Ndudi Ebi might be top priority for Cats

Some of the nation's preeminent high school prospects are spending the weekend in Houston for the Kingwood Classic hosted by Hal Pastner (Josh's father) including two class of 2003 big men that Arizona has interest in.

The best player in the Houston area is 6-10 play-anywhere Ndudi Ebi (Westbury Christian High). Ebi has been drawing raves for his performances over the past month or so, first at the Boo Williams tournament and now at home in Houston for the Kingwood Classic.

Ebi is a consensus top 10 player in the class of 2003 and has narrowed his choices of schools pretty much down to two: Arizona and Duke. What makes him so attractive to just about anyone who has ever watched him play is his versatility. I talked to "Indy" recently and he summed up his game this way.

"One time you might come and watch me play and think I'm a three-point shooter," He said. "Another time you'll come out and leave thinking I'm a passer and a ballhandler. But then you might see me play again and then think I'm an inside guy who is a big-time rebounder."

With an all-around game and a big man's body, it's no wonder that America's two best basketball programs on different sides of the country covet Ebi so much. In fact, because he is so skilled and could cause absolute match-up nightmares for opposing big men (or wings, for that matter), it wouldn't surprise me if Arizona might have Ndudi Ebi on top of its "get list" at this time. Let me explain why I think this could be so.

First of all, Ebi is extremely active, athletic and lively on the court. He has an endless amount of energy and maximizes it by attacking the glass, running the floor, getting to the hoop and shooting jumpers.

Ebi is 6-10 and long but that doesn't necessarily mean he's destined for a spot in the post like most project him in college. His best spot probably is at the four, but there's little doubt that he can also play the three and even the five if need be. Imagine the match-up fits he would give other four-men with his athleticism, quickness and ability to put the ball on the floor. Likewise, his size would be a huge advantage for him should he be playing on the wing at times as well.

In baseball, Ndudi Ebi would be referred to as a "five-tool player", meaning he can pretty much do it all. And that is why I wouldn't be shocked in the least to hear that he is now priority No. 1 for the class of 2003 prospects that Arizona is looking at. I firmly believe that Arizona will seriously turn up the heat on Ebi now, because if there is only going to be one big man taken from this junior class, Ndudi Ebi probably will be that man.

David Padgett (6-11 center from Reno) still might be priority No. 1 for the Wildcats but it seems more likely now that Ebi's versatility and ability to do a lot of things well might give him a slight edge. Because he's a true center with a limited capacity to face up to the basket, Padgett might even be option No. 3 behind Brian Butch (6-11 F/C from Appleton, Wisconsin).

Butch, although not quite as talented, is very similar to Minnesota freshman Rick Rickert with his playing style. Butch can face up, put the ball on the floor and shoot from mid-range, all while measuring in at close to seven feet. Guys like him and Rickert (not to mention Ebi) are the wave of the future in college basketball.

So here's what I think. Arizona turns up the heat on Ebi; that's priority No. 1 now. If he decides to commit to the Wildcats soon, that's ideal for everyone involved. However, if Ebi chooses to play for Duke, I think Arizona then targets Brian Butch as its must-have big man. Obviously, though, a guy like Padgett is hard to turn down, especially since he has now gone on three official visits and probably is ready to make a decision within the next week or so.

Padgett had a great visit to Tucson two weeks ago. He left very impressed by the players, the facilities and especially by Lute Olson, who personally drove him to the airport when he left. The following weekend, Padgett tripped to Stanford and the word is that he had a "so-so" time in Palo Alto. But this weekend, he and best buddy Omar Wilkes are in Lawrence visiting Kansas and Roy Williams. It's my belief that if Kansas really "woos" both he and Wilkes, David Padgett might commit to the Jayhawks in the very near future. Basically it's come down to yet another classic Arizona vs. Kansas recruiting battle for an elite level player.

The wildcard in all of this is what I like to call "The Robert Swift Factor". The legitimate seven-footer from Bakersfield, California is only a sophomore but coaches from all over the nation are in love with the big kid already. If Arizona somehow decides NOT to sign a big man in 2003, expect Swift to be the prime target of the Wildcats next year.

Swift is a guy that runs the floor like a gazelle, hits the glass like a monster, goes after every shot attempt and rebound as if it were deciding the game and is about as quick and active on the break as any seven-footer in recent memory. Everyone loves this guy. But that's a story for another time.

Bottom line: Don't be surprised if Arizona's big man priority list now reads like this…

1. Ndudi Ebi, 6-10 WF (Houston, Westbury Christian)
2. Brian Butch, 6-11 F/C (Appleton (WI), West)
3. David Padgett, 6-11 C (Reno)
4. Ekene Ibekwe, 6-10 F (Crenshaw).

{TheThrill22 can be reached via e-mail at Bh6677@aol.com}

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