ESPN's Eamonn Brennan Impressed by Wildcat Freshmen


ESPN's Eamonn Brennan has been posting a fantastic "Letters from Camp" series, covering the Nike Skills Camps in Chicago, on the WWL's College Basketball Nation Blog. His latest blog post has a couple of juicy nuggets about two soon-to-be Wildcat stars, Marquis Teague and Anthony Davis. His impressions are closely aligned with my thoughts on both, captured in my Recruiting Spotlights (Teague | Davis). If you haven't had the chance already, check out Brennan's column and get excited to see these kids in the blue and white. Some analysis after the jump (with bold emphasis mine).

Marquis Teague

Kentucky freshman Marquis Teague has been hailed as the latest in Kentucky coach John Calipari's long list of successful freshman point guards, a legacy that includes Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and, most recently, Brandon Knight. There's no reason to think Teague can't live up to that billing.

Just being a really good five-star prospect (which Teague is) isn't necessarily a harbinger of having an outstanding freshman year. See Kansas' Josh Selby or former NC Stater Ryan Harrow for evidence to the contrary. However, Cal's track record alone is enough to convince me that Teague will be special. In a recent 2012 mock draft conducted by CBS Sports' Jeff Goodman and Gary Parrish, the duo selected Teague 18th. Honestly, that sounds way too low.

During Saturday's full court five-on-five session -- in which guards from the Deron Williams Skills Academy played with forwards from the Amar'e Stoudamire camp -- Teague sliced and diced opposing defenders, found his way into the lane with relative ease, and showcased an intuitive understanding of the various ways to attack off a ball screen.

More than any other trait, this is the one I think that Kentucky fans will be most impressed with. Teague has impressive handles, and even against top-tier competition, should be able to dribble-drive his way to the rim. The real question is: what will he do once he gets into the paint? He'll have to learn that it's easier to score with 5 guys instead of one, meaning: make the correct pass at the correct time.

One play in particular stood out: About 30 feet from the hoop in the corner of the court -- picture where Duke ran its spread high-screen sets for Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith this season -- Teague got a screen from fellow Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis. The guard split the two defenders, took off toward the rim, saw help arrive and dished a nifty little bounce pass to Davis, who crashed toward the basket and finished with a ferocious dunk. The play was as impression a piece of team basketball as I saw all weekend, and Teague deserved the credit for its creation.

This is what intrigues me so much about Teague. He has the natural ball-handling creation skills to thrive in the DDMO. Watch his highlight clips and notice how he relishes one-on-one situations from the top of the key against a defender. It's Teague's bread and butter. Now watch Kentucky's high-screen game from last year with Brandon Knight and Josh Harrellson, only envision Teague and Davis in their places. Knight had a predisposition to shoot when open; Harrellson was mostly a big body decoy. This year, Teague will be more inclined to take the ball to the hole, either for an And-1 attempt or an easy dish. Moreover, Davis will have the athleticism to catch and shoot, or to follow the play for an easy finish. I'm positively drooling over this.

For more, see the Marquis Teague Recruiting Spotlight.

Anthony Davis

Speaking of Davis, well, it's not hard to see why college recruiting services (including our own) have named him the best prospect in the class. Nor is it difficult to see why pro scouts are already drooling. To use a once-banished draft term, Davis is incredibly long. He's also very athletic. That combination allows him to rise above other tall and athletic defenders to snatch rebounds, challenge shots and finish at the rim.

As I noted in his Recruiting Spotlight, it's almost uncanny how Davis has been able to utilize the growth spurt to his advantage. Not only has he kept his perimeter skills given his length, but he's been able to understand how to optimally use his new-found height. I really wish Harrellson had another year of eligibility to body up against the post man, leaving Davis completely free to roam in help defense. As it is, I think you'll see Cal use Davis in a manner similar to how Texas used Tristan Thompson last year. When guards weave their way inside, Davis will have free rein to switch off his defender and go for the blocked shot. Against perimeter-oriented teams that don't utilize a hulking big man, Davis will absolutely wreck the paint.

But there's also a reason Davis didn't become a highly touted prospect until this year: He's still pretty soft. That's not really a knock -- we're talking about a 6-foot-10 college freshman with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, after all -- but it is something that could hamper Davis' production in his first full season as a college hoopster. Davis has the height to play center at the college level -- with Terrence Jones back in the fold, it seems likely that's where Kentucky will opt to play him -- but can he stand toe-to-toe with big, physical upperclassmen? Won't Festus Ezeli, to name one example, be able to impose his will on this kid through strength and positioning?

Again, back to my Josh Harrellson pining. Terrence Jones will likely play the combo forward role in the pros, and I'm willing to bet that Calipari is asking him to improve and refine his perimeter game in order to do so. While Jones will officially be listed as the 4 in the starting lineup, he'll play that hybrid role while Davis will draw the interior assignments. Think of Davis as the Markieff Morris to Jones' Marcus. Unfortunately, Davis doesn't yet have the girth that Markieff had last year, and I'll be impressed if Davis can lock down bigger 5's like Ezeli. To that end, the development of Eloy Vargas to buy 10-15 minutes against talented bigs is key.

For that reason, it's easy to see a few growing pains for Davis, who might draw a lot of comparisons to Baylor's Perry Jones: Both are insanely talented, versatile, athletic stretch forwards who don't quite have the frame to bang in the low block. Jones struggled somewhat during his first season in Waco and decided to return for a second. Could Davis do the same?

I made the Perry Jones comparison to Jonathan Tjarks, a fellow Sports Blog Nation writer, citing Jones as the floor for Davis' freshman season. However, I think Davis will do significantly better, for two reasons. The first is coaching. While Scott Drew is nearly as masterful a recruiter as John Calipari, he hasn't yet refined his coaching prowess. Contrast that to Calipari, who maximizes his players' potentials and puts them in an optimal position to succeed.

Second, Davis will have much better talent around him. Jones played with a point guard (A.J. Walton) that couldn't run an offense and a shooting guard (LaceDarius Dunn) that required the ball in his hands at all times. Meanwhile, Davis will have a Calipari-taught point guard (albeit an inexperienced one) and a cadre of shooters to spread the floor. I'm liking Davis' chances of success in Calipari's DDMO offense, and the only reason he'll be back for year two is because he wants to be, a la Harrison Barnes or Jared Sullinger.

For more, see the Anthony Davis Recruiting Spotlight.

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