Samardo Samuels, 68, PF, Class of 2008, St. Benedicts (NJ), Committed to Louisville
14 point, 13 rebounds vs. Rice HS (NY)
Samuels didnt start the game, nor did he appear at all during the first quarter. He looked perfectly healthy during warm-ups and was fine for the remainder of the game, so we presume is wasnt any kind of an injury that had Samuels on the bench for the first eight minutes of the game. Once Samuels did enter the game early in the second quarter, things didnt get off to a very good start for him. Rices front court players did an excellent job keeping him off the block and denying him entry passes. The few times that he did manage to get touches on the inside, he was swarmed by defenders and stripped of the ball. All in all, Samuelss first half stat line was an unimpressive 0 points and 3 rebounds.
The second half was a completely different story, and we got to see Samuels at his best. There is no question that he is most comfortable when playing with his back to the basket and this is when he is at his most dangerous. A couple of times Samuels was left in one-on-one situations on the block, and few if any players at the high school level are able to stop him in these situations. Samuels showed us a nice array of post moves, including a soft hook shot to the middle and a powerful drop step. Particularly on the drop step, he does an excellent job of using his strength and body to seal off his defender. Samuels was even able to sneak behind the defense on one play where he received a nice pass and finished the play with one of his thunderous two-handed dunks. While he is very hard to stop when he is right around the rim like this, Samuels struggles occasionally with these power moves when he is pushed further away from the hoop, due to his lack of unbelievable explosiveness.
A few times during the second half, Samuels stepped away from the basket, catching the ball around the foul line. Though he will take these shots when they are given to him, his jump shot needs to improve, and he didnt attempt any outside shots during the game. Samuels did however put the ball on the floor and attack the basket from this spot on the floor once. He can do this surprisingly well for a player his size, and his ball handling skills are solid, at least good enough to take other post players off the dribble. While he has shown some ability to change directions when driving to the basket, this part of his game isnt tremendously smooth yet.
Defensively, Samuels made his presence felt. He is a beast on the boards, possessing a frame that is very hard to move or get around, and a wingspan that allows him to pull down a lot of balls that arent necessarily in his area. This also allows him to block and alter a lot more shots than a player his height normally would be able to. What he lacks in his height and overall athleticism on the defensive end, Samuels makes up for with tremendous strength, toughness and hustle.
There is little reason to doubt that Samuels will be able to step in right away and become a big time impact player at Louisville next season. He certainly is big enough and strong enough to wreak havoc at the collegiate level, but as has been mentioned several times on this site, his lack of height and tremendous athleticism will give at least some NBA scouts pause when he is ready to enter the league.
Kemba Walker, 62, PG, Class of 2008, Rice HS (NY), Committed to UConn
18 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists vs. St. Benedicts (NJ)
At this level, Walker is definitely a scoring point guard, relying mainly on his slashing ability. He is devastatingly quick off the dribble, and combined with his excellent ball handling skills; Walker seems to be able to get into the lane almost at will. Even next year in a talent rich Big East Conference, he will still be one of the fastest players on the floor on a nightly basis. He exhibits great body control and can change speeds very well, which further helps him to shake defenders, but he did run into trouble at times against the massive front court players of St. Benedicts. Walker showed nice touch and was able to finish some acrobatic shots around the hoop, but these clearly are not high percentage shots that will drop on a consistent basis.
As far as being a scoring threat goes, Walker has two issues facing him. First is his size; his 62 listing is probably a bit generous, and we did see that he struggled at times to finish in traffic against bigger, longer players. The other major concern is Walkers perimeter shooting. He only attempted one three-point field goal during the game, despite having plenty of open looks; and it seems that Walker doesnt have a tremendous amount of confidence from this range. He showed some nice potential shooting off the dribble from mid-range and has nice touch, but his release point was somewhat inconsistent, which hampered his shots from falling on a regular basis.
Clearly the appeal in Walkers game is his playmaking ability. His ability to get into the lane and create open shots for teammates is very impressive, and his court vision is fantastic. Walker did everything from drive and kick to open teammates for perimeter shots on the weak side, to penetrating the lane and drawing defenders leaving teammates open for uncontested lay ups. Walker was only able to record two assists in this particular contest, because of a lot of missed opportunities by Rice on the offensive end.
On the defensive end there is plenty to like about Walker. He is a tough defender, and though he gets beat occasionally by fast perimeter players off the dribble, he does a great job of recovering quickly. He seems to have a knack of knowing where to be and generally seems to anticipate well. One cause for concern again is his height, which could allow taller guards to shoot over him at the next level.
