Commentary

Smith, Marshall have strong showings at the Mission Prep Classic

Originally Published: December 24, 2008
By Joel Francisco | Scouts Inc.

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. --The 10th Annual Mission Prep Classic is always one of the most anticipated stops on the high school basketball evaluation tour, and this year was no exception. Tucked away in beautiful San Luis Obispo, tournament director Jon Sun did another outstanding job of attracting some of the most coveted talent in the country, including two of the top juniors in the country in 6-9 man-child Josh Smith (Kentwood, Wash.) and 6-3 point guard deluxe Kendall Marshall (Arlington, Va./ Bishop O'Connell).

However, it would be Bishop Montgomery (Torrance, Calif.) who would garner most of the attention as they earned a hard-fought championship over tournament favorite Bishop O'Connell 65-58. The Knights of Bishop Montgomery got downright "medieval" on the defensive end on most trips and continued to answer each and every run Bishop O'Connell threw at them.

Tournament MVP Justin Cobbs, a 6-1 senior headed to Minnesota next fall, was dominant throughout the event as he carried his team to the National Division Championship with a game-high 23 points. Cobbs would also receive considerable help from his running mate, 5-10 senior Michael Panaggio, who tossed in 16-points. O'Connell was lead by its passing guru Kendall Marshall who finished the contest with 20 points and a bevy of assists.

Standout Players

Josh Smith (6-9, 280)
Junior, Kentwood, Wash.

With the exception of one game, Smith was battling foul trouble throughout the tournament. However, that did not stop him from dominating his opponents. Despite his enormous frame he has some of the most nimble feet in the game. He gets off the floor rather easily and can throw down the monster slam in traffic. He is blessed with some of the softest hands I've seen and literally grabs anything in his vicinity. His footwork is solid and he utilizes his massive frame to ward off opponents. He is a very good passer out of the post and has an overall solid feel for the game. Like most bigs he needs to continue to polish his fundamentals (keeping the ball high), become a better free throw shooter, and work on finishing with his left hand. In addition, he'll need to play with more intensity and develop more stamina for the next level to make that expected immediate impact.

Kendall Marshall (6-3, 180)
Junior, Arlington, Va./ Bishop O'Connell

Marshall, a North Carolina commitment, displayed why he is considered an ESPN Super 60 recruit. He is an aberration of the modern day point guard who likes to score as well as set up his teammates. He, on the other hand, is a pass-first point guard who delivered some of the most impressive full-court passes I've seen in recent memory. He advances the ball as well as any point guard in the country in transition and plays the game like a seasoned NBA veteran. In addition, to his passing prowess he is also an outstanding rebounder. His jump shotmore like a set-shothas improved since his sophomore campaign and it was very consistent this tournament. His shot is a tad flat, but it has a soft landing most of the time. Although he doesn't have elite speed and/or quickness, he is very clever with his handle and can get by most opponents in the half-court set. However, one glaring weakness of his game that needs immediate attention is his ability to go right. This lefty favors going left all the time and struggles finishing with his right hand. He'll be well-scouted at the next level so that area needs refining sooner rather than later.

Tyler Honeycutt (6-8, 180)
Senior, Sylmar, Calif.

Honeycutt has as much talent as any prospect in the country, but in order to reach that elite status, he must become more tenacious at both ends. His skill level is quite high and his overall talent should project to the NBA level. His athleticism is terrific and he displayed it in the dunk contest where he jumped over four players standing up in the paint area. In addition to his exceptional leaping ability, he is one of the most gifted passers in the country and has savvy beyond his years. On the other hand, he defers too much to his teammates and lacks that killer instinct, especially when games get tight. Whether he develops that desire to be the best remains to be seen, but it better improve by the time he arrives at UCLA because "toughness" is what personifies the Ben Howland program.

Justin Cobbs (6-1, 180)
Senior, Torrance, Calif./ Bishop Montgomery

Cobbs is one of the most debatable players on the West Coast. On the one hand, his competiveness, athleticism, and improved skill are attractive to any coach on any level. However, his decision-making (specifically his shot selection), is troublesome to say the least. He takes very difficult shots early in the shot clock that leave you shaking your head, but there is no question he is a talent. He is extremely explosive in the open court and is very strong going to the basket and had some of the most acrobatic finishes of the tournament. He can knock down the 3-point shot and he gets great lift on it. Defensively, he has the necessary quickness and strength to be a lock-down defender at the next level. Cobbs can play at the Big Ten level, but his shot selection will need to tone down if the is to garner any early playing time for Tubby Smith at Minnesota.

Justin Hawkins (6-2, 180)
Senior, Woodland Hills, Calif./ Taft

Hawkins continued to display why he is one of the better basketball players in California. He doesn't have great speed or quickness or lift, but he understands how to play the game at both ends of the floor. He can knock down the 3-point shot and post-up smaller opponents. Defensively, he did a nice job of shutting down his opponent and has great instincts for this game. Although he doesn't possess all the physical tools you look for in a Division 1 recruit, he is that "glue-type" that should find some playing time for UNLV next year.

