This is a young team that plays cohesive defense with a deep rotation, and can give even powerhouse Syracuse fits, but just doesn't have the muscle and offensive explosiveness to hang with and consistently put away the big boys.
Help is on the way in the form of four-star recruit and 6-foot-9 center Grant Verhoeven (Visalia, Calif.), who has committed to play at Stanford next year.
In Verhoeven, it looks like Johnny Dawkins has landed the quintessential "Stanford recruit;" a player who uses intelligence, persistence, and sheer will to score points, grab rebounds and do what it takes to win.
There's more to this kid than a scrappy will to succeed, though. At 6-foot-9, Verhoeven is also a physical and athletic specimen with a 33-inch vertical leap.
"I love to get out and run," he says. "I'm not your typical big guy. I love to be in the open court."
Verhoeven's Central Valley Christian high school team makes pushing the ball in transition a priority and, sure enough, the big man on the floor was beating much smaller guards to the other end in his school's 59-50 win over Mt. Whitney (Visalia, Calif.).
Far too often, big centers who tower over everyone else on the court are hesitant stiffs. Verhoeven is the antithesis of that stereotype. This was the first time I've seen a post outrunning everyone else on the floor and diving with reckless abandon for loose balls. The guy even suffered a bloody gash under his left eye in one messy scrum.
If Verhoeven, who is still growing, can approach the seven-foot mark and develop his offensive arsenal, he has the potential to become a unique hybrid of a player. Envision Brook Lopez's post moves combined with Taj Finger's hunger for the ball and melded with Fred Washington's speed up and down the court.
"You can't teach heart, passion, and intensity, and Grant was born with all of those attributes," says Chris Stahowski, the coach of Verhoeven's AAU team, Organized Chaos (Fresno, Calif.). "He's one of those hard working guys who fits exactly what Stanford looks for. Plus he's athletic."
Stahowski points out that Verhoeven's offensive game is still a work in progress. But he fully expects it to develop into a dominant part of his skill set at the next level within just a year of college training.
"Grant needs to improve with his back to the basket," he says. "He is great squaring up from 15 to 18 feet away, but just watch what happens after he works with Coach [Dick] Davey and college level competition for a season. It's going to be impressive. He's going to shine."
The fact that there is still room for progress is a tantalizing thought. Even at this relatively early stage of his career, Verhoeven provided plenty of offensive highlights to write home about. Friday night, he finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds against a team that hounded him with double teams throughout the game. Whenever he received the ball on the low block, Verhoeven was unstoppable just because of his height and strength advantage. At Stanford, those maneuvers will certainly require more finesse, but on Friday night they brought out the killer instinct that Dawkins and his staff love about one of their newest additions.
"I just love to work people," Verhoeven says. "Nothing feels better than taking someone inside, picking up a cheap foul on them, and physically earning two points. One of my strengths is on the offensive boards. A couple years ago I had trouble finishing put-backs. Now, I just dunk it."
When Mt. Whitney sagged heavily in the paint to prevent him for approaching the rim, Verhoeven pulled up and drained a pivotal three-pointer to give CVC the lead.
"I love to shoot the three when I get the chance," he says. "I've added it to my game, and it surprises teams. I make about one [three-pointer] a game."
There are also the show-stopping dunks, and one try almost brought the house down in Visalia on Friday night. With CVC putting the game on ice late, Verhoeven broke into a 1-on-1 opportunity on the fast break. He elevated from about 13 feet away on the baseline as the defender approached and soared toward the hoop to flush with his right hand. The ball clanged off back iron as he was fouled hard.
"I took off just a bit too far away," he laughed afterwards. "Otherwise that would have been a clean dunk."
For a high schooler, though, the entire takeoff and flight itself was still immensely impressive, regardless of the flawed finish. It's moments like that one that give experts a strong feeling that Verhoeven's success will carry over into college, even if it comes in the form of a "hustle" player before he develops into an all-around force.
"He'll contribute to Stanford right away just because of his intensity and desire for the ball," Stahowski says. "But just wait a couple years. Grant will become a stud."
The pedigree is there. Verhoeven's father, Pete, played for five years in the NBA after an illustrious career at Fresno State.
"I've always had a dream of playing college basketball, and now it's going to come true at a great university like Stanford," Grant Verhoeven says. "It'll be a big jump from high school to college though, but I'm prepared to work hard."
On top of working on his offensive scoring game, Verhoeven plans to focus on refining his ball-handling skills so that he is prepared to see more action at the power forward position in addition to his natural role of center. He's also eager to improve his free throw shooting.
"I'd say that's the one weakness in my game that really bugs me," he says. "I'm only around 60 percent from the line right now. I'm going to make that improve."
Stanford fans will enjoy seeing that hunger for success and improvement on the Maples Pavilion hardwood. And it will come from a player who turned down Cal and St. Mary's to come to Palo Alto.
"After getting into Stanford, it was really a no-brainer," Verhoeven says. "It's the best choice for academics and athletics. Even if basketball doesn't work out as a job, you're going to be set for life."
About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Pac-12 and Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link.
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