Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Problem with HS Big Men

Back in February, Fairfax and San Diego High School met in a bball game at my alma mater, University of San Diego. Featured were two of the most hyped big men in the state and country, Renardo Sidney (Fairfax) and Jeremy Tyler (San Diego). Sidney schooled the young junior for the second time but with ESPN2 showing the game, it gave America a chance to see the latest Clash of the Titans.

What happened since then? Tyler is now skipping his last year of HS to go play in Europe and Sidney, once orally committed to USC, has now backed out mainly due to suspicion over NCAA investigations into Reggie Bush and OJ Mayo. Speculation is that he's headed to Mississippi State, where he was originally born.

It's not easy being a big man in high school. Much is expected and usually it hasn't been fulfilled in recent years. Let's look at the last few big men in California.

Amir Johnson (6-10) - started playing out here at Verbum Dei before having to sit out a year after transferring to Westchester HS. In his only year with the Comets, he led them to a state title and was named Mr. Basketball in 2005. All set to go to Louisville.......BUT decided to go pro and barely got out of the 2nd round. In four years with Detroit, he's been much a role player whose promise earned him a 3-yr, $11 mil contract in 2007.

David/Travis Wear - The 6-10 twins from Santa Ana Mater Dei, they spent three years on varsity and earned two state titles. They're great finesse players with nice hands/shooting touches and some have wondered if that translates to lack of toughness. David is a two-time CIF Player of the Year and All-State selection and Travis is no slouch either. Both are headed to North Carolina and time will tell how they turn out. They weren't hyped up too much beyond what they were so the future remains bright.

Renardo Sidney (6-10) - I'll never forget the first time I saw him. 2007 = Artesia HS vs. Mater Dei (No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the state), two future McDonald's All-Americans on the court in James Harden and Taylor King (and 3 more in Sidney and the Wears) . I was all set to watch those two and then Sidney dominated with 18 pts and 19 rebs. Next time I saw him, at the Division III state regional finals, another double-double, couple of threes and a big man that was easily the best sophomore in the country.

When he transferred to Fairfax (D1 state champs) after winning state, we all thought they would win at least one more City title if not another state crown. Well we were wrong. Despite some truly dominant games, the murmurs about his conditioning/attitude/lack of assertiveness at times sometimes overshadowed that. By his senior year, he did end up an All-American but he was no longer the No. 1-ranked player in the state (Jordan Hamilton), the second-best player in his section and did not win Mr. Basketball.

It's anyone's guess what he'll do at Miss. State but he'll probably be a lottery pick in 2010 based on potential more than output. Many will debate whether his two years at Fairfax were a disappointment based on no City titles or because he lacked the supporting cast of other teams.

Jeremy Tyler - The latest big man. Touted as the best since Greg Oden. And by the way, I know what Oden did in high school but if y'all remember him in college, there's NO WAY he was an All-American. He may have broken his wrist the first part of the year, but he still lacked an offensive arsenal. An outstanding rebounder/blocker but the Bill Russell comparison were true. He was at best a 2nd or 3rd team cause he didn't impact games the way Kevin Durant did (or Kevin Love a year later). And we're seeing that unfold now...but I digress

Tyler is a great kid, great prospect but as I saw with him against Sidney, he still has room to grow. He would have dominated San Diego for another year and then get further developed by one of the best in the business, Rick Pitino at Louisville. But he and his family called an audible and citing constant triple teams, lack of development and a desire to be somewhat paid - he's taking his game to Europe before he has a high school diploma.

By the way, you have to feel a little bit for Pitino. This decade, he had a chance to coach Sebastian Telfair, Amir Johnson and Jeremy Tyler. Everyone bailed on him. But then again, one Final Four and three trips to Elite Eight say he's doing just fine without them.

Telfair and Johnson have been busts and now Tyler is taking a huge risk heading to play against grown men and a coach who won't give him plenty of minutes (and he's being "shepherded" by Sonny Vaccaro - the same guy who speared Brandon Jennings abroad). I respect what Sonny has done but something doesn't feel right about him looking like a pimp here for the 2nd year in a row. He has an agenda against the NBA but is it always in a kid's best interests to get paid without the promise of personally developing from it.

Then again, we never have a problem with child actors or tennis players making bank before 17. You know why? Because usually they are good enough to earn that money against grown folks. How many teenage basketball flamouts have we seen since 1995?

Here's hoping the best for the kid and I hope he personally benefits from that European Vacation. Hopefully he'll have a better time than Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo.
Big men get all the hype for one reason. Their size which you can't teach. But as we've seen, you can be a tall guy who amounts to nothing more than that. The best big men were developed to be versatile. Able to shoot, able to post-up, able to move their feet for positioning and be tough in the middle. Most of this came to NBA draftees courtesy of the great Pete Newell (R.I.P.) and his legendary Big Man Camp

We don't see a lot of that development today so as a result, we have big men who can't really be dominant. It was rare that Dwight Howard came with great athleticism like the next Shaq but let's face it, how many big men are truly developed with 1 year of college. In high school, they dominated everyone the minute they stepped on the floor. It's like a point guard, there are certain things you have to learn about your position that can only come from great coaching, not game experience.

So note for anytime you watch a great big man play in High School. Look at what he can be, not just at what he does against smaller kids. Jeremy Tyler and Renardo Sidney are not NBA-ready big men and quite frankly, no big man can ever be deemed ready by what he does in high school. And of course, you have to factor those intangibles (in Sidney's case) that can't be measured.

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