Friday, April 21, 2017

Nothing Little About Nassir's Impact

You may have seen Nasir Little skyward-bound, ascending somewhere between the hardwood and the top of the backboard this season. You may have seen clips of the multi-tooled 6-foot-6, 210-pound forward flushing extravagant and violent dunks circulating the internet this past season.

Laced with a natural adeptness around the rim,  Nassir Little has established himself as one of the highest-efficiency threats in Florida and the country.

After shooting the rock at a 59 percent clip from the field (51 percent beyond the arc), Little hovered around the 60 percent mark this past season.

 The Class of 2018 Little worked furiously at expanding his skill-set.

Creating his shot off the dribble, attacking the teeth of the defense, showcasing a pull-up game and providing adequate rim protection has rendered him an enticing high-major recruit.

His transition scoring and the fact that he's constantly active on the offensive glass garnered the attention of Florida and Louisville early in the 2016-17 campaign.

Previously unsung on the recruiting market and not equated with the same star power as others, Little is heating up at the opportune time.

  Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A & M, St. John's, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech and a bevy of others have been in steady pursuit recently.

How's this for an indication of Little's heightened stock: South Carolina, while in the midst of the unbridled focus, fame tour, fanfare and intensified media frenzy that comes with a Final Four appearance, reached out to Little that weekend.

"Nassir is the high school version of Kahwi Leonard," said Brad Augustine, who has nurtured a steady crop of local talent as the director of 1Family Hoops.

"He's a 6-foot-7 versatile wing with an elite motor who can defend the one through four.

His ability to shoot the three-pointer at such a high clip, combined with his elite athleticism make him a matchup nightmare. Add it to the fact that he sustains a 4.3 grade point average and high basketball IQ, we believe he's a Top-20."

Shaka Smart has been a steady presence in Little's recruitment from the get-go, envisioning instant contributions from the seasoned senior-to-be.

St. John's, which has been aggressive in upping the ante with Florida area recruits, has also shown love lately.

Given the return of Shamorie Ponds, who set the program's freshman scoring record and given the appeal  of playing in both the Big East and Madison Square Garden, the mutual interest is there.

Reputable high-major programs who may not have been aggressive or consistent in Little's recruitment this winter are suddenly plunking down offer's at his doorstep.

In these next few months, expect much of the same.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Old Friends Kiss and Nwankwo Both Hotly Pursued Products

Several years ago, 6-foot-5 guard Peter Kiss and 6-foot-9 forward/center Jon Nwankwo were key one-year additions at Victory Rock Prep (FL).

Plucked from obscurity out of New York City, Kiss discovered hoops during the later stages of an athletic upbringing.

Having never before played organized basketball, Kiss altered his focus the summer leading into his sophomore year of high school.

 Emulating the dunks he witnessed on YouTube and showing flashes of wowing athleticism, the promise was there.

In developing a diversified scoring tool set, Kiss would eventually show Division-1 potential at Victory Rock.

During a statement 24-point performance against Kisky at a tournament hosted by Elev8 Prep Academy in Delray Beach, Fla., Kiss put his entire arsenal on full display.

It was an awakening for Kiss.

This particular game proved the then-junior can impact a game on both sides of the floor.

It showed his all-around talent, enabling many (including himself) to see his contributions with or without the rock in his hands.

Kiss attacked with a ferocity that afternoon, before a number of Division-1 coaches who never before had heard his name.

 He showcased a pull-up game. When wedged between 7-footers, it was Kiss who would snare a rebound and dive for a loose ball.

He connected from beyond the arc. The high-octane off guard was active all across 94 feet on defense. He jolted fans out of their seats with an electric two-handed dunk in traffic.

Soon enough, Kiss developed into a primary threat capable of piloting the offense at opportune times.

Nwankwo, at a sinewy 235 pounds, possessed a unique blend of length and upside.

 He played a supplementary role at Victory Rock Prep, where the shot-manipulating Nigerian import was a rebounding presence off the bench.

Kiss and Nwankwo were each relatively new to the advanced level of high-caliber prep basketball.

