Put down the razor blades. After six and a half months, Stanford finally has another commitment in the 2004 basketball recruiting class.
"I committed to Stanford yesterday," power forward Taj Finger tells The Bootleg. "I told Coach [Mike] Montgomery that they're the guys I want to go with. He was really excited and told me I was coming into a great situation. I'll have a great future here."
The previous week Finger had taken a whirlwind tour of his top three choices. The weekend of September 20 he traveled West to Stanford for his first offiical visit. The following Tuesday and Wednesday he hit Northwestern for the second trip. Finally this past weekend he made it to Richmond for his final visit, though one that had been delayed because of Hurricane Isabel the previous weekend. Finger had offers from all three schools, plus Villanova, Georgia, Davidson, Yale and Penn.
A seminal event in his final decision came this past Friday, just before he headed out for the Richmond visit. It was then that the 6'8" forward from Bedford (NY) received an email from Stanford assistant coach Tony Fuller informing him that the University's Admissions Office had accepted him to the school. For Stanford recruits, that admission is a very serious barrier, and it was a relief for this recruit to get the thumbs up.
"It was kind of amazing to get that news," Finger reveals. "I was a little big worried that I wouldn't get admitted. But even before I was accepted, I was pretty sure I wanted to go to Stanford. I was interested in Richmond and Northwestern and still wanted to visit them, but Stanford was where I thought I wanted to be. They had an edge even before I was accepted."
"It was the whole situation," he explains. "Stanford has the best combination of academics and basketball in the country. Nobody can dispute that fact. And during my visit I found they have great guys and great coaches."
Finger says he was primarily hosted by Matt Haryasz, Dan Grunfeld and Jason Haas during his visit. "They were really just awesome," he notes. "Then the second night I hung out with Tim Morris and Fred Washington, and they were cool. To boot, Peter Prowitt was there, who had already signed with Stanford. And he was a pretty cool guy. We didn't sit down and talk about why he committed to Stanford; he didn't need to tell me that Stanford was a great school. Just seeing that he was a cool guy was good enough."
One of the lingering concerns for the Finger family was whether the young recruit would be a big enough part of the Stanford program. The perception was that he could go to a Richmond and be the proverbial big fish in a little pond. Conversely, the Westchester product could be a little fish in the ocean of Stanford talent.
"Yeah, that's something we had talked about," Finger comments. "But when I played with the guys at Stanford, I played pretty well. I could tell I could hang with them. It's a place where by my sophomore year I could make my mark. But I'm also going to have a chance to play as a freshmen. After playing there in those pickup games, I can see no reason why I can't play at that high level."
Speaking of his game, I had the chance to catch about 45 minutes of pickup action during that visit weekend, and though I had already seen a good deal of Finger at the Adidas Big Time in Las Vegas this past summer, I was impressed once again. Finger showed that he can rebound in a crowd of Stanford players, which is a feat quite a few Pac-10 players can't manage. He has a deceptively explosive baseline move and is a very good ballhandler. A couple deadly hook shots stroked the twine, as well. I think the only significant hole in his game today is a reticence to shoot the high post jumper, but that has largely been a product of where he has played his basketball.
"I want to shoot a lot more this year," Finger says looking ahead to his coming senior season at Fox Lane High School. "I worked a lot on my dribbling and shooting off the dribble this off-season. I've been trying to incorporate that with my low post moves and my jumper."
"My goals this year are to get stronger and help my team win," he proclaims. "I averaged like 17 [points] last year and could maybe get 23 this year, but so long as I'm helping the other guys around me play better and we win, then I don't care if I score 12 or 14 points."
Though not a physically thick big man at this point, it is worth nothing that Finger is young for his class. He skipped ahead a great earlier in this education and just turned 17 in August. By all rights he should be in the 2005 class but is coming into his own athletically and as a skilled basketball player. Don't expect him to present a finished physical product when he arrives on campus next September, but he will be an effective player even while he works to add mass and muscle.
Finger is the second commitment for Stanford in this 2004 recruiting class, and he is also the second big man from the Northeast. Coincidentally the other commit, 6'10" center Peter Prowitt, took his official visit the same September 20 weekend. The Cardinal have two more scholarships to give in this class, and there are a myriad of permutations as to what size player they could address.
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