[Note: This post emerged from numerous exchanges with Josh (intrpdtrvlr) so rather than try to identify exactly which items to credit him with I'll give him a global HT for his help and expertise.]
This post will focus on the amazing class of 2013 point guards in the state of Michigan and the dilemmas they may pose for Michigan State's recruiting class that year. It can also serve as the new general recruiting thread for posting any questions, comments or information on these topics. I'll be posting some links and tidbits myself in the comments section after this post goes up.
Things have definitely slowed down on the MSU basketball recruiting front. Aside from the intriguing Gary Harris situation - and barring anything unexpected happening on signing day in two weeks - there's nowhere to go save onward to 2013 and beyond. As TOC's recruiting guru intrpdtrvlr has noted, 2013 looks a bit different from the three years preceding it. With all the slots in 2011 and 2012 having been quickly filled (or even overfilled, depending on Harris), scholarships for 2013 could be pretty tight. Right now, without projecting any early departures, two scholarships would be available, the ones currently in use by Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman. Adreian Payne could leave early for the NBA, but at this point it's also possible that a Garrick Sherman redshirt year would cancel this out, so it's a decent working assumption that only 2 scholarships will be available for the class of 2013.
In addition to the scholarship crunch, there are positional coverage considerations as well. Unlike Thad Matta or John Beilein, Tom Izzo has traditonally wanted a classic point guard to run his offense and distribute the ball. For the last 3 years that has been primarily Kalin Lucas. Presumably Korie Lucious will take on that role for his senior season in 2011. Travis Trice arrives that year as well and will likely spend it learning the ropes as Lucious' backup. No new "pure" point guards are due to arrive in 2012, although some have projected this as a possible role for Denzel Valentine. At the moment, however, he appears to be more of a wing who is also a creator/distributor rather than a guy who can both play and defend the 1 spot. That means that by 2013, there may be a definite need for an "apprentice" point guard who can learn for a couple of years (or less, depending on how Trice works out) before taking the reins.
Of course Izzo could conceivably wait till 2014 to fill that slot and still have a one-year apprenticeship for his choice - and one might think that's his line of thought considering the current list of 2013 players of interest, most of them wings: Jabari Parker, Collin Hartman, Steven Haney, Basil Smotherman, Zak Irvin, Tony Farmer, Bo Ziegler, V.J. Beachem and Cha Cha Tucker (PG). But, the 2013 class as a whole looks like a bonanza for guards and, in particular, for point guards, and, even more in particular, for point guards from the state of Michigan, traditionally the primary source of Izzo's recruits. Cha Cha Tucker has already been covered fairly well on this blog - and some would even consider him a lock for MSU - but he may not even be the best point guard prospect in Michigan. What follows is a look at the top 2013 point guards in Michigan, whose names you are likely to be hearing a lot more of in the coming years. The amazing thing is that all these guys are from the state of Michigan and it's highly likely that 4-5 of them will get high D1 or even MSU-caliber offers. The way it looks now, it's going to be hard to pass some of these guys up but, conversely, the scholarship crunch may make it tougher than usual for local stars to find a place in Izzo's program.
Player details after the jump. The players are listed in completely subjective order by roughly how much buzz linking them to MSU there is.
[Note: Sorry about the links instead of inline images. I try to make my posts more visually interesting than this but we're trying very hard not to run afoul of any copyright issues.]
Charles (Cha Cha) Tucker, Jr.
Tucker's selection to the USA Basketball Developmental National Team mini-camp (the only player from Michigan selected), his MSU connections (he's the son of Magic Johnson's advisor, Dr. Charles Tucker) and his presence at both the Notre Dame game and Midnight Madness all place him in the position of highest prominence among the 2013 class at this point. There's no absolute consensus about who the best point guard in the class is, but Tucker seems to be the standard against whom the others are measured. The 5'11" 160# point guard is starting his sophomore season at Lansing Eastern High School (where he is a teammate of another 2013 MSU player-of-interest, Steven Haney). He plays his AAU ball (like Adreian Payne, Chris Harrison-Docks and other MSU-involved players) for powerhouse All-Ohio Red. His reputation is as a pure point guard, with a high basketball IQ, good handle and skills at driving and distributing. His passing skills draw especially glowing reviews, as does his overall maturity. Lansing area hoops maven Sam Hosey listed him as the number one prospect in Lansing back in February, ahead of Haney, LaDontae Henton, Alex Gauna, Jon Horford and Denzel Valentine. He seems like the classic Izzo floor general but the weakest part of his game at this point is probably his jumpshot, which is reported to be shaky beyond 15 feet but improving.
A picture I posted earlier of Tucker and fellow MSU target Jabari Parker at the mini-camp is here.
Watts is a 6'0" 175# point guard from Carmen-Ainsworth in Flint. In January Scout's Paul Carmona called Watts "the best player in the state" ($) and he definitely has his supporters in the comparison with Tucker. He has made unofficial visits to MSU and is definitely on Izzo's radar. Watts, who is also a football player, drew a comparison from Carmona to fellow Flint native Mateen Cleaves. Joe Stapleton of UM Hoops saw Watts at the Great Lakes Summer Championship in July and had this to say
Watts reminded me a little bit of a shorter but much more athletic Denzel Valentine, the way he uses pump-fakes and space-making moves to create his own shot. He works well with contact and knows how to draw it. He didn't shoot great, but his shot looks smooth.
Watts has heard from several Big Ten schools, including Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue, as well as USC.