 The tandem developed an accurate feel for each other's game as teammates at Monsignor Scanlan High School.

The duo aspired to create an inside-outside punch.  Both players pushed each other's quick evolution --often putting in the extra, unrequired work hours in the gym.

 Initially investing more focus into soccer and baseball, Kiss finally made the call to flip his focus solely on basketball.

Nwankwo, then a neophyte adjusting to the integral components of the true Center role,  progressed significantly from his junior to senior year.

Flashing a feathery hook from both hands and suddenly finishing with authority, the soft-spoken big soon found his niche.

Cramming loud two-handed dunks with ease, the once-raw project drew the attention of Richard Pitino at Minnesota and a plethora of other high-major coaches.

Nurturing Nwankwo's development on a day-to-day basis was AAU coach Andy Borman.

 Borman cultivated an interior game in Nwankwo, in whom he saw a quick-learner who was coachable and expanding with a progressing back to the basket game.

 Kai Mitchell, a 6-foot-6 240-pound forward who guarded multiple positions and even played some point forward, helped Nwankwo with interior manpower during that summer on the AAU circuit.

Several years later, Kiss and Nwankwo are two major priorities on the high-major transfer market.

Typically when players transfer out of Quinnipiac, a floundering MAAC program formerly of the low-Division 1 NEC, a slew of high-majors are not waiting in the wings.

Rarely, if ever, has a transfer from Quinnipiac generated this level of intrigue and number of high-major offers plunked down at his doorstep.

The known hockey school has struggled mightily in men's hoops these past two seasons, registering an abysmal 19-42 record.

Kiss, who credits mentor Derek Riullano for propelling his meteroic development, was one of the few pieces of promise with a memorable freshman season.

Though the Bobcats again fell below mediocrity, Kiss registered his presence in averaging 13.8 points, 5.6 boards, and 2.8 assists.

It soon became apparent that Kiss, who originally chose Quinnipiac over Fairfield, Stony Brook, Fordham, High Point and other mid-majors, was a late bloomer.

The fact that he was undervalued on the recruiting market became more and more and more evident with his performances.

Eric Eaton, the former Quinnipiac assistant and tireless recruiter (Eaton was instrumental in penning one of the program's all-time greats in 6-foot-7 forward Justin Rutty) had discovered an unsung, fiercely competitive guard with a tremendous vertical and a motor which never seems to shut off.

The Notre Dame Prep (Mass.) graduate scored 18 points, tore down 12 boards, and scored the game-winning runner with 1.9 seconds as the Bobcats pulled off a 73-71 victory over Fairfield.

During a dismal 95-76 trouncing at the hands of Monmouth, Kiss scored 22 points (on 9-for-18 FG), grabbed nine boards, and doled out three assists in 36 minutes.

During an eyeball to eyeball battle with Manhattan's Zavier Turner (23 points, six assists) Kiss submitted 20 points (8-for-13 FG), 10 boards, and four assists during an 81-72 win.

Steadily mirroring Kiss' emergence as one of the MAAC's prized freshmen was the stellar play of fellow fearless freshman  guard Mikey Dixon.

A gifted scorer who also fell through the cracks recruiting-wise, Dixon averaged 16.5 points and generated buzz throughout the country with his scoring acumen.

Dixon entertained the idea of playing on a bigger stage late in the season.

Following the firing of Tom Moore in March and shortly after Baker Dunleavy's recent   introduction as Quinnipiac's new head, the 6-foot-2, 162-pound Dixon transferred to St. John's.

 The MAAC Rookie of the Year pieced together 10 games of 20+ points this season.

 In fleeing the ailing program at Quinnipiac, Dixon was sold on a Big East program which wasn't exactly better in terms of recent history.

The high-motored Dixon clearly sees the direction of the Big East program. SJU is moving aggressively on the recruiting front in effort to revitalize a once prosperous, national brand name basketball school.

St. John's currently features decorated guards Shamorie Ponds and Marcus Lovett.

