Mere days after signing Justin Bibbins to help fill the void of having a true point guard, the Runnin’ Utes announced the signing of yet another point guard in Christian Popoola Jr.
Popoola's commitment came as a bit of a surprise to some. Prior to flipping to the Utes, PoPoola had been verbally committed to BYU for some time now. The Cougars expected him to sign during the early signing period in November, but the senior out of Gorman Bishop (Las Vegas, Nevada) failed to sign his Letter of Intent. The Utah staff remained in good standing with Popoola, leaving the door open for him to sign with the Utes when he came to his final decision.
What Does he Bring to the Table?
The 6-foot-4 inch, 195 pound guard lacks nothing in terms of sheer athleticism. A quick search for highlights from Popoola will yield a plethora of dunks. Aside from the monstrous dunks, what does the young talent do on the court?
The first thing that pops off the film is his quickness. Popoola has an extremely quick first step. When stationary around the perimeter, Popoola has a full arsenal of live ball moves, in which he gets his defender off balance and uses his long, quick first step to blow by his man. To get past his defender when he is dribbling, Popoola has a wicked crossover dribble. Being that he is a southpaw, defenders are surprised when he uses the usual weak hand to make his aggressive move.
Once he gets in the paint, Popoola maintains complete control of his body and its balance. This allows him to adjust in the air to the defenders’ reactions, he relies on his nifty acrobats to work around taller guys, or he can react quickly to get the ball to an open teammate. But if he does see an opening, he will punish whomever stands between he and the basket with a thunderous, humiliating dunk.
Because opponents need to fear his drive ability, he has developed a nice mid-range pull-up jumper. Once he sees separation, he can pull back and elevate quickly. Popoola does have three point range, but is better suited to shoot from a set position rather than on the move.
The thing that should excite his teammates the most is his ability to see the court. Once he gets the ball, he is on the move. If you pay attention to his eyes, they never look to the ground or the ball in his hands. His eyes are always rapidly moving and he knows where his guys are, and where they will be. He does a great job of using his eyes to look of the defenders and pass where they least expect it, a great tool for a fast paced team.
Defensively Popoola knows how to use every inch of his 6-foot-4 frame. He has extremely active hands while defending the ball and has a knack for knocking the ball away from the ball handler. He uses his same vision to understand where the ball will be going and uses his quickness to jump on the passing lanes. He has also shown the ability to be a solid weak side help defender with his sneaky ability to crash down and block a shot by timing his blind-sided jump perfectly.
How Does This Impact the Class?
With Popoola on board, Utah now is left with only a single roster spot to fill. The Utes have added two point guards and a solid wing player to this year’s class. At this point Utah will likely take the best talent available that is interested in the Utes, but look for them to try to bring in more help in the front court.
The wildcard will be what happens with Kyle Kuzma. If Kuzma returns for his senior season, this Utah roster is looking like they could be a major force in the Pac-12 conference. If he decides to continue his path in professional basketball, Utah will once again be looking to fill two more spots.
Don’t be surprised, however, if Utah decides to hold off on extending one of the scholarships in order to have one in their back pocket for a transfer that may become available. As always UteZone will keep you updated on the news as it occurs.