Here's a photo of Watts guarding one-time MSU prospect and crosstown rival Patrick Lucas-Perry.
Monte (Man-Man) Morris
The first comment you usually hear about Morris is that he's small. He's a 5'11" 130-pounder from Flint Beecher. His size hasn't stopped him from making a big impression on observers. Nolan Shulman of FlagrantFouls.com saw him at the ESPN Super Soph Camp in Cleveland in July and reported the following:
He lacks size and strength for the position, but makes up for it with toughness and changing speeds. He had the best overall performance that we saw. Monte is a one man fast break who makes excellent decisions going full speed. He finished at the rim, made shots from mid range, and even connected on a couple threes. His ball handling is superb, and he's a shot maker in the lane. He's more of an undersized combo than a true lead guard and the game we took in had a very Monta Ellis type look to it.
Michigan hoops guru Steve Bell described his performance at the Great Lakes Summer Championship:
Played beyond his years. He controlled games with the ball in his hands, and picked and chose when to create his own offense (of which Morris is mighty capable). You couldn't have asked for any more from Morris in the championship game, as he didn't budge against Pride's first-half onslaught, then was damn near perfect in leading the comeback. Literally perfect from the line in the final -- 9-for-9 free throws. Morris is a high-major recruit for sure, similar to Indianapolis junior Yogi Ferrell.
Pretty high praise. Some prefer Morris to Tucker, though they seem to have different games. Both were reportedly on hand for the Western Michigan football game in September and I wouldn't be surprised if Morris had made other visits. He's drawn interest from at least MSU, UoM and CMU.
Here's a picture of him from the Super Soph camp.
Walton also has his supporters as the best sophomore point guard in the state. He's 5'11" 160# from Chandler Park Academy in Harper Woods and ESPN describes him as a "scoring point guard". Here's there full take on him from a year ago:
Derrick is a talented and skilled scoring point guard. He has great natural scoring ability and is very confident. He is a very good slasher that is able to penetrate at will. He is very good off the dribble and can create for himself and others. Derrick has a solid mid range game and has a good pull up jumper. He has range on his shot to 19 feet. He has some explosion on the offensive end and you can see he will be a force on that end of the court. Walton is a decent defender at this point with a chance to really improve with his length and athletic ability.
Next Generation Sports has a feature on him from more recently. They report that Beilein, Izzo and assistants from Purdue, Temple, Oakland and UD have all been to see him at open workouts. The article focuses on his drive and work ethic, both of which would stand him in good stead with Izzo. He also runs cross-country to help with his conditioning.
Here is a good video of Walton leading his high school team at the point.
Finally, two players who would probably be listed as wings but who might project as point guards in the future. Both are big-time prospects in the Michigan 2013 class.
Elbert (E.C.) Matthews
Matthews plays for Romulus High School and both his size and position appear to be the subject of some debate. I've seen his height listed at anywhere from 6'1" to 6'4" and his position as PG and SG. The words most used when describing his game are 'explosive' and 'athletic'. As of late June, Sam Webb of Scout ($) still considered him a point guard and praised him for unselfishness and not dominating the ball despite his obvious athleticism.
Matthews may already have the size that pushes him past the point guard spot at the next level. I'm sure his sophomore season will begin to clear that up. Suffice it to say that for now he is one of the top prospects in the state and has significant skills at the 'handler' and 'distributor' roles (see my previous post on these offensive roles).
Dylan over at UM Hoops has some video of the left-handed Matthews at Michigan Team Camp.
Highsmith, from Dowagiac Union High School, is 6'2" 175# and is listed by some sources as a small forward, rather than a guard. He has a reputation as a slasher and driver who is also an aggressive defender and rebounder. He already has very good size and uses it to his advantage on the defensive end, especially when guarding usually smaller guards. Like many at his age, his perimeter shot apparently still needs some work. Steve Bell considers Highsmith a top 10 player overall in Michigan for 2013. Sam Hosey got a good look at Highsmith during an AAU tournament at Fort Wayne in May and had this take:
Positives: He is put together. He honestly wouldn't look out of place on a college roster right now. Pretty impressive athletically. He's fast AND quick and he can get up a bit. GREAT handle. Saw him bust out a couple of cross-overs on Big Ten recruits and leave guys looking as he blew by. General ability to get to the rim and finish was impressive. Again, he was doing it against size and talent, so that's a legit 14.
Negatives: -He hit a couple of jumpers but he missed a bunch. Needs to continue to work on his shot. The release reminds me a little bit of Dwaun Anderson's, including the rain-inducing arc he gets on it. - Though he's been discussed as a point guard, I didn't see much of that. He's nowhere near the floor general or distributor that, say Cha Cha Tucker is. Great handle, but I didn't see him create much for others. Thing is, I saw enough to suggest to me that he could easily emerge as a combo guard, so it might not be the end of the world if he doesn't become a true point.
Oddly, I haven't been able to come up with any good pictures or video of Highsmith, and I'm not going to link to his Facebook page, so you'll just have to take my word for it that he exists.
And as if all this weren't enough, here's a names to watch list of other guards in extremely deep class at point guard for the state in the class of 2013: Trajan Seay (Brother Rice, Bloomfield Hills), Jonathan Williams (Southfield-Lathrup), D'Andre Johnson (Detroit Cass Tech), Richie Lewis (Flint Northern), Khalil Fielder (Detroit Pershing) and Braden Werley (Zeeland West).