Khem Birch, 6-8, PF/C, Notre Dame Prep, 2011
Committed to Pitt
When evaluating Khem Birch's performance from the perspective of the second best prospect in the class of 2012--or a top-10 prospect in 2011, which he recently reclassified toit's easy to be disappointed by what he showed this weekend. Birch did not rebound the way a player with his physical tools should at this level, and he looked quite disappointing in terms of his development offensively as well.
With that said, it's important to remember that Birch is playing on a team without any type of system and no semblance of a point guard on their roster, forcing him to fend for himself when it comes to creating shots for himself. At this point in Birch's development, that's simply too much to ask of him.
Birch still showed many of the things that make him such a highly touted prospect this weekendmainly his terrific length and explosiveness around the basket, and his fantastic shot-blocking instincts. He's a quick leaper who runs the floor well, finishes with authority and is extremely reactive in the paint, allowing him to come up with a number of highlight reel caliber plays.
Besides his ability to score in transition, off cuts to the basket, and through his work on the offensive glass, Birch remains a very raw prospect. His footwork and post moves are underdeveloped, as is his passing ability and overall feel for the game. He struggles to put the ball on the floor or score outside the paint, which makes his comments about developing into a 3/4 in college fairly questionable.
Defensively, Birch has incredible tools, as he's unbelievable explosive and can hedge the pick and roll with great quickness. He has plenty of room to grow here, though, as he'll need to improve his fundamentals through good coaching before he reaches his full potential. He rarely boxes out his opponents, and gives up quite a few offensive rebounds by wildly chasing blocks. When he does block a shot, it's always emphatically into the third row, rather than trying to secure the possession for his team. While he has added strength in the past year, his body still has a ways to go, as at 6-8, he'll definitely need more bulk to handle the rigors of the college game. Additionally, his motor seems to run hot and cold at times, as it doesn't always look like he's giving 100%.
Birch clearly has elite physical tools, and players of his nature are extremely hard to come by, which is why he's such a highly touted prospect. It's only the beginning of the road for him, though, and being thrown into the college game a year earlier (if he's able to get eligible) only means he must work even harder now to be able to live up to the high expectations that inevitably come along with his recruiting rankings.
P.J. Hairston, 6-5, Shooting Guard, 2011, Hargrave Military Academy
Committed to North Carolina
A 6-5 shooting guard committed to North Carolina, P.J. Hairston (#18 Scout, #14 Rivals, #13 ESPN) did little this weekend to dispel the notion that he's a McDonald's All-American caliber prospect.
Sporting a thick, college-ready frame that he's apparently gotten into the best shape of his short career as of late, Hairston is a stocky shooting guard with an average wingspan, and good but not great athleticism. While not terribly quick, Hairston has terrific strength and solid leaping ability, as well as the mentality needed to take advantage of his tools.
Offensively, Hairston's main virtue as a prospect revolves around his phenomenal perimeter shooting ability. He has picture-perfect shooting mechanics, including a quick release, deep range, excellent arc and a beautiful follow through, being capable of knocking down shots all the way out to the NBA 3-point, as he showed regularly this past weekend. He has unlimited confidence in his shot-making ability, particularly in catch and shoot situations, where he's near-automatic with his feet set.
As a shot-creator, Hairston is just average at this point, as he's not a particularly creative ball-handler and loses effectiveness when forced to shoot off the dribble. He's able to overpower defenders at this level and get to the basket with straight-line drives, using his strength to finish well around the rim, especially driving left. To reach his full potential as a scorer, Hairston would be well served improving his advanced ball-handling skills, though, especially his ability to play at different speeds and change directions with the ball.
Hairston also contributes to his team with his high basketball IQ, looking both willing and able to make the extra pass and find the open man. He also puts a good effort in both defensively and on the glass, more than holding his own in this area this weekend. He moves off the ball intelligently and seems to have all the attributes needed to play within a system, as he's a serious, competitive player who seems to know his limitations and puts a good effort in on most possessions.
