JOHN: Southern to make visit to UK, 4 others

My first attempt to see Josh Southern was Saturday, but the big fella had injured his foot and sat on the bench. Still, he made an impression.

When I saw Josh Southern a year ago in Las Vegas, I have to admit – I was not all that impressed. The big 6-foot-10 power forward-center prospect from Saginaw, Michigan was listed at 250 lbs., but that may have been a shade conservative. He was not particularly fast, nor did he have particularly good footwork. And he didn't jump all that well.

Yet, gave him a four star rating and more importantly, the Kentucky Wildcats made him an offer. So I was very curious to see Josh play again. I came away knowing two things for sure about Josh Southern: he has improved a great deal in a year, and I really, really like Josh Southern as a person.

My first attempt to see Josh was Saturday, but the big fella had injured his foot and sat on the bench. Still, he made an impression. Josh was waving the towel and shouting encouragement to his teammates the entire game. A thinly built 6-foot-5 wing player was called to cover the man Josh was to cover, a difficult task for Austin Thornton. But at each time out, Josh wrapped his arm around Austin offering advice and encouragement.

Sitting down with Josh for 20 minutes, it was easy to like Josh. Unlike so many players that are shy around the media, ultra quiet or reserved, Josh was personable and outgoing and jovial, seeming to actually enjoy being interviewed.

"It's been a fun year for me," Josh said, "I feel really blessed to be in the position I am in. I love what I get to do. I love my teammates and coaches."

When Josh played, it was easy to see the areas of improvement, "Josh has soft hands and does a great job catching the pass and shooting from the post in one smooth motion," said Michigan Mustangs trainer coach Roderick Watts, "he has really learned to run the floor well."

And that was certainly true in the game he played on Monday against the IEBP All Stars. Last summer, Josh seemed to get up and down the court in a begrudgingly slow trot. This season he gets out on the wing in a hurry and has developed into an excellent transition finisher. He also plays very unselfishly for a big man, often delivering the assist on the break.

"I think I need to learn to hand the ball better in the open court," Josh remarked, "but I love getting out on the breaks."

And Josh has refined his arsenal of lost post offensive moves, and he is very difficult to stop when he gets the ball down low. Since he still does not leap well, he has really learned to use his wide body for strong positioning.

"He has a soft shot for a big man," said Watts, "and he is pretty good with both hands."

Josh has also developed a very impressive passing game. After nabbing an offensive rebound, many big youngsters have a tendency to take the ball back up in traffic. But Josh ahs learned to be patience and frequently finds a free guard on the wing for a jumper.

And there is no question that Josh has become a team leader. "That is one of my goals," said Josh, "I love firing the guys up and getting them going, whether I am on the floor or waving a towel from the bench." Josh has had 9-10 schools on his recruiting list for some time and though he has not officially cut any schools from his list, he does admit there is some writing on the wall if he is to make his goal of deciding by November, "Right now I still have Boston College, Wake Forest, Michigan, Michigan State, Miami, Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Ohio State on my list," Josh said, "but I am making plans to visit Miami, Kentucky, Tennessee, Boston College and Wake Forest so I guess that means something."

Noticeable by their absence on visits was home state favorites Michigan and Michigan State. "Well they are near me and I have been there and know them. I don't need to take official visits."

Rumors had circulated that Josh's parents were encouraging Josh to play near home, something that Josh says is no longer the case. "My mom wanted me to stay near home for a while, but she sees lots of opportunities out there and wants me to be happy."

But didn't you grow up a Spartan or Wolverine fan?

"Not at all," Josh said, "actually I grew up playing football. For a long time that's what I thought I'd be, a football player. We lived in the south then, and I grew up rooting for Alabama and Tennessee football. I really haven't been a big Michigan or Michigan State fan."

Josh is a good student and academics are going to be an important part of his decision, but Josh has no predisposed beliefs that one of the schools on his list will deliver better educational results than another.

On the court, while Josh has improved in a year's time, there are still areas where he needs work. Sometimes when there is a loose ball down low, Josh tends to be more of an interested spectator than an active participant. And Josh is still carrying a little excess weight. Twice during Monday's game, Josh appeared obviously winded and called for the coach to replace him.

Still, in a tough game won by the Mustangs by a single point, Josh Southern provided 22 of the team's total 51 points, as well as rebounding well, blocking shots and dishing out some assists.

Josh Southern seems to be a very good fit for Kentucky basketball, if the Cats are lucky enough to make the cut. He is a potential 3-4 year player, good student, has solid fundamentals, is a potential leader and completely unselfish. And Kentucky basketball, I think, would be a very good fit for Josh. With the excellent reports coming from the strength and conditioning camp and coach Tubby Smith's reputation for developing big men, it would be hard to believe that Josh would not be impressed with the Cats on his visit.

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