Highly recruited shooting guard Thomas Gardner was in Columbia for his official visit over the weekend. First of all, let me say that while Thomas Gardner looked good during the scrimmage, he is just a senior in a different system, and as such stood out like one.
Last year I covered the Tigers first game of the year (a black and gold scrimmage). This team is MUCH further along than at this point last year. When I looked at that team last year, I saw two freshman (Duane John and Jeffrey Ferguson) who looked like they weren't quite ready for the speed of the game at this level, and a freshman (Najeeb Echols) and sophomore (Travon Bryant) that weren't quite ready to contribute (physically and/or mentally).
Travon improved as the season went along. This weekend, I saw one player, and that was Thomas Gardner (a recruit), who didn't look like they could contribute RIGHT NOW. This team is deep and talented. For all the hype about how this will become Ricky Paulding's team, well I'm not sure this won't just become a true TEAM, with the outside chance this will become RICKY CLEMMON'S TEAM. Every night could be a different star, especially when you look at the starters. Travon Bryant, Arthur Johnson, Ricky Paulding, Ricky Clemmons, and ? (My guess is either Najeeb or Jimmy McKinney).
TRAVON BRYANT - The biggest surprise of the scrimmage was Travon Bryant. He is about to show all of us why he was a McDonald's All-American. You can tell he has been lifting, and running and has taken his game to the next level. He and AJ showed a definite presence inside. At the end of last season Tra was playing very solidly. Get ready for an entire season of solid, if not spectacular, play. He looks really good (no longer flabby, he's becoming sculpted), blocking shots, scoring, inside and out, passing and rebounding. Bryant is the real deal. He scored from three, he scored from the top of the key, he rebounded with a flush, and took an alley-oop for a jam. Paulding came flying through the lane and Tra went up for a perfect block (Paulding's hand on one side, Tra's on the other) and used his strength to throw the ball straight down to the floor, where he picked it up and fired a rocket down the floor to a streaking McKinney. Clemmons picked off JMAC on the dribble (and scored, see below). Bryant routinely used his strength, both upper and lower body, to stop AJ from backing in. Tra got double teamed in the paint and made a beautiful pass to Najeeb for an easy flush. All in all, a very impressive showing from Mr. Bryant.
KEVIN YOUNG - Look for the Tigers to pick up another presence on the inside in newcomer Kevin Young. The man is almost a carbon copy of AJ, 6'9, 250 (a long way from where he was when he reported at almost 300 pounds). He will definitely be an inside presence for the Tigers THIS season. He has work to do on his offensive game, but defensively he has good footwork, and is hard to move. He and AJ matched up regularly in the scrimmage, and AJ is helping to teach him the ropes. He backed down inside several times on AJ, which is no easy task.
JEFFREY FERGUSON – Jeffrey made a couple of jams early. On the first jam he received a perfect backside pass and flushed it. The next came just a few minutes later on an offensive rebound. I swear he caught the ball about two-feet above the rim, and threw it down. He obviously has great athleticism for a big man. He also ranged out just inside the three point line and banged one home. Defensively he had his hands full with Travon, but he always seemed to be around his man (rarely out of position). He is noticeably thicker, particularly in the upper body.
RICKY CLEMMONS – Cat-quick and will dish the ball from anywhere, his hip, over his head, as he shoots, between his legs, and through the kitchen sink. This kid walks everywhere, and then the ball is put in play and its warp speed until the next break. He has a nice touch, both passing and shooting, and great peripheral vision. He is everything you've read about and more. A little on the small side, but this guy has the quicks, the speed, the ball-handling and the scoring ability. He reminds me a little of Lynn Hardy, but with better athleticism. He took a fast break down one-on-one against AJ (I think) and Clemmons jumped with his butt going into AJ to use his body to shield AJ from the ball, and layed it up and in (I think it would have been a three-point play in a game;). Clemmons talked to several teammates imploring them to get on their game. He was lecturing KY on not letting AJ back him down inside, and giving weak side help. This kid doesn't like to lose, and has a solid knowledge of the game and what he's trying to accomplish on the floor.
JIMMY McKINNEY – Showed a nice touch. Hit an open three after he gave a head and shoulder fake to lose his defender. Didn't look pressed to score. Fit right in, and when he needed to hit a shot, he hit it. He took a two-on-one pass from AJ to jam it home. Jimmy made a Ricky Paulding-esque move by flying by his defender for a slam.
ARTHUR JOHNSON – Stuffed in a rebound of a short shot from Travon. AJ is still the man. He backed in at will, except against Tra. He loves to play around the basket. He passes well. He plays good defense. He's AJ.
NAJEEB ECHOLS – Ferguson went in for a slam and was blocked by Echols. Jeeb, really impressed me with his ball-handling. I kept hearing he was a very good ball-handler, but I didn't see it in his physique, and the bad knee kept him from moving very well. It looks like his knee is healed. He really gives this team a different look.
JOSH KROENKE – Had an up-and-down day. Played his role pretty well, but missed a couple of open threes and he wasn't very happy with himself. This kid really moves well without the basketball. Play close attention to Quin, because when we aren't moving offensively he may be the first one in off the bench. He did a good job handling the ball when needed, and made several nice passes. He also hit a couple of shots, one a three, and the other just inside the arc. What was incredible to me was how many times he ran down the lane, and got the easy entrance pass for a lay-up in the half-court offense. I bet they hit that 4 out of 5 times in a five-minute stretch of the scrimmage. Not sure if Jeeb was matched up on him then or not.
THOMAS GARDNER – TG missed a three, and got beat back down the court by JMAC for a jam. Looked a little tight, and was forcing things early. About the fourth game, he started knocking down some balls from around the three-point stripe. Defensively, drew a tough assignment in pre-season all-everything Ricky Paulding, but other than a few times when he got left in the seats on a juke and drive, he looked solid.
SWEET RICKY PAULDING – Looked a little out-of whack today. His shot was off from outside, so he became more involved off the dribble and had some success against Gardner. I would have liked to have seen the scrimmage with him drawing a different defensive player. I suspect he would have been a little more assertive. That said at times he was flying around like we expect, and he had one of the alley-oop jams we have all come to expect from him. Otherwise, I didn't notice him much.
Typical matchups during the scrimmage
- JMAC vs Clemmons
- AJ vs KY
- Fergy vs Tra
- Paulding vs Gardner
- Jeeb vs Kroenke