Tony Freeland (6-5, 215)
Senior, Los Angeles/ Fremont

Freeland was a man among boys until his ankle injury. He plays every possession with intensity and is one of the better rebounders for his size in the country. Although he's undersized his frame (broad shoulders and long arms) and athleticism (very bouncy) allow him to compete against bigger opponents. He gets most of his points by attacking the basket and getting thunderous dunks in transition. He gets in the passing lanes very well and should be able to guard a three at the next level. His jump shot is a work in progress, but with his work ethic, that should improve. His team played in a weaker division of the tournament and as a result there was no one that could handle him.

Darius Nelson (6-5, 220)
Sophomore, Sacramento, Calif./ Sheldon
Nelson is a gifted player with high basketball IQ, but how his game translates to the next level will be one of the most widely discussed stories. His game is reminiscent of former UCLA standout Kris Johnson. He has a wide body that doesn't exactly scream upside, but his skills and savvy are high-level. Despite not being a bouncy athlete, he knows how to find seams in the defense and utilize his thick frame to score in bunches. He can knock down the 3-point shot, but it's streaky. What separates him from most prospects is his competitive naturehe brings an honest effort every possession. How his frame develops remains to be seen, but at this stage he's an undersized 4-man who would struggle guarding wing-types at the next level.

Surprise Players

Kendall Williams (6-2, 170)
Junior, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./ Los Osos

Williams developed a national reputation after committing to UCLA after his freshman campaign. However, his game has not progressed in quite some time. He still has a frail frame and as a result struggled to finish in traffic despite having decent bounce. He has solid speed in the open court but he doesn't have that highly coveted 2nd gear. In addition, he is predominantly right-handed and had trouble separating defenders off the dribble throughout the tournament. He has 3-point range on his shot, but his release is mechanical and consequently his shot is streaky. Williams has the leadership qualities of what you look for in a point guard and is a confident player, but there needs to be a significant amount of improvement at both ends if he expects to make an impact at UCLA. First, he needs to develop a jump-stop to his game and a mid-range pull-up to become more efficient as a player. In addition, he'll need to get considerably stronger which should help smoothen out his jump shot.

Richard Solomon (6-8, 190)
Junior, Torrance, Calif./ Bishop Montgomery

Solomon is easily one of the most intriguing prospects on the West Coast. Like most bigs he is a late developer, but his improvement has been nothing short of astonishing over the last six months. His lengthy frame needs strength, but he may add a couple of more inches before it's all said and done. He is extremely athletic and runs as well as any big man in the west. He can finish in transition and is extremely coordinated. His skills are still raw, but he can knock down the face-up jump shot and he has a very soft touch around the paint area. Solomon is a solid Mid-Major prospect; however, by this time next year, with continued development, he'll be a high-major priority.

Josh Manning (6-0, 175)
Senior, Los Angeles/ Fremont

Manning, a transfer from Los Angeles (Westchester), made his mark at the Mission Prep Classic. He is a low Division 1 combo-guard with a decent amount of upside. He has a solid frame with broad shoulders and fairly good length. He is quite explosive in the open court and had some of the most acrobatic finishes of the tournament. He hangs in the air quite well and has a high-level runner in traffic. In addition, despite his small stature he isn't afraid to bang inside for rebounds. His handle is solid

James Johnson (6-5, 210)
Junior, North Hollywood, Calif./ Campbell Hall

Johnson is one of the most improved players on the West Coast and with continued development he should begin garnering attention from the mid-major level. He has a great frame with long arms and nice bounce. This lefty is predominantly a post-up player who favors going over his right shoulder on every possession. However, he has improved his face-up game in the past few months. He did a solid job of using the jab-step to get around his opponents and occasionally finishing with his off hand. He still needs to extend his range on his jump shot and work on not bringing the ball down in the paint area, but overall his development has been a pleasant surprise.

Notes

• Ramon Eaton, a 6-7 sophomore out of Sacramento, Calif./ Shelton, possesses solid length for the wing position at the next level. He handles it well in the open court and he's a very good passer, but his shot is flat and athletically he's very rigid (plays too straight-up-and-down).

• Kyle Odister, a 6-1 senior out of Sacramento, Calif./ Rio American, should be a solid player for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo next season. He has a Division 1 frame, solid skills, and an overall nice feel for the game.

• Larry Savage, a 6-4 sophomore out of Arlington, Va./ Bishop O'Connell, is an undersized 4-man for the next level. He is extremely bouncy, but he'll need to improve his perimeter skills, particularly his shooting for the next level.

• An intriguing big for the low Division 1 level is lanky junior 6-7 Khalil Kelley (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./ Los Osos). In addition to his lengthy frame, he has some solid bounce and a nice face-up jump shot out to 15 feet.

• Taft, out of Woodland Hills Calif./, has two guard prospects in 5-8 freshman Landon Drew and 6-2 sophomore Spencer Dinwiddie that have tremendous potential. Drew has savvy beyond his years and a solid looking stroke, while Dinwiddie has the desired length and savvy that college coaches covet.

• One of the heroes of the tournament for Bishop Montgomery, was the feisty play of senior guard 5-11 Michael Panaggio. He plays with purpose on every possession and isn't afraid to knock down the big shot.

Joel Francisco has been a high school basketball scout for 15 years. He has written for Hoop Scoop Magazine and Basketball Times and organized "So-Cal's Finest," his own scouting service.

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