NEW HAVEN, Conn. — What a weekend we had in New England at the National Prep Showcase, a top-of-the-line prep school tournament that primarily features some of the New England region’s premier basketball talent.
This year was no different as the field at Albertus Magnus College was loaded with an array of talented players. There were an average of 2.5 committed D-I players per team — and we are going to spotlight three of them heading to Indiana, Memphis and Syracuse.
That being said, it took an exceptional effort to stand out amongst the crowd. Unless, however, you were 6-foot-9 or 6-10 and proved that you had a versatile enough game that may translate to the pro level in a few years.
From a genetics and skills standpoint, the Noah Vonleh, Kuran Iverson and Chris McCullough were ahead of the curve in that regard.
These three players are all unique in their own regard and it should be very interesting to see how their games evolve over the next few years.
Noah Vonleh, 6-9, 220, Forward, New Hampton (N.H.) Prep, Committed to Indiana: Last year at this event was my first time peeping Vonleh and I remember seeing a kid who had a big, strong body, great hands, understood the importance of boxing out, proved to have an excellent nose for the ball on the glass at either end and also showed flashes of becoming an extremely versatile player at the offensive end.
What a difference a year makes.
To say Vonleh was dominant and proved he could be a force for years to come would be an understatement.
On Saturday the forward recorded 27 points and 18 rebounds (11 offensive) to help his New Hampton Prep team to a win over Hargrave Military Academy. After a quiet first half in which he was plagued by a few early fouls, the forward displayed his versatile skill set at both ends.
Defensively he altered shots, was very active in the paint and proved he could keep up with guards when forced to switch onto them, even though he’s admittedly still working on that portion of his game.
At the offensive end, Vonleh took control of the game in a few different ways:
Offensive rebounding: We already mentioned that he had 11 offensive rebounds on Saturday… But it wasn’t like he was just sitting there and pulling in rebounds; it’s Vonleh’s activity level that is truly special and it is why he’s so capable of taking over a game at any point. When he wants to get a rebound, it’s nearly impossible to slow him down from at least getting a hand on the ball and keeping it alive for his teammates to secure the rebound. His anticipation skills are excellent, and his motor is hot the majority of the time. Dangerous combination.
Passing ability: His passing from the high post facilitated New Hampton’s ball movement and rhythm while his ability to kick the ball out of double-teams from the low post to open shooters was apparent as well. Vonleh is a naturally unselfish player and person, so passing comes naturally to him within the flow of the game. He’s never trying to ‘Get his’ at the offensive end unless it is to help the team win the game, which contributes greatly to his passing ability and overall team mentality. While he isn’t a full-out playmaker, Vonleh does possess the ability to break his man down off the bounce while creating opportunities for his teammates, and whether it’s New Hampton Prep or any other team that he plays for, it’s an invaluable mentality and skill for a big man to have at such an early age.
Breaking his man down off the bounce: Most impressive of all was his ability to break his man down off the bounce with relative ease. There were multiple possessions down the stretch of the close game with Hargrave in which Vonleh rebounded the ball, brought it up court and wasted no time going to work. He drove directly at whomever Hargrave sent at him, challenging them to slow him down before he got into the paint. More often than not Hargrave had no answer for Vonleh’s euro-steps and crafty post moves after his dribble-drive exploits.
Leadership: As a senior this season, it’s clear that Noah has been given the keys to the team from a leadership standpoint and he’s ready to seize the moment on that front. “I’ve been put into much more of a leadership role, being one of the oldest guys on the team, so I’m happy to come in and take that role,” explained Vonleh. “Last year I probably should have talked more but I just felt like as seniors they were going to direct us. I guess it just happens – I’ve matured.” He speaks more often now and is more demonstrative on the court. There was one play where one of his younger and less experienced teammates fouled an opponent during a crucial portion of the game. Vonleh was visibly frustrated, but he showed his teammate to keep his hands straight up instead of angling them downwards so that he wouldn’t be called for a foul. That’s solid senior leadership right there.
Post Presence: “I like to watch a lot of wing players,” said Vonleh. “Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James – I love watching LeBron.” While LeBron took time – about seven full NBA seasons worth – to be comfortable in the post, Vonleh is a player who already excels around the rim and in the paint. “I’m real comfortable in the post. I’m 6-9 and almost 230, so I can get strong position and I can either get a basket or get fouled. I’m comfortable finishing with both hands. Catch it, take a dribble, right jump hook. Sometimes I do an up and under. Those are the two moves I really use.” As he continues to evolve as a player his post presence should become even more of a weapon in his arsenal.
He’s an excellent player, but even when you’re an excellent player there are always things to work on:
Jump shot: He’s an adequate but inconsistent outside shooter. Vonleh shows solid form (there’s normally room for improvement here, especially with big men) on his jumpers and over time he has the potential to turn himself into a consistent jump-shooter with legitimate range. Two areas in which he must work on are being lower to the ground in catch-and-shoot opportunities and being even more confident and ready to shoot, the latter of which will come with time and repetitions doing things the right way in the gym.
Pick-and-roll defense: Vonleh has the potential to become an absolute force in this area of the game when he learns more about positioning and strategy as it relates to slowing down and ultimately stopping guard penetration. He has solid foot speed, long arms and stays low to the floor, but sometimes he was unaware of how, exactly, he wanted to play the pick and roll. With more intense game planning and the utilization of film on a more regular basis, Vonleh will be a problem for opponents.
The top 10 big man is headed out to Indiana next season to play for coach Tom Crean.
“I went on the visit to Indiana and they were one of the top schools on my list that I liked,” said Vonleh. “I finally got to see all of the things coach Tom Crean talked about. He said the atmosphere with the fans, they love the basketball players out there and in practice he showed me a lot of the things they do to get their players better and get ready for the next level.”
He doesn’t just want to get to the NBA level, though.
“I want to keep getting better as a basketball player, become an NBA All-Star and be one of the greatest players to ever play. I just have to keep working hard.”
It’ll certainly be exciting to see what the future has in store for this talented and hard-working young man.
Kuran Iverson, 6-10, 215, Small Forward, Fishburne Military Academy (Va.), Committed to Memphis: Yes, he’s Allen Iverson’s younger cousin. No, that is not what he wants to be known as.