With a game (and a loss) under their belts, the Bearcat-heavy Slats team of The Deveroes Summer League got on the right track in more than one way in their win during the Saturday afternoon session at Woodward gym. Though managing a less-than-stellar team performance, pulling out a slim seven-point victory (95-88) over Innovative Marketing, the Slats squad saw their team grow by leaps and bounder during the 30-minute contest.
The Slats team was led by the impressive solo act of soon-to-be senior point guard Jihad Muhammad. The sub-six foot Muhammad scored at will from all over the court, scoring a game-high 28 points. Long distance threes, crossover initiated midrange jumpers and fast break lay ups, Muhammad did it and showed it all.
"I felt very comfortable out there today. They let me get inside the lanes, so I will as able to really play my game and get comfortable from the start," said Muhammad, who benefited from having another point guard on the court to let him play off the ball. "Having Devan [Downey] on the court was definitely a benefit. He knows how to get guys the ball, and I really feel comfortable playing off the point, so it was a good fit for the team today. It also gave him a chance to learn to play the point guard.
The ability to play off the point and roam across the court, allowing him to utilize his speed and the excellent picks set by his Slats/Cincinnati teammates to score at will, was instigated by Downey's ability to led the team as an affective floor general.
"I just had to come out here and play, that is all that matters," said the prospect out of South Carolina who scored only six points, but really displayed the offensive point guard skills that got him recruited and a newly found offensive confidence that will earn him playing time. "Seeing Jihad go out there and really dissect the other team, and pretty much score at will gave me a lot of confidence today. Because we are a similar in our style of play."
As the Bearcat elder statesman at the point, Muhammad knows from experience what playing in the summer leagues can mean for a young lead guard.
"An open gym tells it all. You definitely get a chance to learn your teammates and their tendencies, what they like to do on the court. It is good for Devan out there and learn to play with us, but also against this level of player. "
Downey got the ball to players where they needed to have it. He also matured in his aggressiveness in the span of one game. He really played well overall, despite what his lackluster numbers might indicate. Showing range, a soft touch and the ability to get to the basket, Downey was a key on offense with his scoring and passing.
"The first game I was a little intimidated, but I got the confidence that I could play against these guys. Now I am ready to really show off my skills."
Downey was not the only recruit how showed mighty improvement in in a five-day span. DeAndre Coleman, a 6-7-ish small forward prospect out of Georgia (Stone Mountain), showed a killer jump shot during today‘s game, netting 25 points. The scoring machine knocked down four-of-nine three pointers, displaying attributes that could lead to him becoming a vital factor in the Bearcat perimeter attack
"I would say my outside game is one of my strengths. I can create offensive from behind the arc, and that can really open up the rest of my game."
Alluding to the fact he is far from a one-trick pony, Coleman is a complete player on offense. The young stallion showed the ability to score inside and play solid defense against veteran players.
"I go with whatever part of my game is clicking at the time. If my outside game is going good, then I stick with it. But I can get to the basket and score inside as well."
Playing against a team of hard-nosed ballplayers, Coleman showed an excellent shot selection and a tendency to play as a team player, as he never seemed to force a shot. He moved without the ball well and let the offense come to him. Whether that be an indication of timid youthfulness or a matured understanding of fundamental team basketball is yet to be seen, but Coleman's style could mesh well with a team that returns four veteran starters.
"I was a little intimidated at first, playing in my first game, but now I am getting used to it and my confidence is coming around. I just want to help my team win, so I am going to do what I feel most comfortable with so I can help my team."
One way Coleman will definitely help his team and his chances of earning playing time will be the continued development of his confidence. Having to guard Justin Cage in his first game, a player who is generally received as one of the strongest, toughest small forwards in the region, and playing with James White (26 points) really seemed to help in Coleman's rapid conditioning to performing well at this elevated level of competition.
"I had to get used to the college game. This game is a lot faster, but the players are a lot stronger -- physically and with their skills," said Coleman. "I look at Justin Cage and he really looked comfortable with the ball out there, while I am a little more timid because I am not really used to it. But playing against a player like him, and my teammate James [White], who has played four years of college basketball, and you really learn a lot out there."
Muhammad, who joined the Bearcats last season after spending two years at junior college, recognizes that guys new to this level of competition are trying to pickup a much faster variety of game, which can take time.
"It is a big transition coming from high school, in terms of players and the game. All three of the guys were out there playing hard and learning the speed of the game, seeing how much faster it is out here from high school. It is a different game at this level."
Muhammad mentioned how he has seen all three Bearcat recruits; however, it appears over the first two games that one of those three has had more difficulty than the others in getting noticed -- at least for positive reasons.
While two of Slats rising up-and-comers made many UC fans in attendance take notice, it was the continued struggles of incoming Bearcat big man Abdul Herrera that raised the most eyebrows.
Epitomizing what it means to be a big kid, Herrera is getting his first taste of playing against this brand of player, a bigger, stronger, faster player with a keen understanding of the game than he has become accustomed to competing against.
"I mean, I am out of shape right now and I've got to get stronger," said heavily accented Herrera. "I think I've to keep working harder against the big guys, working out and playing hard every day. I am getting used to it, because I've never played against these types of players before. I need to learn a lot so I can play better."
The raw behemoth in the middle will be expected to do great things while sporting the Red and Black, but he will likely struggle to find playing time with the older, more matured junior college transfers Ivan Johnson (who signed with Cincinnati in the spring along with Coleman) and Cedric McGowan (a fellow Miamian) also joining the squad.
With that being said, many of Herrera's problems are self-induced. A lean 245 pounds, Herrera claims that conditioning issues do to a lengthy period of inactivity and strength conditioning have hindered his progress to this point.
"I need to get in shape so I can play good every game. I need to get bigger and stronger; I can't just dominate the way I am used to it. Man, I never played like this before."
That is what the 6-11 Miami resident who grew up in Panama sounded like after his second straight disappointing performance. While it is still early in the process, and leeway must be granted to a possibly intimidated young man, many cynics of Herrera's early performances make him appear to be more of a project than a prospect.
At times, Herrera has exhibited rock-hard hands (four turnovers), poor footwork and rebounding positioning (five boards, but should have had several more if in the proper condition/position), to go a long with a lack of elevation when he leaps off the floor. While much of this can be credited to his time off and simply not having the training or schooling as the professional and college vets he is playing against, it would seem that Herrera is not as college-ready (at least Big East-ready) as his fellow incoming freshman.
It must be said that Herrera did show much improvement during this game in regard to toughness issues and a lack of offensive assertiveness that plagued him during his previous performance Herrera showed solid touch and range from 15 feet and in, making several jump shots (eight points), and the youngster also found open spots in the weak side of the defense, often times getting in excellent scoring position.
These positives, the support of his current and future teammates, and a belief in his abilities have all fostered a confidence in the youngster has refused to let his head drop, and after all it is just a summer league and he still just a kid.
"I think I am playing better every time I step on the floor, but I need to work hard and continue to play aggressive. It is still just the summertime. I've got to keep my head up and work hard every day. I know I can play good, I just need to work hard and learn to play against such good guys and with my teammates."
While at this moment it may appear that some recruits are acclimating themselves more naturally to the college game, this is far from a make-or-break period in their careers. The Deveroes Summer League may help propel a recruitee into grasping the college sooner than others, earning them valuable points with the coaching staff when it comes time to the regular season, but this is a four-year process and each player mentioned has shown the ability to help the Bearcat basketball program at some juncture of time down the line.