Summer story lines: Henson and Bradley break out, Jennings goes overseas
The summer evaluation period offers a chance for the best prospects to play against one another multiple times. And because these marquee matchups undoubtedly offer players a chance to make substantial leaps in the individual rankings, the summer makes for some interesting twists and turns on the recruiting trail.
Also, the summer evaluation period has significant impact on college programs that may have been scrambling to fill last-second roster spots in preparation for the upcoming season. Late bloomers, late qualifiers and other 2008 prospects who have gone unsigned can make an impact on the summer circuit and occasionally land a scholarship with one of these scrambling programs. Likewise, after watching strong showings from various 2009-and-beyond prospects, colleges also use the summer evaluation period to solicit commitments from coveted players.
These 10 events during the summer evaluation period have significantly impacted college basketball and recruiting:
All-world point guard Brandon Jennings, the No. 1 player in the 2008 ESPNU 100, struggled in his attempts to score high enough on standardized tests to be eligible to play at Arizona for the upcoming season. Instead of waiting for the results of his last attempt at the test, Jennings elected to pursue a professional career overseas with an eye on the 2009 NBA draft. Many people will pay attention to how Jennings fares with his professional team, Pallacanestro Virtus Roma, based in Rome, Italy. He could start a trend of talented high school prospects spending a year in Europe before taking their games to the NBA. Jennings' decision capped off a tumultuous period at Arizona, during which the Wildcats endured a number of dramatic changes on the coaching staff. The Jennings saga even led legendary Arizona coach Lute Olson to swear off recruiting the vaunted one-and-done player.
The Wildcats saw a number of changes on their coaching staff, starting most notably with the tumultuous relationship between Olson and assistant coach Kevin O'Neill, who took over last season for Olson when he took time off to deal with personal issues. As Olson returned to the helm, the Wildcats announced that O'Neill would not return. O'Neill has since taken a job with the Memphis Grizzlies. Former Olson players and longtime assistants Miles Simon and Josh Pastner both left the program while another former player, Reggie Geary, returned to the fold.
These changes had significant impact on the Wildcats' recruiting: Top 2009 prospects Abdul Gaddy and Greg Smith both decommitted from the Wildcats and talented 2008 prospect Emmanuel Negedu asked for a release from his scholarship and ultimately ended up at Tennessee. Furthermore, some Wildcats, including point guard Nic Wise, flirted with transferring. The Wildcats rebounded in a big way during the summer evaluation period with commitments from talented 2009 prospects Mike Moser, Solomon Hill and Reger Dowell, and in the 2008 class with Garland Junkins and Darnell Shumpert.
No player used the summer AAU circuit to catapult in the national player rankings more effectively than the electrifying Avery Bradley, a native of Tacoma, Wash. He started the summer as a top-50 prospect, but a number of dominant performances against highly-regarded competition propelled him into the top 15. Bradley used his impressive athletic ability and scoring prowess to wreak havoc on opposing defenses, producing a number of highlight-reel plays in the process. He used these same gifts to compete at a high level defensively.
Every year, a number of underclassmen make a name for themselves on the national scene. This summer, three 2011 prospects -- Anthony Wroten, LaQuinton Ross and Michael Gilchrist -- busted out. All three players displayed maturity beyond their years, with the play and poise typically reserved for grizzled upperclassmen, not guys who just completed their freshman year of high school.
Ross has the ability to score in a variety of ways, making him a nightmare for opposing defenses. He can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, but he also has enough range on his jumper to connect consistently from 3-point range. Gilchrist has the versatility that allows him to play a number of perimeter positions including the point guard slot. He scores very well in the midrange area in addition to his ability to get to the rim. Gilchrist also plays defense with great effort. Wroten has the versatility to play multiple positions, including the lead guard. He also gets to the rim with relative ease and will connect from the perimeter. As they mature, these players will have to continue to challenge themselves to improve and fight complacency.
Similar to Avery Bradley, John Henson, a 2009 prospect committed to wear the Carolina blue, also used strong, consistent play throughout the summer to ascend to a top-3 prospect in the ESPNU 100. Henson has very impressive athleticism that allows him to dominate the game above the rim for long stretches. Although he does not rank as a dead-eye perimeter shooter, Henson has the ability to connect on jumpers from 3-point territory. He uses impeccable timing, great length and good leaping ability to block shots effectively. Henson also passes the ball and handles it well for his size. Henson's upside may outrank his impressive ability at this point in his career. Added strength, muscle and improved skills will make Henson a very good player at North Carolina.
