Eye of the beholder

By Joe Henricksen

So, who do you like?

Throughout the July evaluation period and in the weeks soon after, it’s a common question the Hoops Report and others who take in a whole lot of basketball get. Everyone, particularly college coaching staffs trying to secure commitments prior to the November signing period, is seeking different opinions and thoughts on individual players. And other than the absolute no-brainers — and we’re talking the star-studded players destined for the high-major level — there is such a wide variety of opinion. It comes down to the eye of the beholder.

Through the years it — the evaluation process — hasn’t changed all that much. College programs are still looking for players that can play at their level and, hopefully, raise the level of their program. But as one NBA scout has stated, “talent is a narcotic.” Coaches get fixated on specific attributes, get addicted to certain strengths and sometimes even hypnotized by the possibilities.

In this day some of the trendsetting vocabulary is athleticism, length and high ceiling. Coaches can say all they want about looking for “players,” but they still get so enamored with the player that makes a pass you don’t always see, hits a shot only an athlete can make, make an athletic play that turns heads. Coaches still follow around the prospect that comes with the tall tales of the skills, athleticism and potential they possessed as young teenagers, only to plateau and never quite become the player they were expected to be. Those players sometimes never do become the slick and refined talent so many had forecasted, yet due to early hype and becoming a name remain coveted despite obvious limitations.

On the other end of the spectrum in college recruiting and talent evaluating, judgments are quickly made and rubber stamped on certain players. It’s as if they are branded with a label and there is nothing that player can do to eradicate it. These are the players that come with the following labels: a little too small, lacks the upside, not a lot of length, not athletic enough or a step too slow.

Obviously if a player is all of the above he’s not destined for Division I basketball. But to have one of the so-called deficiencies, well, it’s not necessarily a knock on a player but more of what Division I basketball has become. The game is an extremely athletic game and now, more than ever, upside and potential, size and raw athleticism are often more sought out than a player with skills and intangibles.

There aren’t many, but there are players that continue to be overlooked in this never-ending search for college basketball players at all levels. There are players that maybe lack the special gifts of pure athleticism and finishing at the rim with a little thunder. Look deep and evaluate long enough and maybe one of those players can play for you — even if he lacks a couple of inches or is a step too slow.

There are those players with basketball savvy and ones who are confident, but not cocky. In one game that player may control the game with his passing, maybe even without the glitter and flash. Maybe that player has a great instinctive feel for the game, sophistication and the ideal pedigree. He’s the player that lets the game dictate what he should and needs to do.

That player just might be extremely hungry, willing to sacrifice and come to each practice and enter each new season with something to prove. Maybe toughness and reliability have already been instilled. They understand help defense, controlling the game and can knock down shots. They have some talent and bring the winning intangibles.

These players are out there, though not in abundance, but today still get overlooked.

Remember, the hot shot or recruiting steal one program gets on signing day in November can also bring with him the baggage coaches can only hope and cross their fingers will turn for the better once on campus. The players who don’t like to or know how to play defense, refuse to take weightlifting and strength seriously, don’t like to work to get into shape or improve their flaws. Maybe they are too lackadaisical, bring a negative attitude or are even bored with the game. It happens. As talented as they are at 17 and blessed with enormous potential, they sometimes never do get better.

Do you take the kid that’s a little bigger, maybe the kid that’s a little quicker, or the kid that’s a little more athletic but just doesn’t get it? There are certainly times to take risks on those players with the untapped potential — the high risk, high reward type. But it’s also not the time to forget taking risks on the kids that can play and get things done.

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