Albuquerque Assassin In Focus

With that final shot in Seattle last Saturday clanking off the iron, not only did Stanford end their fabled season, but the Cardinal saw the end of Matt Lottich's college career. Unfortunately there is nobody shorter than 6'8" in the incoming freshman class to replace him. So it is with keen interest that we bring you 2005 SG prospect Harvey Hale, Jr. - a fearless scorer with range and athleticism...

Mike Montgomery's first successes in this 10-year run of 20-win seasons and NCAA Tournament berths came on the back of a classic inside-outside game. He has owned talented big men with skills, size and savvy in the interior but has kept defenses from collapsing with double-teams or zones because of threatening outside shooting. Dion Cross, Brevin Knight, Kris Weems, Arthur Lee, David Moseley, Ryan Mendez and Casey Jacobsen were all assassins outside that demanded respect by any and every defense.

The peak year for long range bombing may have come with 2000-01 Elite Eight team that was one of the top scoring teams in the nation and arguably the toughest defensive scout in the land. The Collins twins were a pair of NBA-bound skilled big men inside that could take over a game, but the perimeter scoring was signature of that team. Four starters, including seven-foot Jason Collins, shot the ball masterfully from outside the arc for a season average of 40% or better. At the top of the team was point guard Mike McDonald at 51.4%, and sophomore All-American Casey Jacobsen had his best season with 47.2% scoring beyond the arc. Also consider that two players off the bench could stroke the ball from long range: Teyo Johnson (45.5%) and Matt Lottich (40.7%). That team was the high point in modern Stanford Basketball offense, with an embarrassment of riches that could score 80 points in any game.

But Jacobsen is gone and the teams since have come far short of the 83.2 points per game and 42.9% outside shooting. This 2003-04 team shot 36.4% from three-point range, with just one player/starter at 40+%. The 2002-03 team shot 35.6% from outside, with no player breaking 40%. Even the 2001-02 team shot just 34% despite having a junior Jacobsen on the roster, and he produced at a 37.2% clip that year. Only Curtis Borchardt shot in the 40's, and he did so on sparse 11-of-27 shooting (40.7%). With Matt Lottich graduating this spring, it is more difficult than we can ever remember to find a bona fide bomber on the Stanford roster. Point guard Chris Hernandez was without question the most dependable shooter on this year's squad, hitting at a sweet 46% clip, but you could argue that he took teams by surprise the first half of the season. In his last 12 games, his average from outside dropped from a season high of 51.7%, as teams gave him more attention. Hernandez will find himself a defensive focal point rather than an after-thought the next two years, much like teams keying on Lottich and making sure above all else that they stayed in his face - no easy shots.

The future at the wing positions for Stanford is bright in terms of athleticism, with freshman Fred Washington and redshirt Tim Morris both providing exceptional upgrades in quickness and leaping ability, but neither can be described as a shooter. There seems to have been an implicit trade-off in recent recruiting for Cardinal Basketball, as better athletes have taken away from the shooting skill that once defined Mike Montgomery's perimeter players. There were zero guards/wings in the 2004 recruiting class concluded this past fall; Morris and Washington were the totality of the '03 haul; and gun-shy Dan Grunfeld (2002) had an incredibly disappointing showing this season with a 22.6% mark from beyond the arc.

Shooters Wanted should be a theme through Stanford's recruiting in the 2005 class if Montgomery seeks to return to a balanced offense and not see seasons full of zone defenses. There are several enticing point guards on the Cardinal's early list in the junior ranks, and I have profiled them here for you on several occasions. But I launched into this nauseatingly long introduction to hammer home the point that there is a tremendous need to bring shooting back to The Farm. With five scholarships to give next year, there is no excuse for not finding a three-point scoring machine. Whatever you feel you want or need out of this super-sized class, there has to be room for one or two bombers who can light it up from long distance.

