No longer are coaches looking for that elusive big man who will lead them to prominence. In a recent column for the Sporting News, Mike DeCourcy points out that only once in the last ten years has the NCAA champion had a McDonald's All American among its big men, when Duke won the tourney in 2001 with the trio of Carlos Boozer, Shane Battier and Casey Sanders.

"> No longer are coaches looking for that elusive big man who will lead them to prominence. In a recent column for the Sporting News, Mike DeCourcy points out that only once in the last ten years has the NCAA champion had a McDonald's All American among its big men, when Duke won the tourney in 2001 with the trio of Carlos Boozer, Shane Battier and Casey Sanders.

">

Diamonds in the Rough: Recruiting Prep Big Men

<p class="txt">No longer are coaches looking for that elusive big man who will lead them to prominence. In a recent column for the Sporting News, Mike DeCourcy points out that only once in the last ten years has the NCAA champion had a McDonald's All American among its big men, when Duke won the tourney in 2001 with the trio of Carlos Boozer, Shane Battier and Casey Sanders.</p>

The hard truth is that quality big men whose skills have developed early enough to be selected as All Americans are not likely to stick around long enough to help their school win it all. Whether they make the move straight from high school, or give it a one year internship before testing the NBA waters, highly touted post players are not long for college campuses. Thus, the trick for coaches has become who can both effectively scout for "potential" bigs and then develop them sufficiently to make their mark on the college game. Recent NCAA champions have all successfully followed this formula. In last year's title run, unheralded Syracuse center Hakim Warrick anchored Jim Boeheim's zone defense with his long arms and dynamic quickness. Maryland had similar success the previous season with Chris Wilcox.

Occasionally, persuasive coaches have been able to lure top big men to campus and then keep them for three or even four years. Nick Collison completed his eligibility, leaving Kansas after back-to-back Final Four appearances following a heralded prep career. Between foot surgeries, Curtis Borchardt effectively hid Casey Jacobsen's defensive inadequacies by blocking everything in the paint for three years at the Farm. Keeping big men on campus for longer than two years has proven so elusive that some coaches have gone to drastic tactics such as flat out avoiding teaching their bigs anything, effectively stunting their development so badly that their NBA aspirations were put on hold. No one delivered on that strategy better than the Weasel of Westwood, Steve Lavin, as Dan Gadzuric went from a sure fire lottery pick to a marginal NBA draft choice in just four short years.

This trend hit close to home when Cal lost its best post prospect in many years to the NBA after just one year in Berkeley. The only thing more impressive than Jamal Sampson's defensive game was his ability to stick on the Milwaukee Bucks roster with only the merest hint of offensive talent.  As a result, Coach Braun has been quick to adapt, and he's turned his big man scouting efforts towards diamonds in the rough. Rod Benson came out of nowhere after playing just one season of varsity basketball and has a chance to be the type of ultra-athletic big man that make a difference in college basketball. DeVon Hardin, who recently gave Braun his verbal commitment to play for the Bears, is farther along than Benson (primarily in the development of his physique) and possesses NBA ability, but is almost certainly a three year plus player at Cal.  Not surprisingly, both Hardin and Benson are exceptional students whose interest in basketball is complimented by their passion for success in the classroom. Hardin will be joined at Cal by rugged Oregon center Sam Rayburn, whose game is currently a long way from NBA quality. Yet, Rayburn's size and shooting skills make him an ideal fit for the Pac 10. As an almost certain four year player, Rayburn's best years are ahead of him.

What about Leon Powe, the first McDonald's  All American to matriculate to Berkeley since Shareef Abdur Rahim? For all of Powe's prowess on the court, he is not a prototypical NBA big man at only 6'6". Powe's future in the NBA will be delayed long enough for him to develop the ball handling and perimeter shooting skills necessary to compete in the NBA at that size. Much like USC's Sam Clancy and Cal's own Sean Lampley, that future is a real possibility for Powe, however it's likely to come a ways down the road. For his patience, Powe may be rewarded with several Pac 10 Championships and Final Four appearances.

No doubt, Braun will make some mistakes as he pursues the rare big man who can lead the Bears to the NCAA Championship. Just don't be surprised if he errs on the side of a raw prospect that doesn't develop as opposed to the sure fire one-and-out High School All American. For years this cautious approach has worked for Lute Olsen, and when he finally reached and landed his first elite big man, Ndubi Ebi, Ebi turned around and declared for the draft. Don't be surprised to see Olson revert to the earlier concept and try to find the next Channing Frye, Bennet Davison or Tom Tolbert. It requires a sharp eye, strong teaching skills and patience from your fans, but just ask Maryland or Syracuse; the results are worth the effort.

