CIF Finals: A Day for UCLA's Recruits

Each of UCLA's committed players, who span three different classes, won CIF Southern Section championships on Saturday. Senior wing <b>Mike Roll</b> again showed why he's the most under-rated player nationally, while sophomore <b>Taylor King</b> put on a show...

Mike Roll, 6-4 SR SG, Aliso Viejo (Calif.) Aliso Niguel.  The superlatives were flying up and down press row for Roll Saturday, as he led his team to the 1-A CIF Southern Section championship. Roll scored 22 points, but showed why he's going to be ranked the #1 shooting guard in the west for the final rankings of the 2005 class, and why he should be considered a top 50 national prospect. With his team down 13-2 to start the game, it very quickly could have gotten away from Aliso. But Roll hit two successive three-pointers from about 23 feet away, with such a quick set-up and release that it's near-impossible to guard, and he scored again in the lane, and Aliso was back in it. We've seen him now five times this season, and he's one of the best shooters to come out of high school in Southern California in years. His release is so pure, and the ball goes up so soft.  He's just not a shooter, though, but a scorer. He is excellent at finding space to score, either by taking just a couple of dribbles and pulling up, or driving the baseline to put the ball up quickly on the glass before the bigs can get to it. He is so economical in his moves, with no wasted movement, and with very good lateral quickness, combined with such a great game sense, that he's one of the best scorers we've seen recently.  In this game, he had 16 in the first half, despite El Toro doing everything they could to stop him, with box-and-ones, etc. It looked like he lost his legs a bit in the second half, with a couple of deep shots coming up short, but he did so many other things - handling and passing the ball,  moving without the ball, and playing very good, instinctive defense.  He's just so advanced with his skills, fundamentals and feel for the game, he appears more like about a junior in college already.

It really is one of those amazing instances where a player really develops beyond what many projected him, even before he's out of high school. Coming out of last summer we had Roll projected in the lower-end of the high majors, which was far higher than almost every other online recruiting rankings.  Most of them didn't even have him ranked. But we now think that our evaluation was too modest.  He's an elite high major who, if he were uncommitted right now, could go anywhere he wanted to in the country, including Duke, North Carolina or Kansas. He's that good.  UCLA should be thanking the NCAA gods that they instituted an early signing period.

Darren Collison, 6-0 SR PG, Etiwanda (Calif.) High. Collison didn't have a great game against Hart in the finals of the 1-AA Final, scoring 15 points, but he did show why UCLA signed him in November, after also having an excellent, break-out season. Collison plays off the ball mostly for Etiwanda, which was a mistake against Hart, since Collison's ability to break down defenses is exactly what Etiwanda needed against Hart's slower perimeter defense.  He has gotten bigger this year, and looks noticeably filled out since just the beginning of the season.  He looks to now be 6-0, and his shoulders and arms are gaining muscle.  In the game, when he did have the ball, he showed the ability to just even casually take any defender off the dribble,  with too much quickness and his ever-improving handle.  He had a few nice dimes, with a great feel and passing ability. 

Collison, as stated, has had a spectacular year, not just securing his spot as the #2-ranked point guard in the west for 2005, but also easily proving he's a top 75 player in the national class.  He's averaged 21 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists her game, and won various tournament MVPs in leading Etiwanda to a lofty national ranking. His skills have continued to improve, his pretty funky outside stroke was very consistent all season, and he's continued to improve physically and athletically. He's now particularly explosive off the floor, wowing crowds this year with some eye-opening dunks for such a little guy.  He is burgeoning with potential, improving so much this season, while it's also fairly easy to assert that he has much further to go as he continues to develop physically.    Right now, perhaps, his ball-handling could improve and will as his strength increases. 

Like with Roll, it is another late-developing coup for UCLA in getting Collison. Like Roll, he's shown in his senior year that he's even better than projected when UCLA signed him last fall.

James Keefe, 6-8 JR PF Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Santa Margarita. Keefe only had 14 points in a win over Artesia, but that didn't begin to tell the story of how he played on Saturday. While he was credited with 14 rebounds, it seemed like he had closer to 20. It was the same with blocked shots - the official stats had him at three and we thought it was closer to six or seven. Keefe dominated the game inside at the defensive end, as he challenged and altered most of the Artesia shots in the paint. Most impressively, he would challenge shots and then go get a rebound on the other side of the basket. There is no one in the West Coast class of 2006 that has the rebounding range of Keefe. He has an outstanding motor and he never takes a play off. The ultimate team player, Keefe is unselfish to a fault. On a different team, with a system that featured him more, Keefe would get 25-30 every night. Santa Margarita, though, features a very balanced attack and Keefe will sometimes go several possessions without getting a shot. Keefe has a solid shot to 17-19 feet right now and should be a good shooter by the time he enters UCLA.

