is not much of a challenge and it’ll be even harder for him to improve more next year since he’ll be playing in 4A. Hopefully, for his sake, he’ll avoid playing down on everybody else’s level next year. Today I saw Cox do some really good things-he makes smart passes, hustles on the boards and unselfishly makes the extra pass that usually leads to easy baskets for his team. His two-handed dunk on a fast break today attests to his jumping ability and when he sees a ball on the ground he’s sacrificing his body and going after it. His work ethic should cancel out the weaknesses I saw if he continues to push himself to be a better player. Another unorthodox shooter, Cox had a fair share of wide open opportunities and he only made a couple of them. He favors his right hand heavily and when playing stingy defenders like Byrd he’s going to have a great deal of trouble protecting the ball. Cox is already talking to Davidson and Princeton, two great fits for his style of play: smart and efficient.

David Hahn, 7’1” Senior:
There’s no typo here. Standing seven feet, one inch off the ground, Hahn was by far the biggest disappointment of the tournament. When I saw that walking tree my eyes lit up-is this the next Tyler Hansbrough or Cole Aldrich? Absolutely not. After airballing multiple shots in warm-ups, I kept my fingers crossed that he at least had a hook shot or some post move to rely on. Nothing. His coach didn’t even start him. The next tallest player was half a foot shorter than him and yet he still failed to put the ball in the net more than twice. He didn’t seem to take it seriously, either. Every time he missed (frequently) he would just laugh and trudge his way back on defense. Unless he develops his game over the summer, I wouldn’t go anywhere near this kid.

Mark Brown, 6’3” Junior:
To end on a high note, I give you Mark Brown. After seeing his flawless shooting mechanics at the free throw line I decided to focus my attention on him. The very first series Brown played that I paid close attention to went like this: Brown hits jump shot-hustles back on defense- steals the ball-passes to open man (who misses easy lay-up)-grabs the offensive rebound-lays it up. Four points, a steal, and a rebound in a matter of seconds. He hustles on defense and constantly pressures the ball handler. He was the game high scorer in both games I saw, hitting shots inside and out. He’s much too thin right now but he’ll add muscle over the next year and likely dominate even more. No team had an answer for him and if he keeps working on his game no team will. Definitely a guy to keep an eye on next year-I can see this guy going DI with ease.

This tournament attracted a great bunch of players from the Austin area. I saw a lot of impressive athletes play some very exciting games, and the list of players I mentioned have very bright futures ahead of them. If they put all their effort into it, I have no doubt we could see some of these guys on TV one day.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Moving Kingdoms: Where will LeBron rule next?

With less than a month to go before the free agent frenzy shakes up the NBA, we still have no word on where the greatest basketball player on the planet will reside come next winter. LeBron James has admitted that his home state has a slight advantage in signing him, but is Cleveland the best fit for King James? The two time MVP has stated that he will meet with other free agent stars including Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to discuss their future destinations as well. There are a lot of options for His Highness, and we’ll go ahead and break down which are the best fits for LeBron and which teams don’t meet the needs that the All Star demands.

Cleveland Cavaliers

We’ll go ahead and start with Cleveland. First of all, it’s his home state. He will always have a connection to the state of Ohio and the Cleveland fans that have supported him from the beginning. As far as talent goes, he has plenty of competent players around him, but for some reason they just can’t get back to the Finals. They traded for Shaq. They traded for Antawn Jamison. Yet the Cavaliers continue to struggle in the postseason. With the firing of head coach Mike Brown, you have to wonder if it was simply bad coaching all these years that denied the Cavs a championship. Whoever Cleveland hires as their next head coach, which WON’T be Tom Izzo, could be the determining factor on whether or not James will stay, and if a reputable coach makes his way to the Quicken Loans Arena, then we might see not only James in a Cleveland uniform but in the near future a championship ring around his finger.

So, what needs to happen for LeBron to remain a Cavalier?

1. The Cavs need to hire a prestigious coach with a history of winning in the postseason.

2. Brand new GM Chris Grant is going to have to reel in one of the big names in the offseason. Both Amare Stoudemire and Chris Bosh would make a great fit in the paint for Cleveland and Joe Johnson would be an excellent scorer to help out LeBron in putting points on the board. Grant needs to find a way to bring one of them to Cleveland or he might be losing the greatest player in the NBA.

