Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Telep’s Top 10: Under-the-radar seasons
By Dave Telep
The big boys -- the country’s elite players -- are headline stealers. With a devoted media following and constant updates from dozens of sites, the latest news on twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker is merely a click away.
For others, you’ve got to do some digging. So for the debut of our new weekly top 10 feature, this list represents a smattering of the more blue-collar prospects so far from the 2012-13 season.
The purpose of this week’s top 10 list is to educate observers on 10 highly regarded players who are having excellent seasons but have managed to duck just below the national radar. Let’s be clear: These are outstanding seasons, but it doesn’t mean you’re about to shoot up the rankings. Crazy as it sounds, every now and then we have a guy evaluated properly, so this isn’t a list of risers.
It’s a list of kids who aren’t named Parker, Harrison or Wiggins but have earned the ink with their play.
1. Isaac Copeland (Raleigh, N.C./Miller School)
Uncommitted Living in Raleigh, I waited for him to ascend from prospect to player during his seasons at Ravenscroft High School. Copeland was the Ravens’ best-looking player in the layup line, and just when he appeared ready to have a breakout season last year, he broke his leg. Young for his grade, Copeland opted to reclassify at Miller School and a lot has changed since last year when he wasn’t healthy enough to play significant minutes for Ravenscroft’s state title team.
“This is the first time he’s been the guy, and it’s a new role for him,” Miller School coach Scott Willard said. “There’s no question he’s gone from prospect to player. He’s a flat-out producing high-major player right now. He’s filling up the stat sheet. He’s a marked man now; he’s the guy here.”
Copeland accounts for previously unheard of numbers with 20 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks per game. He’s gone from project 4-man to a skilled 6-foot-8 small forward. It’s an amazing transformation. According to Willard, Florida State and Georgetown have been aggressive. Duke, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia and Louisville keep tabs on him. The Seminoles and Hoyas use their head coach a lot in luring him, while UNC’s Roy Williams has seen him three times and NC State’s entire staff watched him together more than once.
Kentucky signee Marcus Lee is one of the best volume rebounders in the country.
2. Marcus Lee (Antioch, Calif./Deer Valley)
Signed with Kentucky Kentucky recruiting fatigue has set in for many outside of Big Blue Nation. However, those who appreciate talent and revel in the improvements of players don’t look at it that way. Lee was good last summer, but he wasn’t consistently great. Things may be changing for him. We know rebounding translates as much as any statistic from high school to college. I recall shaking my head the year Emeka Okafor led the city of Houston in rebounding with 18.5 a game. From then, I vowed to never miss a chance to give volume rebounders credit in the future. Lee averages 19 rebounds and better than 20 points per game. He recently had a 31-point, 29-rebound effort. He’s not hanging big numbers in meaningless blowouts either.
3. Isaiah Hicks (Oxford, N.C./Webb)
Signed with North Carolina The term is “tucked away.” Oxford, N.C., isn’t a destination city for McDonald’s All-Americans, but it might be home to one. Hicks, the highest-ranked prospect on this list but one who often doesn’t get the attention of other top-20 players, is peerless when he steps on the court in his area. However, he’s not bored. Credit the kid for putting up dominating stats -- ones that often result in high-teen or low-20s numbers on the glass and mid-20s scoring efforts.
4. Devin Williams (Cincinnati/Montverde)
Signed with West Virginia From our vantage point, Williams matching himself with Bob Huggins and West Virginia was a good idea. There are more well-rounded -- even more talented -- 4-men in the senior class. However, not all of those guys play with the motor Williams has been unleashing lately. During a recent broadcast of top-ranked Montverde’s win over nationally ranked Chicago Simeon, I used “monster” to describe him; “beast” would also be acceptable. How about coachable? Williams wasn’t the same player he is now last summer. He’s embraced his role for the No. 1 team in the country and he’s dominating in the lane. He’s doing it without the benefit of a go-to-move but with the heart of a guy committed to owning his area.
5. Josh Hart (Washington, D.C./Sidwell Friends)
Signed with Villanova For a kid who once took his enrollment at Sidwell Friends (academic issues) for granted, Hart’s senior year is going according to script. Big wins, big numbers and an overall hammering home of the point that he’s going to be productive wing at Villanova. He went for 14 points per game as a junior and is averaging better than 25 points this year. He’s prideful and competitive and he wants to play a part in winning.
6. Goodluck Okonoboh (Boston/Wilbraham & Monson)
Uncommitted Okonoboh reclassified at the beginning of the year. From a basketball standpoint, after watching him in November, he’s ready for college now. The kid is bouncy, tall, explodes into blocked shots and runs the floor for dunks. Defensively, no matter the class, he’s in the upper crust of his craft.
Deonte Burton's style of play will be a perfect fit at Marquette.
7. Deonte Burton (Milwaukee/Vincent)
Signed with Marquette There are a number of high-profile kids in Wisconsin having big years. However, not all of them have played the competition Burton has. He’s gone for 19 points and 11 rebounds a night, and on four occasions he’s flirted with triple-doubles. We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Burton’s attacking, often physical style will mesh well with the approach of Buzz Williams, who in addition to having a reputation as a dancer, happens to appreciate blue-collar players.
8. Semi Ojeleye (Ottawa, Kan./Ottawa)
Signed with Duke Most Blue Devils signees find the spotlight shining on them even if they aren’t having a big season. Ojeleye’s senior sendoff is bigger than big. In late December, he was averaging 39 points per game. Since we last checked on that number, Ojeleye has gone for 57 and 58 points. Confession: The competition he’s playing is poor. It reminds me of Kelenna Azubuike, who once torched unsuspecting small-school kids in Oklahoma with similar numbers. Kansas signee Conner Frankamp from the same state is getting digits comparable and deserves a mention as well. Lately, though, Ojeleye has been on a tear.
9. Detrick Mostella (Decatur, Ala./La Lumiere)
Signed with Oklahoma State Mostella didn’t need the rest of the season to smash his team’s all-time 3-point record. Though he’ll take some questionable shots, Mostella is one of the better bad shot makers you’ll find. Sometimes too casual and far from a finished product, this kid is a baller. He hit up Oak Hill (Va.) for five 3s in the first half of a game and tosses in 21 points a night on a talent-packed roster. His 34.5 percentage from 3-point range will improve next year when Travis Ford puts his arm around him, rolls the video and has a conversation about shot selection. In the meantime, Mostella will continue burning up prep opponents.
10. Douglas Brooks (Lake Wales, Fla./Lake Wales)
Uncommitted It’s not all roses because Brooks still has academic work remaining in order to qualify. Regardless, this unsigned senior deserves his moment in the spotlight. He played a secondary role in the summer for Each1Teach1 on an AAU team laced with talent. On his high school team, he is the talent. There’s nothing more endearing for an evaluator than to watch a kid compete on both ends while shouldering the scoring load for his team. To do it with basketball IQ, defensive intensity and a legit 3-point shot earns Brooks a spot on this list.