Junior Primer: M.J. Cage

Feb. 26 -- The 2016 center from Mater Dei has already earned a UCLA offer...

How he got here

Fans over 35-years-old are certain to remember former NBA stalwart Michael Cage, one of the game’s iconic practitioners of the fabled jheri curl and a workhorse for the Seattle SuperSonics and others.

Well, his son M.J. Cage is unlikely to leave as lasting a cultural legacy as his father — and there’s no curl — but the talented junior ultimately might become the more complete player.

Cage’s best basketball remains years away, but he’s getting closer

Cage began to emerge early in his sophomore season, and straightway he earned attention from Kentucky and many programs out West. He teamed with elite 2014 forward Stanley Johnson at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, enabling him to receive widespread attention and evaluations from big-time college coaches.

By the spring of last year, he’d obtained reported offers from Arizona, Kentucky, USC, UCLA, San Diego State (his dad’s alma mater), Washington and Gonzaga.

Cage’s next big chance to impress a national audience occurred at the NBPA Top 100 Camp last June. There, he battled against scores of blue-chippers — most of them a class ahead of him — and enjoyed some stellar moments. He wasn’t one of the camp’s dominant players but proved he belonged at that level.

His role changed substantially this season at Mater Dei. With Johnson and others departed, Cage knew he’d be asked to step up his offensive production and do so on a reliable basis.

He struggled at times at the City of Palms Classic but performed much better at later events, including at the Max Preps Holiday Classic. His recruitment remains intense and he’ll undoubtedly bring a lot of interested coaches to his games this spring and summer.

To 2015. …

Clearly, Cage can do much more to maximize his potential as a post scorer. He’s still working to optimize his body — but has taken strides already this season — and has room to improve with his footwork and turnaround jump shot.

That said, he already finishes well with either hand and thus has built a foundation upon which to construct a more diverse repertoire. Thinking long-term, Cage possesses commendable mobility and can succeed at any tempo.

He also carries a solid frame. At 6-9, 225 pounds, he isn’t too far away from his ultimate college weight. Continuing to lean up looms as his top physical priority, while many other big men his age are struggling to put on basic weight.

Perhaps not this year, but down the road we’ll be looking for Cage to expand his shooting range. He doesn’t yet look comfortable at distance, and to advance to the NBA he’ll likely need a more reliable jump shot.

While not truly explosive, he has become quicker off the floor and should add further athleticism as he grows into his body. Cage unlikely ever will be a high flyer, but with his size and strength, he certainly should be sufficient from an athleticism perspective.

Although No. 42 in the junior class, Cage actually ranks as only the No. 10 center due to rare depth at that position. Thus, he should get numerous opportunities to test himself against elite competition. And if his improvement arc serves as an indication, he’ll be ready for the challenge.

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