2008 King James Classic: Top Big Men

2008 King James Classic: Top Big Men
May 04, 2008, 12:44 pm
In Part Two of our coverage of the 2008 King James Classic, we evaluate the top big men in attendance. We take a closer look at a skilled power forward heading to Duke, a 2010 bruiser pledged to Ohio State, three promising centers near the 7'0 mark, and a UCONN verbal who led his team to the 17-U championship.

Mason Plumlee, 6’11, PF, 2009, Indiana Elite
Committed to Duke

The premature departure of Atlanta forward Derrick Favors left Plumlee as the top big man the King James Classic had to offer. Despite standing a legit 6’11, he owns a game that is more suited for a small forward then a player approaching the seven foot mark. The North Carolina prep possesses quickness uncommon for most face the basket power forwards and has an awfully strong lower body, surprising many with his above average leaping ability. While having a physically weak upper body, he has a frame that definitely has the potential to grow once he spends some time in the weight room.

Just as surprising are his slithery moves off of the dribble for a player his size, which he showed a number of times when beating future UCONN wing Jamaal Coombs off of the dribble. Mason handled the ball well in the open floor, even going coast to coast on a few occasions. As far as shooting is concerned, he displays an absolutely gorgeous jumper with range that extends out to the collegiate three point line. Plumlee’s soft touch and perimeter oriented game will make him a perfect “pick and pop” guy under Coach K’s system at Duke.

Though Mason has skills that most players his height don’t possess, he owns very little in terms of a back to the basket game. Every time he received the ball within 8 feet of the rim he would turn and face, looking incredibly uncomfortable even when facing that close. Likewise he will have to vastly improve upon his strength if he hopes to compete on the blocks in the ACC, standing far too weak presently to fight in the trenches down low. Added strength would also help Plumlee become a better positional defender in the post considering the asset that he could be as a shot blocker with his height and nice leaping ability.

It seems like Duke will be a perfect fit for Mason in terms of style of play, given their history of letting big men play on the perimeter. Hopefully he will continue to develop his game over the next year and his tenure at Duke, so he doesn’t wind up like talented prep stars Shavlik Randolph and Josh McRoberts who struggled to make any significant progress as players in their time in Durham.

Dashonte Riley, 6’11, C, 2009, The Family
High Major (Georgetown, Michigan State, Ohio State, Kansas, North Carolina State)

There is little more that you can ask for physically out of a center prospect then what Riley gives you. Blessed with a big frame, huge wingspan, and ability to run the floor like a gazelle, he constantly gives you flashes of potential that leave you drooling. An explosive leaper, he has very nice timing when attempting to block shots and usually does a good job staying out of foul trouble. The problem with Riley seems to pick and choose when he’s going to display his talents, often instead opting to loaf around the court.

The effort that Riley displayed in the two games that we observed him over the weekend was incredibly disappointing, with the big man often seen walking up and down the floor or pouting on the bench. He seemed as if he would have much rather been at home in Detroit than showing his stuff in front of a plethora of high major coaches in Akron, something rather concerning when you basically had a “who’s who” of college basketball at each of his games. The mental aspect of things is far and away the area that the center needs to work on most because if he ever develops a desire to play the game at a high level, the possibilities are downright scary.

At a legit 6’11, he is very coordinated for a player his size and shows flashes of solid footwork in the post. His post moves are fluid with a turn-around jumper out of the post going towards his left shoulder proving to be his go-to move at the moment, though he did show flashes of a nice right handed jump hook. When facing the basket, Riley showed a decent jumpshot out to the 14 foot area and made a few gorgeous passes. One would expect a player who is so young and still relatively raw to hesitate when faced with a double team in the post, but Dashonte was able to consistently find the open man when placed in that situation time and time again.

Defensively, there are times when Riley leaves you gawking at how good he can possibly come. With a wingspan looking to be in the 7’4 area and explosive leaping ability, he has already established himself arguably as the top shot blocker this class has to offer. Also able to move well laterally, Dashonte has shown the ability to guard big men who tend to face the basket just as well as he defends traditional centers. Needless to say, its Riley’s potential as a stopper on the defensive end that has made him one of the elite prospects in the nation.

Very similar to Texas A&M freshman DeAndre Jordan, Riley has all of the tools to be an elite draft prospect, but very rarely puts them ball together. He will likely have the opportunity to be a first round draft pick after his freshman year based on his upside no matter how he plays, but like Jordan, will probably be better suited to stick around for a few years in college before considering the NBA.

Zeke Marshall, 7’0, C, 2009, Pittsburgh Storm
High Major (Pitt, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Virginia, Boston College)

Marshall is a player who is quietly developing into one of the better center prospects the class of 2009 has to offer with his strong play this spring. Standing a legit 7’0 and owning a huge wingspan, he fits the mold in terms of length for a center prospect. Physically, though, there is still a ways to go with Marshall, who weighs only 210 pounds and does not have a massive frame by any means. Despite his lack of physical strength, the Pittsburgh big man is still an explosive leaper and does a fairly adequate job of not getting pushed around defensively.