3. Every man has his price. Give the guy an enormous raise and perhaps he’ll stick around for a while.

And like Jay-Z said….on to the next one!

New York Knicks

Speaking of Jay-Z, if you haven’t heard, LeBron and the east coast rapper are quite the pair of friends. Jay-Z has always said that he would love to run the streets of New York with King James by his side, and whether that’s in Brooklyn with the New Jersey Nets or at the Madison Square Garden, Jay-Z is excited at the thought. Both have talked about getting James involved in more than just basketball-business. The hip-hop legend has been doing his best to convince LeBron that there are more opportunities for success and money outside of basketball. What attracts LeBron to the Knicks is simply the exposure. Playing in front of 20,000 crazy fans at the most historic arena in the NBA gives LeBron all the attention he craves. Kobe Bryant is the King of the West Coast-he’s the greatest player in the biggest city in the West side of the United States. LeBron could be that same figure-the face of the East Coast-the greatest player in the biggest city in the United States. But there is one thing wrong with heading to the Knicks…their talent. The Knicks haven’t won a playoff series since the year 2000 and haven’t even made the playoffs in seven years. The continued struggle of New York basketball has left fans disgruntled and disappointed. Other than the hiring of head coach Mike D’Antoni, the Knicks haven’t shown many signs of improvement. Al Harrington and David Lee are the only two players with a decent amount of talent but other than that it’s either a bunch of 21 year olds or washed up has-beens. Now, LeBron did say he was going to meet with other star free agents, and if he could convince one of them to join him in NYC, then we may see LeBron wearing blue and orange.
Along with that, here’s what else needs to happen to get LeBron to the Knicks franchise.

1. GM Donnie Walsh needs to convince LeBron that the Knicks will be a championship caliber team sooner rather than later.

2. The Knicks are going to have to pay him significantly more than what any other team is offering.

3. Jay-Z better have some business propositions lined up and ready to go at James’ arrival.

Miami Heat

It’s pretty clear that Dwyane Wade wants to stay on the beach, and that leaving Miami is a last resort. Within the next couple weeks Wade plans on contacting all of the big name free agents and recruiting them to join the Heat. Miami has a lot of potential with young rising stars like Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley, and that’s something that LeBron James notices. If Wade could get an inside presence like Carlos Boozer to commit to the Heat, we could very well see LeBron James playing alongside Dwyane Wade. Yikes.

What do the Heat need to do to get LeBron James to Miami?

1. Dwyane Wade has some talking to do. He needs to put the image of winning a championship with Miami in James’ head. The two are good friends, and I’m sure LeBron wouldn’t mind playing with his fellow Olympic champion.
2. Miami is a beautiful city. Much better weather than up north in Cleveland. This is just one of the perks that Pat Riley and company need to pound into LeBron’s head.
3. LeBron may see the Heat as young and underdeveloped, and therefore not a championship-contending team. Riley and Wade need to let him know that although they are young, they actually have talent- unlike the Knicks.

New Jersey Nets

See New York Knicks but consider the Nets are even worse. On the plus side, they did recently hire former Coach of the Year Avery Johnson to try and turn things around, so at least the Nets are moving in the right direction in the coaching staff realm. The Nets will move to a $700 million arena in Brooklyn soon, so that might attract LeBron as well.

Chicago Bulls

Alright, let me make this clear. The Chicago Bulls have a better chance of getting Michael Jordan to come back and sign with them than they do signing LeBron. It’s just not going to happen. Why? Because James does not want to be in the shadow of Jordan. The comparisons would never end. “Jordan would have made that shot.” “Jordan is a better team leader.” There is no way he could avoid it. Plus his ego is bigger than the oil spill out in the gulf.

What Chicago needs to do:

1. Convince LeBron that Michael Jordan never played for Chicago, he actually played for Cleveland. That would get LeBron up and out of Cleveland in no time.

