The first is that nothing basketball-related in this day and age is an exact science. There are high-tech methods to track a player’s every move statistically and analytically and, of course, there are countless strength coaches, player development and workout gurus and top training methods available to players now like never before. But sometimes, as many old-school basketball people will tell you, whether or not a guy has the best equipment, access to the best training facilities, specialized or the best technological or analytical coaching, it simply comes down to whether a guy can play or not.
I have also learned there is no correlation between being a very good coach and being a good judge of talent who can project a kid’s potential. They are two separate talents and skill sets. Some coaches are very good at it and some are not. The same goes with front office people I’ve met through the years.
What I have come to realize is most people will go along with whatever the media’s consensus is on a player and his reputation.
Very few guys I have known actually have their own original thoughts or have enough conviction to know what they are looking at when they see it. Just like in life, there are no guarantees or very few sure things and everyone can usually pick out the can’t-miss prospects. It’s trying to figure out how certain intangibles will matter, and how much a guy’s game and skill-set will transfer to the NBA game is the most challenging of all. I have always been more right than I was wrong, but I have never been or known anyone who was perfect.
I have always prided myself on being able to outevaluate others and find that diamond-in-the-rough like Luis Flores at Manhattan College. When he transferred from Rutgers, I had many experts tell me not to take him. If I told you who discouraged me, you would be shocked. He only went on to become the all-time leading scorer in Manhattan College history and a 2nd round draft pick by Jeff Van Gundy’s Houston Rockets, which is a pretty big deal coming from the MAAC.
With the new NCAA season starting, most of us have heard all the talk about the 10 McDonalds All-Americans at Kentucky and the NBA Draft-style combine practice they held earlier this year, televised by ESPN, where all 30 teams were represented.
I have always had my own rule in recruiting or evaluating a player: If I saw a guy play and walked away excited about the guy, that’s was always a pretty safe indicator for me — gut instinct.
Rysheed Jordan, 6’5, Sophomore, PG, St. John’s
Jordan is a tough street kid out of Philly that I believe has all the makings of an NBA point guard. After struggling in the beginning of his freshmen year he really found his groove and came on late. Again he is teamed in the backcourt with combo guard Deangelo Harrison who will get most of the notoriety and is probably the favorite to lead the Big East in scoring, but to me it’s Jordan who, if he continues to progress this season like I expect him to, will be awful tough for Steve Lavin to expect back for his junior season. A terrific layup maker a la Rod Strickland.
D.J. Newbill, 6’4, G, Junior, Penn State
Newbill is another do everything player who can play anywhere from the small forward to the point guard and in a loaded Big Ten after averaging 17.8 pts per game last year as a sophomore he is one of the most underrated and underpublicized players in a major conference in the country.
I really love this kid’s toughness and demeanor and believe he is another physically gifted specimen who will succeed at the next level.
Julian Washburn, 6’8, Forward, Texas-El Paso
As I mentioned before, there is something to say for genetics, DNA and pedigree and this next guy is the son of once well-known big man Chris Washburn. Julian is another guy I have followed closely, having once committed to our staff while he was changing high schools. I thought Julian had great length and huge upside, so now that he is a senior for Coach Tim Floyd at UTEP and is one of the best players in Conference USA. He is a big wing forward who I think has a sneaky chance to be a good pro and a guy worth keeping an eye on.
As I said earlier, like everyone else I love guys like freshmen Stanley Johnson of Arizona and Cliff Alexander of Kansas, but again these are guys who are high-profile and I’m sure will be heavily publicized and scrutinized.
My 13 guys will be flying a lot more under the radar but I believe are still worth a look. It’s easy to follow the crowd and evaluate the big names, but it is a bigger challenge to uncover the guys like the Spurs have done with Kawhi Leonard, last year’s Finals MVP.
In the offseason everyone loves guys who can run and jump, but during the winter you want and need guys who can make shots. Also,everyone is an expert and has a plan until something goes wrong or someone gets hit in the face, and I want guys who can overcome adversity and be resilient when they fail.
Bobby Gonzalez is a former Division I head coach at Manhattan and Seton Hall. He has been writing columns for SheridanHoops since March.