Like Riley, Marshall’s biggest asset lies on the defensive end at the moment. He is more of a true eraser then Riley, doing all of his damage in front of the rim while Riley is able to step out and guard players farther away from the basket. Zeke’s timing and length allow him to alter far more shots then he blocks, truly making guards think twice before going into the rim. He really tries to use his body to the best of his ability on the glass as well, boxing out at every available opportunity and attacking potential rebounds with a passion on both ends of the court.

Offensively, there is still a ways to go with Marshall, but he has shown some signs of promise. He has shown flashes of a developing right handed jump hook, has good hands, and has a soft touch around the rim. It is clear that Zeke has had decent coaching throughout the years because his fundamentals are very strong and his footwork isn’t that bad either. That is about where his offensive repertoire ends, though.

While he does a very good job of demanding the ball in the post, he still doesn’t have the post moves of a high major prospect yet. Aside from his right handed jump hook, Zeke doesn’t offer a whole lot when he has the ball in the pivot. Strength and post development will prove crucial in college for Marshall with his desire to attempt to seal and establish position in the post. Added strength would allow him to go right to a drop step and finish at the rim, something he is unable to do right now.

Potentially, Marshall is a name to remember for the class of 2009. He has reportedly came a long ways in development over the last two years and has a good work ethic, leaving optimism for his growth as a player in the future. Expect Zeke’s recruitment to really pick up again once July rolls around and college coaches are able to evaluate players again, especially considering this class’ lack of true center prospects.

Jared Sullinger, 6’8,PF, 2010, All Ohio Red 16’s
Committed to Ohio State

Sullinger led his All Ohio Red team to the 16-U crown with his dominant inside play, easily showing that he was the top player that the 2010 class had to offer at King James. At around 240 pounds, he is far stronger then the majority of his peers, enabling him to establish excellent position in the pivot. The brother of former Ohio State guard J.J. Sullinger, Jared has a fairly advanced skill set in the low post, able to finish around the rim with both hands and showing off promising footwork. He is far more mature physically then most other players in his class, allowing him to overpower opposing players to score through a series of drop steps and power moves to the rim.

Sullinger’s perimeter game is still fairly limited at this point, and he is far more comfortable doing his damage within 10 feet of the basket, though he has shown flashes of a developing jumpshot facing the basket over the last year. He is a relatively limited athlete with not a ton of lift off of the ground, relying on his strength and wingspan to get shots up and contest shots on the defensive end. Weight issues have also surrounded Sullinger in the past and was rumored to have weighed as much as 260 pounds at one point this past season.

The future Buckeye may not have the long term upside of some of the athletic big men that this event had to offer, but he is arguably the most productive big man in the class of 2010. Many have compared Sullinger to Alabama forward Richard Hendrix because of their similar bodies and style of play, a comparison that we completely agree with. The opportunity for Sullinger to have the same impact in Columbus that Hendrix had at Alabama is certainly there, if he continues to develop and manages his weight over the next few years.

Jordan Henriquez, 6’11, C, 2009, New York Gauchos
High Major (Kentucky, Depaul, Xavier, St.John‘s, Missouri)

Originally a member of the class of 2008, it appear that Henriquez will have to spend a year at prep school to resolve some academic issues, therefore making him a part of the class of 2009. His game relies almost strictly off of his physical attributes which include a massive wingspan, nice motor, and the ability to run up and down the floor better than most 6’11 players. The New York post did not back down when matched up against the more heralded Zeke Marshall, aggressively attacking Marshall and drawing four fouls on the big man in a 6 minute stretch of the second half. Surprisingly enough the lefty has a very soft touch when facing the basket, drilling a number of jump shots when facing the basket out to the 17 foot mark. Equally as impressive was the motor and leadership he displayed, a rarity for the majority of seven footers in the AAU game today.

While there are flashes of potential, Henriquez is still incredibly raw on the blocks and owns very little in terms of moves once he receives the ball in the post. His footwork at the point is incredibly undeveloped and he almost never uses his right hand or turns towards his left shoulder. Being a year older then the players he is pegged against, one would hope that he would have a little more polish to his game then he does at the moment.

As one Atlantic 10 coach said “Jordan is a mid-major player right now with high-major potential”, and that coach couldn’t have been more right. Coaches love his motor and mean streak, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see more high major programs jump in the mix for this athletic big man. While far from a finished product, he is a player whose progress is definitely worth tracking in the future.

Alex Oriakhi, 6’9, PF/C, 2009, B.A.B.C
Committed to Connecticut

Oriakhi played a key part in B.A.B.C.'s 17-U championship, making his presence felt around the rim on both ends of the floor. As when we observed Oriakhi previously, he was able to block a number of shots with his nice wingspan while finishing a number of drop off passes at the rim with thunderous dunks. Not shying away from contact, his physical play seemed to bother whatever big man he was facing whether it be while boxing out on the defensive end or sealing his man off and enabling his teammates to have open lanes to the rim.

Effort problems seemed to plague the UCONN commit throughout the weekend, though. Like many big men his age, his intensity dropped dramatically when he wasn't receiving touches on the offensive end. Also Oriakhi’s game outside of 10 feet from the basket is extremely limited at this point, something that he surely must improve upon if he hopes to transition to the power forward position at the next level. All of the physical tools are there for the athletic big man to eventually to a nice prospect, but he will have to make improvement upon his skill set to have any chance of maximizing his potential.

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