Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Desert Heat: On the Road with the Rivals

The above was a common sight in Vegas.

Diamonds in the Ruff
- A small gym packed with college coaches watching coveted prospect(s): an atmosphere which is as intoxicating to the basketball junkie as a 4-Loko is to a rookie.  In following the Mass Rivals at their four games out in Sin City, this is exactly the atmosphere that this full-blooded Basketball-Addict experienced.  Here’s how this story played out and keep in mind, when discussing what coaches were in attendance, these were only the coaches who we could identify.

Part I - Pool Play
Let’s start with Zach Auguste who holds about a dozen high-major offers.  He is 6’10 and highly athletic with a huge upside.  Those guys tend to attract some attention during July and therefore, swarms of coaches were on hand from day one to check him out.  Auburn is showing Zach the most love as Tony Barbee and two of his assistants were at all three games.  Seth Greenberg from Virginia Tech was at all three games.  Florida had assistants had at three games.  Buzz Williams of Marquette was at two of three with an assistant the other.  Minnesota had a coach at all three games with Tubby Smith coming to watch Game 3.  Clemson had the same assistant at all three games and their head coach was there last night.  Jeff Bordzlic from Wake Forest was there this morning along with Mike Jarvis and his son for Florida Atlantic.  In addition, assistants from Iowa, Alabama, West Virginia, and Georgia Tech all checked in at some point during pool play.

Next we’ll discuss the Cedric Kuakmensah situation.  Brown is definitely showing Big Ced the most love.  Assistant Coach TJ Sorrentine was front and center at each game and was joined by another assistant for Game 1 and the head coach for Game 3.   Penn was also there for multiple games with multiple coaches as were coaches from UVM.  In addition, Phil Martelli of St Joes came to Games 1 and 3 while BU Head Coach Joe Jones was there for Game 3 with one of his assistants.  Also checking in at one some point were Harvard, Robert Morris, St. Bonaventure, Lehigh and Holy Cross.  One Rivals player who may have really benefited from these coaches being in the gym was Steve Haladyna of St. John’s Prep.  He put on a show in Game 2 in leading the Rivals to a comeback win over Prodigy Elite.  The whispers are starting to circulate about Haladyna’s potential as an Ivy League player.

So now close your eyes and imagine a small gym with two rows of bleachers on one length of the gym and a row of chairs behind each baseline.  Now throw the fore-mentioned coaches into the gym.  Now throw in an equal amount of fans and you have a jammed-packed theater. 

The scene is now set for the youngster called Noah Vonleh, who has played the best basketball of his life over the past few days, putting on an eyebrow-raising display in front of a nice little chunk of the College Basketball Magi, who collectively wanted to see a birth certificate when they realized Vonleh was still 15 years of age.  Vonleh is really starting to put it all together.  One of his weaknesses heading into the summer was his tendency to expose the ball to the defense when using the dribble to attack.  But Noah has made an adjustment in his offensive game and is now really using his body to protect his dribble and get to the basket.  The result is that Vonleh has not turned the ball over much and is getting to the rim much more consistently because he does not have to “completely” beat his defender, he just needs he get the defender on his hip and then use his size, strength, length, and athleticism to get to the rim with authority.  He had a dozen or so dunks over the three games, half of them seemed to be over a defender or two, and every one them put a jolt into the Richter Scale.  On Saturday morning, Vonleh really put on a show in the 1st half, with 17 points on five dunks, a trey, and two coast to coast layups (on bust-outs), 11 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots and a couple of steals.  

During pool play, Syracuse and North Carolina definitely showed Noah the most love, with both schools attending all three games.  For Syracuse, Mike Hopkins was at all three games and he was joined by Gerry Macnamara for the second game and the third.  For North Carolina, assistant coach Steve Robinson was at the first game, Roy Williams the second, and assistant coach CB McGrath the third.  With Jerod Haase having watched him in Springfield at the Basketbull HOFNI, Roy Williams plus all three of his assistants have all now seen Vonleh this July.  After the buzz he created the last couple of days, it will be interested to see his following during bracket play and for the rest of Live-July.