After taking over in Bloomington under less than ideal circumstances, Indiana coach Tom Crean built an impressive wave of momentum during the summer. Following multiple player defections, Crean found himself with a number of available scholarships, and he has done an effective job of filling the open slots on his roster. During the summer evaluation period, Indiana had the wherewithal to snare commitments from two very talented 2008 guards in Verdell Jones and Malik Story. The Hoosiers also gained a pledge from talented 2009 guard Maurice Creek and 2011 guard Matt Carlino. Crean also inked a new 10-year deal, which should provide the stability that Crean will need as he restores order and honor at Indiana.
North Carolina State coach Sidney Lowe has established a recruiting presence for his Wolfpack in the talent-rich Atlanta metro area. Lowe went to Wheeler, Ga., last year and came out with talented power forward J.J. Hickson. Hickson went on to play one season at N.C. State before becoming a first-round pick in the 2008 NBA draft. For his 2009 recruiting class, Lowe returned to Wheeler to secure a commitment from another power forward, coming out of Georgia this time with Richard Howell. Both Howell and Hickson played their AAU basketball with the nationally known Worldwide Renegades organization, based in Georgia. North Carolina State also got a verbal promise from another Georgia guard and Worldwide Renegades player, Lorenzo Brown.
Coach Paul Hewitt and his Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech have as many as seven scholarships open for the 2009 class, and Hewitt has done a very good job in rounding out his roster with talented players. During the summer evaluation period, the Yellow Jackets racked up a formidable stable of commits for their 2009 class. Hewitt has one of the more impressive early hauls, with pledges coming from four 2009 prospects, including ESPNU 100 prospects Kammeon Holsey and Mfon Udofia. Talented perimeter prospects Glen Rice Jr. and Brian Oliver join the two top-50 players. If Rice Jr. and Oliver can come close to duplicating the success of their namesakes (Oliver's father formed Lethal Weapon 3 with Kenny Anderson and Dennis Scott at Georgia Tech in the 1990s) in conjunction with the highly regarded ESPNU 100 players, the Yellow Jackets could return to elite status in the ACC.
West Virginia Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins has had some recruiting successes mixed in with some slight setbacks during the summer evaluation period. On the negative side of the ledger, West Virginia lost one of its 2008 recruits, Roscoe Davis, to academic difficulties. Davis will spend another season in prep school with his sights set on gaining admission to West Virginia in time for the 2009-10 season. One-time Mountaineer commit Keith DeWitt reneged on his verbal pledge to West Virginia and ultimately ended up committing to Missouri and coach Mike Anderson.
Huggins, never one to remain at the foot of the mountain for long, started to make his way back up to the peak by securing commitments in the 2009 class. He received one pledge from Dalton Pepper, a guard who will mesh perfectly with Huggins' intense style of play. Rugged inside player Dan Jennings, another perfect match for Huggins' brand of ball, also made Morgantown his destination of choice during the summer evaluation period. With other highly coveted players such as Chris Braswell and Aaric Murray considering West Virginia, Huggins could have his team at the apex of the Big East soon.
Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg enjoyed a very productive summer evaluation period on the recruiting trail. He corralled commitments from three top-notch prospects -- two coming from the Class of 2009, and one who will enroll at Virginia Tech in 2010. The 2009 players -- Cadarian Raines and Manny Atkins -- provide the Hokies with outstanding athleticism and length, which should help Greenberg in his intense defensive style of play. Both players, with their aforementioned athletic ability, should excel in open-court scoring opportunities created by good defense. The 2010 player, guard Jarrell Eddie, has the chance to develop into a special scorer from the perimeter. His offensive versatility and elite athleticism make him a very tough cover for opposing defenses. With these solid recruits in the fold, Greenberg has the ammunition to convince other talented studs that greener pastures do reside in Blacksburg.
During the summer evaluation period, South Florida coach Stan Heath found out just how hot paradise could get when he lost three recruits from his 2008 class in Teeng Akol, Dwan McMillan and Eugene Teague. Heath recovered by signing the talented but nomadic Augustus Gilchrist -- South Florida was the third East Coast school he flirted with, after decommitting from Maryland and Virginia Tech -- for the 2008 season. Heath also added Justin Leemow as part of his 2008 recruiting group to help ease the loss of the three departed recruits. The Bulls also went to Michigan and came away with Jordan Dumars for their 2009 class.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.
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