The #1 gunner I have seen in the 2005 class with Stanford academics is New Mexico's Harvey Hale, Jr. The 6'4" Abluquerque assassin is a prolific scorer and unquestionably the top talent in the state this year. The versatile athlete is a national Top 100 player who has filled up box scores with big shooting games for three years on the New Mexico high school scene, but this year was an important maturation for him. He allowed his scoring to drop so that he could improve his shot selection and be a better team player.

His 19.8 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game are nothing to sneeze at, mind you. But Hale was putting up even bigger numbers as a sophomore at Rio Grande High School, when he averaged 24 points.

"I'm a shooter and can hit shots from anywhere on the floor," Hale told The Bootleg last July at the adidas Big Time in Las Vegas. "I usually have the ball in my hands, but coaches are looking for me to distribute, defend and dive for loose balls."

The high achieving student-athlete carried through with that plan and made some sacrifices in his stats this year to better round himself as a basketball player. It paid off with Rio Grande's march to the Clas 5A state semifinal game, which the Ravens (21-7) lost in a 68-66 overtime heartbreaker.

"Last year I was just a scorer. This year I had the whole package. I had better shot selection and I played hard every game," the Albuquerque standout describes. "I probably could have averaged more if I wanted to, but I need to be more of a team leader. I only scored 19.8 points per game, but I only took like nine or 10 shots per game."

There is no question that Hale is a fearless shooter, who will not hesitate to pull the trigger from outside, regardless of position or defender. He also loves to get out and run and excels at the pull-up jumper. He's a good athlete with improving strength and tenacious defense. As a result, he has scholarship offers from programs all over the nation.

At this time, Hale says that he has narrowed his suitors down to a more manageable list of Marquette, Texas, Kansas, Stanford, Connecticut, Baylor and Arizona State. He still needs to winnow that list a little further, but he's pretty close to determining where he'll take his five official visits.

"My top five isn't in concrete yet, but I think it is going to be Marquette, Texas, Kansas, Stanford and ASU," he shares. "I want to be on TV a lot; I want to be seen. I want a coaching staff I can get along with, since I'll be there for four years. It's also important how they'll play me - what system and style of play they use. But all my top schools have that - my dad and I talked about these things when we narrowed down my list."

Cardinal fans might be surprised (and elated) to see Stanford's name in Hale's projected final five, given that he was giving the Card little mention as recently as February. But a visit by assistant coach Tony Fuller to sit in the stands for one of his games woke him up. Hale has seen the top-ranked team strut their stuff this year, and all he needed was to feel a little love to get on board.

"At Stanford, you play the best teams every game," the recruit elaborates. "Coach Montgomery is a great coach, and Coach Fuller is great. California is a big plus, and you can't beat the education."

Hale also carries a 4.0 GPA in the classroom and professes to be "very big on academics." He says he will take the ACT and SAT both in April, which will then allow him to take official visits in the fall. For now, he would like to concentrate on the AAU circuit and his basketball profile, toward a very specific objective.

"My goal is to get to the McDonald's All-American Game," the Rio Grande junior declares. "I really don't want to think about recruiting this summer. It's time to get down to business. Marquette and Texas both want visits, but I'd like to take them in the fall. I just want to get my list narrowed down by the end of school [junior year]."

Though a resident of New Mexico, Hale plays most of his AAU ball with Mitch Malone's Texas Blue Chips team. Look for them at the big Kingwood Classic in Houston next month, then at the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions over Memorial Day. In July you can see them at the Reebok Big Time in Vegas, followed by the Best of Summer event in Los Angeles. Hale will also be an individual participant in the ABCD camp in July, as well as the famed NBPA Top 100 Camp in June.

All of this electric and engaging guard's favorites have offered him, and plenty more are chomping at the bit. His is a national recruitment, and geography should not play a big part. He told me flatly last July that he wanted to get out of New Mexico, and he repeats the same desire today. Stanford is riding an uptick in recruiting momentum with 6'4" standout, but this one will take some time to fully play out. We'll keep you posted on the latest with Harvey Hale, Jr. - including his spring test scores and the twists his favorites list takes as more schools see him in April and July.

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