Jim Calhoun is working on developing yet another first round caliber big man at UConn in Hilton Armstrong; The top all-around freshman in the country statistically, Tyler Hansbrough, finally gets some love from DraftExpress; The most prolific scorer in the country over the past 4 years in Keydren Clark showed us his all-around game with an impressive triple-double; and Guillermo Diaz scores in bunches as usual but shows that he can move the rock around as well.
Hilton Armstrong, 6-11, center, senior, Connecticut
14 points, 10 rebounds (7 offensive), 6 blocks, 7-10 FG, 0-0 FT, 33 minutes
UConns Hilton Armstrong has been one of the more pleasant surprises this season, especially lately, continuing to show scouts and fans alike what he had the potential to do if he was only given the chance over the past four years.
So far this year, Armstrong is averaging a solid but unspectacular 9.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game in a shade over 24 minutes per contest. While these numbers may seem a bit modest, it is the way that the UConn senior obtains them that is the most impressive. Hilton is a very raw and athletic big man that is just beginning to tap into his potential as a senior in college who is still very young for his class. He has basically all of the tools that NBA scouts are looking for in a role playing big man: superb athleticism, decent hands, excellent shot blocking skills, consistent rebounding ability, and a motor that when turned on, is superb. If you combine that with his great size (legit 611) and wingspan (somewhere in the area of 73), you understand why he is quickly rising up the draft charts as his game continues to evolve.
Against Cincinnati on Monday, Armstrong gave draft fans a little peak of those evolving skills, looking like the best draft prospect on the floor. Offensively, he was very assertive, looking to score virtually every time he touched the ball. Hilton showed off a nice baby jump hook with his left hand, had a few thunderous dunks, and showed remarkable athleticism for a player his size on an up and under reverse layup. He ran the floor well, crashed the glass hard on every single play and battled with undersized Cincinnati monster Eric Hicks down low. On the defensive end, the active Armstrong was able to give Hicks and the rest of the Bearcats fits with his length and timing when it came to shot blocking. There was not a whole lot you could have asked for out of a role playing big man, and Armstrong showed some potential to be more then that this year for the Huskies.
Hilton Armstrong has been one of the fastest rising players in terms of draft stock of the 2006 senior prospects. He has all of the physical traits that scouts are looking for in a big man and his skills are finally beginning to mature. DraftExpress has had Armstrong in the second round of our mock draft since last season, but have quickly been forced to move him into the mid-late first round seeing how much of an impact on the game he has been able to make lately. If Armstrong can find a way to maintain a consistent level of intensity and continue to make his presence felt on both ends of the floor with his outstanding physical gifts, he could even potentially put himself in a position to rise into the late lottery after private workouts begin, where he will undoubtedly test well. Despite not being the most polished big man in the world, particularly with his back to the basket, the biggest question marks around Armstrong were never about his physical characteristics or natural talent, but rather about his mental and physical toughness and just how good of a player he wanted to become. Armstrong has been doing a great job of shedding that tag lately, and UConn coach Jim Calhoun is ecstatic about it.
Tyler Hansbrough, 6-9, PF/C, freshman, North Carolina
20 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 turnovers, 3-6 FG, 14-14 FT
Hansbrough hasn't always received as much draft attention as some of the other top freshman of 2005, but his early season play is making it impossible for us to ignore him. Hansbrough isn't a spectacular athlete and is a bit undersized for an NBA PF, but has enough fire and polish to his game that he is sure to make the first round someday.
On Saturday against NC State, Hansbrough's dominance of the paint was a major reason the Tar Heels were able to pull of the upset. Hansbrough received very few post touches and attempted just 6 field goals, but still found a way to dominate the game based on grit and hustle. He was only credited with 4 rebounds, but appeared to be everywhere on the floor. Whether it was fighting Cedric Simmons in the paint, getting to a loose ball, or going 14-14 from the line, Hansbrough dominated this game doing the little things.
It is very rare to see a player so young with such a complete understanding of how to play in the paint. Hansbrough has a warrior's mentality and a very nice offensive game on the blocks. Don't pencil him in for the 06 or even 07 drafts, but Tyler Hansbrough will be picked in the first round when he decides to declare.
Keydren Clark, 5-10, senior, point guard, St. Peters
39 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 0 turnovers, 4 steals, 11-22 FG, 11-13 FT, 6-11 3P, 44 minutes
The diminutive point guard from St. Peters has been one of the most consistent performers in the over the past 4 years. In his time at St. Peters, Clark has never averaged less then 24.9 points and 4 assists per game. He has also led the NCAA in scoring for the past two seasons, and is currently second behind Gonzaga star Adam Morrison.
