Considering there won’t be a game played in Louisiana high school basketball for another month, it’s been a busy stretch for area prep players and developing storylines.
The recent Combine in the Capital, which brought in a collection of some of the state’s top talent, helped fuel that, of course. And now, left in the wake of the Baton Rouge-based event, are plenty of debates sparked and questions worth asking.
Below, I’ll do just that – bringing to the forefront items being discussed behind the scenes and putting under the microscope a few items worth exploring.
Click on the link below to join in on the conversation on TSD’s free message board and scroll down toward the bottom of the page for links to my basketball recruiting stories from the past two weeks-plus.
There’s really no debate as to who is the best senior and overall player in the state, nor should there be. Madison Prep guard Brandon Sampson (pictured above) has earned that title fair and square. But there remains good discussion brewing over who’s next in line. Is it recent Cincinnati commit and St. Michael wing Jacob Evans? How about high-flying Higgins forward Melvin Frazier? Or maybe a player who’s been on the national radar for a while in Byrd guard Chad Lott? Louisiana always seems to have an abundance of athletes on the perimeter, and this year is no different. Choosing from these three is a tough chore, and may require watching a chunk of their senior campaigns to know for certain. One thing is for sure: Evans and Frazier both took big steps forward this summer to thrust themselves into a conversation of this caliber.
Onto a rare topic considering how few quality post players the Pelican State has in the pipeline these days. Which junior big man is the better player/prospect between Natchitoches Central’s Cameron Lard (pictured above) and Northwood-Lena’s Mike Layssard? Lard, 6-9, 210, plays for the defending 5A state champs, which rode his 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks in the final to hardware. Word is he’s gotten even better during a developmental summer. Then there’s Layssard, who at 6-foot-8 and 267 pounds is actually down 30 pounds from a season ago. Layssard plays for a much smaller school, but he may be a diamond in the rough before it’s all said and done. He’s got feet that a human his size shouldn’t have and a legitimate mid-range jumper. Lard is the more known commodity at this point, but it should be interesting to watch this duo over the next two seasons. They’re already among the best bigs in the state, if not the two best, in any class.
This is where it really gets fun. Both Brandon Rachal (pictured atop this story) of Natchitoches Central and Cedric Russell (pictured above) of Peabody have already put skins on the wall in their high school careers, and both are still so young. Just sophomores, Rachal (6-5, 195) is already a starter for a state champion while Russell (6-2, 159) has received an offer from in-state power LSU, which he accepted in the form of a commitment earlier this fall. Each perimeter player – Russell is more capable on the ball while Rachal is best off it – has his own strengths, which were on display at the Combine. Russell can dazzle with his ball-handling and getting to the hole while Rachal, who crashes the boards well for a guard, is known best for his lockdown defending. They’re different sizes, they have different outlooks on the floor, but make no mistake about it, they’re the top two sophomores in Louisiana. Given their proximity to one another, look for this debate to rage on for a few more years.
Call this the polar opposite of Lard vs. Layssard. These two New Orleans-area point guards are definitely diminutive, but even in a 6-foot-and-under league their games would stand out. Landry-Walker’s Lamont Berzat (pictured above) is the smaller of the two at 5-foot-6, 141 pounds. Berzat is also the newcomer on the scene, stepping into Tyree Griffin’s role from a year ago for a loaded L-W squad. Country Day’s Romin Williams (5-10, 143) is a little more of the old guard, a contributing part of two straight Class 1A state champs for another of the state’s top programs. The two lightning-quick PGs have had a friendly rivalry going since middle school days, one that spilled over into five-on-five work at the Combine. It’s entertaining to watch these two floor generals run the show, but even more so when they’re up against one another. Wonder if the way Crescent City aficionados score this one now will be the same way they look at it in a year or two?
Look, at its core it is understandable. Just like a high school football coach wants his best athlete at quarterback, to maximize exposure with the ball, so too does a prep basketball coach want his top dog running the point. But eventually there has to be a line drawn, right? The two players above, Berzat and Williams – definitely point guards. U-High’s Skylar Mays, the top 2016er in Louisiana who stands about 6-foot-4 – definitely a point guard considering his uncanny vision. Some of the others, however, lead to scratching of the head, particularly with the younger prospects that are still growing. Take Scotlandville freshman Javonte Smart (pictured above). There’s no doubt he has the ball-handling chops to play the one, but he’s a freshman and already 6-foot-3. Another one: the younger Mays, Spencer, is also a freshman and, per his brother, has been told by a doctor he’s likely to grow to 6-foot-7. Yet both of these youngsters are point guards? Just saying: If some of these kids will end up playing off the ball in college (and yes, they will), it may be beneficial to explore what that’s like in high school. Creating without the ball is different than creating with it.
First-year Vanderbilt assistant Derrick Jones (pictured above) has yet to sit on the Commodores’ bench for a single game, but he’s already making an impact for the program. In my travels of the state this summer and into the early portion of the fall, I can report that just about every prospect I talked to said he’s been hearing from Vandy, specifically from Jones, a Baton Rouge native who spent the last four seasons helping build Louisiana Tech’s program. It really is staggering the bases Jones is covering in Louisiana, making the ‘Dores more of a household name among potential high-major recruits. His closing skills are yet to be seen at this level, but Jones has certainly planted a lot of seeds in his former stomping ground.