It's not exactly a news flash at this point that Rick Barnes wants taller wings in the program. Recall Carmelo Anthony's incredible tournament run his freshman season. At 6-8, there just wasn't anyone in college basketball who could guard him. Not many people in the world either, so he's an extreme example. How about CJ Miles? No single player contributed more to the Longhorns not being able to legitimately more for a championship in 2005-06 than Miles deciding to forgo his college career to jump to the NBA.
All this as way of introduction to the second 2010 player to commit, Daniel Bejarano, a 6-5, 205 pound wing from Phoenix North High School and the consensus no. 1 prep player in Arizona. Deciding to join Findlay Prep's Tristan Thompson, Bejarano is the 15th-ranked player in the latest Scout rankings and has basketball bloodlines, as his father, Damion Gosa, was a former Arizona high school star and his height, 6-9, raises questions about whether Bejarano will add several more inches to his height before he is done growing.
There's no question that Bejarano can score, averaging 23 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, and two steals in his junior season, a scoring average that was limited by a back injury early in the season incurred when an opposing player undercut him on a dunk.
In college basketball circles, Bejarano's somewhat sudden commitment to Texas after an unofficial visit came as a surprise -- most observers had pegged him as an almost certain verbal commitment to Arizona State. However, Bejarano felt comfortable with the coaches at Texas and loved the stadium and game-day football atmosphere he witnessed, in addition to the top-rate basketball facilities. Most of all, Bejarano liked the system at Texas, as the up-tempo pace will help highlight his strengths, a concern he had with Herb Sendek's system at ASU, and was also impressed with the other players Texas is bringing into the program -- a winner himself, Bejarano saw the opportunity to join a program on the rise and promptly did so.
Dead-eye shooter. Forced to pick one short phrase to describe Bejarano, it would have to be dead-eye shooter. Using his superior ability to elevate over defenders, Bejarano combines the ability to get off his shot over anyone with a quick and smooth release that is deadly in catch-and-shoot situations. Soft torch, proper arc, and a high release all combine to form perfect mechanics and help him knock down even contested looks.
In addition, Bejarano has the ability to pull up from the mid range -- not as prolific in the middle game as Avery Bradley, but then few people are. After suffering through the 2008-09 season with essentially one perimeter shooter on the team, the ability to make a jump shot is an absolute thing of beauty for any future Longhorns. Bejarano fits the bill as one of the best pure jump shooters in the 2010 class.
Unlike Damion James, an exceptional athlete with limited savvy for the game of basketball, Bejarano does a variety of the little things that help a team win. He won't be a lead guard in college, but he does distribute the ball well, getting his teammates involved and showing a calm demeanor and an unselfishness that will benefit him well in Rick Barnes' system. One observer was extremely impressed with his court vision ($):
He sees the floor very well and is an impressive passer, even going as far as to regularly pass up good looks at the basket to get his teammates the ball for even opportunities. It's a rare trait for young scoring guards
The Phoenix North guard also moves well without the ball, cutting toward the basket like Avery Bradley, with an understanding of how to use screens to his advantage.
A pure scorer with natural instincts and the strength to finish in the lane after contact, Bejarano has a polished all-around offensive game. In a match up late last summer against another natural scorer, 2009 Texas commit Jordan Hamilton, Bejarano finished with the upper hand ($), scoring 29 points and leading his team to a victory. Additionally, Bejarano is bouncy and has exceptional athleticism.
Bejarano is also known as a player committed to the defensive end. During North's run to the state championship this season, Bejarano battled through sickness and dehydration to play at the point of the full court pressure, disrupting ball handlers and passing lanes and leading his team to a comeback victory in the title game. His tenacity on defense results in Bejarano moving his feet well -- he might not have elite lateral quickness like Bradley, but his height and length will make him a strong perimeter defender in college. A strong shot blocker as well, Bejarano could team with Bradley and Dogus Balbay to create one of the most shot-blocking guard corps in the NCAA.
Check out this description of a play ($) from the Desert Duel Memorial AAU tournament last summer for an insight into how Bejarano plays the game:
In fact, one of the most amazing plays we saw all summer wasn't even one of his 100-plus points he's scored through four games in this event but a defensive/passing sequence in which he blocked the shot of a 6-9 forward at the basket, then took two dribbles and threw a 60 foot pass over the outstretched arm of a defender in a tight space to a teammate for a layup on the other end of the floor.
A vast majority of the top point guards in the country couldn't have made that pass and most wouldn't have even tried or even seen the possibility. Bejarano put it there on the money after blocking the shot of a guy four inches taller and made the whole thing look easy.
Fittingly for a player who is usually among the tallest on the court in Arizona high school basketball, Bejarano is also a solid rebounder on both the offensive and defensive ends, helping to spark the North transition game. Bejarano thrives in transition, a skill that will translate well to the up-tempo approach Rick Barnes has preferred in recent years.
It's something of a cliche that high school players need to improve their ball handling skills, but it fits for Bejarano. Sometimes prone to allowing his bounce to get too high, Bejarano will have to focus on keeping the ball lower on his dribble to avoid being stripped by college players. If Avery Bradley is around when Bejarano enrolls at Texas, I suspect that Bejarano will be forced to learn quickly when guarded by Bradley in practice. Most of the issues come when dribbling with his off hand and when attempting to change direction -- Bejarano is a great straight-ahead player, but must work on developing a strong crossover move.
Aware of his weaknesses dribbling and finishing around the basket with his left hand, Bejarano made that a point of emphasis during his junior season and did see improvement throughout the course of the year.
Mostly, the only other main concern is that Bejarano is often the most explosive when jumping off two feet. To better finish around the rim in college, he will have to maximize his explosiveness off one foot, while also working on his lateral quickness, which isn't a weakness, but does have room for improvement.
Bejarano is similar to Avery Bradley in that he relatively recently burst onto the national recruiting scene. To help him work on academics and developing his game, his AAU coaches decided not to showcase him in the major, national events as a young player. Unlike Bradley, who made his name by developing his game, Bejarano has drawn attention to himself by showing off a polished game that few people outside of his region knew he had.
Want to know what kind of kid Bejarano is? Last Father's Day, the star guard called his high school head coach Joseph Bustos. Though Bustos doesn't have any children of his own, Bejarano wished him a happy Father's Day and told him that the players on the team love him and think of him as a father figure.
His character not a concern, Coach Bustos describes all the other variables ($) that go into making Bejarano a five-star prospect and the second-ranked shooting guard in his class by Rivals:
He can dominate a game defensively by blocking and rebounding. He can dominate offensively by driving and finishing strong, and he has a great 3-poitnt shot. He's a winner. He'll dive for the loose ball. When we lose, he's the maddest one on the team. He's a great competitor. He can leap, he can jump, he can play anywhere from the one to the five.
There's no question that Bejarano is a winner, but Bustos' comment about Bejarano being able to play all five positions may be true in high school, but mostly sounds like hyperbole. Otherwise, Bejarano sounds exactly like a Rick Barnes type of player and should fit in extraodinarily well with the Texas Longhorns.
No longer will the Longhorns struggle defensively when overmatched by taller opposing guards. No longer will the Longhorns lack players who can excel in the open court and transition game. No longer will the Longhorns be schematically unable to make entry passes because no one can knock down an open look on the perimeter. No longer will driving lanes be clogged by numerous defenders playing off their man. And Daniel Bejarano will be a huge factor in all those improvements.