There are generally two major classifications for topnotch athletes going through college basketball's recruiting process, prospect or project. A prospect is a player that a coaching staff can view as potentially becoming one of the game's superstars. A project is a candidate with natural gifts who, with the right grooming, could become a hidden gem. The distinction between a college prospect and a college project is based on an athlete's probability of reaching their potential through the proper means of maturation. While watching the Deveroes Summer League many candidates for these labels have managed to pop-up, but one in particular should strike the interest of the UC faithful.
The University of Cincinnati has long seen its fair share of both prospects and projects, especially during the tenure of Bob Huggins. However, this year's recruiting class carries within it a true oddity of the system, a freak of the whirlwind, cross-country search for potential greatness. UC has within its grasp a player that possibly straddles the line between one of those two labels. Abdul Herrera is a player that many or at least I see as being a player that can potentially drop on either side of the fence of this debate.
The 6-11 245-pound center, who made his way to the campus of Clifton by way of Miami and Panama, was rated as the 11th best center in the 2005 recruiting class and is the second highest rated Cincinnati recruit of the six-player group (Devan Downey). However, with his recent performance during the Deveroes Summer League and his recent acclamation to this country's style of basketball and its players, it is clear that Herrera's classification will not be one that will soon be forthcoming.
"I mean, I am out of shape right now and I've got to get stronger," said Herrera in his heavy Peruvian accent. "I think I've got 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."
In order to try and make a diagonal slash through the learning curve, Herrera and his fellow Bearcat recruits are being thrust into action against some of the top collegiate and post-collegiate talent in this part of the country.
"These guys are big, fast and strong, they know how to play the game," said the teenager. "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 do it. Man, I never played like this before."
The youngster has seen his game develop during his current three-game stint in what many consider this region's preeminent summertime hoop summit. While struggling mightily in game one, Herrera has improved on all most every level in the subsequent two contests.
"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."
In each of the first three games Herrera has received sideline guidance from his future Bearcat teammates. During the first contest UC teammates Eric Hicks and Armein Kirkland took the youngster aside to teach him the ins and outs of the college style. However, it has been the consistent coaching of dual teammate (Slats and Cincinnati) James White that has helped propel him in his efforts to improve.
"The big kid, Herrera, you know he was kind of raw, but had good feet. He needs to work on his hands a little bit, but I expect him to grow and develop and do good things for us in the future," said White about his 6-10 big man project from Florida.
White is attempting to instill in Herrera the proper way to maintain solid positioning, become more aggressive and taking the ball up strong, the two-school, four-year vet looked to calm the clearly overwhelmed teenager down on the court and allow him to get his head in the game, the game he needs to learn how to play.
"He's got a big body and he is going to have to learn how to use it. He is going to have to get a bit bigger and stronger and be more aggressive inside."
During their most recent outing, White physically showed Herrera the way to properly defend a smaller player going to the basket, after Herrera jumped and committed an avoidable foul if he had known the proper technique.
The youngster's recent performances have improved greatly from game to game. In the three games Herrera has played this summer, his level of comfort and statistical output has improved every game. However, beyond the stat sheet you find a player that is still incredibly raw in terms of his skills.
At times, Herrera has exhibits 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.
However, even with the steady improvement he has shown on offense, Abdul is still struggling mightily with his defensive game. Demario Williams (7-0 from Chicago, Ill.) Masser Construction, the Summer League's version of Manute Bol, scored 20 points and collected 13 rebounds (nine offensive) in the contest. The tall and lanky sophomore center from Cincinnati State scored only four points and 8 rebounds on very few opportunities against the Cintas Team.
The rawness of the future ‘Cat in the middle will likely afford him little chance to find playing time this season with the addition of two older, more matured junior college transfers: Ivan Johnson (who signed with Cincinnati in the spring along with Coleman) and Cedric McGowan (a fellow Miamian).
With that being said, the addition of Dayton center Chris Alvarez, who came to the Flyers last season, will give Herrera a comforting presence on the Slats roster this season.
"Chris [Alvarez] will really help me this summer. I have the chance to learn a lot from him. He can teach me to play like a big man. Before him we didn‘t have any other size on the team. I'll learn from anyone, I'm just looking to get better," said Herrera about his new teammate, who shares with him a home city (Miami) and a recent experience about what it is like to be a freshman.
Alvarez, who went through this experience last season, knows the impact the summer can have on a young player, especially in terms of learning the game.
"He can learn a lot about the post-game. The summertime, if you take advantage of it, is a great way to work on big man skills. We have a lot of good players on this team and he can learn a lot. [Herrera] is a little raw but he can definitely use his body to rebound and grab rebound."
Also, after nursing a minor injury he suffered toward the end of Sunday's competition, Herrera realizes how important staying on the floor and getting playing time this summer can be.
"[Alvarez] will help keep me rested. I am not in the best shape and we only had five players before he came, so I would get real, real tired and not play well because of that," said Herrera about the period of time fellow recruit Downey called "the most important summer, and maybe time of [his] college career."
With the modern perception of labels such as prospect or project doing so much to guide the direction of an athlete's career at a university, I am hesitant to place a specific name on what Herrera's role within the UC program will be this fall, especially with recent memories of Bearcat big man Asrangue Souleymane still fresh in many fans' minds. However, one must remember that the primarily difference between a prospect and a project is the probability of reaching one's potential. So with summer basketball now in full-force, one can only hope that Herrera takes advantage of all the opportunities to learn the game and achieve his potential.