Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Golden arch stars

Tomorrow night is the McDonald's All-American game of the best high school senior basketball players. And for many of the players, it's basically a scouting combine because NBA scouts will be crawling all over the place looking at the "one-and-done" players like Michael Beasley (who has publicly said that he wouldn't have gone to college if the NBA had not essentially forced him to). Since the advent of the game in the 1970s, only one team has won the NCAA title without a McDonald's game alumnus on its squad -- 2002 Maryland.

That said, there's a gap between the marginal selectees and the no-doubters. Players like Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Billy Owens, and Carmelo Anthony are so highly skilled that they can raise a program from decent or good to excellent. There's no mystery why Georgetown went to three Final Fours during the Ewing years, or why Syracuse was an NIT semifinalist in 2002 and a national champion with Carmelo in 2003. Each year there are usually 5-10 top end recruits who should really add to the teams they will join the next fall (although 2005 is an exception -- quick, name seven top-end sophs!).

Syracuse is set to welcome its third top-10 recruit since the probation year of 1993. During the 1980s, SU built its program and reputation through high-profile signees like Pearl Washington, Derrick Coleman and Billy Owens -- all of whom were top 10 recruits, and seeded the program with numerous McDonald's A-A players (Stevie Thompson, Red Autry, Conrad McRae). In the early 1990s, the NCAA and SU began investigating the program's recruiting and SU sat on NCAA probation in 1992-93 thanks to some boosters' connections with a playground hoops groupie, Richie the Fixer, in the recruitment of the late Conrad McRae.

Since that investigation, SU has signed only four top 10 recruits: John Wallace, Winfred Walton, Carmelo and Donte Greene; and only five McDonald's A-As overall (Eric Devendorf, the sophomore guard was one). Wallace led the team to a shock Final Four appearance as a senior and would have been the Final Four Most Outstanding Player if SU had won. Walton couldn't meet his SAT requirements so SU let him out of his letter-of-intent and he flopped at UNLV. Carmelo brought home the national title. Greene has wowed at least one observer at the McDonald's game practices:

As ridiculous as this may sound, Greene resembled a bit of a poor man’s Kevin Durant on Sunday. He put the ball on the floor, shot the three pointer, and used his outstanding length and athleticism on both ends of the floor. While he is about an inch shorter and not the deadly shooter that KD was at this stage, the similarities in their games are definitely evident. The Baltimore native used his deceptive athleticism to block numerous shots in the paint against stronger post players, and was able to take opposing big men out to the wing and score on the perimeter against the more traditional posts. He is certainly a name that draft fans should keep etched in their heads, as many feel that he has a great chance of being a “one and done” player once he hits Syracuse.

The Monk likes the sound of "poor man's Kevin Durant" although the "one and done" concept may be overblowing it -- freshman guard/forward/tank Paul Harris (a surprising omission from last year's McDonald's game) was reputedly a possible one-and-done for SU this year, but college basketball showed he needs a LOT of work on his offensive game, especially his shot. Nonetheless, when SU convenes its first practice next year, it will have enough McDonald's A-As to open a franchise: Devendorf, Greene and Johnny Flynn (also playing tomorrow) -- the most since the 1989 team with Coleman, Owens and Thompson that went 30-8 and advanced to the Elite Eight.

Not a bad foundation.

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