============

CyberBear Staff Writers regularly visit the CyberBears Insider board, and are happy to discuss any questions you may have about this article or about Cal Athletics.

If you haven't already, subscribe so that you can participate in the CyberBear Insider community - and get access to the premium content across the entire Insider's network.

= GreyBear, Webmaster


BearTerritory.net Top Stories

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The hard truth is that quality big men whose skills have developed early enough to be selected as All Americans are not likely to stick around long enough to help their school win it all. Whether they make the move straight from high school, or give it a one year internship before testing the NBA waters, highly touted post players are not long for college campuses. Thus, the trick for coaches has become who can both effectively scout for "potential" bigs and then develop them sufficiently to make their mark on the college game. Recent NCAA champions have all successfully followed this formula. In last year's title run, unheralded Syracuse center Hakim Warrick anchored Jim Boeheim's zone defense with his long arms and dynamic quickness. Maryland had similar success the previous season with Chris Wilcox.

Occasionally, persuasive coaches have been able to lure top big men to campus and then keep them for three or even four years. Nick Collison completed his eligibility, leaving Kansas after back-to-back Final Four appearances following a heralded prep career. Between foot surgeries, Curtis Borchardt effectively hid Casey Jacobsen's defensive inadequacies by blocking everything in the paint for three years at the Farm. Keeping big men on campus for longer than two years has proven so elusive that some coaches have gone to drastic tactics such as flat out avoiding teaching their bigs anything, effectively stunting their development so badly that their NBA aspirations were put on hold. No one delivered on that strategy better than the Weasel of Westwood, Steve Lavin, as Dan Gadzuric went from a sure fire lottery pick to a marginal NBA draft choice in just four short years.

This trend hit close to home when Cal lost its best post prospect in many years to the NBA after just one year in Berkeley. The only thing more impressive than Jamal Sampson's defensive game was his ability to stick on the Milwaukee Bucks roster with only the merest hint of offensive talent.  As a result, Coach Braun has been quick to adapt, and he's turned his big man scouting efforts towards diamonds in the rough. Rod Benson came out of nowhere after playing just one season of varsity basketball and has a chance to be the type of ultra-athletic big man that make a difference in college basketball. DeVon Hardin, who recently gave Braun his verbal commitment to play for the Bears, is farther along than Benson (primarily in the development of his physique) and possesses NBA ability, but is almost certainly a three year plus player at Cal.  Not surprisingly, both Hardin and Benson are exceptional students whose interest in basketball is complimented by their passion for success in the classroom. Hardin will be joined at Cal by rugged Oregon center Sam Rayburn, whose game is currently a long way from NBA quality. Yet, Rayburn's size and shooting skills make him an ideal fit for the Pac 10. As an almost certain four year player, Rayburn's best years are ahead of him.

What about Leon Powe, the first McDonald's  All American to matriculate to Berkeley since Shareef Abdur Rahim? For all of Powe's prowess on the court, he is not a prototypical NBA big man at only 6'6". Powe's future in the NBA will be delayed long enough for him to develop the ball handling and perimeter shooting skills necessary to compete in the NBA at that size. Much like USC's Sam Clancy and Cal's own Sean Lampley, that future is a real possibility for Powe, however it's likely to come a ways down the road. For his patience, Powe may be rewarded with several Pac 10 Championships and Final Four appearances.

No doubt, Braun will make some mistakes as he pursues the rare big man who can lead the Bears to the NCAA Championship. Just don't be surprised if he errs on the side of a raw prospect that doesn't develop as opposed to the sure fire one-and-out High School All American. For years this cautious approach has worked for Lute Olsen, and when he finally reached and landed his first elite big man, Ndubi Ebi, Ebi turned around and declared for the draft. Don't be surprised to see Olson revert to the earlier concept and try to find the next Channing Frye, Bennet Davison or Tom Tolbert. It requires a sharp eye, strong teaching skills and patience from your fans, but just ask Maryland or Syracuse; the results are worth the effort.

============

CyberBear Staff Writers regularly visit the CyberBears Insider board, and are happy to discuss any questions you may have about this article or about Cal Athletics.

If you haven't already, subscribe so that you can participate in the CyberBear Insider community - and get access to the premium content across the entire Insider's network.

= GreyBear, Webmaster

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