Michigan State basketball recruit Branden Dawson and his teammates were predictably excited to play on ESPN tonight, the first time Lew Wallace High School in Gary, Indiana, appeared on national television.
Here's what Dawson told the Northwest Indiana Times before the game:
"It's like any dream of any little kid," Dawson said. "I am so excited about it. Our team is so excited about it. This is a great opportunity for me and the entire program. What else could I ask for?"
Unfortunately for the upstart Wallace team, they were matched against Chicago's Simeon High School, one of the top teams in the country. Things did not go well.
Here's how Joe Henricksen of the Chicago Sun-Times described this Simeon team:
Now Simeon may have its best team in school history. Yes, the Hoops Report believes that -- on paper -- Simeon is better than the Derrick Rose-led Simeon team in 2007. There is more depth, more size and clearly more college basketball prospects and overall talent. While that 33-2 team in 2006-2007 was certainly special, it didn't have the overwhelming talent this group has.
Lew Wallace's players were noticeably (and understandably) a bit nervous as the game started, but they were also over-matched against a Simeon squad that goes 10 deep with players who are all college prospects.
Simeon's press, as well as its seamless switches between swarming 3-2 and 2-1-2 zone defenses, confused Wallace's guards and made it hard for the team to get the ball in Dawson's hands. Wallace was out-scored 27-6 in the first quarter, they turned it over 14 times in the first half and were down by 30 at halftime. In a high school game with eight minute quarters and no shot clock, a 30-point lead even that early in a game is insurmountable.
Under those circumstances, it was hard to get a real good evaluation of Dawson's talents, since he didn't get the ball in his hands as much as the team needed in order to have any chance.
But there were still some signs that he's going to be a good fit at Michigan State, particularly defensively with his physical tools.
The first thing that stood out watching Dawson is his length. Like fellow 2011 commit Brandan Kearney, Dawson is really tall and also really long-armed. If both are able to develop into tough defenders at the college level, Michigan State will potentially have a quick, disruptive force on each wing constantly getting those arms in passing lanes.
Kearney might be the more polished of the two right now. Kearney has a more reliable outside shot and he's more comfortable as a passer. But Dawson is much stronger and more athletic right now, as well as a stronger rebounder.
One of his few early scoring chances came in the second quarter, when he caught the ball on a semi-break with two defenders back. Dawson, clearly, was going to go into traffic and try and make a play. With the defender in good position, that play often leads to a charge in high school. Dawson, however, caught the pass, dribbled, avoided contact as he faded past the defender in the air and hit a floater from about four feet.
Dawson also showed that even as a perimeter player in college, he'll be a good shot blocker. One block came against a Simeon player who faced up, pump-faked, dribbled, stepped back and created space and still saw Dawson send his shot about 17 feet with a forceful block. He kept his feet the whole time and didn't bite on any of the fakes, which was good to see from a young player probably used to blocking his share of ill-conceived shot attempts.
A second block came from helping on defense as a Simeon player had what looked like a clean attempt at the basket and Dawson caught him from behind.
Dawson's best play of the night, and the biggest flash of why he's considered one of the best high school prospects in the country came late in the game. A Wallace player shot a three, one of many errant attempts on the night, and Dawson was in good but not great position to get the offensive board, with the defensive player on Dawson's left hip. The ball took a weird bounce as Dawson was in the air, forcing him to re-adjust, and seemingly headed for the defender on the outside hip. Dawson turned in mid-air, snatched the ball with one arm, avoiding the defender in the process, landed, spun and quickly went back up for a layup. Position and hustle play big roles in good offensive rebounders, but when you combine those things with Dawson's athletic ability, he's a potentially dominant offensive rebounder if he keeps working at it in college.
As I said above, it's hard to get a good feel for Dawson's skillset because the team was out of the game so quickly. He did make some mistakes, however.
For someone who has the reputation of being a great rebounder, Dawson was absent in the first half, only grabbing one. In fairness to him, Simeon didn't miss many shots the entire game, so defensive rebounds were at a premium. But Wallace missed a lot of shots, so I was expecting Dawson to attack the offensive glass more than he did.
Dawson also forced several passes, trying to make difficult plays through impossible angles in Simeon's zone, rather than making the smart pass back out to a guard to reset. He also sometimes tried to dribble through traffic in bad spots, including once in the third quarter when he tried to split three defenders. A lot of those plays probably had to do with the fact that it was an ESPN game, his team was struggling and he was trying to make plays, but it did show that Dawson might have a tendency to try and do too much right now.
Many scouts have talked about the inconsistency of his jumper. Dawson didn't hit from outside in this game, but structurally, his shot didn't look bad. He has a high release point with his wingspan, which is good, he elevates, which is good, and he has a pretty quick release, also good. All of those are qualities of a college wing. The one hitch I saw is he often tends to have his shoulders fade backwards on his shot, even as the rest of his body is going straight up. He also doesn't get a lot of arc on the ball at the free throw line, where he struggled tonight.
There's really not a lot to pick at in Dawson's game. He and his team obviously had a bad night against a great team, but Dawson clearly has the size, athleticism and ceiling that could make him an impact player at Michigan State pretty quickly.
Another name to watch:
Simeon sophomore Jabari Parker, another athletic, tall wing, is on Michigan State's recruiting radar for the class of 2013. Parker didn't play big minutes because Simeon plays 10 guys all pretty equally, but he's one of the top players in his class across the country and he currently has Michigan State in his top five. To be honest, Parker played with the polish of a senior. He looked very college-ready.