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. 25.
You can’t always trust a coach’s opinion when it comes to his players. Many times they are just too close to the situation, love their players, have essentially helped raised these young men and simply see them through rose-colored glasses. So, while I always listen intently to what a coach says about a player in which he has recruited and is currently playing for him, I wait until I’ve watched the young man play repeatedly before forming a personal opinion.
That said, about two weeks ago I spoke with longtime friend and associate head coach of New Mexico, Craig “Noodles” Neal. I said, “So Noodles, tell me a little bit about your guy Kendall Williams.” My buddy Noodles responded with words very similar to the words you’ll hear from most coaches who love their players. He said, “Kendall has the potential to play in the league [NBA]. He’s extremely fast and talented. Very good dribble-drive game and can really pass the basketball.”
Following that assessment on Williams from the Lobos’ coach, my longtime friend and a guy I really do trust most of the time when it comes to players — as Noodles has some three-plus decades of both college and NBA talent evaluation under his belt — I put Williams on my radar along with a note saying, “Take a deeper look.” Simply, I didn’t just take Craig’s word for it. I didn’t because, A) you always want to know a kid for yourself before formulating opinion and, B) because Noodles also told me that two or three other Lobos may also be pros down the road. Ya gotta love a coach’s enthusiasm and excitement about his own players.
Anyway, I decided that I would watch Kendall Williams very closely the past two weeks and see for myself just what kind of basketball player I felt he could become.
Well, it turns out my buddy Craig Neal undersold his junior guard. Williams has potential aplenty. Check out these numbers the young man posted on the road this past Saturday at then-No. 22 Colorado State: 12-for-16 FG (10-for-13 3FG) and 12-for-17 FT for 46 points. That’s right, 46 points! Williams also added five rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes during the Lobos’ 91-82 win.
Now, my philosophy on “big games” is pretty simple. An average to somewhat above-average college player can luck his way into a 25-point game. But there is just no way to luck your way into a 46-point game. Even a guy who is no more than a shooter can get hot against a bad defensive team and knock down seven, eight or nine 3s in a game. But Williams is far more than an average to above-average player. He is far more than a shooter. Nobody lucks their way into 17 free throws in one game. Some guys playing big minutes can play a month and not shoot 17 free throws. Williams puts pressure on opposing defenses with his quickness and ability to raise and shoot the ball on the drop of a dime. And drop dimes he can do, as well, as K-Dub leads the Lobos in assists at just a little less than five per contest.
Like I said earlier, always trust a coach’s opinion when it comes to his players.
Welcome to the national stage, Kendall Williams.
Elias Harris is one heck of a college basketball player. And my belief is that Harris is going to have a long professional career, as well, if he wants.
Harris, in today’s college game, is that rare NCAA hoops star — a senior player who has scored just shy of 1,800 career points.
At 6-foot-7, Harris came to head coach Mark Few and Gonzaga from Speyer, Germany, four years ago as a somewhat unheralded freshman. By mid-season however, everyone in college basketball knew of the young German kid. Harris went on to average 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds as a freshman. He followed that with a couple of solid seasons, but expectations were through the roof after such a promising freshman year.
Harris is the Zags’ second-leading scorer and leading rebounder. He gets to the free-throw line nearly six times per game and has been to the line 157 times already in 2012-13 — 30 more than the next closest Zag, 7-footer Kelly Olynyk.
Harris is a terrific post-up player with awesome bounce. Look, we can ignore the fact that Harris is 23 years old, but to be honest — I love it. Harris is flat “beasting” younger, more immature players who are some four, maybe five years younger than he is. I like to refer to it as “bully ball.”
Don’t sleep on Gonzaga. Few’s squad has all of the tools to hang the school’s first NCAA championship banner at the end of this season. And if the Zags happen to walk away with the title this season you can go ahead and retire Harris’ jersey right beside that championship banner.
I first saw Isaiah Austin play basketball four years ago, as a 6-foot-9, roughly 180-pound high-school sophomore. Skinny, skinny, skinny.
Austin is the nephew of former NBA’er Ike Austin. Big Isaiah still is a work in progress for head coach Scott Drew, as the youngster has grown to a legitimate 7-foot-1, 220 pounds. Austin has a great deal of upside as his skills are somewhat unique for a player of his size and his touch is good. He has a nice high release on his jumper, which makes his shot nearly impossible to block with his standing reach being an incredible 9 feet, 3 inches.
Big men who can shoot the ball are a very nice luxury to have on any basketball team. But young Isaiah appears to want to play more of a guard position than he wants to play in the post. That’s fine, I guess, but you have to be able to successfully shoot the ball from the perimeter in order to play out front.
