Rex Chapman, an All-SEC player at Kentucky in 1986-87 and ’87-88 and an NABC All-American in 1988, gives his opinion each week on five players that impress. Player statistics are through Feb. 18.
Kenny Kadji’s college basketball career has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride. Kadji, a native of Cameroon, signed with Florida out of high school as a highly sought, long, rangy and athletic big man with a soft touch on his jumper. But after a freshman year where Kadji showed flashes of brilliance, but played limited minutes, and a sophomore season which lasted only eight games before back surgery was required, Kadji decided to transfer. The Miami Hurricanes are now reaping the rewards of that transfer and all of us are seeing things come together for a senior player who showed so much promise as a freshman.
There are many storylines for Miami this season — from Shane Larkin to head coach Jim Larranaga to the Hurricanes’ current 21-3 overall record and No. 2 ranking to the commanding lead atop the ACC with an unblemished 12-0 mark. But no story can be told that appropriately describes the 2012-13 Miami basketball season without hitting on the emergence of Kadji as the team’s third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder.
At 6-foot-11 and 242 pounds with legitimate shot-blocking ability (1.3 per game) and unlimited range on his picture-perfect, high-release jump shot, Kadji provides Larranaga with a unique club to pull out of his bag on a nightly basis. There really has never been a question about Kadji’s ability; it’s been about whether or not he would put forth the consistent effort it takes to be a super college basketball player, whether he would make the commitment to his coaches and teammates to be someone with whom they could depend each time he stepped on the floor. It hasn’t been a walk in the park to get to this point but Larranaga and his uncanny ability to communicate with young men is nothing short of remarkable. He has connected with Kadji and the ‘Canes are rolling.
Mark Lyons was just what the good doctor ordered for head coach Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats this season.
Lyons, who was recruited by Miller when Miller was the head coach at Xavier, graduated last spring from the Atlantic 10 school. He became the first player in Arizona history to get his degree from another four-year school and then transfer to play for the Wildcats.
A young Arizona really struggled with its guard play in 2011-12. Nick Johnson was splendid at times and had a very good freshman season for the Wildcats, but he is not a natural point guard. Johnson is more of a hybrid 1-2. Miller signed highly regarded Josiah Turner in the same class as Johnson but Turner struggled to find his rhythm at the college level. He left school before his freshman season ended and now is playing pro ball in Canada.
Enter Mark Lyons.
Lyons is far from your typical pass-first PG — although I’m beginning to believe there are fewer and fewer of those types of point guards around these days. Lyons makes no apologies for being a scoring PG and nor should he, given the way Arizona has steamrolled all but four of its opponents this season. Lyons leads the Wildcats in scoring at 15.3 points per game and leads them in assists — albeit barely at 3.2 per game. But where Lyons really makes his mark for Arizon is in the area of toughness. He is one tough customer. I’m a fan. Living in Arizona, I get to see this team play regularly and Lyons’ presence has made all of the difference for Miller’s squad. Last year, there were times the Wildcats had the deer-in-the-headlights look … or “lost ball/high weeds.” This year, the 12th-ranked Wildcats play with a swagger. They believe they can beat anyone anywhere — and I firmly believe Lyons is the biggest reason why.
I reiterate: Lyons’ may not be what you would call a traditional point guard. And it remains to be seen just how good this Arizona team actually is, but I do know this: Lyons’ presence has made each player on Arizona’s roster a little bit tougher and, hence, a little bit better. And isn’t that what you want from your “lead guard?” Lyons’ ball-handling, play-making ability, leadership and toughness may just propel the Wildcats deep into this year’s postseason.
For those of you who haven’t seen much or don’t know who this big, 7-foot-1 Maryland sophomore from the Ukraine is, do yourself a favor and start paying attention. And if your TV is broken or Wi-Fi bill hasn’t been paid, then the next time you see him, ask Duke’s Mason Plumlee about 260-pound center Alex Len.
Len runs very well and is extremely agile for a youngster with this kind of size. Naturally, when you see a big kid who decides he wants to play basketball, old phrases such as, “You can’t teach size,” come to mind. And yes, you certainly cannot teach someone to be gigantic. But you can teach positioning, shooting, hustling, rebounding, etc. — and Len has been taught exceptionally well by someone as a very young kid and now by head coach Mark Turgeon and staff during the past two years at Maryland
Len leads Maryland in scoring (12.7), rebounding (8.0) and blocked shots (2.1) per game. He shoots better than 55 percent from the field and is getting better with each and every outing — as evidenced by his 19 points (on 6 of 8 field goals, and 7 of 8 free throws), nine rebounds and three blocks in Maryland’s 83-81 defeat of Duke. In a much-anticipated matchup against Duke star Plumlee, Len held the senior center to four points (on 2 of 7 shooting) and three rebounds. Plumlee averages 17.6 points and 10.4 rebounds.
