Charlotte (N.C.) West
Class of 2013
While waistline issues affect millions of adults, it's uncommon for teenaged athletes to suffer the same fate. And yet, weight has been the defining topic for scouting Kennedy Meeks his entire prep career.
Meeks has fluctuated, and has trimmed down substantially at times, but during his senior year he appeared to gain weight and certainly has a long way to go to become Roy Williams-ready.
To his credit, Meeks rarely subs out during high school and summer ball, and does not appear to wear down in those contests. But from UNC's perspective, Meeks definitely needs to trim up in order to succeed in the Tar Heels' system. Carolina does have experience along these lines, of course, most notably with Deon Thompson and more recently with Joel James. The Tar Heels boast a preeminent strength and conditioning program, and thus in my eyes Meeks' weight situation has received too much attention.
His recruitment largely was a steady burn. He emerged three years ago as a high-major prospect and accumulated a stream of offers as his play improved between his junior and senior summers. Carolina was one of the last schools to offer him a scholarship, and after deliberating between the Heels, Georgetown and others, he picked UNC.
In terms of ranking, I've consistently listed him in the lower top 50. For a time some other services slotted him higher, but after his senior campaign a semi-consensus emerged between 40-60. Nevertheless, scarcity at his position helped him earn a berth to the McDonald's Game, where he teamed with fellow UNC signee Isaiah Hicks.
Meeks possesses some of the best hands in all of grassroots basketball. He snags everything in his vicinity and thus is an effective rebounder, particularly on the defensive glass. And though his girth hinders him in some respects, he certainly does benefit from being able to clear space with his backside and to do so without committing offensive fouls.
His best offense actually occurs from medium-range. He wields a smooth jump shot from the high post areas with excellent mechanics, consistently knocking down jumpers most big men won't — or at least shouldn't — attempt.
He's also more than a face-up shooter. Meeks possesses a very firm grasp of team offense and is a gifted passer, and accordingly he finds open teammates easily because he knows intuitively where the defensive gaps will be.
Perhaps his most significant improvement last summer pertained to his interior scoring. Meeks now employs more deception while shooting in traffic than he did in the past, and as a result he's sometimes able to sucker would-be shotblockers off their feet. The shooting touch he relies upon when facing the basket also pays dividends inside, because he finishes fairly well using his left hand and is effective on tip-ins.
Defensively, Meeks has improved and holds the potential to become far better. His body type proves beneficial when attempting to root an opponent outside the paint, and his discipline and instincts enable him to stay in the play even when a very talented big man works against him. At times on the Nike circuit when matched against elite Julius Randle, Meeks was able to stymie him with his mass yet also move his feet alertly to defend against Randle's pet spin move.
Because Meeks rarely drifts from his area of defensive expertise, he's frequently in range for defensive boards. He boxes out effectively and, as mentioned above, possesses outstanding hands when more than one player gets his mitts on the ball. His 16-rebound per game average as a senior illustrates how effectively he does his job on the glass.
And at this point I haven't mentioned his most obvious skill: superlative outlet passing. He's one of the very best outlet passers to emerge in high school since Kevin Love, and in Carolina's system that ability to start the break at midcourt with a pass could prove vital. He seamlessly grabs boards and wrist-flips a hard and straight pass to expectant guards, and the transition game proceeds from there. To emphasize the point, this spring Roy Williams noted that Meeks could become the finest outlet passer he's ever recruited.
Meeks's most pressing challenge in college — no matter how he shapes his body — almost definitely will be his lack of vertical leap and explosiveness. Losing weight will help, but he's never going to be much of a straight-up leaper and thus must find ways to compensate and finish inside consistently. Even during his senior campaign against regular high school competition, smaller big men could block his shot.
He's already on the shorter side for a center, and someone who's shorter and less athletic must become a very clever interior operator in order to be effective. He has demonstrated progress with his post footwork, but he remains far more comfortable facing the basket than he does bulling his way inside and attempting to score at close-range. Meeks most accurately can be described as a skilled big man, rather than a brute, and that's both a positive and a negative.
The upside is that he can participate in the offense in several different ways; the downside is that, for a program that prioritizes interior scoring, UNC would prefer he be more adept on the low block.
Another Carolina-specific concern is his conditioning and fullcourt speed. He's never going to be Tyler Zeller, but can he reach Thompson's level of success running the court? Having made that point, however, I do believe he'll be able to shape himself appropriately and alleviate at least some of these concerns.
I'm mostly concerned about Meeks's offensive identity in the highly competitive college setting. Were he a couple inches taller, this would be less of an issue, but at 6-9 he can bothered significantly by longer athletes. This proved especially at the McDonald's All-American practices, at which he struggled to get shots off versus the East team's elite big men. His challenge will be to play to his strengths and obscure his weaknesses as best he can, a process that may require time.
I think Meeks will need a full year to adjust to college competition and to round himself into prime condition, but thereafter he'll provide the Tar Heels with three full seasons of strong contributions. He may not ever become a major scoring weapon, but he's such a balanced player on the both ends of the court that he'll be able to help his team against different types of opponents and in diverse settings.
Williams actually has compared Meeks to Sean May at the same stage. I don't believe the two are as similar — May always was a terrific post scorer — but receiving such a vote of confidence from his future coach certainly must have set Meeks' mind at ease.
To outpace the expectations I've created for him here, he'll have to achieve greater success with his back to the basket. If he can quickly pattern himself a turnaround jump shooting game similar to that of Thompson's — and considering that his ability to clear the glass and start the break are areas where he betters the former Tar Heel — he could become a three- or even four-year starter at UNC.
Rob provides basketball recruiting coverage for InsideCarolina.com, including reporting from events throughout the country. Rob is editor of the national basketball recruiting website PrepStars.com and the print magazine Recruiter's Handbook. He also covers UNC basketball games for the Independent Weekly and writes a freelance column for USAToday.com. Rob is a member of the Naismith committee honoring the nation's best high school player and is on the selection committee for the McDonald's All-American Game.