Today I'll be looking at how Texas can shore up a glaring hole inside with the 2012 recruiting class. In case you missed the perimeter-oriented part of the preview, you can find that here. As I mentioned in that article, the 2012 national class is extremely post-heavy, a rare trait nowadays with the evolution of the game to the perimeter due to modern infatuation with the three-point line among other factors.
As you know, Texas is looking woefully thin in the post for the next few years. Tristan Thompson is officially gone to the NBA, leaving RS seniors in the stone-handed Alexi Wangmene and Clint Chapman, who didn't play last year, as the only returning posts on the team. They will be pushed by two infinitely more talented true freshman—stretch four Jonathan Holmes and small forward Kevin Thomas, who could start off his career in Austin as an interior player. Holmes and Thomas will likely join talented, but raw, true freshman center Cameron Ridley as the only "post players" currently projected to be on the roster in 2012. You can find my somewhat outdated player evaluation of Ridley here. Obviously, Rick still has some serious work to do in order to shore up the front line in time for the 2012 season, especially since neither Holmes nor Thomas are expected to spend much time banging in the post in their careers.
Meanwhile, let's take a look at whom the Horns are pursuing down low for the 2012 class.
C Shaq Cleare
Bio: 6'8", 250 lbs.
Hometown: Houston, TX
High School: The Village School
ESPN Rank: 22
Breakdown: Shaq is a big-bodied low post player that I believe would complement Ridley's more diverse offensive game well. There's been some talk that he would possibly be loathe to join the same frontcourt as Ridley at UT, but that seems to be coming more from his supporters/entourage than Shaq himself. Regardless of the reason, talk connecting Texas and Cleare has been sparse of late. Shaq was rumored to have been favoring Maryland a few weeks back, but I've yet to hear anything about how the retirement of Gary Williams has affected his decision.
Strengths: Cleare's game on both sides of the ball is extremely reminiscent of Jared Sullinger. They're both wide-bodied low post 6'8"-ish guys with very good upper body strength and phenomenal lower body strength who are going to get most of their points around the basket or at the free throw line. Cleare has a great power drop step move that he can employ from both blocks over both shoulders. Once he gets down low, it doesn't really matter what he does offensively because he's such a load that he's either going to make the basket or get to the line—or both. Just a bull inside on both the offensive and defensive end, and a good rebounder on each as well. Has the vision and willingness to find open teammates when double-teamed before quickly resealing his defender inside for an easy layup. Shaq shows good athleticism for his size on both alley-oop finishes and when blocking or contesting shots. An underrated strength for him is how quickly he outlets the ball off of defensive rebounds. He's basically the anti-Gary Johnson in this regard.
Weaknesses: Over the course of his time in college, Cleare will need to continue to develop his offensive game by adding a counter offensive move (such as an up-and-under or a turnaround/fadeaway jumper) off of his drop step, as well as a more refined midrange jumper that can really stretch defenses to the high post. His biggest problem at the next level will likely be keeping his weight down and his conditioning up. Sullinger, with his similar frame, had this very problem of keeping his weight under control in his first season at Ohio State. Yes, it worked out for him, but Cleare isn't at that talent level. Finally, Shaq needs to be careful when he outlets the ball so quickly, as I mentioned earlier, because while this can start a fast break effectively (especially with a guy like Myck Kabongo), at the collegiate level it will often lead to intercepted passes for easy layups.
PF/C Mitch McGary
Bio: 6'10", 250 lbs.
Hometown: Chesterton, IN
High School: Brewster Academy
ESPN Rank: 4
Breakdown: McGary has arisen on the Longhorn radar in the past month—particularly on Inside Texas, who have maintained Texas is in an excellent position to pick up a commitment from the talented post. Mitch's stock has exploded lately as both Rivals and ESPN have bumped him up more than any other player in the 2012 class in their most recent rankings update (to 5th and 4th respectively). Jerry Meyer said of McGary: "Athletic and skilled at 6-10, McGary has been one of the most impressive prospects on the circuit this spring." Despite his talent level and the praise that has been heaped on him from everybody of late, McGary maintains his best assets are being a hard worker, hustling, and playing with heart. Humility you don't see too often in a young, highly-ranked basketball star.
Strengths: You don't see the kind of coast-to-coast ability in a big man you'll find in McGary very often. He's almost impossible to guard off a rebound when he breaks for the opposing team's hoop because of his size and handle in the open court, usually culminating in a rousing right-handed throw down. Speaking of which, it's odd that Mitch finishes on dunks better with his right because he is actually left-handed. Probably an ambidextrous thing where you do some things better with the right and some with the left. McGary is also a good shooter with range to the three-point line and a solid stroke. His face-up ability from the perimeter allows him to easily pump fake and go around defenders for a massive slam or drop-off pass to a teammate. But don't peg McGary as the type of modern big that so often likes to hover around the perimeter and waste his size. Mitch loves to bang in the post with an array of post moves including a baseline spin move on both sides, right shoulder hook, and a turnaround jumper. He has the size, strength, and athleticism to out-duel almost any type of defender and is nothing less than an impressive finisher at this stage of development. He also has soft hands, something UT fans have come to see as a luxury. Finally, McGary is a plus rebounder, plays aggressively, and has a very nice feel for the game for such a young player.
Weaknesses: Not really very many that I can discern. Mitch has put on a lot of weight lately and he needs to be sure to continue to predominantly add muscle, not fat. He'll also need to learn to finish with his left hand better on dunks and his right hand on over-the-shoulder hooks, but those are minor quibbles at best. My inability to find any real weaknesses in McGary's game echoes his meteoric rise in the rankings by each of the major recruiting sites. It's simply very rare to find a big man in high school that has ideal height and doesn't need to add strength (Isaiah Austin), plays inside and out (Cam Ridley), dominates consistently instead of showing flashes (Andre Drummond), is athletic (DaJuan Coleman), and plays hard all the time (Coleman). The parenthetical citations are other top-rated bigs in the class with those problems. Along with wunderkind Shabazz Muhammad, McGary appears to be the most complete player in an extremely high-potential class at this time.