Madison Square Garden is the massive, unrivaled proving ground of a stage which every kid who went as under-recruited and under-appreciated as Dixon longs to play on.

Kiss absolutely loved playing alongside Dixon in the backcourt, with the two feeding off each other's energetic and hyperactive style.

 The lifestyle and athlete support at Quinnipiac is tough to say goodbye to, as Kiss indicated.

Witnessing the firing of Moore, a Jim Calhoun disciple eager to restore credibility with the troika of Kiss, Dixon, and bruising 6-foot-8 forward Chaise Daniels was a difficult moment for Kiss.

The opportunity to weigh a more appealing, high-profile Division-1 market and the chance to routinely play top-shelf opponents suddenly presented itself.

Kiss never envisioned high major basketball programs would be pursuing him until the predictable change of direction at Quinnipiac and unpredictable hiring of Dunleavy.

Kiss shied away from divulging his thoughts on the interviews and hiring process.

 He did, however, reveal that if one  candidate (Iona associate head coach Jared Grasso) inherited the keys to the sparkling TD BankNorth kingdom, he
 would have definitely stayed put.

The incoming sophomore, who will have to sit out a year per NCAA transfer rules, is embracing the challenge of the new opportunity on an elevated stage.

Seton Hall, Auburn, Rutgers, and Rhode Island are the four programs most heavily involved with Kiss.

Cal, Fordham, UMass, and Oklahoma have also inquired.

Kiss said he had a "great visit" to Auburn this past weekend, where he was impressed with a young core featuring deftly skilled 6-foot-10 freshman forward Austin Wiley.

Wiley, the cousin of former NBA players Chuck Person (now an Auburn assistant) and Wesley Person, showed major promise  in 2016-17.

During a win over rival Alabama, Wiley erupted with 20 points and several pivotal second half buckets.

"Austin Wiley has big hands, big athleticism, he has a great skill-set, I would say he's a future pro," Kiss said.

"BP (head coach Bruce Pearl) is a great guy. The coaching staff really seemed like family and that intrigues me about that place."

Kiss is slated to visit Rutgers next. He is anticipating an important sit down with head coach Steve Pikiell and Scarlet Knights assistant Jay Young.

During his days in the talent-rich SIAA high school conference Kiss played against flashy, uber-talented Rutgers guard Corey Sanders. He could have the opportunity for a prominent and immediate role there, especially if Sanders bolts for the NBA this Nune or in 2018.

 Also high on Kiss' recently shortened list is Seton Hall.

The Pirates are in the running for electrifying IMG Academy guard and top-profile recruit Trevon Duval. Kiss could fill an immediate void following the departure of 6-foot-6 guard and Lincoln High product Desi Rodriguez.

Rhode Island is also a serious possibility.

"Rhode Island is appealing to me because it is a good program and they have a history of producing good guards," Kiss said.

While Kiss was visiting Auburn, Nwankwo was just a two-hour trek on Alabama's I-85 S over at UAB.

Nwankwo, a one-time Minnesota commit who had a brief stay at Virginia Commonwealth, averaged 9.8 points and 7.7 boards on the JUCO scene at Southern Idaho this season.

 Nwanko shot 13-for-17 during a pair of back to back performances as the featured piece in the post, scoring 16 points and then 12 respectively.

Kiss still keeps tabs on his friend's stats and peruses his highlights.

"Big Jon is definitely my favorite player to play with," Kiss said during a November 2015 interview.

"He's just so confident and physical out there. He just makes playing the game so much easier."

Kiss' career can best be described as well-traveled and unpredictable, with one stop after another.

After growing up in New York, he went on to play high school and AAU basketball in Sarasota, Fla.

After one season at Victory Rock Prep, Kiss transferred to Notre Dame Prep to play for head coach Ryan Hurd.

Under Hurd, who coached White Plains product Sean Kilpatrick and has groomed countless Division-1 players at the potent NEPSAC program, Kiss developed effective handle and became more adept at dishing.

After a year in Florida, a year in Massachusetts and of course the one-year stay in Hamden, Conn., Kiss will find yet another hardwood home.