Part II - Bracket Play
After winning their pool, the Rivals advanced to the Championship Bracket and squared off in the first round against DTA Devin Harris Superstars out of Wisconsin, a top-notch club who went 3-0 in winning Super Pool H.  The game was played in a small gym…the practice gym at Desert Pines HS.  And it was absolutely packed with college coaches.  Lon Kruger was there from Oklahoma.  Dave Rice from UNLV.  Bill Self from Kansas.  Tim Floyd from UTEP. Jeff Bzdelic from Wake Forest.  Steve Donahue from BC.  Ed Cooley from Providence.  Steve Robinson from North Carolina.  Steve Wojo from Duke.  Joe Jones from Boston University.  Also present were assistants from Indiana, Auburn, Oregon, Providence, UNLV, Oklahoma, Georgetown, Memphis, Missouri, Virginia Tech, San Diego State, Texas A&M, West Virginia, Washington St., Alabama, Clemson,  Hartford, UVM, Brown, Elon, Davidson, Holy Cross, Penn, Monmouth, and more.  I’d say I identified about 3/5 or 4/7 of them.

As for the game it was a thriller…a see-saw battle which saw the Rivals take an early lead before giving up a huge DTA run in the final minutes of the 1st half to go into the break down 11.  But the Rivals stormed back in the second half to take a lead with about 7 minutes left on the clock.  They held a small lead for the rest of the game until a DTA guard tied it on a driving layup as time expired.  The Rivals grabbed a lead in the first OT only to have a different DTA guard tie it again at the horn.  The second OT was a mirror image of the first, with the Rivals taking a lead only to see the same DTA guard hit a tough runner as the buzzer sounded, taking us to a 3rd OT.  The 3rd extra session was only 1:00, and DTA won the tip and despite ball pressure, was able to move it around and hold for one, drawing a foul with 2 seconds on the clock.  The DTA guard who tied the game at the end of regulation knocked down two free throws and the Rivals desperation attempt with 2 seconds was unsuccessful.  Unlike in scholastic basketball, there really is such a thing as a good loss in AAU, especially in Live-July.  The Rivals by far played their best ball of the tournament in the second half of today’s game, a performance which was a great note to go out on in front of the audience of coaches in attendance.

Cedric Kuakumensah bounced back from a sub-par performance yesterday to play very effectively today, doing what he does best.  With his wide-body frame and his long arms, he always commands space in the paint and he uses his athleticism to rebound the ball, block shots, and finish at the rim.

With the Rivals guards facing a very tough DTA backcourt, Noah Vonleh took over at the point for long stretches during this one, bringing up the bill against heavy pressure and showing the ability to attack with the dribble and then kick-out to a shooter.  When DTA switched a guard over to cover him, Vonleh fed the ball to the wing and brought his man down to the block.  Once posted, Vonleh continuously attacked the paint and got good looks consistently, although he did struggle to finish in this one as a bunch of balls popped out on him.  In the aftermath of the game, Vonleh received an offer from UCLA

Zach Auguste flat out brought his A-game in this one and showed why such a horde of college coaches have been on his trail in Vegas.  Going up against and ESPN Top 100 guy whose name escapes me, Auguste flat-out dominated the match-up.  His length on defense gave the DTA kid all sorts of fits on the offensive end as he struggled to get off good shots if he got them up at all.  Auguste must have his oil changed yesterday morning, because his motor was running full-throttle yesterday.  He rebounded the ball at a much higher level than he usually does and on several occasions grabbed a rebound high above the rim before busting out and leading the break. He also scored in a variety of ways.  He scored on a few jump-hooks in the lane, made a few nice spins moves where he finished softly with his left, and he banged three or four highlight reel dunks in which he caught the ball on the wing, put it on the deck once or twice, and caped up for a big two-hand jam, dunking with such force that he really did need to hold on the rim for a second or two after his dunks as a safety precaution.  Following the game, Auguste received another offer from Missouri and today Bill Self checked in to express interest.  One thing is for sure.  When an "unranked" player makes headlines on the big-dog recruiting sites during Live-July, they are usually not unranked for very much longer, and if you do some web-surfing, you will se that Auguste did just that with his performance against DTA.   Look for Auguste to bust into a bunch of different Top 100s when the post-Live-July Rankings surface.   

Two Rivals players who really benefited from having highly-followed teammates were 2012 wing Steve Haladyna and 2014 PG Dimitri Floras.  Haladyna has definitely sparked some Ivy-League interest after a breakout pool-play effort followed by another strong performance against a squad of elite athletes in DTA Devin Harris.  Floras was not as consistent as Haladyna during bracket play, but he saved his best for last as he went on an absolute tear in the 2nd half against DTA, scoring in bunches on a combination of pull-up threes, little pull-ups in the lane, and twisting drives to the hoop.  During his tear, Floras had coaches all over the gym scrambling through their packets for his info.  Then following the game, several  schools, including Missouri, placed inquiring calls to Rivals Coach Vin Pastore.

On to Californ-I-A tomorrow for the Rivals.  We'll see how the story plays out from here.  Stay tuned. 

1 comment: