Real human. Not a simulation.
McDonald's All-American five-star forward Devonta Pollard was thought to be ready to announce his college decision last Friday, but as reported by Adam Zagoria, the Mississippi basketball star decided to delay his decision, with his coach relaying that any and all information regarding his recruiting decision would henceforth come from Pollard's mother. Pollard has narrowed his list of college destinations to the Texas Longhorns and three other programs -- Georgetown, Alabama, and Missouri. As of now, there's no word on when Pollard will make his decision, and while the NCAA signing period ends on May 16th, practically speaking there's no real obstacle to announcing later than that.
I wrote about Devonta Pollard a month ago, in the context of a discussion about the relative risks and values of top-tier recruits who have the potential to declare for the NBA Draft early after one season, finding in an preliminary review of recent data that fewer blue chippers turn pro after their freshman season than is widely perceived, and that as a general rule, the more high-elite recruits the better. I noted that while there was certainly ample reason to hope for a recruit of Pollard's caliber to come play at Texas, I hadn't yet watching him play enough to offer much in the way of evaluation.
I've since spent some time with Pollard's film, so as we settle in to wait for the announcement of his decision, let's take a look at the player Rick Barnes is trying to sign to Texas, why the Longhorns have a shot at landing him, and why UT fans should be thrilled if we do.
Devonta Pollard | 6'7" | 200 lbs. | De Kalb, MS | Kemper County High School | Southern Phenoms AAU
If Devonta Pollard decides to sign with Rick Barnes and Texas, needless to say it won't be because he's looking for a great college basketball atmosphere. Lamentable as is the meager support that UT basketball receives -- not only from fans, but the Athletics Department itself, which has been nothing short of an embarrassment in marketing the program -- even under the best of circumstances Texas will never become a big-time hoops school. That speaks to the truly remarkable job Rick Barnes has done transforming UT into a Top 10 program, and the way that he's done it is in fact very relevant to why a school like Texas finds itself one of the final four schools for a blue-chip recruit from Mississippi.
Why Devonta Pollard Might Choose Texas
Without the program tradition and fan support to help sell recruits on Texas Basketball, Rick Barnes successfully built one of the top programs in the country in important part by creating a program that excels at preparing college players for the NBA. Barnes pushes his players on the court and forces them to learn to play defense, while S&C demi-god Todd Wright sets the curve in his field, and is a more important asset to the program than any assistant on the staff. While we've talked about the need for Rick Barnes to improve his recruiting of the second-tier players who stock programs for four years, Barnes has been very successful at bringing elite players to Austin.
With that in mind, when a five-star player from Mississippi includes Texas among his four final schools under consideration, that tells you something about the player's priorities, because it a great college atmosphere is on his list, Texas won't be. Texas is a particularly attractive option for Pollard, not only as a well-regarded preparatory ground for the NBA, but because the small forward is a spindly 6-7 and 200 pounds, with weight, strength, and the required year of college being the only two obstacles between Pollard and the NBA. As messed up as college basketball recruiting is, there's no telling what will happen, but if Pollard does in fact decide between the final four on his list, Texas makes a good deal of sense as a prudent option.
Not that there are many paying attention, but to those who will make an appearance to object to the signing of a potential one-and-done blue chipper, I kindly beg you off. I already mentioned above why pretty much every such elite recruit should be an automatic take, but particularly after Texas got blocked by some young prick at Tulsa, the viable alternative objection to Pollard is null, the scholarship numbers shouldn't be a concern, and in choosing between next year's team with or without Pollard, this is a no-brainer. It would be terrific to land him, if only for his help next season.
Devonta Pollard Player Profile
As mentioned, at 6-7 and 200 pounds soaking wet, Devonta Pollard is a wiry kid who needs to add a good deal of strength to his frame for the next level. But his slight frame shouldn't provide much of a hinderance during his college career, in part because he is, um, moderately athletic. And by moderately athletic, I mean he's one of the freakiest, high-flying, quick-leaping athletic freaks I've ever seen. The kid features ridiculous quickness and explodes with suddenness that almost looks unnatural, like a character in NBA Jam or something. (I don't think he can do a triple-somersault jam over the scoreboard, but it wouldn't shock me.)
You just don't see many 6-7 players who can zip and fly and glide around the court like a 5-11 point guard can, but Pollard can, to the point where at moments it's almost confusing to watch him play. "Is it me or did the point guard just grow five inches? Or is that the center who blocked a shot at the top of the backboard? Wait, is that all one guy?"
With excellent ball handling skills to boot, Pollard is a ridiculous open court player, with the speed to run the floor, the handles and agility to navigate traffic and get to the rim, excellent vision and passing skills, a developed ability to pull up and knock down a short- to medium-range jumper, and off-the-charts finishing ability at the rim. In the halfcourt, if you can get him the ball in good position near the rim, he can score with either hand around the cup, and is dangerous on the offensive glass. Pollard is at this point only a so-so shooter from the three-point line, an average jump shooter in general, and still learning how to create offense against a set defense in the halfcourt. But those are bigger issues for his pro potential than college.
On the other end of the floor, Pollard's defensive highlights might match those on offense. It's not just how high Pollard jumps, but how quickly he gets there. He looks like he's playing on springs at times, boing-ing around in the paint swatting shots. He's got great timing, long arms, good body control -- you name it. The kid is as athletically gifted as they come, and after watching his film I can't tell you how excited I would be if he signed with Texas even if just so I could watch him freak around the gym in person.
It's hard to project freshman impact, but there are some skills that play at any age, and Pollard is overflowing in all of those. At a minimum, Pollard as a freshman is a quality energy, defense, and open court player whose scoring effectiveness will develop as the season goes on. Best case scenario, he's a 15-20 point scorer who stuffs the stat sheet with contributions all over the floor, and a shot at First Team All-Conference.
If a year is all you want, Devonta, come on down to Austin. Rick and Todd will get you ready. And I and six other people will watch in awe as you fly around the Erwin Center.