 Despite rapidly changing locations, there has been one constant Kiss cites over the past several seasons.

That constant is the steady support and guidance of Riullano, a devout hoops junkie.

"He was the one to get me to play basketball seriously and put more focus into the game," said Kiss of Riullano.

"He helped me through all the ups and downs and helped me however he could. He's really someone I can talk to for anything."

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Mid-Season Transfer Paid Dividends For Angel

When recruiting, an immeasurable intangible coaches must take note of is a player's drive to win.

Anytime you are willing to invest four years in a recruit, gauging the winning mindset is essential.

Those who find individual accolades meaningless and surrender self-interest for team glory tend to last.

In NTSI's combination guard Dylan Angel, head coach Chris Chaney sees this insatiable hunger for victory as the most appealing attribute.

"He's the ultimate winning type of kid," said Chaney, a Tampa native who found his way to NTSI's backcourt following a Mid-Season transfer from DME Academy in Daytona Beach, Fla.

"He possesses all the tools necessary to be a good, reliable four-year player. He had a very good high school career which ultimately culminated with a loss to Tony Bradley (now a newly-minted champion at UNC) in the playoffs. He's also a good student and has the maturity and mindset to make a seamless transition to college and be a key contributer from the get-go.

At DME this season, the prep and post-graduate team did not have the same high-rankings and highly-touted recruits as they have in previous years. They underwent a brutal down year, stuffed in the talent-stacked SIAA's lower percentile.

Thus, weighing the transfer market to renew his winning ways was the best option for Angel. NTSI's style of play, a speedball and disciplined up tempo pace that entails consistent work and hustle, was also better suited for the post-graduate.

"At DME we had a lot of set offenses that were drawn up to take time off the clock," the 6-foot-2 Angel said.

"At NTSI, we were told to run the fast break and score as quick as possible. The part of my game I really had to refine was my quickness and driving capabilities. I really think that playing at NTSI and the level of play really helped me adjust and refine those aspects of my game."

A deft-shooting stroke, decision-making off the dribble, and defensive tenacity are key attributes which render Angel a safe bet to win the plus/minus stat on the floor.

Chaney was comfortable giving Angel the keys to the offense. Angel scored 11 points in NTSI's signature 100-87 win over Mount Zion (MD). In one of back-to-back wins at the prestigious National Prep Invitational, Angel kicked in a game-best six assists while orchestrating the offense.

A tactical and well -built guard, Angel adapted to the higher level by becoming more crafty with his slashing and displaying more of a knack for attacking.

Angel is open to playing both positions at the ensuing level.

"I initially saw myself as an off guard just because of my catch-and-shoot game and my role as a scorer," Angel explained.

"Because of how I see the floor and because of how I make decisions and execute under pressure I could definitely play the 1 as well."

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Uno En Uno with Chris Parker, NTSI Hoops

En route to piecing together a first-year prep/post graduate program at National Top Sports Institute (Scotland, PA), head coach Chris Chaney ingrained the theme of “underrated” in his team. 

Chaney, he of the most wins of any prep school coach in America, preached passionately on playing with a purpose and proving it.

He consistently urged his team to work steadily in improving their NCAA stock while staying within the confines of the system.

Slowly but surely, the team circumvented the me-first individualist attitude that tends to plague programs at the prep and JUCO level. 

The anthem of “unsung” reverberated to Chris Parker.

A scoring guard transitioning to the role of key facilitator, scorer, and primary defender on a team rife with new faces, Parker bought in faithfully.

Undersized yet oozing of potential, the 6-foot, 160-pound guard rapidly developed as more of a quarterback.

The Texas native relished the responsibility of seeing the play before it unfolded and getting a read on his teammates’ strengths.

 Parker fed the post, was instrumental in triggering the transition game, and scored at all three levels.

He called his own number during heightened pressure situations, with pivotal 3-pointers and drives during battles against Mount Zion (MD) and 22 Feet Academy (SC).

Parker also fed off backcourt mate Jalen Jordan, a skilled 6-foot-3 scoring guard known for prodigious leaping ability.