Hairston's long-term upside might not be as high as some of the other McDonald's All-American wing players in this class, but there's no question that he has an excellent college career ahead of him. We'll need to see how he makes the transition to the NCAA level to further asses his pro prospects.
Jakarr Sampson, 6-8, SF/PF, 2011, Brewster Academy
Committed to St. John's
The most highly touted player in Steve Lavin's 2011 recruiting class at a resurging St. John's program, Jakarr Sampson (#22 Scout, #44 Rivals, #33 ESPN) showed both the good and the bad of his game this weekend in New Haven.
An incredibly long and athletic forward with prototypical physical tools for an NBA small forward, Sampson isn't terribly skilled at this point, but would be a useful player to have on any team's roster.
Sampson's best attributes as a prospect mainly revolve around his work on the defensive end. He has the lateral quickness to guard pretty much any position, and will regularly step out onto the perimeter and create havoc with his ability to put pressure on the ball. Sampson is an active, pesky defender who plays with great intensity, and likes to get his hands in all kinds of places to come up with extra possessions for his team. He has excellent timing getting in the passing lanes and rotating for blocked shots from the weak side, and has a knack for coming up with rebounds, particularly on the offensive glass.
Offensively, Sampson is still a work in progress, and seems to have both the skill-set and mentality of a complimentary player, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. He can handle the ball in transition a bit and will get to the rim on occasion thanks to his quick first step, but isn't much of a shot-creator and lacks the strength and footwork to take advantage of his superior size in mismatch situations in the post. To reach his full potential as a prospect, he'll need to improve on his perimeter shooting ability, starting with his shooting mechanics, which aren't very good. Sampson's experience level and overall feel for the game isn't off charts, but he's more than willing to make the extra pass and appears to be an excellent teammate.
Despite Sampson's lofty recruiting rankings, St. John's fans shouldn't look at him as being any kind of savior, as he's more of a terrific role player than a true go-to guy and might need some time to get his feet wet in the college game. Nevertheless, Sampson has considerable upside thanks to his physical tools and versatility, and could emerge as a very interesting prospect down the road if he continues to improve his all-around polish.
Michael Carter-Williams, 6-4, PG/SG, 2011, St. Andrew's
Committed to Syracuse
One of the most highly touted guards in the 2011 high school class, the opinions surrounding Michael Carter-Williams (#31 Scout, #16 Rivals, #32 ESPN) vary greatly depending on whom you're talking to.
A skinny combo guard with long arms and an underdeveloped frame, Williams is a quick and highly aggressive player who serves as his team's primary ball-handler and shot-creator. He never misses out on an opportunity to push the ball up the floor, but is somewhat of a wild player with the ball in his hands when it comes to his decision making and playmaking ability.
Carter's first step and strong ball-handling skills allow him to get to wherever he wants on the court at this level, and in a hurry at that. He's the type of player who wants and needs the ball in his hands all the time, looking extremely impatient to get it back any time he gives it up to a teammate. It's not rare to see him barking and clapping at them incessantly, showing bad body language and somewhat of a star mentality on a team that doesn't really have many options outside of him. He can make shots (inconsistently) with his feet set, gets to the free throw line at a great rate and is capable of making some impressive passes off the dribble, but has a tendency to drive into brick walls and will heave up some very questionable shots from time to time, particularly pulling up from behind the arc early in possessions.
Defensively, Carter-Williams has quick feet, excellent length, and can get plenty of steals with the sheer frenetic energy he plays with. He puts great pressure on the ball, but must improve his fundamentals and focus to reach his potential in this area, as well as add some strength to his skinny frame.
Carter-Williams has a lot of natural tools to work with, but unless he's just willing to give him the keys to his team and let him go wild, it might take some time for Jim Boeheim to integrate him into his system at Syracuse.
Maurice Harkless, 6-7, Small Forward, South Kent, 2011
Committed to St. John's
A long and athletic small forward with a raw skill set, Maurice Harkless (#43 Scout, #45 Rivals, #42 ESPN) is a player who does most of his damage off hustle and grit at this stage, though has good long-term potential if he can further develop his skills. Harkless doesn't have much bulk on his frame now, though it looks like he could pack on another 10 pounds or so comfortably down the road.
