BOZICH | Evaluating the U of L, UK, IU, WKU recruits from the Derby Classic
How did the Louisville, Kentucky, Indiana and Western Kentucky recruit perform in the Derby Classic? Rick Bozich shares his thoughts on the eight signees.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Confession: I watched Taquan Dean play in the Derby Classic and left Freedom Hall wondering why Louisville coach Rick Pitino thought Dean would be a dazzling player for the Cardinals.
I didn’t need to watch Dean score many of his 1,649 points for U of L to realize it’s silly drawing firm conclusions from a high school basketball all-star game where defense is played on 1.7 percent of all possessions.
There is your disclaimer.
Now here are my takeaways from the 2017 Derby Classic, which ended with a Lightning team that included one Kentucky and two Indiana recruits, defeating a Thunder team that featured four recruits from U of L and another from Western Kentucky.
1. Kentucky signee Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has a dynamic game. The first time I watched Gilgeous-Alexander practice, my mind went to the default position of comparing him to previous Kentucky point guards.
He does not get to the rim as easily as De’Aaron Fox. He’s a step behind Tyler Ulis and John Wall on the quickness meter. (Isn't everybody?) He’s not as strong as Andrew Harrison.
Doesn’t matter. The kid can play. I’d call it an Old School game – and that’s a sincere compliment. He’s going to beat you with fundamentals not fancy stuff. He’s confident in his shot. He’s solid with the basketball. He’s happy to share the ball. He plays with positive body language. He's coldly efficient.
Good luck finding a flaw in anything Gilgeous-Alexander did while winning the MVP award for the Lightning. He got his 29 points by making 12 of 15 shots, including both of his attempts from distance. He tied for his team lead with 9 rebounds and also had six assists.
2. Darius Perry is the Louisville recruit most likely to contribute as a freshman. Remember this about all-star games: Guards will usually have better numbers because they control the basketball. There isn’t a coach on the sidelines screaming to feed the post.
Perry is an unrelenting defender who showed a solid three-point stroke (made four of seven) while also distributing the ball. He won’t need extra time in the weight room to be ready for the ACC, and he showed leadership abilities on the court. Confidence is not an issue for Perry.
Perry led the Thunder with 22 and made more shots from distance than anybody in the game. He’ll have a solid spot in the U of L backcourt rotation.
Forward Malik Williams did not have a good game, missing six of seven shots. I doubt Rick Pitino will let him spend as much time on the perimeter as he did Saturday night. His upper body needs work.
Lance Thomas only drew five shot attempts and made a pair. He’ll need time to develop his passing and ball-handling skills, but he knows that. His motor is there. Jordan Nwora did not arrive in town until Saturday and made three of 10 shots while scoring seven points. He's more difficult to judge without seeing him Thursday and Friday. He's not as long as Williams or Thomas, but he's more powerful around the rim.
3. Indiana recruit Justin Smith is obsessed with improvement. Smith is the first high school basketball player I have ever interviewed who used the word “foreshadow” to talk about his performance.
He’s a bright, determined guy who drew interest from Stanford, Harvard and Villanova as well as Indiana. Smith’s father, Ed, said that his son has always been precocious and that he started working with a personal trainer in the fourth grade.
It showed. Smith has a solid blend of perimeter and paint in his game. He was robbed of first-place in the Slam Dunk competition, but scored 15 points for the Lightning. He’s a textbook small forward whose athleticism will result in a string of offensive rebounds.
How mature is this kid?
Smith is not playing any more games until he arrives in Bloomington in June, reserving all his practice time for his personal trainer. Ed Smith said that new IU coach Archie Miller told his son that he wants him to practice enough jump shots that his arms hurt at night.
Smith’s future teammate, Al Durham, showed he was more of a scorer than a shooter. His perimeter shot needs tightening, but Durham can wiggle through the lane and score with either hand. He had 10.
4. Western Kentucky added a nice piece in Taveion Hollingsworth. Nobody was more eager to play in this game than Hollingsworth, Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball from Dunbar High in Lexington.
The recruiting services did not evaluate Hollingsworth as a Top 100 recruit, inspiring some to wonder if he belonged in the game.
He belonged. He was named the MVP for the Thunder squad. Scoring eight quick points, Hollingsworth contributed 18 points, showing the ability to score from 15 feet as well as 20. Rick Stansbury found a player who believes he has something to prove and should be a solid four-year player. The training table will help him, but that's true for most freshmen.
Overall, it was a solid night for the locals.
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