[12:24 pm update]: It's finally official. Cameron Ridley is a Longhorn. --Wescott--
Five-star recruit Cameron Ridley is expected to sign with Texas on Wednesday at around 12:15 pm CT, ending a nervous waiting period for Longhorns fans who have wondered if the talented center would stick to his verbal commitment to play for Rick Barnes. While we await the news that Ridley has signed and his commitment is official, let's take an in-depth look at Cameron Ridley's profile.
Cameron Ridley | 6'10" | 250 lbs. | Fort Bend, TX | George Bush High School | Houston Hoopstars AAU
Cameron Ridley provides the long-awaited answer to the question: "What if Lamarcus Aldridge and Dexter Pittman had a baby?" The McDonald's All-American center has the long arms and diverse skillset of Aldridge, with the body strength and giant suction cups for hands of Pittman, and you could make the case that Ridley is the best big man recruit that Rick Barnes has ever had at Texas. Aldridge may have possessed the higher long-term professional upside, but the gangly power forward did not arrive at Texas nearly so ready for college basketball as will Ridley.
Among the many things to love about Ridley, perhaps the most exciting is how much he has improved over the course of his high school career. Although Ridley was never huge like Dexter Pittman, as he headed into his junior year he needed to substantially improve his conditioning and develop his skill set. While no one questioned his incredible potential, some wondered whether after having things come so easily for him he was willing to get serious and put in the work that would be required for him to reach his potential at higher levels.
But since then Ridley has more than responded, and as he wraps up his senior year the questions about reaching his potential have been replaced by questions about how high his ceiling might be. As is the case with most big-bodied centers, the improvement in strength and conditioning has been a critical catalyst for the development of his overall game. Lighter on his feet and better able to expend energy for sustained periods of time, Ridley is more nimble and efficient in his body movements, better able to play productively in the open court, and more explosive in elevating on both ends of the floor. Where Ridley previously expended precious time and energy winding up his body to jump, there's now a pronounced smoothness and quickness in the way he gets off the floor and elevates.
Ridley's commitment to conditioning set into motion a virtuous cycle. The more his body improved, the better he was able to put his skill set to use, which reinforced his work ethic, which further allowed his game to blossom, and so on. The result is that Rick Barnes and Texas are receiving a kid who arrives in Austin already on an upward trajectory, and who appears more and more hungry to reach his full potential.
That's been evident throughout his senior season, and was on full display during last month's McDonald's All-American Game, where Ridley delivered a standout performance in which he was very active on both ends of the floor and displayed an impressive array of skills and instincts -- including a pair of plays captured on this video mix (between 0:46 and 0:55 of the clip) that highlight my two favorite Ridley attributes: his outstanding hands, and his capabilities in the pick-and-roll game.
You see the huge black holes that are Ridley's paws on display at the 52-second mark of the clip, when Marcus Smart zips a difficult no-look pass Ridley's way, and Ridley manages to receive and control the slightly off-target pass. The three reasons that Ridley is able to do so -- despite having just a fraction of a second to react -- are, first, the excellent work he does positioning himself when his man bails on him to help stop Smart's penetration; second, the awareness Ridley displays in keeping his head up and readying himself for a potential pass; and third, his great hands. Most big men would struggle to control that pass. Alexis Wangmene would have been looking up at the rim for Smart's shot and never even seen it. Ridley ably handled the pass and flushed it for two in one fluid motion.
The other Ridley attribute that I covet, and which you see featured at the 46-second mark of the above clip, is Ridley's capability in the pick-and-roll game. First of all, his fluid motions and footwork are those of a refined, advanced player. But further, in this and other Ridley clips you see a player who appears to possess a very natural understanding of, and feel for, how to optimally execute the play. Ridley rolls hard, he creates the appropriate amount of separation and spacing, he positions himself to receive the pass without disrupting his momentum towards the basket, and he completes the sequence with an economy of motion that minimizes the defense's recovery time.
It's a real shame that J`Covan Brown won't be around next season, because he and Ridley would be an absolutely devastating tandem. As it is, Texas' ability to get the most out of Ridley will depend in large part on the improvement of Myck Kabongo, whose feel and understanding in the halfcourt were disappointingly underdeveloped.
Rick Barnes will surely hope to run some offense through Ridley in the post, as well, and the center has a robust, steadily developing skill set that portends well for his career at the next level. Ridley does a great job of making himself a target, and increasingly demonstrates active feet and a keen understanding of both body positioning and court spacing. Thanks to his long arms and excellent hands, Ridley has always featured an advanced ability to score over either shoulder, but his back-to-the-basket game really began to blossom across his senior season, when he began to utilized his improved quickness and footwork to develop an effective drop step to both sides.
With that said, Texas fans would do well to keep their expectations in check, as post-entry offense remains the most challenging aspect of the game for college teams to execute effectively, in general; and expecting consistent back-to-the-basket production from a true freshman is a pipe dream. Where Ridley is likely to make a much bigger and more consistent impact is as an offensive rebounder and powerful finisher around the rim. When he gets the ball in great position around the cup -- either set up by a teammate or grabbing a miss off the glass -- Ridley gets to the rim quickly and powerfully, where he's difficult to stop from finishing without a foul. As his conditioning and body composition have improved, Ridley's ability to get off the floor more quickly and nimbly have made him more and more difficult to deal with in the paint, and his presence will make especially profitable the ability of Texas' guards to penetrate, even if that's the only thing they do well.
This is plenty long already, but before wrapping up, let me note quickly that Ridley's improved conditioning has benefited his defensive capabilities every bit as much as you'd expect for a player his size. With increasingly quick feet, greater agility, and more explosive elevation, Ridley has begun to shine defensively as he's patroled the paint more confidently and assertively. Defending one-on-one on the blocks, Ridley has always had the body strength to hold his position, but he's now doing so with greatly improved ability to move laterally and to elevate quickly to contest shots.
All told, now that the moment is finally here and it's time for Cameron Ridley to sign, I'll be honest: I'm a lot more excited and optimistic than I expected to be during the beginning of his recruitment. There was never any question that Ridley's size would make him an impact recruit, but prior to his junior year, it was hardly clear he was going to take the big steps forward that he has, both in terms of his commitment to conditioning and developing his skill set. But that's precisely what he did, and we're not just getting a five-star body, but a hard-working, rapidly improving, well-rounded talent... who happens to be 6'10" and 250 pounds, with long arms and giant suction cups for hands.
Cameron Ridley (#55), junior season
Click here to watch more highlights of Cameron Ridley.