Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Battle of the Border

Well, Monday was the longest day of basketball in my life. Five games, from 12:00 - 10:00 pm. And I sat through 4 1/2 of those games at courtside. For YellowJacket fans, one game featured Zam "Buck" Fredrick, who has committed to the Jackets. Another game featured Ra'Sean Dickey, who has also signed with the Jackets, going head-to-head with Dwight Howard, the #1 high school player in the nation. The night-cap featured Randolph Morris, a 7-footer who says he is going to college and is down to GT and Kentucky (although NBA is not out 100%). So all-in-all a good day for GT's hoops future.

Before I get to the games, some interesting comments. There were a number of "dignitaries" in attendance:

1. George Raveling - the legendary USC coach was courtside watching the game.

2. Dennis Felton - the UGAg head coach was there watching the festivities courtside as well, obviously a scouting trip. With my Georgia Tech hat on my head I went up to Coach Felton. I held out my hand, he extended his, I said "Great win against Kentucky". He laughed and said "Thanks. We do what we can". I said "Unfortunately I have to congratulate you on breaking my heart in that GT game" (as I pointed to my cap). He laughed, then I said "Of course, maybe we just didn't pay Ted Valentine as much as you did". KIDDING!!!!!!!!! I didn't say that. I left, wishing him luck for the rest of the season, he said "thanks" and that was that.

3. Larry Shyatt - The former Clemson hoops coach was sitting next to Felton at the table and the two of them left together after it was over.

4. Bob Gibbons. To those recruiting fanatics, this is a familiar name. This guy is one of the top "handicappers" for high school hoops talent. I went up to him at halftime of the last game, said hello. After exchanging some small pleasantries, I asked him "So what do you think Paul Hewitt's real chances are of landing Randolph Morris?". His answer "I would say good. Real good". Gibbons was sitting next to Raveling and it is worthy of note that both Ra'Sean Dickey and Casaan Breeden (a rising junior on Dickey's team) spent some time before their game talking to Gibbons and Raveling. Makes me wonder how much players use these guys to get their "message" out. Of course I have no idea what they were talking about, so anything is pure speculation.

5. Numerous NBA talent scouts were also in attendance. I saw one pad that had Milwaukee Bucks on it.
Here are a couple of overall comments after watching the tourney

1. CONDITIONING - I now have a MUCH higher appreciation for the athletic ability and intensity of our current YellowJackets. Those guys just hustle all-out and they really are in good shape. I can't tell you how many players during these games were tired, slow getting back, and some of them are OUR players coming in next season. We really do have one of the most athletic teams in the nation. It even gives me added appreciation for a guy like Luke S, who has proven his ability to run with these guys (he played the entire 2nd half of the Maryland game).

2. GRAIN OF SALT - In the end, this is only ONE game. So it is not fair to place too much judgement on one game. Some of my comments talk about desire and hustle and you cannot judge a player by one game. So understand that as you read my re-cap.
Now to the games. The premise of the tourney is the best SC teams versus the best GA teams, thus the "Battle of the Border".

GA's McEchern vs SC's Lancaster. The draw of this game was supposed to be McEchern's Josh Smith, who is a national talent, versus Lancaster, the #1 SC team in class AAAA. However, Josh Smith took his talents to legendary Oak Hill Academy in Virginia after this event was scheduled. In the end, this one turned into a rout, as Lancaster won 65-46.

GA's Chamblee vs SC's Calhoun County. This game is of interest because it featured Zam "Buck" Fredrick, a GT signee. When Fredrick came out in his warmup gear, I was first struck with his size. He's around 6'2 - 6'3", but very thick (listed at about 220lb). During the initial warm-ups he did nothing but shoot 3pt shots. At one point, he shot one about 10 feet behind the line (didn't go in). Seemed very laid-back though, and definitely has a bit of personality as he talked with some people he recognized. He had a definite swagger about him. So as the game starts and he removes his warm-ups, you get a better idea about his build. No doubt he will benefit from Hewitt's conditioning program, as his weight was not all lean mass. As the game started it really hit me who he reminded me of.........Dennis Scott. No kidding. The walk, the build, the slight forward lean, even the dribbling and a little of the game. If you took his body, stretched it a few inches and stuck Scott's head on it, you might have a match. He likes to shoot from long distance but has strong moves to the hoop.

Now to the game. Chamblee was supposed to showcase Paul Delaney III, who signed with Alabama-Birmingham, but he broke his leg in the 2nd game of the season and was out. Calhoun ended up cruising past Chamblee 61-42. Buck ended the game with 19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, but fouled out with 6:30 remaining. Of those, at least 2 were offensive charge calls, one of which was really questionable. In fact, his dad (who is the head coach) got a technical foul in the first half for arguing about calls against Buck.