 Jordan, out of Conyers, GA., came on as a late-blooming Division-I prospect following a late-season tear at Rockdale County High School.

With Parker’s knack for big shots and performances in big games, Chaney has his lead guard pegged as a sleeper recruit.

“The kid can play in different speeds and will be an unreal get for someone late in the game,” Chaney said of Parker.

“He can shoot the lights out and basketball IQ is very high.”

Chaney coached the team widely regarded as the GOAT of prep teams at Laurinburg Prep (NC).

 Under Chaney in 2005, the team went 40-0 and sledgehammered opponents by an average of 40 points. Chaney also coached at The Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C. 

In Chaney’s overall career, he’s groomed guards such as former St. John’s superstar Dwight Hardy and memorable Seton Hall sharpshooter Jeremy Hazell. In Parker, he envisions a similar unacknowledged type of recruit. 

ZS: As soon as you arrived at the doorstep at NTSI, coach Chaney wanted you to take some ownership of the team. How did you buy in and how would describe your role?

CP: Oh it definitely wasn't hard for me to buy in quickly! As soon as I adjusted to all the fresh faces, I immediately knew it was time for me to step in and become the leader and point guard of this team. As far as my role went, I would probably describe it as the lead ball handler who has control of the game at all times and get the ball to my scorers at the right time. Also, hit open threes and be an aggressive force on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. 

ZS: Coach Chaney likes to say, "the bigger the stage, the bigger he plays" when assessing your performance. Has it become a mental thing with you, wanting to prove yourself in front of coaches and show out in those major matchups?

CP: It's definitely a mental thing with me. Coach Chaney always says, 'you have to play with a chip on your shoulder.' So every single game, I just approached it with the thoughts of all the coaches and schools that overlooked me and it just motivated me to step up on those big stages. It kills me to think that these coaches would go with someone over me for those reasons, so I have no choice but to go out there and prove them wrong. 

ZS: Your father has a deep history as a basketball coach, having had a career that's included stops in the major college level and the NBA and now overseas. What has his presence been like for you and how much has his passion for the game helped you? 

CP: I'm like my Dad's twin. It's like he just passed his passion and knowledge of the game on to me at an early age. As a young kid, I used to watch film with him all night. I feel like that's an experience not too many kids have the chance to do. Having my Dad as my biggest critic is also a plus. Not too many kids get to come home and get a 30-minute speech from an NBA coach on how you played.

ZS: Best moments of the season at NTSI? What experiences overall will stay with you? 

CP: I had way too many memories this year to even go through the list and think of them. From all the joking and pranks I had with my teammates to the serious and unique moments with coaches and trainers. I definitely would say it was one of the most fun, together teams I've ever played on. 

ZS: Which schools are starting to take note of your game and who has put an offer down?

CP: Some schools that expressed interest this year are Sacramento State, Mercer, UMBC, VMI and Henderson State offered also. 

ZS: You had a 29-point game against a highly-reputable and always hyper-competitive Mount Zion (MD) program. You drained four consecutive treys at one point and played with an edge in that one. What aspects were working for you in this particular game?

CP: I think what really started it in that one is that I hit a fade-away three off the backboard to beat the shot clock. After I hit that and then hit another, I told myself 'it's go time now.' Then I just kept my groove for the rest of the game. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Several Proven Candidates Surfacing At Quinnipiac

This past week, word of Baker Dunleavy reaching a deal as Quinnipiac University's next basketball coach has circulated the internet.

Drexel coach Bruiser Flint has also permeated the walls of the conversation, though a number of other viable candidates are being considered.

Whether realistic or not, Quinnipiac has long entertained the idea of putting men's basketball on the same plateau as the nationally ranked hockey team.

 Quinnipiac's perennially potent women's basketball team recently wrapped up a wild NCAA tournament run, which garnered the school heavy publicity and maximized fanfare.

 And so the men's basketball team is the downtrodden product, in dire need of a quick and promising resurrection.

