Big men show improvement at camp

The secret to recruiting is not what does a player do now but what can he do later on. Part of the challenge is identifying skilled players early and then seeing how they develop. At last year's Lute Olson Advanced Skills Camp a number of young talented players made a splash and a handful returned this year. The key is looking at how they improved in a little over a year's time.

Some players make great strides from year to year, while others stagnate. Still others make slight improvements that aren't as noticeable. A guy like Christian Polk is a great example. As a sophomore to be Polk blew up at the Pangos Camp in Southern California and was seen as a guy who looked to be an elite prospect. Three years later the 6-3 scorer was a three-star player and had signed with ASU, never attracting big time offers. It wasn't that Polk got worse, he was just so far ahead of other players his age when he was younger, but over time other players improved drastically while Polk was essentially the same player.

Last year Harper Kamp was a player who performed very well at the Lute Olson Camp. I flagged him as a guy I'd be interested in seeing more from. Nine months later I watched him play in Las Vegas and his game had not really changed. He was still a solid, rugged performer with a great feel for the game, but he really hadn't added much. At the start of the spring he was still waiting for an Arizona offer and committed early to Cal.

Kamp, now a Golden Bear, did not return to the camp but two other big men did. Both Jeff Withey and Alex Jacobson made a second trip to the Advanced Skills Camp and both have shown improvements.

Fir Withey the improvements have been significant. Granted, part of that is due to the fact that we've seen very little of him over the last year. He played sparingly for his EBO AAU team last summer because of the presence of the Lopez twins. He sat out EBO's appearance at the Cactus Classic earlier in the spring so that made this camp the first chance to see him get extended minutes in about a year. When I saw him last year at the Pangos and Elite Camps he was an athletic big man with promise. While he still has work to do, a lot of that promise has been fulfilled.

While he is still very thin, he has started to fill out a bit. The most impressive aspect of his game is his athleticism. For a kid close to seven-foot he moves very well. He can get up and down the floor, and has very solid footwork. He has also begun showing off some more refined offensive moves. He has a nice stroke and the ability to score down low.

What is very interesting is that's Greg Hicks was at the UCLA camp and watched Withey there before he left for Tucson. Hicks says that Withey struggled at the Bruins' camp. Hicks has also seen Withey play several times during the high school season and says that he has not improved much since his Horizon High School team concluded their season.

Jacobson's improvements have been more subtle. Part of that stems from the fact that I have seen him play at several events already this year.

Jacobson has worked hard on his game and it shows. He's still got a ways to go, but there is no doubt that in the last year and half he has come a long way. First and foremost, he is more confident. He gets the ball in the post and has a great idea about what he wants to do with it. A year ago there was a lot of indecision. You could see him thinking about what he wanted to do. Right now he's now quite instinctual when he receives the ball but he does seem to have a plan in place before he catches the pass.

He's not the most fleet footed player, but he is moving much better. He is a lot less stiff and his endurance is a lot better. He may not lead the break but he won't be trailing it either.

He is showing an improved offensive game. He has a nice jumper and is starting to show off a hook shot from time to time. He is really making an effort to use the glass on both jumpers and jump hooks. If he can get the position he likes to dunk the ball whenever possible.

Defensively he's doing a much better job holding his position and using his size to push guys around. His timing on shot blocking is solid and he did a great job at the camp anticipating rebounds.

According to his parents, Alex has really been hitting it in the weight room and has been working out with Vanguard University coach Fred Litzenberger a few times a week.

The most encouraging thing is how much better he looked at the camp than he has in AAU events. AAU ball is not conducive to big men anyways and suiting up for the SoCal All-Stars is especially tough for a player like Jacobson. They are a team that gets up and down the floor and play a very free wheeling style of ball. They also have a number of players who know how to get off their shot and do so frequently.

Although he did not camp with the Cats a year ago, I must note that I was impressed with what I saw from Jordan Hill. Like most young big men, Hill is still a work in progress but his game has come a long way from where it was last July. A year ago he was an athlete with promise and now he is showing some serious development. Offensively he has added a number of moves, especially down low. His footwork is better and he was able to score in a variety of ways.

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