So what about Buck's game? He starts the game launching 3pt shots. Misses his first two but knocks down the next 2. Wasn't until his 6th shot until he went for something inside the arc. Then he started calling for the ball. He was getting doubled on top and was getting frustrated and his teammates continued to launch up 3 and 3 after 3. No doubt Buck has offensive skills handling the ball when he got it. He seemed to love getting the ball one-on-one with his guy and breaking him down to get to the bucket. He wowed the crowd on one play. He faked left went right, back left then back right again to get to the hoop. His braids were flying every direction. Didn't make the shot but he left the defender's jock in the backcourt. He seemed to have nice overall offensive skills. It is worth mentioning that he shot in the neighborhood of 10 free throws. I only counted one miss. That's a positive sign.

One area that Buck seemed to be strong was floor leadership. He was directing his players often, telling them to get into position, telling them when when to get him the ball. At times, he had some real fire on the court.

Now to his defense. I was not overly impressed with his performance today. His defensive intensity came in spurts. There were times when he launched his body to the ball to attempt a steal or really bodied up on the guard at the point. But there were other times he just seemed to stand around. There were numerous times an opposing player (not his guy) blew past him in the lane and he did not move to pick him up. I don't know if that is a result of Buck's desire,conditioning or if it is a product of the defensive schemes they run. Buck was consistenly the last guy up the floor and seemed to be winded a lot of the game. Although, when he decided to go, he was there and had the energy. But the best way I can describe it is that he picks his spots. I don't want to paint a bad picture here. It was obvious he can defend and a year of conditiong with Hewitt's off-season program should really help. I look forward to seeing him in a Jacket uniform next year.

Even after fouling out, Buck wins the team MVP award for the game (they award a player from each team an MVP trophy after the game).

GA's Montgomery County vs SC's Carolina HS. Montgomery wins 68-43 in a rout. Just too many athletes. Montgomery is led by South Carolina signee Dwayne Day, and Tramell Wooten. Both had nice games. I was really impressed with Day during the first 5 minutes of each half. He hustled, can shot the long distance shot and has hops. He seems like a good playmaker and looks like SC picked up a good one. However the last part of each half he seemed to disappear. He ended with 16 points and 6 boards. Wooten ends up with 16 points and has 18 boards and wins the team MVP.

GA's SW Christian vs SC's Marlboro County. This was the marquee match-up as SW Christian features the #1 player in high school, 6'11" Dwight Howard. Marlboro features two big talents, 6'9" Ra'Sean Dickey, who has signed with GT, and 6'8" junior Casaan Breeden.

On a side note, during the previous game, Dickey was walking my way (I was courtside). I called him and he came over. I said I was a GT guy and am looking forward to seeing him in a Jacket uniform. He smiled and laughed. I asked him if he had been watching the Jackets this year - he said "oh yeah". I had him sign an autograph on the program. He then went over and sat down with Bob Gibbons and George Raveling.

Back to the game. When Dwight Howard came out, I immediately saw what NBA scouts are salivating about. This kid is huge. Not huge in terms of weight. Huge in terms of his frame, but he is NOT skinny. He is lean but not thin. He has enormously wide shoulders. And he is 6'11". Well about 1 minute into the game, one of his teammates throws up a shot that bounce straight back off the rim. Howard leaps HIGH in the air, grabs the ball and thunderously slams it back down. The crowd took a collective gasp, then started going nuts. There were times he grabbed a rebound and jumped so high I thought he could actually push the ball through the basket with both hands and bring it back out before hitting the floor.

A few minutes into the game, and Howard was whistled for his 2nd foul. Then he was later whistled for his 3rd. Turns out our boy Dickey was doing a pretty good job taking it to him on offense. Then they decided to have Howard guard Casaan Breeden instead of Dickey so he wouldn't get another foul. Interesting, sitting next to me courtside were a couple of local guys who know the Marlboro team. During the game they were talking to the players and telling them what to do. And guess what - the players were listening. Casaan Breeden comes back down court and one guy says "Casaan, Howard's got 3. Go after him. Go hard!!!". Caseen shakes his head and says ok (no kidding). Howard who is standing right behind him, starts whispering something in Casaan's ear. Howard heard the exchange and I'm sure said something to him like "yeah, why don't you come at me". Sure enough Casaan gets the ball in the post and the intensity on his face goes up a notch. He backs Howard down strong, then turns around and puts up a short jumper in the lane. The shot bounces off the right side of the rim and misses. No foul, but Casaan Breeden impresses me. This kid is a player. Howard ends up sitting most of the rest of the half with 3 fouls. In the 2nd half, Howard ends up fouling out with 7 minutes to play. He ends the game with only 10 points and 8 boards. Not a strong outing. However, his teammates pick-up the slack and hang on for the victory 63-54.