Alex Len is definitely a player to keep on your radar. The big man has plenty of game.
Keith Appling may have one of the more difficult jobs in all of college basketball — playing point guard for Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. Izzo = demanding.
Not all players are capable of playing for coaches such as Izzo. In fact, I’d go so far as saying that most young men cannot play for a coach as demanding and as intense as Izzo. But Appling is not most young men.
Keith Appling, a 6-foot-1 junior from Detroit, is having a career year now that Izzo has fully handed over the on-court reigns following the graduation of Kalin Lucas. Appling is rewarding Izzo and the MSU faithful by posting averages of 14.1 points (team best), 4.0 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals — all career-highs. Appling, who shot a very high 41 percent from 3-point land as a freshman, dipped to a paltry 25 percent as a sophomore but has begun to find his stroke again this season, as he’s currently draining a respectable nearly 34 percent from beyone the arc.
Appling has Michigan State playing arguably the best basketball in the country at the moment and is a huge reason Sparty has ascended to the top of the Big Ten (currently tied with Indiana at 11-2) and skyrocketed to the No. 4 ranking in the country.
Tuesday night’s Big Ten bash between homestanding Michigan State and No. 1 Indiana may just be decided between the two little men. I’m excited to see how Indiana freshman PG Yogi Ferrell fares in his first trip to the MSU campus and the raucous confines of the Breslin Center. Young Yogi undoubtedly will be a target of Izzo and the Spartans in order to see how the rookie will respond in arguably the biggest road game of his young career. Ferrell will be pestered not only by Appling, but the loud and passionate Sparty student section, as well. Should be a good one.
The three surnames I personally associate with North Carolina basketball are Smith, Jordan and McAdoo.
Hauling around the last name McAdoo has to feel awfully heavy at times for North Carolina forward James Michael McAdoo. McAdoo’s father, Ronnie McAdoo, played professional basketball overseas for many years, as did the young UNC forward’s mother, Janet. Ronnie is the second cousin of former Carolina All-American and Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo, one of the greatest scorer’s in the history of the game of basketball. I find it awfully cool that a youngster like JMM would decide to play a sport where so many comparisons would undoubtedly be made and greatness would be expected based solely on the name sewn on the back of his jersey.
James Michael McAdoo is much more than a kid with “designer-genes” and a famous last name. No, young JMM is one heck of a college basketball player. He’s a 6-foot-9, 230-pound sophomore with a 7-1 wingspan. JMM is only in the beginning stages of what could be a long and prosperous basketball journey. The athleticism he possesses combined with a motor that is always running on high gives North Carolina head coach Roy Williams one of the more unique and versatile players in all of college basketball.
McAdoo leads UNC in scoring at 14.4 points per game and in rebounds with 8.2 per game. JMM is a slashing type of player who does most of his damage around the bucket and in transition. The one area of his game that is a major work in progress is shooting the basketball with range. McAdoo’s current range is limited and he does not have much confidence in his jumper — he has missed his two 3-point attempts this season and shoots free throws at just 56.3 percent. His jumper will get stronger in time, but Williams would certainly like for JMM’s free-throw shooting to get better in a hurry as he’s gone to the line far more than any other player on the Tar Heels’ roster. McAdoo has taken 135 FTs this season; next highest is guard Dexter Strickland, who’s attempted only 80.
I spent a year with Bob McAdoo in the mid-90s as a player for the Miami Heat when Bob was a young assistant to head coach and fellow University of Kentucky player (wink-wink) Pat Riley. Not only is McAdoo one of the greatest scorers the game has ever seen but he’s one of the finest people, as well. Young JMM is definitely a player to watch — and look out if ol’ Cousin Bob begins tutoring his young relative in the offseason. I say this because Bob McAdoo can still shoot that rock. If JMM ever gets his stroke sorted out, he could be freaky good.
Rex Chapman played at Kentucky from 1986-88. He was a two-time All-SEC selection as well as an NABC All-American in 1988 before opting for the NBA Draft. He was the No. 1 choice — eighth overall — of Charlotte and played for the Hornets (1988-92), Washington Bullets (1992-95), Miami Heat (1995-96) and Phoenix Suns (1996-2000). Follow Rex on Twitter @rexchapman