With the turmoil and subsequent coaching turnover of the football team still not yet completed, as well as the surprising cohesion, enthusiasm, and, sometimes, dominance of the basketball team, there's been little occasion to talk about the stellar 2011 basketball recruiting class that Rick Barnes has assembled. Further overshadowing the actual committed players themselves is the perplexing DeAndre Daniels recruiting saga, which is starting to look like it has more twists than the conclusion of the motion picture Clue. I'll get into that later in the article.
We'll get to the individual players after the jump.
Myck Kabongo: PG, 6'2" 170, Findlay Prep (NV)
Strengths: Kabongo will step in as the starting PG from day one next year and completely change the face of the team, T.J. Ford style. The first things that jump off the court are his quickness and his speed. Elite NBA level with regards to both of those. Combine that with his "ball-on-a-string" handle and you have a loaded gun in the fast break game. It's high praise, but I don't believe there's been a better ball handler coming out of high school than Myck Kabongo in at least a decade. Houston Yates tried to trap/double him with two guys multiple times and it looked like he was playing against air. There's nobody at the collegiate level that could stay in front of him playing pressure defense consistently throughout an entire game.
Kabongo's basketball IQ is insane for such a young guy. He is in complete control of his team the entire game, almost never gets out of the desired tempo, and makes extremely smart passes. Speaking of which, his vision is also reminiscent of Ford, so expect guys like Chap and Wang to have more than a few bruises on their eyes next season with both J'Covan and Myck throwing sick no-look passes their way.
As most Findlay Prep players are, Myck is an excellent defender with potential to be a lock-down type guy in a Rick Barnes system. He probably won't have to guard the opposing team's best offensive guard too often next year, though, with Cory Joseph likely returning, but we'll continue to see the same kind of extreme man-to-man pressure that is Rick's bread and butter. Kabongo has shown ability as a very solid rebounder from the point guard position. He's 6'2" and boxes out well, so that will take much of the sting off of losing an upper-level positional rebounder like Balbay after this season.Texas fans will be happy to hear he's a very good free throw shooter as well.
Weaknesses: While Myck has plenty of strong points that should make the average fan salivate, his game is far from perfect. His shot, while certainly not Balbaysian, is still a work in progress. The confidence he exudes in spades in nearly every other facet of the game seems to be missing when Kabongo pulls up to shoot from outside. This, combined with merely average vertical athleticism at the point guard spot, will likely keep him in school for an extra year. His lethal penetrating ability, lack of a consistent outside jumper, and apparent dearth of a mid-range game will require defenses to sag off of him. He can either improve greatly from deep over the off-season or we'll see a bunch of games like the Final Four against Syracuse where they packed the zone and dared T.J. to shoot time after time. Even a lackluster 3-point percentage like 30% would have a monumental effect in opening up the offense. He needs to continue to get stronger, which should come easily under Todd Wright, leading to greater finishing ability around the rim.
Where He Fits in 2011: As stated earlier, Kabongo is a huge favorite to start at point guard next season, probably in a 3-guard lineup with J'Covan and CoJo (assuming Hamilton is gone). We will push the tempo even more with him than we are this season, there will be even more highlight reel dunks in transition and off alley-oops, our guys will love running the court trying to get open for him, and our fans will love watching it.
Player Comparison: Some freak combination of T.J. Ford and Chris Paul. He doesn't really remind you of either when you watch them, but he has some of each of their skill sets. Hard guy to find a comparison for.
Julien Lewis: SG, 6'3.5", 190, La Marque (TX)
Strengths: Lewis is a scorer through and through for La Marque. Unlike Kabongo, Julien is willing and able to launch from (literally) anywhere inside the volleyball line. He's what you would describe as a streak shooter, more because of his shot selection than his actual shooting ability. Very pure stroke and a solid mid-range game off the bounce to complement it. In fact, he can get to the rim pretty much at will as well—the rare and elusive three-level scorer out of high school. When he gets in triple-threat position on the perimeter, he's extremely difficult to stop due to his ability to rise and fire, take one dribble and pull up, or take two dribbles and explode past the defender to the bucket.
Also unlike Kabongo, Lewis is a good athlete and has a very strong body for his age. Really, it's hard to find two more different guards both with this kind of talent and primacy. Lewis has the potential to be a very good defender with his body type, core strength, and lateral burst.
Lewis has also shown some ability as a bull-type post player on the block, though these moves aren't refined at all and are primarily generated off of offensive rebounds. Julien is just a raw player with a lot of untapped ability right now, exactly the kind of player Barnes loves having.
Weaknesses: Yet again unlike Myck, who has very specific strengths and very specific weaknesses, Lewis is a guy who has good skills that aren't completely realized yet. That is, most of his strengths can be a double-edged sword.
I mentioned he has potential as a good defender, but he's just not there yet. La Marque plays a Yates style of defense that emphasizes athleticism, turnovers, and, well, pure frenzy over discipline, teamwork, and staying in front of your man. Personally, I think it's absolutely hideous to watch and doesn't prepare kids at all for college ball. Julien will have to learn to keep his guy in front of him, as well as the principles of help defense, or he's going to sit because Barnes doesn't let guys who can't play tough team defense stay on the floor long.
