There were more talented recruits at the 2003 adidas Big Time in Las Vegas last week than I could shake a stick at, and that's saying something given that Stanford's academic requirements limit the size of the talent pool. I watched in excess of 30 games during the whirlwind tournament that brought 400 teams to Sin City from around the country, and I was able to watch several notable Stanford recruits multiple times to firm up my evaluations. Here are my names and notes on the top performing 2004 Stanford recruits I watched at the Big Time:
Top Five Performers
1. PF Trent Plaisted (Rohawks) - The big lefty was the most athletic of the many big men I watched, and has a lot of upside there. I think he could develop a great inside-outside game and an entire arsenal of moves inside 10 feet to bewilder opponents. Plaisted is without question a high-major player, and I'll bet he's an all-conference guy in whatever conference he chooses for college. I struggle to find a Stanford player to whom I can compare him, but I think he has potentially some Jarron Collins game in him - minus a couple inches.
2. PF Taj Finger (Playaz Gold) - Finger has done something you don't often see in recruiting: he has changed the way people view his athleticism. He is quicker and a better jumper than people rated him in the spring, and that has expanded his game vastly.One thing is for sure - every single game of his in Vegas I watched (and there were a lot), Stanford had at least one coach there. He has become a very pivotal figure in this Stanford class the last couple months.
3. SF Marcus Monk (Arkansas Hawks) - Monk is the highest ranked player of anybody on this page, and he was to be the crown jewel of my attended games in Vegas. As such, it ruined my entire first day when I watched him do absolutely nothing in my first game watching him. Entire team was in a funk, as well. But he roared back in the remaining games I watched and showed that he is a slasher and an active rebounder. If he could add a good jumpshot, he could be a dream for Stanford.
4. SG Josh Shipp (California Team Select) - It's confirmed: Shipp has the shooting touch that made his older brother such a terror the last two years at Cal. Josh also showed, though, that he has more glide and explosiveness when attacking the basket. He can fill it up when he gets in a zone, and like his brother he makes it look frighteningly easy.
5. PG Mike Walker (Gym Rats) - You hear about recruits "blowing up," and that term is probably overused. I won't go that far, but Walker is at least someone who burst onto the high-major recruiting scene at the Big Time. He's a white combo guard who had little exposure previously, but in this first event with the Gym Rats he showed that he could play at a top level. Highlight game was an epic battle against Drew Gibson that generated buzz throughout the tournament. Good elevation on his jumper helps him get off his shot, and he can hit a slew of points in a hurry from the perimeter.
The Best of the Rest (in alphabetical order)
C Michael Boone (IEPB Ballers) - I'd heard about him before, but he didn't show at the last event I tried to catch him. Visual inspection confirms that he's a legit 7-footer, and he doesn't have a thin frame either. He's an active player who hustles up and down the floor and loves to mix it up. He'll dive for loose rebounds, though he probably has more heart than agility on some of those plays. Somebody should take this guy for his size and defensive presence, though he'll be a project offensively.
SG Lee Cummard (Arizona Cagers) - In the beginning of the game I watched, I was disappointed. Cummard didn't have a great handle and looked unconventional on the floor. But then he started to score basket after basket - in transition, from the perimeter and driving the lane. By the middle of the second half, he had an effortless 28 points. Even better, I loved his fire on the floor. He's got some 'nasty' in his attitude and his game, and he doesn't mind giving a piece of his mind to an official or his elbow to an opponent.
PF Daniel Fleming (IEBP Ballers) - He confirmed that what I saw in his first of two games in June was an aberration - the kid can jump and he has skills. But at this point he's still a projection as to what kind of player he'll be once you add weight to his thin frame. I would want to keep watching Fleming his senior year for physical and basketball growth.
SFs Caleb and Nick Holmes (KC Pump N Run) - These twins have a pretty good reputation in the Midwest, and they're a near-certain package on the recruiting front. You could get two for the price of one, with one on scholarship and the other walking on. They have a good feel for the game, and well-rounded skill sets. But they are both physically thin and don't do any one thing really well right now. The twins look like mid-major talents right now, though worth watching in the winter and spring.
PF Kevin Langford (Team Texas Elite) - Langord is a premier name I was excited to see play in this environment, previously having watched him play on his high school team. But playing alongside Lamarcus Aldridge seemed to take some wind out of his sails. Langford was hanging out on the perimeter while Aldridge would play inside, though he did have a stretch where he impacted the game on the offensive boards. I've been told his reputation is one of a player who likes to shoot from the high post, but each time I've seen him I've seen a lunch-pail player who mixes it up in the paint. Somewhere between these two personas, Langford needs to embrace an identity as a player and excel at one area of the floor offensively.
SF Luke Meyer (Gateway Basketball Club 17s) - I watched Luke several times and he went up against some pretty athletic teams. For a white kid reputed to be a scorer (translation: shooter), you might think he could suffer in a tempo that moves him up and down the floor, with little semblance of an offense. Not true at all. Turns out Meyer can do a lot of damage driving the lane and slashing through the key from the wing. He doesn't have a the best handle or the quickest step, but he almost has a Dan Grunfeld savvy/knack for scoring. As an indication of how I thought Meyer acquitted himself, I found myself using him as the measuring stick with which I evaluated a lot of wings in Vegas. Not many stacked up to what Luke offers.
PG Matt Sargeant (H-Squad/Belmont Shore) - Frankly, I don't like Sargeant playing with this AAU squad. It induces him to try too many no-look passes and too much razzle-dazzle, detracting from his core strengths. He looks physically mature, but he's underrated as an athlete. At the least, he's a good jumper. Sargeant would probably fit better at Stanford, with the coaching and offense they offer, than other Pac-10 programs. And you could still see hidden elements of his game in this event that keep him as one of the top combo guard recruits for Stanford in this class.
C Steven Smith (Dakota Schoolers) - It's a rare opportunity to watch a kid from South Dakota, and a 6'11" big body at that. But Smith is a guy who probably deserves a better reputation and exposure than he has today from minor programs. He's
PF Andrew Strait (Rotary Select) - Playing on a team with Marvin Williams and Josh Heytvelt is a surefire way to minimize your minutes as a post player, but give Strait credit for playing with and against the best. I didn't get to see much of him on the floor, though. He's a big man with a good build who can both bang and run the floor well. But I think his skill level needs some work. I would really like to see him play more minutes to let him get in the flow of a game.
PF Damir Suljagic (Just Hoops) - I really wanted to put Suljagic in the top five, but I don't know who I could bump off to make room for him. He's a totally different player from a Plaisted or a Finger, in that he is a very physical player who excels inside banging and beating his opponents. Suljagic also has an incredible knack for pulling down one-handed rebounds, due in part to his oversized hands. You see his name and think 'Euro,' but he is quite the opposite. Nevertheless, he is working to add a high post game to his arsenal and showed me a couple nice strokes from just inside the arc. He could be a very good player at the Pac-10 level if he continues to improve, and all indications are that he is coachable and works hard.
As a disclaimer, I should note that these comments and rankings are mine and not those of the Stanford coaching staff. Take them for what they are worth, but I watched a lot of games... and the coaches saw much of what I saw. I'll be following up with stories on the top five players and a few of the rest. Stay tuned for more in-depth evaluations, plus lots of breaking recruiting news on these exciting 2004 Stanford recruits.
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