After sporting a frontcourt with just a single player over 6'8" last season, the Texas Longhorns in 2012-13 are poised to be loaded with length down low. Cameron Ridley is Texas' big-name big-man in the Class of 2012, but Rick Barnes and his staff wound up inking a trio of 6'10" recruits, landing both Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh as well. We've already talked about Ridley, and today our attention turns to the Longhorns' other incoming freshman center -- the long, lean, shot-blocking machine: Prince Ibeh.
It's understandable that so much interest tends to be focused on multi-dimensional players with a multitude of elite skills. It's also understandable that with a well-founded bias towards well-rounded players, the glaring weaknesses or gaps in a player's game often stand out and can seem particularly problematic.
So it isn't at all surprising that some might have an underwhelming reaction upon watching Prince Ibeh for the first time. Ibeh most assuredly has gaps in his game, and they are glaring: though long and athletic, at this point in his young career the center has very little in the way of halfcourt offensive game, with his ability to contribute more or less limited to dunks and put-backs.
Understandable as it may be, it's the wrong way to evaluate Prince Ibeh, at least at the collegiate level. Whatever the heightened requirements to play at the professional level, a college player may be able to provide valuable play with just a single elite skill, and at the collegiate level much more focus should be placed on what a player can do, with relatively less emphasis on well-roundedness as a barometer for capacity to contribute value.
This is my long way of introducing Prince Ibeh so that after we acknowledge the gaps in his game, we evaluate his potential impact by focusing on the things he does very well, and the type and amount of value they might allow him to provide Rick Barnes this season and beyond. So let's do that right now, and in this case rather than tell you about Ibeh's elite skills, I'll just let some video do the talking. Watch carefully, and see if you can pick up on what it is..
Prince Ibeh is a bad mother in the defensive paint, with height, long arms, athleticism, quickness, and good timing that combine to make him an high-impact shot eraser. On some of those clips, Ibeh calls to mind junior high days when your group of friends would lower the rim all the way down to enable a bunch of shorties to dunk and swat shots like the pros. It won't be that easy for Ibeh in college, but the length and skill will play, and he's got a good bit of room to develop into an impact player across his collegiate career.
In terms of outlook, expectations should be modest in the near-term, with an eye towards the kind of impact player Ibeh might develop into as a junior and senior. As a freshman, watching Ibeh I keep seeing Adrian Diaz, the 6-10, 225-pound freshman at Kansas State last year. Similar to Diaz, Ibeh should be able to give Texas 10-15 minutes per game, with the ability to help protect the rim, run the floor, grab some boards, and chip in a bucket or two on flushes set up by teammates or offensive rebounds.
Ibeh needs to add mass and stength, but he's absolutely got the frame to do it, and I expect that unlike some wiry 6-10 kids, Ibeh will actually fill out, and that's when he'll start becoming more of a high-impact player. Also in the positive ledger, Ibeh moves fluidly, is well-coordinated for his height, appears to have at least average hands, and can run up and down the floor. He's going to have trouble holding his ground against more develped bodies as a freshman, but with his length and athleticism it won't be an obstacle to him being able to play right away.
Along with getting stronger, Ibeh will need his freshman year to grow comfortable with the size and speed of the college game, and learn how to assert himself and put his skill set to active, productive use. He's going to have to work hard on developing his understanding of how to move and play in a set halfcourt offense, and one of the best things he could do for his freshman minutes is demonstrate consistency and effectiveness as a screener. It's hard to tell from just his film where he is in terms of footwork, but he appears athletic and agile enough that it seems unlikely to be a limitation.
If I had to project his final per-game stat line, I'd guess something like: 12 minutes, 3.5 points, and 4.0 rebounds, with 38 blocks on the year. That may not seem like much, until you consider that last season Texas often started 6-8 Alexis Wangmene at power forward, averaging 21.5 minutes, 4.6 points, and 4.7 boards, with 26 blocked shots. And when you think about some of the effective stretches that Adrian Diaz had against Texas last season, it's easy to see why Ibeh is likely to earn bench minutes right away, and produce some stretches of play that flash his developmental upside.
I expect that Ibeh will look lost at times as a freshman -- particularly in halfcourt offense -- and will likely be too passive as he first gets going, but again that length and rim-protecting ability will mean he can be out there as a true freshman to start developing, capable of contributing some nice, if inconsistent, value off the bench. Ibeh represents another really nice signing by Barnes and Co. -- exactly the kind of multi-year player that helps a program build quality, sustained depth.
My only regret with Ibeh is that he isn't from Houston, where he would have had the opportunity to be the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Too bad, and Prince has taken to calling himself "Da Don" anyway, and who am I to complain. Welcome to the 40 Acres, young man.
Previous Class of 2012 Player Profiles: Cameron Ridley, Javan Felix