Ten years later the program is out there again, moving aggressively to up the ante (an 800k salary is word around the campfire) to one proven and decorated  coach capable of altering the recent losing culture.

Quinnipiac certainly has the pieces to build around with promising freshmen guards Mikey Dixon and Peter Kiss (should they stay put).

Chaise Daniels, a stud 6-foot-8 forward out of nearby Meriden, Conn., is widely regarded as the best big in the MAAC next year. Daniels has the potential to attract high-major programs, should he opt to weigh the market following Tom Moore's firing.

 Should the triumvirate of Kiss, Dixon and Daniels remain at Quinnipiac, the quality and the chances are definitely there.

 Quickly reviving the program entails an NCAA tournament berth and sustainable 20+ win seasons in the MAAC.

Though it can't be done overnight, Quinnipiac will take a candidate with the influence and capabilities to make it happen sooner than later.

 Remember, Quinnipiac has a high-end, damn near Big East caliber 3,600+ seat arena.

The school has the highly competitive education, the scenic campus, the no-secret reputation of scintillating women.

Yes, the place is far from a tough sell. This is not Duquesne or Rutgers we're talking about.

The lifestyle there is comfortable and the money is flowing and being spit around like water.

Villanova's Dunleavy, the brother of NBA veteran Mike Dunleavy Jr. and son of famed Tulane (and former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy) certainly has the inner circle, resume, and the brand name to bring talent in.

He possesses the national reputation as a recruiter and tasted true NCAA  success as a reserve on the "four guards" team of 2006, a memorable squad with Allan Ray, Mike Nardi, Randy Foye, and Kyle Lowry. 

As an assistant under Jay Wright, he tapped into the area's richest recruiting markets.

It is hard to gauge how serious the interest is with Flint, who was a four time CAA coach of the Year and has been at Drexel since 2001.

 Flint comes in carrying a 331-289 record and was the eventual successor to John Calipari at UMass.

Dunleavy is supposedly a dun-deal. He has the shiny souvenir working in his favor, with a 2016 NCAA championship ring.

 Yet Quinnipiac quickly jumped to net high-major product last time and didn't exactly reap the rewards of it.

Tom Moore, fired after 10 seasons and zero NCAA appearances, certainly had the character and charisma and strategic recruiting acumen to turn the place around. For the first few years, he seemed on pace to do that.

 Moore had respect in the Quinnipiac community and was a likeable personality with quality motivational tactics.

 The Calhoun understudy's success recruiting the tri-state region, where he penned diamond in the rough recruits (Justin Rutty of Newburgh, N.Y. and James Johnson of NYC power Bishop Loughlin HS are two major examples) made it difficult for some to bid adieu to him.

Yet as Moore has acknowledged publicly, this is a results-driven business and 19-42 in the final two seasons just won't cut it.

Look at what Monmouth has done with a similar facility, since entering the MAAC.

 Moore had his winning seasons and had his berth in the Northeast Conference title game, a heartbreaking loss to Robert Morris.

Yet the last two seasons and most notably the tail end of his final season, his team appeared listless defensively and he seemed checked out mentally.

The proof was in the production tree. Moore, first rate professional though he was, had to go.

A key name that has special intrigue to the Quinnipiac community, who seems to be the most logical choice, is Jared Grasso. The amount of support Grasso has with the alumni and tri-state area is above and beyond any other candidate.

The associate head coach/assistant under Tim Cluess at Iona College, Grasso starred as a high-scoring point guard a few years after Quinnipiac first transitioned to Division-1.

Naturally, because of his stature in Quinnipiac's Hall of Fame and because he coached at QU as an assistant under Joe DeSantis (who he later hired as his own assistant at Fordham), Grasso would jump at the opportunity to plant the basketball seed in his hockey hotbed of an alma mater.

Under Cluess, Grasso attained four straight 22+ win seasons and helped the program to four NCAA tournament appearances and two NIT berths in the last six years. Iona has gone 44-24 the past two seaons

 Grasp that for a few seconds.

