Commentary

San Diego State-bound duo shines at MLK event

Bishop Gorman's Elijah Johnson was the big name on hand at the Martin Luther King Invitational, but a pair of San Diego State recruits stole the show, writes Joel Francisco.

Originally Published: January 21, 2009
By Joel Francisco | Scouts Inc.

Elijah JohnsonDustin Snipes/Icon SMIElijah Johnson has talent. Bill Self's challenge will be getting the best out of the elite guard prospect during his stay in Lawrence.
After evaluating the Martin Luther King Invitational, it has become evident to me that San Diego State stole a couple of recruits from schools at the high-major level. Kawhi Leonard, a 6-foot-6-and-still-growing wing out of Martin Luther King (Riverside, Calif.) made his debut in the ESPNU 100 this past week. If he continues to progress, that ranking is in safe hands.

In addition to Leonard, the Aztecs also nabbed an Allen Iverson clone, 6-1 Eric Lawton (Hemet, Calif./West Valley). Lawton is a big-time athlete who can score from anywhere on the court. These two standouts should give Steve Fisher two of the top newcomers in the Mountain West Conference during the 2009-10 season.

While the event showcased the skills and talents of Leonard and Lawton, it was also a coming out party for up-and-coming sophomore Byron Wesley (San Bernadino, Calif./Cajon). Wesley, who reminds me of current Cal-Berkeley standout Patrick Christopher, was a standout a few months ago at the Fullcourt Press All Frosh/Soph Camp and he was even more impressive at the MLK event.

Wesley has a very advanced game for someone so young and possesses a tremendous knack to score in a variety of ways. Due to his strong frame, savvy and an ever-improving jump shot, he'll be a handful for opponents in the years to come.

Standout players

Byron Wesley (6-4, 190)
Sophomore, San Bernadino, Calif./Cajon

If Wesley's effort was any indication of where his game is headed, he'll be a sure-fire high-major Division I player by the time he's a senior. He has a well-rounded game for someone so young and he plays each possession with purpose in mind. He uses his strong physique and athleticism to score in the paint area, and he has great touch overall. Wesley has improved his ballhandling, particularly his left hand, and he has a real knack to score with either hand. His jump shot is much smoother than in the past and he can either hit the midrange pull-up or nail the 3-point shot. In addition, his shot is soft and he gets nice lift on it as well. Overall, he plays hard at both ends and, due to his savvy for the game, appears to have a bright future.

Elijah Johnson (6-4, 190)
Senior, Las Vegas/Cheyenne

Johnson was by far the most physically gifted prospect by at the event, but before he arrives at Kansas next season he has some areas that need to be addressed. Johnson, who may remind some of current NBA standout Baron Davis, has a world of potential due to his athleticism and skill. He plays the game at an effortless pace -- that is part of the problem -- but he can impact it on so many different levels. His strength, skill and bounce are easily noticed, but he only utilizes those advantages in spurts. He can get to the basket at will and can hang in the air for an eternity. His jump shot is more than solid with range out beyond the 3-point line, but he doesn't get his legs into it as much as he should. Overall, he understands the game and he should be in the NBA some day, but Bill Self might have his work cut out for him getting Johnson to reach his enormous potential.

Rodney Black (6-3, 180)
Senior, Perris, Calif.

Black is probably junior-college bound, but he is a high-major prospect nonetheless. He has a terrific frame for the 2-guard slot and he's very athletic. He needs to play harder, especially on the defensive end, but he has a smooth stroke out to the stripe. His ballhandling has gotten better over the years, and as his strength has increased he has been much more aggressive around the rim. Black has a ton of talent and if he can get his academics in order, he should be playing at the high-major level in the near future.

Eric Lawton (6-1, 160)
Senior, Hemet, Calif./West Valley

When you watch Lawton play, it is almost as if you're watching a high school version of NBA standout Allen Iverson. Despite his slight frame, he is a prolific scorer. He is explosive in the open court and can score in a variety of ways. He has that burst in transition and an abundance of hang time in his repertoire. He gets great lift on his shot and has a natural step-back. Although he is first and foremost a scorer, he will find the open man. Overall, he'll need to get stronger for the next level, but there is no denying his talent.