Casaan Breeden ends up winning the team MVP and scores 18 and grabs 10 rebounds. This kid is only a junior and watch out. He is already heavily sought after and is on Paul Hewitt's radar. The guys sitting next to me said that a lot of coaches made "visits" with Dickey but tried to use it to get time with Breeden.

So what about Ra'Sean Dickey? First Dickey is listed at 6'8" - 6-10", depending where you look. I would peg him closer to 6'8", maybe an inch taller. When standing next to Howard, he was more than one inch shorter. Howard is listed at 6'11". In the game, Dickey gets into a little foul trouble of his own in the 2nd half, but hangs tough with 4 until the game is over. He ends with 21 points and 6 rebounds. Overall he has a nice game against Howard. Here are my impressions. A nice, quiet, reserved young man. Has an infectious smile. When his team was sitting in the waiting area, Dickey sat by himself, listening to music on a headset. He also wandered around the arena slowly saying hello to friends. When warm-ups started, while his team warmed up on one side of the floor, Dickey worked on his outside shot by himself on the other side of the floor (for a few minutes). That only lasted a few minutes but I just found it interesting. During the game, his aggressiveness came in flashes. There were times when he was strong defending under the basket. There were times when he fought for position in the post and made nice moves to the basket. There were other times when he seemed a little lost. He was out of place, wandering in the lane, hands down. He was slow down the court a lot. However, Ra'Sean didn't necessarily seem winded or tired. Just seemed that during this game he didn't hustle 100%. Like Buck, he picked his spots. Again, I don't want to paint a bad picture. This is the first time I have seen him play. Ra'Sean has some very nice post moves, has good footwork and just needs to show a more consistent high intensity on defense. At the end of the 1st half he had a thundering dunk that woke up the crowd. Didn't make a show. Just ran back up court. Overall, he was very quiet on the court and never got emotional (not sure if this is good or bad). He should be a good talent at the next level. We will see next season what kind of fire he has in his belly.

GA's Landmark Christian vs SC's Wade Hampton. Wade Hampton wins the game 51-48. This game featured a big-man matchup of Randolph Morris (Landmark) and Damion Harris (WH). Harris is headed to Tenn and Morris is down to GT/KY/NBA. I have to tell you. I was VERY impressed with Morris. This guy is a player. Morris ended the game with 31 points (11-30), 12 rebounds and won the team MVP trophy. He also hit 9/10 free throws.

What really impressed me was his footwork and his aggressiveness. He would get the ball in the post and make strong moves to the basket. Spin moves, drop steps, you name it. Just great footwork and a soft touch around the basket. At one point he grabbed a rebound, found no outlet guy and started dribbling the ball up the floor himself. He pushed it hard, from coast-to-coast. There were 2 defenders in the lane. Running full speed, he approaches one, spins the other way with the basket, splits the defenders and lays up a 2 point bucket. Now, at times, he seemed to rush his moves in the paint, which is one reason he had so many misses. When he exercised a little more patience and took what the defense gave him, he took it to the rack consistently.

Now Morris also had his moments of slow moving, getting up court late. I generally accept that big men are often purposely the last guy up. However, even when timeouts were called, Morris would SLOWLY walk to his huddle. I mean SLOWLY. When his team would raise their arms together as one to come out of a timeout, he would barely get his arm up and would start walking back on the court before they broke. I am not making ANY suggestion as to what this means. Just observations from the game.

On defense, Morris altered shots and forced about 5 steals. When they played a zone defense, he had an interesting posture and look in his eyes. It was almost like he was lurking, slightly hunched over, eyes darting around, looking for an opportunity, trying to anticipate the action.

Overall, I see this guy as the most polished of all the recruits Hewitt has gone after from today's action. I would never say the NBA out 100% out of the picture based on what I saw. His game, his look, his demeanor, his posture, really does remind me of Tim Duncan. Obviously he is no Tim Duncan, but he really does have that potential. Hopefully he choses GT.

Overall, this was a fun day of basketball, but this is entirely too much for one day. I was worn out and had a splitting headache after hearing that Arena thumping music after EVERY SINGLE PLAY. I suppose one game of that would have been fine. But 4 1/2 was too much.

I am encouraged by the players we have coming in next year. I think in Paul Hewitt's system, with his conditioning program and coaching style, he will really bring out the best in these kids. He has shown the ability to do that. The future is solid. If Morris decides to join the party, then look out.

For some other links check these out:
- Overview of the tourney results.
- article on Howard and some of the other players.
- pictures from the Montgomery County / Carolina matchup
- pictures from the Howard / Dickey matchup.
- pictures from the Landmark game (Morris)