Sean Phaler from Villa Park, CA is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. No, it's not tough to figure out how talented he is, but instead difficult to gauge his fit with Stanford or other college programs given his skills relative to his body size and frame. Sean is a pure scorer with a sweet touch to his shot that can let him score from anywhere on the court at any time, for any number of consecutive shots. He may lull you to sleep in a game, and then hit six in a row, which he in fact did twice in the same game in Las Vegas at the Easter Pump tournament. He can hit a little turnaround jumper on the baseline, tap it in from ten feet, or light you up from outside the arc. I'm not overhyping him, folks - he can flat out score. Just look at what he did last summer in the Adidas Big Time, where he tied the tournament high scoring mark set by incoming Stanford frosh Dan Grunfeld at 45 points in one game. Though remember that Sean did this as a rising junior in a tournament full of rising seniors.
So what's the problem? Well, he has a 6'9" frame and weighs a buck-sixty. His offensive range and shooting touch are extraordinary for his size, but you almost have to play him at the power forward slot on the floor. It just doesn't seem reasonable that he can guard some of the talented wings in the Pac-10, including a Casey Jacobsen. If defense forces him inside to the 'four,' then you want to see a demonstrated ability to play in the paint. That's the problem, because I sure didn't see it in several games in Vegas. His size and long arms can get him rebounds, but he just doesn't have any low post game right now. He also needs more meat on his bones to bang with the post players he'll face in college, even more so if he comes to Stanford and plays the physical basketball that Monty is known for.
Stepping back, Sean Phaler isn't a clear cut evaluation for the Stanford staff and college coaches. You have to look at what he is and decide either how that might fit in with your team and philosophy, or how you think he might change and develop. Curtis Borchardt sure came into Stanford every bit as thin as Sean, and with time, his body has matured into one who can handle tough inside play at the college level. The distinction between the two, though, is that Sean is a pure shooter in that body while Curtis had a combo game of offensive range and a natural defensive presence as a shotblocker. Another comparison would be Phaler's body today similar to what Mike Dunleavy at Duke has today. Dunleavy has the offensive game of a guard/wing without question, but that hasn't stopped Coach K from playing him at the power forward slot. Here the distinction is that Dunleavy polished himself as a guard in high school and kept growing into the height he possesses today, while Phaler remains primarily a shooter without the versatility of a great ballhandling, mobility and body control. Although I'd make the favorable comparison in that both are devoid of the "stiff body" you see from many big men at their height.
The bottom line: Sean Phaler has some high offensive talent, and that has earned his current #9 national ranking by The Insiders (Tracy Pierson and Dave Telep) at the small forward position. Stanford has been on him for a long time, and he is quite familiar with Stanford, including an unofficial visit to Stanford last year. He's getting serious interest from the breadth of the Pac-10 plus Utah and San Diego State. This is a kid who is going to wind up in a good program, but the question of who and where is as tough to figure as his place in the college game.
Sean plays his off-season ball with his high school travelling team, in contrast to many of the 'club' AAU teams on the circuit. Indeed, his Villa Park Spartans played in both Vegas tournaments concurrently, including a standout win over the talented and favored Pump 'N Run squad at the buzzer. It was after that win that I got a chance to talk with the talented youngster about his recruitment and perspective on his own game...
Phaler vs Pump 'N Run's Trevor Ariza
The Bootleg: Sean, that sure was an
impressive win for your team. Congratulations. What made the
difference for the team in the second-half comeback, as well as what sparked
Sean Phaler: I think a lot of our team chemistry beat them. They're an all-star team, while we're a high school team. We've been playing together for like three years. Kyle Hogan also had a great game.
The Bootleg: What do you think you did
well out there? What have you been able to show all the coaches in
Sean Phaler: I've been trying to improve on my rebounding and my strength. I'm trying to take the ball hard to the basket more.
The Bootleg: Obviously, you have a
reputation with such an exceptional shooting touch at your size. So what
are you specifically trying to do to develop your low post game?
Sean Phaler: Just trying to lift as much weights as possible. And work on my touch and try to get as many shots as possible.
Sean goes inside against Martin Iti
The Bootleg: Who are the coaches you've
noticed thus far in Vegas who have been watching you play?
Sean Phaler: I don't really notice the coaches, and I'm happy so long as we're winning.
The Bootleg: Who are the schools who have
given you the most attention - who is the most serious about recruiting you?
Sean Phaler: There are a lot of good schools, and I don't want to leave anyone out. Stanford, UCLA - Utah is up there. Oregon State was up there, but the coach just got transferred. Cal, USC, San Diego State, some Kentucky, Colorado State. A lot of schools, and those are just some off the top of my head.
The Bootleg: Do you have a couple items
that are most important to you as you start to look at that long list of
Sean Phaler: Just how I fit on the team. The coach, basically. Education is very important, so they have to have a good education. Basically how I fit on the team and what the coach is like.
The Bootleg: If you had offers from that
entire list of schools today, would you have any favorites or anyone you'd lean
toward? A top three or top five list?
Sean Phaler: No, I haven't had that much consideration yet. I'm still open to everybody.
The Bootleg: What are the strengths of
your game that you think are going to allow you to best succeed at the high
Division I level?
Sean Phaler: I would have to say my shoo