Those stats are emblematic of the level of national mid major clout Quinnipiac has been striving for since firing DeSantis in the spring of 2007.

 That is where the bar is set for them, those are the high standards the next head coach will be held to.

Grasso was also a major presence on the national recruiting trail. He helped Iona get guys like AJ English, a prolific scorer embedded in the program's history books.

He brought in crafty, rugged guards such as E.J. Crawford, Stamford native Shadrac "Sed" Casimir, and Rickey McGill.

What do English, Crawford, Casimir, and McGill all have in common? Each and every last one of them was targeted by Quinnipiac during their recruitment process.

One of Grasso's current commits, class of 2017 guard CJ Seaforth, is from Hamden, Conn. and chose Iona over Quinnipiac and several other mid-major suitors.

 Again, recruiting has forever been pegged as an inexact science. It is, however, surely results driven.

Southern Connecticut head coach and UConn legend Scottie Burrell seems like an intriguing candidate on paper.

 A Hamden native who authored a storied athletic career as a three-sport athlete at Hamden High, Burrell was an All-American and is an all-purpose reminder of when UConn basketball was a veritable NBA factory. Burrell won an NBA championship ring with the Jordan-led Bulls and is still tight with Ray Allen.

These are recruiting tools in themselves, albeit the Calhoun connection does not seem to hold much juice with this particular job. Burrell would be a quintessential "players coach" and would surely win over recruits, albeit it's difficult to envision QU plunking down this kind of money on a current Division-II coach.

Burrell was an effective mentor for Quinnipiac program great DeMario Anderson and knows how to work with star power. Yet because he was an assistant under Moore during that regime, it would seem to be a step backwards as opposed to forward.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

"Big Nik" Beginning To Realize High Major Potential

Just a few years of sustained devotion and relentlessness has the tendency to make a tremendous difference. Such is the case with bruising 7-foot-2, 245-pound Center Nikola Scekic.

Currently at Hutchinson Community College, the once-raw big has grown rapidly this past year while assimilating to the augmented physicality of the American game.

It's no secret and surely make no mistake about it, there is a certain stereotype associated with sky-scraping, Europe-bred bigs of Scekic's type.

They have a tendency to be classified as fundamentally sound and skill-centric bigs who can shoot the rock effectively and dish the ball with a higher IQ than most.

 Yet the primary, oft-mentioned flaws affiliated with European bigs are so obvious the words and descriptions nearly fall off the page: Soft. Unathletic. Lacking the same mental moxie as an interior banger here in the states.


Yes, when Scekic arrived at West Oaks Academy in Florida, his body and his ability to play aggressively and attack the rim ferociously needed some tweaking.

 Yes, he was nowhere near a finished product.

Working consistently with coach Chris Chaney, the seasoned coach with the most wins of any prep coach his age (see Chaney's teams at Laurinburg Prep and The Patterson School in North Carolina for more information), West Oaks was able to cultivate a post presence and toughness in the kid they call "Big Nik."

"He always had huge upside," said Chaney, who is currently grooming underrated talent such as Jalen Jordan at National Top Sports Institute in Scotland, PA.

"Nikola's elite passing skills and shooting ability for his size always stood out. And just think, he's not even close to reaching his potential yet."

While Chaney's words have proved prophetic at critical moments these past years, Scekic has improved exponentially with his strength and utilizing his size like a true big.

Now at the aforementioned weight of 245 pounds, Skekic is dunking everything he sees. His adeptness around the rim has rendered him a high percentage threat.

This is underscored by a recent 12-point performance on 6-for-7 shooting the other night.

As a significant role player on a reputable JUCO program, Scekic has become cognizant of just how important basketball will be for his future.

You won't recognize him as the same player he was at West Oaks.

Now he's laced with an insatiable hunger for the game few could have ever envisioned for him.

 He's a high-intensity and no frills guy, with a knack for authoritative finishes. No longer a shy kid adapting to the American life, he will have a boisterous eruption following a big bucket.

"He has completely transformed as far as how much he wants out of this basketball life," said Nikola Cicic, the former Arkansas Little Rock guard and fellow countryman who has been instrumental in propelling "Big Nik's" development.