Jim Calhoun is getting himself a speedy playmaker next year. While his scoring totals may not be very high initially, with the amount of talent that will be surrounding him, Walkers assist numbers should be. As far as a future at the professional level, Walkers size will always be a strike against him and his perimeter shooting will certainly need to improve a lot, but he clearly has the quickness, court vision and IQ to be an elite point guard.
Dexter Strickland, 63, PG, Class of 2009, St. Patrick (NJ), Committed to North Carolina
11 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists vs. St. Raymonds (NY)
Strickland showed a lot of ability as a slasher, which leads us to believe he could line up at the off-guard spot a fair amount in college depending on who is on the floor. He exhibited excellent ball-handling skills, dribbling himself out of several double teams during the course of the game. Strickland proved to be a handful to contain thanks to his ability to mix a great first step in with a nice hesitation move that freed him up to attack the basket. He has nice length for a guard and is an explosive player, which allows him to finish with consistency around the basket, even in traffic. In situations where bigger players took away a direct line to the hoop, Strickland showed nice touch on a running floater he was able to deliver from the baseline.
In a game where he wasnt lighting up the scoreboard, Strickland definitely exhibited a pass first mentality. He is equally as dangerous as a playmaker in both the transition and half court games thanks to his athleticism and excellent basketball IQ. On the break he has a knack for drawing defenders by waiting until the last possible second to deliver a pass to an open teammate. In the half court set he is so good at breaking down defenders off the dribble, that he forces other players to commit to him, leaving open looks for teammates.
The one major question mark left after this game with Strickland is his perimeter shooting. He passed up on plenty of open looks from the outside, and while he is a very team oriented player, these are shots he will need to at least attempt from time to time in order to keep the defense honest. He attempted a couple of mid-range shots off the dribble, and while they didnt fall, he shows nice form on his shot.
Defensively, Strickland really gets after it in every aspect. He is a terrific on ball defender, possessing great lateral quickness and coupled with his long wingspan for a guard, he is tough to beat off the dribble consistently. He closes well on perimeter shooters, and his leaping ability makes him tougher to shooter over that many other guards his size. What impressed us the most about Strickland was how hard he hit the glass for a guard. Only 63, he was still able to haul in 8 rebounds thanks to his tenacious effort in the paint.
All-in-all, even though he didnt completely dominate the game, it is easy to see why Strickland is one of the top rated backcourt players in his class. He is a great athlete who really seems to understand the game, and can help his team in a lot of ways. Even in this game where he didnt do anything spectacular, Strickland still nearly wound up with a triple-double, showing us just how deceptively good of a player he is.
Kevin Jones, 68, PF, Class of 2008, Mt. Vernon (NY), Committed to West Virginia
25 points, 19 rebounds vs. Patterson Catholic (NJ)
Jones is an interesting prospect because he is a dominant inside presence, but is clearly trying to make the transition to becoming more of a perimeter threat. While Jones has shown the ability to knock down shots from beyond the arc, he also has a tendency to line drive his shots when he rushes. This was the case against Patterson Catholic, as he shot just 1 of 10 from the outside. At this point, Jones is pretty much just a catch and shoot guy when he is on the perimeter, he needs room to get his shot off and isnt much of a threat to shoot off the dribble. If left alone though, he can hurt a team from the outside. He rarely if ever will attack the basket off the dribble, but from what we have seen, he needs to develop his right hand more before he can become a legitimate threat in this sense.
The majority of the damage Jones does offensively comes inside the paint. Despite scoring in bunches when he gets touches down low, Jones doesnt have a very developed post game. He does a great job sealing on the block and occasionally shows off a baby hook shot, but typically his move is to get the ball and get to the hoop by whatever means possible. Jones has a motor that never stops running, and is tenacious on the offensive glass (he had 8 offensive rebounds against Patterson). While his non-stop energy down low will certainly help him pick up scrappy points in the Big East next season, he will need to develop his back to the basket game some more. At just 195 pounds, Jones wont be able to simply rely on his effort and athleticism to get points against bigger and stronger post players.
On the defensive end, Jones proved to be a disruptive force by combining his non-stop hustle with great anticipation. Even though he isnt that big for a post player, he was still able to block a couple of shots and alter plenty more thanks to his tremendous timing. Jones constantly has his head on a swivel and keeps his long arms up, which allows him to deflect and steal a lot of balls.
Jones is an athlete, plain and simple. Skill wise, he needs to improve almost every aspect of his game if he is going to become a polished player. What will help make him a contributor right away though is his seemingly endless amounts of energy. You can tell by watching that Jones loves to play and is having fun out on the court. His tenacity and second effort will allow him to hang in the Big East while he continues to work on becoming more of a perimeter threat.