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A somewhat belated review of the Derby Festival Classic

OK, I finally got around to watching the Derby Festival Classic replay.  I was surprised at the difference between what I saw in that game and what others saw, but there are a number of things everyone can agree on.

What I'm going to do here is give you an impression of each Kentucky commit or recruit.  Keep in mind that this was an all-star game with very little offensive or defensive organization.  It really amounts to just a pick-up 5-on-5 like you would play with your friends at any gym or outdoor court in the land.  With that said, here are my impressions (keep in mind that I am not a professional talent evaluator and I don't play one on the Internet):

DeAndre Liggins

DeAndre Liggins was simply one of the best out there.  He scored very little, but he was incredible at starting the break and getting the ball in scoring position -- fast.  He is athletic, but not amazingly so.  Liggins is a better ballhandler than anyone currently on Kentucky's team, and that includes Derrick Jasper.  I can't comment on Galloway, but Liggins is not a "point forward," he is a 6'6" pass-first point guard with great court vision and no selfishness at all.  He loves to get the ball down the floor quickly, but does it with the pass as opposed to the dribble like the Kansas PG recruit, Drew, or Paul McCoy.  Liggins always has his head up and should have had at least 4 more assists than he officially recorded.  One was taken away when Zeller missed an unopposed fast-break layup, and two more were taken away on goaltends by Majok after layups hung on the rim.  The fourth was on a turnover in the open court that should have been a layup.  One assist he did make was to himself on an inbound, where he deliberately bounced the ball off the back of a player to himself and put the ball in.

Liggins is the kind of player that makes you feel very comfortable with the ball in his hands.  He is confident, he plays with his head up and his passing ability is the best I have seen in a Kentucky recruit since Rajon Rondo.  Like Rondo, he occasionally tries to force the ball into a place where it simply can't go, but every one of those times was close to a spectacular assist.  His jumpshot is mechanically sound, but he lacks confidence and needs to finish his release.

Darius Miller

Two words -- smooth athlete.  Miller made a couple of shots that could only be described as "circus shots."   Miller was very passive most of this game, tending to stay on the perimeter and  try to involve his teammates.  He is a solid passer and ballhandler, but he looked to me like he simply didn't want to be noticed out there.  Not sure why.  Miller had very little impact on the game aside from a couple of amazing layups and a really nice fade-away in the lane but he hustled and tried to get his teammates the ball.  He will contribute next year, although it looks to me like he lacks confidence against quality competition, which I found a bit surprising.  It could also be that he just wasn't feeling himself.

Miller has great ability and is fundamentally sound in every aspect of the game.  He will develop quickly and become the scoring threat that Ramon Harris is not (yet, anyway).  I think Miller can become a lock-down defender like Harris.  He has a great body and is more athletic and skilled right now than Harris.  His determination and intensity are question marks based on this game.

Ater Majok

Majok is an extremely talented offensive player for someone who has been playing for such a short time.  If he has any post up skills at all, they were never in evidence in this game -- he appears to be a purely face-up player.  He plays above the rim, long and lean but not skinny.  I never was able to get a good look at the mechanics of his release, but I can tell you one thing -- he put the ball into the basket.  He made one 3-pointer from about 25 feet, and is a fearless offensive player.  His ballhandling is just average.  Majok is not a 4 at all, he is more of a big 3 in the mold of Kevin Durant, but lacks the passing and ballhandling skills of that comparison.  He can block shots, but he accumulated a large number of fouls for an all-star game and had two unnecessary goaltends.  He hustles and plays hard, but is not really the cerebral type of player you might expect.

Majok could develop into a one-and-done player, but if so it will be more for upside than actual skill.  He needs to work on a lot of things, particularly his footwork around the basket, physicality and his shot selection -- a couple of the shots he made were not good shots, they just went in.  Even though Majok does not really fit our current needs as well as other players do, we could not pass him up if he wanted to come here.  He will be playing in the Association someday, and that someday is not more than 3 years hence.

Maurice Sutton

Sutton has received accolades from many for his performance in this game, but some have suggested he collected a lot of "garbage" points.  This is not so.  Most of Sutton's points came from good positioning, running the floor, and a surprisingly capable face-up game.  Sutton is not a redux of Perry Stevenson at all -- Sutton has strong, thick calves and a powerful lower body.  His upper body is weaker and his shoulders are a bit narrow, a la Stevenson, but Sutton can easily pack on 25 more pounds without difficulty.  Sutton has surprisingly good hands, and looked very comfortable with the basketball away from the basket.  He even launched a last-second 3 from about 23 feet that nearly went in.

Sutton's shot mechanics are not that great.  His shot is a little long hand he cups his shooting hand a la DeMarcus Nelson of Duke, but he is comfortable shooting the ball from anywhere inside the 3-point line and made all his free throws.  Sutton also finishes strongly and made one very aggressive move to dunk on another player.  He was fouled, but the move was strong and surprisingly athletic.  This kid has real potential, in my opinion.  You will hear others talk about how Shagari Allene was the MVP of this game and how it means nothing.  I disagree.  This kid has more skills than I expected, and can help us inside.  He has not been offered a scholarship and word on the street is that he is being held as a backup plan, probably to Harrellson.

Paul McCoy

To my mind, McCoy was the least impressive of any of the potential Kentucky players.  McCoy prefers to advance the ball on the dribble, but did not show the kind of sure-handedness with the ball that Liggins showed.  He is quite athletic and could develop into a good defender, but as a point guard, he would likely see very little time next year.  His shot mechanics are very sound, but he releases the ball a little too far to the left, causing most of his misses to be on the right side.  His mechanics will not require much work, though, and he could quickly become a dangerous 3-point shooter.

But in this game, he looked overmatched.  He just doesn't have the ballhandling or passing skills at this point to be a big help, and his game lacks polish and confidence.  I never felt like he was comfortable out there running the point, and it showed up in his lack of statistical impact.

Other notes:

  • U of L recruits Swopshire and Jennings are both dynamic athletes.  They will make an already good U of L team better next year, no question.
  • Kansas' Relaford was a black hole -- the ball went to him but never came back.  He scored a lot of his points in transition.  If he is a team player, it was not in evidence in this game.
  • UCLA got a good one in Anderson.  Solid with the ball and a pretty good shooter.  Good passer and very athletic.
  • Tyler Zeller is a face-up 4.  To slow to play the three, but has the best shot mechanics of any player I saw.  His post-up game was not very good, and he doesn't finish well around the basket.  Plays soft.
  • Yancy Gates (Cincinnati) - Wow.  Just wow.  I sure wish he was on our side.  Huge space-eater with skills.
  • Thompkins (Georgia) -- Had a great game, showed good range for a big man and was active inside.  Ready to start from day one.  Likely FOY candidate next year in the SEC.  Very sound fundamentally.
  • Drew (UNC) -- Capable point guard, but moves the ball on the dribble rather than the pass.  Streaky shooter.  I like Liggins better.
  • Singleton (Fla. State) -- Some good, some bad.  Not as athletic as I expected, but has a decent handle and can shoot with range.
  • Ray Shipman (Florida) -- Annoying player, but a fine scorer.  Can slash and shoot.  Great pickup for Donovan, but his attitude for this game was Noah-esque.  Will add the athleticism the Gators were missing last year.
  • Kadji (Florida) -- Will help the Gators where they need it most, in the paint.  Solid, but not spectacular game.  Big, but not particularly athletic.