"You have a kid now who has tuned up his body to the point where he is rock solid and is a daunting task for bigs to go up against."

Cicic continued "He's adjusted his game defensively and developed a higher IQ and it's a testament to the work he's put in and how bad he's realized 'this is for me. This game is going to take me far in life.' The kid is an absolute workhorse and developing this mentality has worked wonders for him."

A brief stay at New Mexico did not work out for the behemoth. Some of the factors at UNM were beyond his control, others were not.

Yet as he's proven in several recent performances (12 points in 23 minutes during a 95-78 drubbing of St. Petersburg College, 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting in 18 minutes against Hesston College, 14 points on 7-for-8 shooting in a 104-66 slaying of Dodge City Community College), it's clear the promise is there.

Iona, TCU, FAU, Evansville, Wagner, and Creighton (among others) are beginning to take aggressive pursuit.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Canadian Guard Nolan Has Grown Rapidly

The basketball seed has been planted in Canada, the world's hockey hotbed.

While a torrent of young Canadian talent--Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Murray, and Tristan Thompson to rattle off a few--have followed the long green paper trail to the NBA, countless Canadians continue to pursue an avenue to America.

Partly at the hyper-competitive level of play and national visibility and partly at the variety of scholarship opportunities, Canada's wealth of prep talent collectively  expresses a desire to ply their trade in the United States.

Look no further than Montverde Academy in Florida.

Kevin Boyle's program, in the national spotlight these past few years, features a dose of Canadian flavor with R.J. Barrett (the top-ranked sophomore in the country), flashy Class of 2019 point guard Andrew Nembhard, and Marcus Carr.

Some have even referenced Montverde as America's "Canadian High School Basketball Team."

At Miami's Calusa Prep there is Luguentz Dort, an uber-athletic and oft-slashing 6-foot-4, 210-pound guard.

Calusa has another Canadian-bred guard in sharpshooter Nathanael Jack.

Dort, one of the nation's most prolific scorers in the class of 2018, has offers from Louisville, Florida, Oregon, Baylor, Arizona State, and myriad others.

At 22 Feet Academy in South Carolina, Daniel Sackey has registered his presence as a well-built guard with hellacious hops, quickness, and the ability to impact both sides of the ball.

Though not equated with the same luster as these aforementioned Canadians, Taysean Nolan contains the attributes to eventually become a steal at a Division-1 program next year.

 The Class of 2017 guard is buoyed by an impressive above-the-rim game and a natural ability to knife his way to the rim.

An effective handle and the bullish strength which many lack at this level ultimately renders Nolan an under-the-radar prospect.


"The best attribute of my game is my athleticism," said Nolan, who gauged his game against highly-touted players (Louisville-commit) Anfernee Simons during a recent Hoop Exchange event in Florida.

"When you combine that with my ability to handle the basketball, I think that and my strength furthers my ability to be a facilitator and playmaker for my team. It helps with my ability to break down my defender and find a good shot as well as draw the defender to me and therefore open up the floor for my teammates."

What does Nolan pinpoint as the positive draws to playing in the United States?

"The benefits of playing at the prep and college level of basketball in the United States come from the level of competition as well as the lofty standards the coaches hold all of their players to," Nolan said.

"Every athlete needs to come prepared with a good work ethic, consistency, and toughness. For Canadian players who have a sense of urgency to come to the United States and further develop their game, they benefit from all these factors that ready them for the next level and challenge them everyday to get better."

Nolan listed Northern Arizona, Florida Atlantic, Alabama A & M, Denver, Liberty, Brown, Idaho State as potential destinations at the next level.

 As his growth as not only an adept finisher but an all-around scorer continues, Nolan aspires to become a heavy-impact player at a program best-suited for his game.

He currently holds a 2.8 GPA and found much relief when he received a qualifying SAT score this year.

"Over the next few years I would hope to accomplish becoming a major factor in the college level of basketball, which would only come from hours of hard consistent work," Nolan said.