At this point last year, it would have been far-fetched to imagine Texas Longhorns center Prince Ibeh could possibly emerge as a legitimate NBA prospect. Much of the same could be said for the first 11 games of Ibeh's senior season with the 'Horns; that was, until Cameron Ridley fell victim to what virtually became a season-ending foot fracture, which plunged Ibeh into a significantly heightened role in the post.
After 22 games and an opportunity to flash his naturally gifted frame and defensive instincts later, Ibeh's blossomed into an intriguing NBA prospect in short order.
When NBA decision-makers consider Ibeh, it's his 6'11, 261-pound frame and relentless rim protection within his role that make him an appealing target.
Despite playing only 18.2 minutes per game as a senior, Ibeh managed to be crowned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year behind 4.6 blocked shots per 40 minutes. Paired with his tremendous frame, Ibeh boasts a 7'5.5 wingspan and 9'4.5 standing reach, naturally allowing the paint-protector to present himself as a defensive presence, regardless of athletic capability. But whichever franchise provides Ibeh with his first NBA opportunity will be getting much more than just length, as least defensively.
Much of what makes Ibeh so special as a shot blocker is found in his instincts and headhunting tendency. When attacked at the rim, Ibeh displays exceptional body control, often going straight up. Ibeh's quick off his feet, allowing him to recover if caught out of position and block shots at the lost possible opportunity. And in more common cases, when Ibeh skies to reject a shot -- which he does a little more than often, even when it hurt the Longhorns -- he does so emphatically, boasting emotion that's altered momentum on numerous occasions at Texas last season.
A concern surrounding Ibeh's rim protecting prowess is his foul trouble, picking up 7.3 fouls per 40 at Texas last season. Many of Ibeh's fouls came due to him playing a bit too physically. At the next level, in which the majority of competition can match or surpass his athleticism, that shouldn't be as glaring of a concern. And considering Ibeh will likely be a defensive asset off the bench in the NBA, the foul concerns may prove to be miniscule, as he'll have the freedom to provide energy and assertiveness off the bench without worrying about becoming a key factor in the team's rotation losing minutes.
Due to his size and strength, Ibeh has shown he can effectively deny the post and simply let his size become a factor and when engaged, he can rebound with the best of them in traffic. But again, that's when Ibeh is engaged and locked in, as his motor can run hot and cold. With the motor comes focus, and at times, Ibeh can settle on ball watching in anticipation of a blocked shot and lose his defender.
One of Ibeh's most impressive qualities, however, isn't his rim protection -- it's his pick-and-roll defense. Entering a league that emphasizes pick-and-roll sets on a seemingly constant basis, Ibeh has shown he has impressive footwork and moves his hips fluidly when defending guards that would typically blow past a big man. In many cases, Ibeh killed the pick-and-roll, entirely, which would be a tremendous value to have on the floor, regardless of the opposition's lineup.
Even on the offensive end, where the majority of Ibeh's shortcomings are found, there's not much reason for concern, considering his likely role in the NBA. Bearing Ibeh's impressive range and willingness to run the floor in transition, worst-case scenario for Ibeh means he's an exceptional lob target.
This goes for transition, pick-and-rolls and dump-offs, alike. Ibeh will have to improve with his ball handling and security, as he bobbled far too many passes and was subject to losing the ball when attacking the rim. Aside from losing the ball and mishandling passes, Ibeh has shown he can go up powerfully and finish strong.
While is may not translate as seamlessly with significantly improved competition down low, Ibeh proved to be valuable as an offensive rebounder, averaging 5.1 per 40 and boxing out while others watched the ball.
But aside from playing above the rim and competing for second-chance points, Ibeh leaves much to be desired offensively.
In post-up situations, Ibeh shows a horrible lack of post moves and a terrible feel for the game entirely, averaging only 0.481 points per possession. Ibeh was even more inefficient as a playmaker out of the post. According to DraftExpress, Ibeh was the only player in college basketball with an assists percentage less than 1.0 and a turnover percentage greater than 25.0. When Ibeh would receive entry passes, his mentality immediately switched to scoring, virtually never looking to kick the ball out to shooters or cutters.
And of course, there's the free throw struggles, although, time in the gym and increased confidence could alter this deficiency. To start the season, Ibeh connected on 3-21 looks from the charity stripe (14%). The six games following that stretch, Ibeh converted 15-19 (79%) before finished the season 11-27 (41%). During the period in which Ibeh found success at the line, he looked confident and relaxed.
For Ibeh, everything seemed to revolve around his wavering confidence, and despite being 22 years old, NBA decision makers can find confidence in the upside Ibeh still has ahead of him. Although he played all four years at Texas, Ibeh averaged a career 13.1 minutes per game, often seeing garbage time minutes prior to Ridley's injury as a senior. Ibeh was virtually another body and little more during the majority of his time at Texas and if he was able to flash the NBA potential he did during only 22 games in an increased role at Texas, how much better could be become in an NBA rotation over the next several years?