NCAA Weekly Performers-- 1/2/2007, Part One

NCAA Weekly Performers-- 1/2/2007, Part One
Jan 03, 2007, 03:33 am
After a one week hiatus, our weekly performers series returns with an in-depth look at four impact players from late December. Mario Boggan is carrying Oklahoma State to an unexpected NCAA Tournament berth with his play so far. James Davis is a 7-1 junior college transfer who is showing high-major talent playing against Lamar. Aaron Gray is showing why he decided to return for his senior season, and Arron Afflalo puts together one of the most impressive first half performances we've seen all year in a blowout win over a talented Washington team.

Stay tuned tomorrow for part two.

Mario Boggan, 6-7, Senior, Power Forward, Oklahoma State
21.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 61.7% FG, 79.5% FT, 32.1 mpg


Jonathan Givony

Quietly putting up some of the best numbers in the country against very solid competition and leading what has so far been one of the biggest surprises of any of the high major NCAA teams, Mario Boggan is a player who is long overdue for a detailed mention in this space, even if question marks remain about just how serious of an NBA prospect he is.

IWhat is certain is that Boggan is surely this year’s top “rags to riches” story. Having endured as tough an upbringing as anyone you’ll find, Boggan bounced around some of the top high schools in America (Mount Zion Academy, Oak Hill, Hargrave Military Academy) before landing at the University of Florida as a consensus top-50 recruit. He weighed over 300 pounds at that point and spent one lackluster season under Billy Donovan before deciding to transfer to St. Bonaventure. Boggan never played a game there and eventually ended up at Chipola Community College in Florida where he shed over 60 pounds to currently sport a chiseled, powerful frame that has been punishing opposing frontlines all season long for his present team, nationally ranked Oklahoma State.

25 points, 10 rebounds at Auburn, 21 points, 8 rebounds at Madison Square Garden against Syracuse and 20 points, 6 rebounds at Tennessee were all just preludes to his coming out party against Aaron Gray and Pitt, where Boggan put on an absolute masterpiece in helping take down the top-10 ranked team, on national television in double overtime. He finished with 30 points and 9 rebounds, knocking down 12 of his 14 free throws in the process.

Looking at the success of similar undersized post warriors in the NBA these past few years—Udonis Haslem, Kenny Thomas, Ryan Gomes from the past few seasons for example and Craig Smith and Paul Millsap just from this last year’s draft—all underrated players with terrific college resumes but little hype due to their perceived lack of upside, it’s getting tougher and tougher to exclude Boggan from NBA discussions considering his status as a legit candidate for first team All-America honors.

Boggan displays everything you look for in a modern day power forward, minus possibly a few inches. He is a man inside the post thanks to his chiseled frame and fantastic footwork, attacking the basket with reckless abandon and showing some of the best scoring instincts you’ll find among NCAA big men.

He has a complete arsenal to work with—a turnaround jumper, fade-aways, the drop step, amazing touch, gritty toughness and a motor that does not quit. Play him straight up and he’ll use his strong base to back his man down and then convert at a superb rate. Take away his right and he’ll gladly spin off to his left, finishing strong at the hoop. Boggan isn’t particularly explosive vertically, but he has a counter to every counter and he takes exactly what the defense gives him, demonstrated by his terrific 62% field goal percentage, on track to stand as the all-time leader in this category at Oklahoma State. He also shoots an outstanding 79.5% from the free throw line. That stat tells you a little bit about his face the basket game, which looks pretty promising for a player at his position and could surely ease some doubts about his NBA potential. He has a capable, although not yet super-consistent, jumper out to the college 3-point line, and he can put the ball on the floor fairly confidently and make his way to the basket. He gets his shot off with nice mechanics and a high release point, making it particularly hard to block.

Defensively, Boggan is fairly fundamentally sound, knowing how to make solid rotations and hedge screens on pick and rolls. He’s not the best man to man defender due to his lack of height and outstanding lateral quickness, but as always he plays hard and does not give up on plays. As a rebounder he has a good nose for the ball, being a “right time at the right place” type of player, and his fantastic hands and aggressive demeanor usually do the rest.