This brings me to one area of Austin’s game that gets under my skin a bit. It’s universally accepted in basketball that if a player can manage to shoot 33.3 percent or better from beyond the arc then he should be allowed to take open 3-point shots. While Austin has a nice shooting touch, he has not proven capable of hitting that requisite number on his 3s. Yet for some reason I can’t quite figure out why the Baylor staff allows its big freshman to stand out beyond the 3-point line and jack up 3s whenever he feels like hoisting them. Simply, this is absurd. Austin is 23 of 73 from 3-point land for a poor 31.5 percent. I mean, this definitely hurts Baylor night in and night out. “Silly” puts it mildly. In Baylor’s past 10 games, he has taken 33 3-point shots. He’s made eight of them. During that same 10-game stretch, the big 7-footer has gone to the line just 19 times — making 14 — and in three of those games Austin has attempted no free throws.
I say Austin is a work in progress mainly due to his immature frame. He has a tough time holding his position down low due to his high center of gravity and lack of strength. But the youngster is 7-foot-1 with soft hands and length for days. If the big fella remains humble and continues to work diligently on his game in the next few years he could prove to be one of the all-time Baylor greats.
Tim Hardaway Jr., son of former longtime all-NBA player Tim Hardaway, obviously has designer genes, but the one thing I find truly refreshing about him is that the Michigan junior has worked extremely hard in order to enjoy the success he’s having on the basketball floor.
In his third season wearing the Maize and Blue, Hardaway is having his best season for the Wolverines. Scoring 15.1 points per game, he’s Michigan’s second-leading scorer behind Trey Burke. But THJ is more than a scorer. Deceptively athletic and bouncy, he averages 4.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists, as well. He’s shooting a super 40.2 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and 46 percent overall.
For head coach John Beilein’s No. 4-ranked, incredibly talented Michigan squad, Hardaway is the team’s most veteran player. THJ also has turned into one of the more clutch players in the country. He has made big shot after big shot game in and game out this season for the Wolverines — something I truly appreciate. Many guys can make shots and plays when time and score is not an issue. But few are willing to try and take over in late-game situations. THJ is not afraid of putting himself out there at crunch time, which gives Michigan two big-time late-game threats in he and Burke.
Being the “son of” certainly can have its perks, but more times than not in sports if the son of a famous athlete decides to play the same sport in which his father had so much success, being the “son of” can be a bit of a curse — as there are comparisons made every day and unrealistic and unfair expectations are placed on a young man simply trying to be the best version of himself that he can possibly be. Tim Hardaway Jr. has managed in his third year in Ann Arbor, Mich., to step out of the shadow of his star father. Given the talent Belein and staff have assembled this season for the Wolverines, THJ may very well do something in basketball that Pops was unable to accomplish in his long and illustrious basketball playing career — bring home a national championship.
Phil Pressey, son of former Tulsa and NBA star Paul Pressey, is one of college basketball’s top point guards in the 2012-13 season.
Pressey is an extremely exciting player to watch play the game. I had the opportunity this past weekend to watch young P-Squared whip up on my Kentucky Wildcats in Rupp Arena. I must say though, that while PP may have won the battle my Cats showed some real toughness and pulled out the win against a veteran Mizzou team.
Back to young Mr. Pressey. Phil Pressey reminds me somewhat of a 5-foot-10 Muggsy Bogues. I played with Muggsy for the first four years of my NBA career and enjoyed every second of it. Much like Muggsy, Phil Pressey may be, each time he steps on the floor, pound-for-pound the strongest player in the game. I mean, this little guy is put together. He has muscles on top of muscles. PP is quick-on-quick, too. He may be faster with the ball than he is without it. And the thing I love the best about the youngster is that Pressey appears to have eyes in the back of his head. Time after time on Saturday night vs. UK the Mizzou junior made passes to teammates I had no clue he was able to see — much less deliver the ball on the money so that all a teammate had to do was catch and finish. In arguably his best game as a collegian Saturday night in fabled Rupp Arena in front of a hostile 24,000 Wildcat faithful Pressey put on a show, scoring 27 points, dishing out 10 assists and throwing in four steals for good measure. He nearly single-handedly willed the Tigers to a win.
Pressey, on the season, is averaging 12.4 points per game, 7.0 assists and 3.2 rebounds. Keep an eye on Pressey. Mizzou has been a somewhat underachieving team this season to date. But if Pressey builds on what he began Saturday night then all of the sudden Mizzou becomes a very dangerous team once again.
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