Against Rider, Clark was absolutely amazing, putting up a rare collegiate triple-double from the guard spot and finishing with a sparkling 10 assists and 0 turnovers. While his great scoring numbers might lead one to believe that he is a ball hog, watching him and his teammates play there is absolutely no doubt that this is not his choice (he is actually an unselfish player) but rather out of necessity for his team to stand a chance to win. In this game he did a great job of getting his teammates involved and they rewarded him for that by stepping up and hitting shots. Clark played great defense, moved the ball well, and really shot the lights out of the ball. He single handedly kept St. Peters in the game throughout each Rider run, eventually leading them to a 104-100 win.
The three main things that really hurt Clarks draft potential are his size and shot selection. At 5-10 in high heels, KeeKee will have to test off the charts athletically to convince scouts that he can make up for his lack of height in the NBA. Watching him play, you can tell that while he extremely quick and can get by almost anyone he plays against, he is not an athlete in the class of Nate Robinson who was drafted last year at a similar size. Playing for a mid-major team that is just 7-6 on the season while shooting under 40% from the field, things get even murkier. He had a chance to really show that he is capable of playing with the big boys early on in the season when his team met Florida in the Coaches vs. Cancer quarterfinals, but came up flat shooting just 4-17 from the field and finishing with 11 points and 6 turnovers.
On the positive side, he has proven over the past 4 years that he is one of the best scorers in college basketball night in and night out, recently passing the 2,500 point mark for his career. His shooting mechanics are very good and he is capable of absolutely lighting it up from behind the arc if given space, but unfortunately every team in the nation knows that shutting him down almost guarantees a win against St. Peters so they do whatever they need to do to make that happen. Clark is absolutely automatic from the free throw line, making nearly 92% on the year. He is a terrific ball-handler as well, being absolutely fearless going to the hoop and possessing great body control, shifty speed in the open floor and the ability to change directions in the blink of an eye.
While being selected in the NBA Draft might not realistically be in the cards, Clark has a shot of making a team as a third point guard if someone falls in love with him and his very strong intangibles. If that fails, he should have a long and outstanding career in Europe making more money than most people can ever dream of because of his superb scoring ability and fearless style of play.
Guillermo Diaz, 6-2, shooting guard, junior, Miami
21 points, 5 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 turnovers, 3 steals, 6-13 FG, 3-6 3P, 6-9 FT
Guillermo Diaz played the worst game of his career in his team's loss to Louisville last weekend. Held without a single point, Diaz looked helpless standing on the wing, completely uninvolved with his team's stagnant offense. When Diaz did get the ball he would force the issue, throwing up tough shots and not looking for his teammates when he drew extra attention. The Louisville game turned a somewhat mediocre non-conference run into a legitimate slump for Guillermo Diaz.
Diaz was a different player a week later against Maryland. Hurricane coach Frank Haith obviously made it a priority to get his star more involved in the offense, putting him in a position where he isnt forced to go 1 on 5, and Miami in turn shot a sparkling 12-19 from behind the arc and upset the Terps to open conference play. Other players still brought the ball up the floor for the most part, but it was Diaz that initiated much of Miami's half-court offense the entire game. On his way to a 9-assist outing, Diaz displayed excellent court vision in finding countless open teammates off the dribble. Diaz still got his own as well, hitting several of his trademark body-contorted midrange fade-aways during a crucial second half stretch. He finished with 21 points.
While one game obviously can't erase a season of somewhat uninspired play, this contest was vintage Diaz. His ability to create his own shot is spectacular, and it is very encouraging to see him display improved passing ability. Diaz will continue to have to prove himself over the course of the season, but this could have been a turnaround game for him.
Aaron Gray, 7-0, center, junior, Pitt
25 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 blocks, 2 steals, 4 turnovers, 11-18 FG, 3-5 FT
One name to keep an eye on as we head into conference play is Pittsburgh center Aaron Gray. While Gray is a junior eligibility wise, he had played just a minor role behind Chris Taft and Chevy Troutman before this season. The obvious thing to like is his size. At 7'0 and 260 pounds, any player with decent skill is going get noticed.
Gray is averaging a double-double this season, but much of what he has done came against overmatched low-major squads without the size to put up much of a fight. In last week's double overtime thriller win over Notre Dame, Gray came up big. He completely outplayed Torin Francis on his way to 25 points, 12 boards, and 4 blocks.
Gray isn't going to wow you with his skill level or athleticism, but runs the floor well enough and has soft touch on his post moves. He knows how to score with his back to the basket, but appeared comfortable facing the basket and shooting the midrange jumper in the lane. Gray isn't getting the most out of his size yet, but has another year and a half to develop. Watch Aaron Gray's growth this season, and keep an eye on him in regards to the 2007 draft.