Kawhi Leonard (6-6, 210)
Senior, Riverside, Calif./Martin Luther King

Leonard is still growing and he may add a couple of more inches. He has extraordinarily long arms and huge hands. His ball skills have improved each season and he has definitely transformed his game from his junior campaign. His shot has become very consistent out to the stripe and his release is effortless and smooth. He has a solid first step to the basket and can either finish at the rim or deliver the nice assist. He can explode in transition, but he isn't very allusive -- once he heads in one direction, Leonard struggles to avoid contact. In addition, his lack of great lateral quickness may lead him to guarding 4s instead of 3s at the next level, but overall Leonard is a steal for San Diego State.

Surprise Players

Darrell Swanson (6-2, 185)
Junior, Lake Elsinore, Calif./Lakeside

Swanson has a well-built Division I frame with long arms. He has nice bounce and his perimeter skills are beginning to blossom. He can get to the basket off the dribble and is quite the slasher in the paint area. He is unselfish and generally makes good decisions, but he can be turnover prone -- he leaves his feet while passing. His jump shot is quite good when he gets his feet set and he gets nice lift on his shot. How he continues to develop in the coming months in terms of ball handling and shot efficiency will determine his level of recruitment.

Chrishawn Hopkins (6-1, 160)
Junior, Las Vegas/Durango

Hopkins has a slight frame with decent length, but he is a very explosive. He is quick in the open court and has that coveted second gear. He gets tremendous lift on his shot and his release is tight. He needs to get significantly stronger to play at the Division I level, but the talent is there. In addition, he doesn't have a true position as of yet. He is a gifted scorer who made a couple of nifty passes in transition that could warrant that point guard label, but he has a ways to go in terms of managing a half-court offense.

Michael Craig (6-4, 215) SF
Senior, Phoenix/Precision

Craig is built like a Division I football player, but for his size and build he is quite the basketball player. He plays hard at both ends and he's deceptively bouncy. His ball skills are solid, but he needs to get better going left. His jump shot (he hit four 3s in the game) is smooth and he gets great lift on it. He can pull up off the break or convert in a catch and shoot situation. He is explosive in the open court and can finish strong in traffic.

Shabazz Muhammad (6-3, 170) SF
Freshman, Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman

Muhammad is one of the best looking freshmen on the west coast. This lefty has a great looking frame and outstanding athleticism. He has tremendous bounce around the basket and his broad shoulders allow him to ward off taller opponents in the post. He has a nice midrange pull-up and he can hit the 3-point shot with regularity. He has a tight release on his shot and it's smooth. In addition, he is explosive in transition and can finish with the big dunk. He has a very advanced feel for the game and his ball skills are solid for someone so young.

MLK Notes

• Xavier Johnson, a 6-5 freshman out of Temecula, Calif./Chaparral, is a lengthy, left-handed wing-type with a terrific feel for the game. He is an outstanding rebounder and a high-level passer who is always under control and possesses savvy well beyond his years. His jump shot is consistent inside 15 feet, but he'll have to become more consistent from the stripe to reach his immense potential.

• Santa Clara got a good one in 5-11 G Robert Smith (Perris, Calif.). He needs to add a jump stop to his game, but there are not too many guards in the country that possess his burst and strength.

• Kylel Coleman, a 6-0 senior from Bishop Gorman, is extremely explosive in the open court and can knock down the pull-up. But he needs to develop more pace and overall savvy to play the point at the next level.

• One of the most debatable prospects in the nation is Oregon State-bound Joseph Burton. Burton, a 6-7 center out of Hemet, Calif./West Valley, is quite the unique player. His weight and stamina will always be the No. 1 issue, but he has soft hands and savvy well beyond his years -- his passing prowess is high-level. If he is willing to tighten up his frame and make a concerted effort to improve his post skills and fundamentals, he should be effective at the Pac-10 level.

• Anson Winder, a 6-3 junior out of Bishop Gorman, is a bouncy 2-guard prospect for the next level. He needs to tighten up his handle and overall feel for the game, but his jump shot is solid and he can get to the rim at will.

• Besides ESPNU 100 recruit Kawhi Leonard, Martin Luther King high school (Riverside, Calif.) has a pair of junior-college prospects who could find their way onto a Division I roster a couple of seasons from now in 6-5 Steven Mallory and 6-7 Tony Snell. Mallory is a sinewy wing-type with a nice stroke while Snell is an athletic five with long arms.

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.