What do I think is going to happen? If James doesn’t stay in Cleveland, I think his next option is New York. But only if he can bring another talented free agent along with him. New York has some serious moves to make, and if they can’t get LeBron to the Big Apple then they have never-ending woes ahead of them. If he chooses not to go to NYC or stay in Cleveland, I could almost guarantee that he’d take the offer from Miami. There’s just too much talent out on that coast, and he and Wade could do some serious damage together.
Well, that’s my two cents. Who knows what’s going to happen one month from now? Not even the King himself. Whether he elects to remain Cleveland or decides to move his throne elsewhere, LeBron James will instantly give whatever team he plays for a legitimate shot at the title, regardless of his peasant teammates. Let the waiting begin.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Why College Stars Withdraw from the Draft

1. One of the nation's best inside scorers with 22.7 points per game (2nd in NCAA) and 9.1 rebounds per game.

2. The recipient of the Lou Henson award, given to the mid-major player of the year. Averaged a double-double with 17.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, to go along with 3.3 blocks per contest.

3.The only player in his conference to lead his team in scoring (18.8 ppg), rebounding (5.4 rpg), assists (4.1 apg) and steals (1.1 spg). He was also selected to the All Big Ten Second Team.

These three players all share two things in common- they are talented players with huge potential, and all three of them entered the NBA draft only to later withdraw. So why did these decorated prospects decide to stay another year at their university when they have bright futures in the NBA?

The first player mentioned is Adnan Hodzic, a power forward for Lipscomb. It's especially shocking to see a player with his stat line withdraw his name from the draft, but his reasons are well thought-out.

"Well you have to look at the success my team had. We won the regular season championship, but we lost the first game of our conference tourney and we didn't make it to the tourney. NBA scouts look at that," Hodzic said. "I have to prove us kind of like Butler did."

Precisely. If Butler didn't make it to the Tournament, do you think Gordan Hayward would be drawing as much attention as he did when he made it to the Final Four in Indianapolis?

The second player on the "why the heck did you withdraw?" list is Keith Benson. His numbers were well-above the average player, but Benson didn't pounce on the draft the second he heard he'd get selected.

"The argument I heard to stay in the draft was to gain more experience and get stronger."

Simple as that. A little polishing never hurt anyone's stock!It's a very mature decision by Benson, and we'll see how his plan plays out in next year's draft.

Finally, the last person on the list is the lone bright spot on Penn State's team, junior guard Talor Battle. With only three conference wins, it's difficult to fathom why on Earth Battle would stay another year with the college version of the New Jersey Nets, but he showed perseverance in his decision to stay.

"I withdrew because I thought it was in my best interest to stay another year in college, to prepare myself for the tough life of being a pro athlete," Battle said.

His advisers felt that it wouldn't hurt for Battle to get some feedback and things to improve on from the NBA scouts.

"They thought it was a win-win situation to test the waters and receive feedback on both strengths and weaknesses," Battle said. "They just let me know what they think would be the best decision for me to stay in the draft or withdraw."

To truly understand why these players are staying another year, we have to look at why other players are forgoing their remaining years in college.

A perfect example would be Ole Miss guard Terrico White. You don't see a lot of Ole Miss games on ESPN, and scoring a pedestrian 15 points per game doesn't quite jump off the stat sheet. White also only averages one assist a game, and that's an extremely low number for a guard. So, why is White entering the draft when the aforementioned players are staying another year?

"My advisers have said that I'm projected to be a 1st round pick," White said. "How high I go in the 1st round is depending on my workouts with teams and stuff. I've heard that I could possibly be a lottery pick after next season."

Draft experts and scouts say that White has the tools and athleticism to be both a great scorer and defender, but he has a long way to go before he reaches his potential. Apparently, investing in underdeveloped players with superstar potential is trending right now in the NBA. But White said if he stayed another year, he could be a lottery pick. So why leave now?

"My family and I thought that it was best for me to stay in the draft," White said.

Well, there you have it, folks. All in all, withdrawing from the draft has to deal with perfecting your game and getting NBA-ready. And for others, the talent is already there, they just need to be recognized. It's different for every specific player, but as they say, "All's well that ends well" and every one of the players on my list have stellar careers in their future. Waiting another year just adds to their maturity level. And every coach likes a poised player.