Boggan needs to continue to produce at a high rate and take his team as far in the tournament as he can to have the best shot possible of being drafted. Another thing he has in common with the Haslem’s, Millsap’s and Craig Smith’s of the world is that he’s not considered a top prospect by any stretch, but the success of those who came before him could very well stick in the minds of NBA decision makers as they start moving into the late first round or somewhere in the 2nd. A dominant performance at one of the pre-draft camps, Portsmouth or Orlando, could go a long way in swaying them. He is more than capable of doing so.

James Davis, 7’0,” Center, Lamar, Junior
18.0ppg, 8.3rpg, 2.5apg, 1.3bpg, 4.5tpg, 48.5% FG, 68.9%FT


Mike Schmidt

Davis, originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, committed to the University of Minnesota out of high school, but never qualified. He took a two year detour to Junior College, and was able to qualify at the last minute. Late in the summer, he decided that Lamar would be the best choice out of the remaining schools offering him, and he’s played very well since stepping on campus.

Physically, Davis is a legit 7 feet tall, and every bit of 335 pounds. Despite the fact that he is overweight, his lower body is about where it should be physically. Most of the excess weight is carried in his mid-section. Davis is very agile for his size, and moves well in the low post. At the beginning of games he runs the court well, but slows more and more as the game progresses.

Offensively, Davis has a lot of the qualities you look for in an NBA big man. He uses both quickness and power to get his shot off in the low post, and his footwork gives him a number of moves he can go to on the offensive end. He needs to improve his touch around the basket, but has a good understanding of how to use the glass. Against Joey Dorsey and Memphis, Davis was able to get a number of shots to fall using his combination of footwork and agility. In that game, he also knocked down a jumper in the flow of the offensive. His shooting stroke from the free throw line is pretty good, but he doesn’t have much rotation on his shot, so the ball doesn’t have a chance to go in if it’s off slightly. Davis has a developing feel for the game. He has the ability to make some nice passes when he is double teamed, but he sometimes forces it too much down low and doesn’t think to look for his teammates.

Defensively, Davis must make some improvements. He uses his body well on the offensive end, but doesn’t body up nearly as well as he should. In addition, he doesn’t bend his knees enough, so he’s not getting the leverage to push his man out of the paint. Smaller post players are able to get around him because of this, and he picks up a lot of fouls this way (Davis has fouled out of 3 games this season).

Davis’ biggest problems as a player right now go back to his weight. He never leaves his feet when going for a rebound, and it allows smaller players to get the ball. He does get good position when going for rebounds, so the fundamentals are in place. Davis never leaves the ground when trying to block a shot either, which creates many situations where he picks up a foul.

Davis also turns the ball over with too much frequency. Many of his turnovers come because he doesn’t hold the ball over his head away from the guards. He also makes a few plays per game that leave you scratching your head. Against Memphis he fell over and lost the ball trying to handle against the press, and also took an ill advised three pointer early in the shot clock that failed to hit the rim.

At Lamar, Davis will never face a big man nearly as big as him in conference play. This season, he scored 20 points (8/17 FG) and grabbed 16 rebounds against Trent Plaisted of BYU. He also put up 20 points against Memphis last week, but only grabbed 5 rebounds. These games were both a good test of what he could do against high major big men, but these are the only two big tests he will have this season. To solidify his place on the radar of NBA scouts, he will need to dominate the Southland Conference, and possibly make the NCAA Tournament.

James Davis has a lot of room for improvement, but he has the fluidity and agility that most big 7-footers lack. He will need to make a lot of progress in the coming months to his defense, rebounding, and weight. Davis is a 21 year old junior who will turn 22 right around the 2007 draft. He has the option of using his draft card this year to see if he can create a buzz around his name. Big men are always in high demand in the NBA, and Davis has the potential to some day make an impact at the NBA level, granted he manages to shed a good amount of weight and then keep it off.

Aaron Gray, 7-1, Senior, Center, Pitt
24 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks, 11/15 FG, 2/7 FT


Jonathan Givony

Having taken a calculated risk to return for his senior season, it’s been imperative for Aaron Gray to not only show considerable improvement in his conditioning, but also his leadership and all-around skill level. So far Gray is passing that test with near-flying colors, looking in much better shape than he was last year and beginning to expand his game and look like a legit and very willing go-to option in the post for arguably the best team in the Big East.