Taylor King, 6-7 SO SF, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. King had a beautiful game Sasturday, scoring 27 points while pulling down a Mater-Dei record-tying 20 rebounds. And amazingly, King, who has that feathery left-handed outside shooting touch, did it while being fairly cold from the outside, hitting just one late three-pointer. 

We've seen King four times this season, and it took us until seeing him at the Pond on Saturday to realize he's gotten a bit taller, probably all of 6-7 now. His shoulders look wider and his arms longer also. King has also slimmed down some from last summer and his athleticism has definitely improved, both in his hops and his quickness.

King was a force in Mater Dei winning the 2-A Championship Saturday, being so active on both sides of the court. Offensively, he's always looking to get open, and showed his effectiveness around the basket on post-ups and put-backs.  He has become really aggressive on the offensive end, asserting himself both inside and working to get open on the perimeter. And he crashes the boards with consistency, using his length and instincts. King truly has a great knowledge and understanding of the game, which gets him so many opportunities to score.

King led Orange County in scoring, averaging 24.9 points, while also bringing in 10.7 rebounds per game.  With his continued development this season he has cemented himself as conservatively a top 25 national prospect in the 2007 national class.


Alex Stepheson, 6-8 JR C North Hollywood (Calif.) Harvard-Westlake. Stepheson faced an over-matched Oak Park team and, as a result, Harvard-Westlake didn't need to go to their big man as much as we anticipated. Harvard-Westlake shot the lights out from the three-point line early and the game was never in doubt. Stepheson did make a couple very good plays going to the basket with strong, assertive moves. Stepheson is a very good shot-blocker and a fairly good rebounder, although he needs to learn to go after the ball with two hands instead of one. As his footwork improves, and he learns to finish plays more consistently, we think he'll become much more of an offensive weapon in the low-post.. The word is he's been acting more interested in UCLA recently.

Kamyron Brown, 6-1 SO PG Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. Brown didn't get many opportunities to shoot the ball in a blowout win Saturday, but he was still very impressive. He's got excellent size and length, with very good quickness - he could end up a great defender. He plays the passing lanes well and his length helps him get steals on the ball. He has a good, but not exceptional, handle at this point. His outside shot will need to get better, but it's certainly acceptable for a 10th grader. With an older brother who is 4-5 inches taller, you could see Brown getting bigger. He's grown a couple inches in the last year or so. If he continues to improve, Brown is a potential elite, high-major prospect and would have a chance at being the #1 ranked point guard in the west for 2007.

Quinton Watkins, 6-4 SO SG Compton (Calif.) Dominguez. Watkins was a big reason that Dominguez was able to pull off a win against Pasadena, as he hit a couple big threes early in the game and played well throughout the contest. Watkins has grown in the last year and you can see him developing into a big, strong wing who will be tough to handle around the basket. His outside shot is still just adequate and something he'll need to work on in the next couple years. He's all left hand at this point, with no ability to go right. However, he's a very explosive athlete and he's turning into an outstanding defender. At this point, Watkins is a potential high major prospect.

Brandon Jennings, 6-0 FR PG Compton (Calif.) Dominguez. Jennings had a rather quiet game Saturday, with only occasional flashes on his considerable talent. The Pasadena zone defense did a good job of slowing down Dominguez. Jennings is extremely quick with the ball and has outstanding vision. His outside shot is adequate at this point and should get better as he gets stronger. With continued development, Jennings has a chance to be an elite, high major prospect.

Alex Jacobson, 6-11 SO C Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. Jacobson didn't get a lot of touches Saturday, but you can see he's improved a lot in the last year. He moves a lot better now and he's involved in more of the action. He's got decent hands and he's improved as a rebounder. We thought he had a pretty good feel for the game the first time we saw him - looks opposite to pass the ball - and he continues to improve in that area. He has a chance to be an effective player merely as a rebounder and shot blocker. He's got a nice touch facing the basket and now needs to improve his back-to-the-basket game. With more work, a potential high major prospect.

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