Offensively, Harkless doesn't consistently show much besides finishing on cuts, alley oops, and getting out in transition, where he shows the ability to finish capably with both power and finesse, possibly relying on the latter more often than he should. He shows good body control and coordination on his finishes, being able to put in floaters and reverse lay-ups when the situation calls for it, while also showing a pretty good activity level in seizing opportunities.
In terms of shot creation with the ball, Harkless shows a somewhat comfortable handle, though he seems to lack confidence and doesn't really show the ability to take advantage of his athleticism with the ball just yet. He occasionally will pull off an aggressive move going to the hole when in isolation, but struggles when not in space.
Harkless didn't have much success with his perimeter jumper here, hitting on just 1-of-6 from three-point range, though his spot-up shot has solid form and he likewise looks good at the free-throw line. His pull-up jumper, on the other hand, is prone to errant misses, and he doesn't appear to have the control to be a consistent threat there at this stage.
Defensively, like most of the rest of the Red Storm recruiting class, Harkless brings a good activity level to the table and has excellent tools, being a major threat in the passing lanes and showing flashes of great things defending on the ball. He has a pretty good stance defending the perimeter, while also usually putting in very high effort levels, though he can lose focus at times. He also doesn't contribute on the boards nearly as much as someone with his size and athleticism could, as he pulled in just eight boards between his two games here.
Looking forward, Harkless should be able to contribute right off the bat at the college level defending and finishing plays by utilizing his athleticism and length, though further polishing his skills will be critical for his long-term success at the college level and beyond. He shows decent flashes with both his ball-handling and shooting on the offensive end, but will need to develop much more consistency in both areas.
Dez Wells, 6-5, SG/SF, Hargrave Military Academy, 2011
Committed to Xavier
The prototypical bruising, physical, power player that Xavier builds its program with, Dez Wells (#39 Scout, #66 Rivals, #35 ESPN) should fit right in on his first day on campus. Standing 6'5 with an excellent frame and great upper and lower body strength, Wells is an explosive player with superb body control and a decent skill set to go along with it.
On the offensive end, Wells does most of his damage slashing to the basket both on and off the ball, getting by mostly with rangy moves and the ability to change direction and contort his body around what the defense gives him. He is just a decent ball-handler and doesn't have a blazing first step, but he's very crafty using subtle changes of direction and footwork in combination with his bounciness and raw power, which allows him to create a variety of high percentage shots. Capable of finishing both on power moves at the rim or on under control floaters and pull-up jumpers inside 10 feet, Wells can hurt the defense in multiple ways once he gets into the paint.
Wells is similarly a threat operating off the ball, as he is active cutting to the basket where he can score on catch-and-finishes in the lane or soaring up for powerful alley-oop dunks. His shooting form isn't great, but he's capable of spotting up and knocking down an occasional three-pointer as well, at least enough to make defenses respect his range.
Defensively, Wells is similarly a very aggressive and physical player, showing a very good perimeter stance and making good use of his well-built frame and solid length, getting up into his man and being physical on and off the ball.
Looking forward, Wells has the chance to make a quick impact at the college level with his solidly developed skill set and very mature physical makeup, while he also still has a lot of room for development over the long term with his shooting and ball-handling.
C.J. Barksdale, 6-7, Power Forward, 2011, Hargrave Military Academy
Committed to Virginia Tech
C.J. Barksdale (#65 Scout, #95 Rivals, #89 ESPN) is an undersized power forward who was a bit of an afterthought on a Hargrave team dominated by terrific scoring guards. He appears to have nice physical tools with his length and athleticism, but lacks a great skill level and doesn't always seem to be the most active guy in the world. Most of his points came around the basket off easy finishes created for him by his teammates. His intensity level seemed to fluctuate which made it difficult for him to produce considering his average scoring tools. When at his best, Barksdale runs the floor well, finishes above the rim and is a presence on the offensive glass. He can also make the occasional mid-range jumper.