Against Oklahoma State last week, Gray came through for his team when they needed him, scoring the majority of his 24 points (one off a career high) in the 2nd half and overtime periods. Once a player who got winded just running up and down the court a few times, let alone shouldering considerable responsibilities of all facets of the game for his team like he is now, Gray has slimmed down considerably and is now looking both more agile and energized even when asked to play for extended periods. He still has even more room to improve in this area, especially when you look at the lackluster way he shot free throws late in the overtime contest against the Cowboys, but the progress he made over the summer is certainly encouraging.

One place where Gray’s newfound proportions have helped him out is in his touch and feel around the post. Whereas last year he would shock every so often by playing ping-pong with himself and repeatedly missing gimmees from 2-feet out after a cut or offensive rebound, Gray is now converting his point-blank shots around the basket at a much higher rate. He will still make you scratch your head sometimes with an unexpected miss, but just not as often.

Gray’s post game has evolved to the point where he looks extremely comfortable operating aggressively with his back to the basket. He uses his length to execute pretty spin moves to either shoulder before finishing skillfully with a reverse layup for example, something you wouldn’t see too often out of him last year. As you would expect, the good old fundamentally sound jump-hook is in his arsenal still and is a constant staple of his game. His basic post footwork could still stand to be cleaned up a bit, but he is obviously making progress and showing that he still has room to grow being the late-bloomer he is.

Much as we’ve seen in the past, when double-teams inevitably come in the post, Gray is doing a fantastic job of being patient and finding the open man cutting to the basket or spotting up on the wing. He is a very smart and unselfish player, and having such a steady and reliable 7-foot senior to throw the ball to and facilitate the offense from time to time is a luxury that few coaches in America can boast besides Jamie Dixon.

One of the more intriguing developments we’ve seen from Gray is in his mid-range game. Last year he showed flashes of a perimeter jumper from time to time, but these instances were few and far between. Gray shot the ball extremely well against Oklahoma State. Give Pitt coach Jamie Dixon credit, as he is now putting his senior in position to leave the post occasionally and show off a skill that will help his NBA draft stock considerably.

In terms of weaknesses, it’s very hard to get around the fact that he’s just not a very athletic player, despite the weight loss. He doesn’t get off the ground vertically too well, and he’s still very slow to move his feet defensively or go out of his area for a rebound. There are legit question marks about whether he’s a man amongst boys at the NCAA level as a 7-footer with the great strength he possesses, and it’s not entirely clear how well his post game will translate to NBA competition. He’s probably caught somewhere in between being a marginal starter in the league and a very solid backup depending on where he lands. The thing is, the NBA isn’t doing any favors for him whatsoever with the direction it’s currently heading in—away from the old-school traditional back to the basket center and towards shorter and more athletic big men who can hedge screens, get out in the open court , find gaps in the defense and outquick and outhustle the competition. Regardless, there is a place in the league for a player like Aaron Gray. He—like most players at the end of the day-- just needs to find the right situation.

Arron Afflalo, 6-5, Junior, Shooting Guard, UCLA
27 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 0 turnovers, 2 steals, 11/15 FG, 5/8 3P, 0/0 FT


Jonathan Watters

Arron Afflalo didn't find the warm NBA reception he was hoping to last summer, but if the early results are worth anything, the second time could go quite a bit better for the shooting guard. Where early entrants essentially abandon the idea of heading back to school long before they ever sign with an agent, Afflalo kept his head in the right place and came a way with an accurate understanding of where he stood in regards to the NBA. It is clear that he worked hard on his game over the summer, coming back to school a touch more impressive athletically and with a much improved jump-shot.

All of this was on display in UCLA's blowout win over Washington on Sunday. Afflalo turned in one of the most notable performances of the year, scoring 20 points in the first half and draining effortless-looking jump-shots from every possible angle. His stat line speaks for itself: 27 points, 11-15 shooting, 5-8 from three, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 0 turnovers and 2 steals. Keep in mind, UCLA had a double-digit lead nearly the entire way and Afflalo only played 33 minutes. If the outcome had been in doubt in the second half, this was a night when the junior could have gone for 40.

Suddenly, Afflalo is looking more like a player that is worthy of a first round selection in 07 or 08. He might not have the upside of some of the underclassmen out there, but is about as sure a thing as a team could ask for in the late first round. Afflalo is an All-American-level defender and if he can continue to show that his jumper has been permanently upgraded from the "inconsistent" level we saw over his first two seasons, he could be an immediate contributor in the NBA as soon as next season.

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