Along with the defensive drawbacks, La Marque's offense is a complete farce. They sprint down the court and have somebody hoist up a three within about 10 seconds every possession. The coach basically encourages a horrendous shot selection and, again, Julien will have to break that habit of going "catapult" Jordan Hamilton style or he's not going to see the court.
Lewis desperately needs to improve both his left-hand dribbling ability and his finishing ability. He is extremely right-hand dominant right now, which won't work when he goes up against college players his own size and speed. Regarding the finishing ability, it's all concentration. He has the shots down low, but he just needs to focus when he goes up to finish. Same thing with his free throw shooting. Great when he puts his mind to it. Bricks when he doesn't.
Where He Fits in 2011: I think Lewis will play an extremely similar role as Jordan Hamilton did last season, assuming Cory Joseph doesn't go pro. They both like to get their shots up, don't play great defense (although Lewis' ceiling there is far higher than Hammy's), need to work on their off hand dribbling and finishing abilities, and, most importantly, have to grasp how real teams play together. Julien is a dynamic, dynamic player. I can see him putting up 15 one night and 0 the next for the Horns next year. I don't see him having the same diva complex that Jordan did because he's not ranked as highly, and he'll be a huge scoring and energy spark off the bench as long as Barnes lives with a few of his bad shots and allows him to steadily grow throughout the season.
Player Comparison: Brandon Mouton
Jonathan Holmes: PF, 6'8", 230, Antonian College Prep (TX)
I already did a write up on Holmes' strengths and weaknesses which you can find here.
Where He Fits in 2011: That's an excellent question, and hinges on a myriad of factors, such as whether Tristan Thompson goes pro (becoming more likely by the day), whether Clint Chapman can improve this offseason (unlikely since he's been here three years already), and whether Barnes prefers Wingman's defense and "experience" over Holmes' talent and offensive repertoire (likely because Barnes is a defense-first coach). Regardless of whether he starts or not, Jon will play a huge role for this team next season in the paint, filling the hybrid forward role that Gary will vacate after he graduates. He'll give us a good-sized body down low, a big man that can stretch the floor with his 3-point shooting (40% in high school so far this season), and a scorer's mentality that you don't often find in non 5* big men early in their collegiate careers.
Player Comparison: Morris twins from KU
Sheldon McClellan: SG, 6'5" 190, Bellaire (TX)
I'm going to be honest with you, I have scoured the Internet looking for Sheldon McCllelan game film and/or highlights and all I could come up with was some random clips of him destroying kids back in 8th grade. I'm not going to sit here and pontificate on a guy I haven't actually seen play based on the written observations of Rivals, Scout, or ESPN. So if anybody either has seen him play or has some video of him, feel free to to post your thoughts or link the video. It would be much appreciated, because the game stats, height, and supposed skill set are all very indicative of an elite player.
An unenviable attempt to explain the current state of affairs of the DeAndre Daniels situation:
The final piece to the 2011 recruiting puzzle has, for some time, been the recommitment of SF DeAndre Daniels, one of the best players in the entire class. Last week it was rumored that Daniels would commit to one of UT, KU, or UK on either Sunday or Monday, then each subsequent day after that for the remainder of the week, and now basically nothing is being said because the Daniels camp has gone full lock down.
Daniels has said himself that he would like to enroll this spring and work out with the team and S&C coaches in order to prepare himself to contribute heavily next season.
One explanation out there for the lack of buzz going around is that Daniels has decided on Kansas, but, unfortunately, the Jayhawks don't have a scholarship to give this for this semester. Thus, DeAndre would either have to pay his own way, or he could seek financial aid from the school directly.
Ace detective dimecoverage found this little tidbit to explain what KU could be trying to about their (lack of) scholarship situation, the Pell Grant.
Adding further fire to the speculation that Daniels has already given the Jayhawks a silent commitment is the rumor that Kentucky has pulled their scholarship offer. Sounds like some serious sour grapes from Cal and the Wildcats.
Look, it really is a sad situation because basically every person covering DeAndre's recruitment has stated he likes UT the best and it's his father that wants him to go to, well, anywhere but here. Father has problems with UT's player development. Apparently having the third most NBA players right now isn't good enough, so I guess Barnes will have to work on that...
Who's DeAndre's favorite player? Kevin Durant. Who does he pattern his game after? Kevin Durant. Who's height, body type, and skill set is the absolute best comparison to his? Kevin Durant. Where did Kevin Durant go to college? Texas. Not to mention what Barnes has done with Jordan Hamilton this season, and that Hamilton and Daniels not only hit it off on DeAndre's most recent visit, but that Hammy is likely taking his services to the first round of the NBA draft and leaving a wide open 3-spot for Daniels to slide into as a freshman. What else to you want, DeAndre's father?!?! /rant
To simply explicate how big of a recruit Daniels is for Texas, assuming TT and Cory stay and Hamilton goes pro (probably the most likely scenario at this juncture): Texas without Daniels? Still top 10 and in contention for the Big 12 crown. Texas with Daniels? Prohibitive favorite for the Final Four, certain national title contender, favorite for the Big 12 title, the most talented team of Barnes' tenure (on paper), and perimeter talent like UT hasn't seen since the early 1990s. He's a big time recruit and an unstoppable player on offense, but it's just not looking good right now. I guess just pray that KU can't find a way to support him financially this year and perhaps he'll fall into UT's lap.