What I learned from ESPNHS Showcase

Thursday night was a special evening on the ESPN family of networks. We had three games from different locales. Oak Hill outlasted Miller Grove in Atlanta and point guard Tyler Lewis (Statesville, N.C./Oak Hill) continues drawing rave reviews.

I was in Texas for the better part of 24 hours yet it was a major learning experience. The trip confirmed a number of hunches, allowed me to see guys for who they are and gave me insight into a number of young players.

Went to a HS game and a college game broke out

The only thing missing from Marcus’ win over Montrose was a shot clock and two halves. Otherwise, this was a classic college basketball game. Two coaches – Steve Vetter and Danny Henderson – who could easily and successfully coach college teams. Each put his club and players in positions to succeed.

It was beautiful watching a plan on both sides being executed and in a few years, the participants will thank their coaches for preparing them for college. The basketball IQs each team demonstrated and the ability to buy in and play together with the goal of winning was inspiring. It was a game I won’t soon forget.

Without fail, each college coach I spoke with enjoyed the contest, sportsmanship and competitiveness. Some people who watched in their living room expressed frustration with the score. Had they been in the building, their appreciation for the competition and intensity would have trumped their complaints.

Smartacus delivers again

I sincerely hope readers of this blog don’t tire of what seems to be my unceasing, yet healthy addiction, to Marcus Smart (Flower Mound, Texas/Marcus). In my 15 years of covering recruiting, Smart is one of the most intelligent, competitive and complete guards I’ve come across.

Players with aptitudes like him aren’t made; they’re born. Gaining an appreciation for who he is and what he does might take more than one game but once you figure out who he is, there’s no turning back. Smart is not the best prospect in the 2012 class, but he is the best basketball player.

Physically he’s a problem. Defensively, he’s going to live in your private space. As a teammate, once you’ve gained his trust its in his nature to put you in a position for success. Against Montrose Christian, he spent an entire half trying to get his teammates going. Then, when it became clear he needed to step up, he dominated the third quarter in all facets and if that meant laying out for a loose ball, that’s what he did.

Smart trusts Phil Forte (Flower Mound, Texas/Marcus) and even though Forte couldn’t throw it in the ocean, Smart stuck with him. These guys have a special bond. Maybe neither one aces the look test but individually, Smart scores off the charts in the play test and together with Forte they are destined to win. There’s not a single ounce of entitlement in either one of them. When Smart set Forte up for a series of clutch shots, Forte didn’t let his guy down.

Shabazz Muhammad will be a McDonald’s All-American and there are a handful of other locks. Marcus Smart belongs on the “locks” list. I’ll go a step further: he needs to be on the short list for national player of the year. Period.

Talent, talent and more talent

During the Grace Prep and Prestonwood game, it dawned on me. There were top-10 players in four different classes on the court at the same time. Think about that.

Senior Isaiah Austin (Dallas/Grace Prep) is ESPNU’s No. 3 prospect. Julius Randle (Plano, Texas/Prestonwood) is No. 3 in the junior class. Emmanuel Mudiay (Dallas, Tex./Grace Prep) is No. 7 in the sophomore group. Micky Mitchell (Plano, Texas/Prestonwood) isn’t ranked because we don’t have a list for freshmen but others have referred to him as this level of player.

Because of the setting, I thought we almost lost track of the sheer amount of talent on the court. The state of Texas has produced 39 McDonald’s All-Americans, including one in each of the last 12 years and the run won’t end anytime soon. Six players in three different classes from the state rank as top-10 talents.

Zabo will be a good one

Kevin Zabo (Quebec, Ont./Montrose Christian) is a sophomore and late in the game, he could have handled the final possession better. Vetter will show him tape and there’s no doubt in my mind he will come away a better player from the experience. Since last season, he’s improved immensely.

Point guard play is down across the country. To me, the guys who can manage a team are premium players. Zabo is incrementally developing his leadership game. He plays at different speeds and is becoming quite the half-court point guard. He carries himself with an air of patience and purpose. He has far less negative plays for his position than most young lead guards.

Canada is cranking out backcourt talent at rates it hasn’t seen before. Cory Joseph, Myck Kabongo, Junior Cadougan, Kevin Pangos and now Zabo. Zabo is a premium prospect because of his DNA to command a team and if he keeps this up he’ll do it as well as any of his countrymen, not named Steve Nash.

Tidbits that weren’t squeezed into the broadcast

• Junior Jordan Mickey (Dallas/Grace Prep) told me before the game that Kentucky is a place he holds in high regard. This young man didn’t have his best game but he’s having a terrific year largely due to the increased dose of confidence he received from summer ball. Texas A&M, Houston, Providence, Kansas, Alabama, Florida State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State want him.

• Mudiay was born in the Congo. Kentucky, Texas, Baylor, Texas A&M, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri are on him. He definitely likes the Big 12.

• Montrose senior power forward Michael Carrera (Venezuela/Montrose Christian) has Ole Miss, Gonzaga, Richmond, George Mason, Alabama and George Washington looking.

Ishmail Wainright (Kansas City, Mo./Montrose) had 15 family members at the game. They drove 8.5 hours to see him. Kansas, Missouri, UCLA, Baylor and Florida are on him strong. He visited Oklahoma State with Smart and Forte when the pair committed.