A few thoughts and musings after a month spent in gyms watching bad basketball and the occasional promising prospect.
The best 2005 West Coast prospect we saw this summer was Micah Downs, 6-7 SR SF Bothell (Wash.) High. After witnessing the show he put on against Belmont Shore at the Main Event in Las Vegas, we remarked to another scout, "If his name was Sacha Vasilovic, and he was from Lithuania, you might see his name in the draft next year." The Mike Dunleavy comparisons have some validity, but Downs is a better athlete at the same stage. Dunleavy had a little better understanding of the game at that age, but Downs isn't too shabby in the "feel" department himself. With a weak 2005 class, not too many players got us excited this summer. But Downs's talent, and upside, jump out at you. With continued work and development, he has a chance to be very good.
In no particular order, here are some 2005 players who helped themselves in July: Ian O'Leary, Dior Lowhorn, Omar Samhan, Steffan Johnson, Jarrell Lake, Mike Roll, Drew Shiller, Coby Leavitt, Larry Gurganious, Chris Osborn, Jessie Byrd, Dazz Thornton and Diamon Simpson. Obviously, there are many others who upped their stock, but those are some of the guys who came to mind immediately.
The class of 2006 appears to have quality prospects at every position, with the exception of point guard. There are plenty of posts, with players such as James Keefe, Spencer Hawes, the Lopez twins, Alex Stepheson, Ray Hall, Daniel Deane and Taylor Harrison, among others. Chase Budinger, Derrick Jasper, Tre'Von Willis, Quincy Pondexter, Blake Wallace and Christian Polk are among the top wings. At point guard, Marcus Lawrence is the one guy who stands out as a clear, high-major prospect at this time.
A longtime observer of high school basketball offered the opinion recently that there may not be a single player in California's 2005 class who deserves to make the McDonalds game. If we had to vote right now, we'd go with Downs, Martell Webster, Jon Brockman and Mario Chalmers from the west. Amir Johnson and Davon Jefferson both need strong senior years, in our opinion, to make the game. They each have the potential to be dominant players, but need to bring a more consistent effort/focus to their games.
We had hundreds of conversations with coaches during July and a common refrain was the need for a better system in July. Too many non-prospects cluttering up the camps/tournaments make it difficult to evaluate the real prospects. Camp and tournament organizers need to do a better job of focusing on legitimate prospects. Yes, they might make a little less money. But if it gets bad enough (and it's getting worse every year), the NCAA may find a way to step in at some point and run the whole thing themselves.
A helpful change would be to "regionalize" the events. The vast majority of coaches are looking at players from their general area. Most coaches in the WCC, Big West and Mountain West are not looking at kids from Philadelphia and New York. So it would be helpful if the camps/tournaments would put all the West Coast kids in the same gyms. Put the South kids in another gym, the East Coast kids in another and so on. There's no real need for the best team from Los Angeles to play the best team from Cleveland – that's not relevant to the evaluation process. With no regionalization of the events, we have coaches driving 45 minutes in Las Vegas and Los Angeles from gym to gym. That's wasted time and it ultimately hurts the kids who don't get the look they might have if teams from the same general area played in one gym.
A common problem with most camps/tournaments is incomplete rosters/player lists. The numbers are often wrong, the class is inaccurate or the player's name is spelled incorrectly. One coach we spoke with had a great idea to solve this problem, at least when it comes to tournaments. If a tournament charges at entry fee of, say, $600 per team, they should bump the price up to $700. When the team shows up for the tournament, the coach would get $100 back for an accurate, and complete, roster. We have a feeling you'd suddenly see a lot of coaches motivated to spend the fifteen minutes it might take to fill out an accurate roster.
The toughest positions to fill in college basketball these days are point guard and center. Our advice to would-be point guards and centers that are looking for scholarships – give the coaches what they want. For point guards, that means: don't jack it up every time, play unselfishly, make good decisions, don't over-dribble, play good defense and value the ball. For centers: don't drift to the perimeter, play physical, be aggressive, rebound out of your area, show some understanding of how to play in the post, play good defense, set the occasional hard screen and show some toughness.
Speaking of toughness, that's an attribute in short supply among the Southern California 2005 prospects. The stereotype of soft, spoiled SoCal kids appears to have some validity this year. Too many of the supposed top prospects are delusional and their games have not developed. They've had clueless travel team guys, parents and assorted hangers-on, telling them how good they were for several years. They've also had way too much free stuff thrown at them from any early age.
In our opinion, this "culture of entitlement" is doing serious damage to the top SoCal prospects. While there's no question that there are still great athletes with significant upside in the area, there's also no disputing that their skill level isn't what it needs to be. Fellas, here's an unbiased opinion from someone who has watched all of you for several years – you're not as good as you think you are. Stop listening to the idiots telling you that you're going to the league. Get your butt in the gym, work on your game (cut out the bad pickup ball – work on your skills) and some of you may have a future in basketball.