|Marquette's Jae Crowder is a load, both competitive and built to be durable. (US Presswire)|
By Jeff Goodman, Matt Norlander and Jeff Borzello
It's easy to evaluate Harrison Barnes, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and even Anthony Davis following his late growth spurt. What's difficult is finding those under-the-radar guys, the hidden gems.
We're talking about guys like Derrick Williams, Paul George, George Hill and Russell Westbrook.
With the 2012 NBA Draft only days away, we look at 14 relatively obscure guys coming out of high school who could hear their names called on June 28.
We talked to coaches who recruited them and look at why these players fell through the cracks ... until now.
Recruiter: Scott Monarch (Marquette)
Other schools: Texas Tech
Why he went under the radar: "He's a misfit, an undersized guy. In junior college, they played him at the two because they had other misfits. He's just never had a natural position."
When did you first see him: "I didn't see him until he was already committed. [Head coach] Buzz [Williams] saw him and he scored three points and fouled out, but I knew his father and Jae blew up at a junior college tournament down in Florida. Someone called me about him and both his father and I went to Kentucky Wesleyan."
What you saw in him: "He competes and he's got that body. He's always had a man's body and in the Big East, durability is important."
Most significant area of improvement: "Defense. I don't know if he had any interest before he got here, but he really started to understand defense -- help defense, ball defense and rotation. He bought into it and really improved."
Recruiter: Doug Stewart (Oregon State)
Other schools: Decommitted from Arizona State
Why he went under the radar: "He bounced around at least three different AAU programs, so I think a lot of people questioned his motives and why he kept changing teams. For him, it was just about opportunities. If he lived in Southern California, people would have seen more of him and I think he would have been recruited at a higher level."
When did you first see him: "At a tournament at Berkeley High. He was really good and I was wondering why he wasn't being recruited by more high-major programs."
What you saw in him: "He was a freak athlete, had a high IQ and played hard. There were questions about him in whether he was tough enough -- people said he was soft -- but I didn't see it. He played hard and was tough."
Most significant area of improvement: "When he showed up, all he did was dunk and charge. He was really willing to buy into skill development, was coachable and had a thirst to get better. His 3-point shooting and his court vision both improved."
Recruiter: Dan Muller (currently head coach at Illinois State)
Other schools: Boston College, Nevada, Harvard
Why he went under the radar: "He didn't play. He came over to Nigeria and moved to Sacramento to live with his uncle. He didn't play much, if at all, that season and then wasn't allowed to play the next year because he had graduated from high school in Nigeria at 14. He took part-time courses at a local junior college and played AAU, but he wasn't very good. He had no idea what he was doing. None."
When did you first see him: "The first day of Reebok Camp on July 6. He'd block a shot or get a dunk, but he was so raw. He was big and athletic, though."
What you saw in him: "He was 6-10 and 230 pounds. He had a body and we could work with him. At Vanderbilt, you have to take chances. He had a body and potential -- and was a good kid."
Most significant area of improvement: "Everything. Knowledge of the game, his hands. He couldn't do anything. He didn't even know the basic rules."
Recruiter: Brian Burg (Campbell)
Other schools: Eastern Washington
Why he went under the radar: "Look at what [coach] Fran McCaffery said after we played Iowa: 'We don't know who this kid is or where he's from, but he could play at any Big Ten school. He's a rare find. He was a hidden gem because of his situation, and I'm glad we were there."
When did you first see him: "We went out there to see another kid, and fell in love with Griffin. We got him on an official visit the next weekend, and it was done. He committed when he got home to Kansas."
What you saw in him: "He was really competitive, and his overall length and athleticism was off the charts, especially at the junior college level."
Most significant area of improvement: "I think his maturity level as a basketball player has increased from junior college to now. His skill level has improved. In junior college, he was really, really raw. He was all one speed, and very often he would get out of control. He slowed down his game and was much more effective. He adapted a natural ability to score around the rim with his athletic ability, natural sense and feel."
Recruiter: Rodney Tention (now assistant at San Diego)
Other schools: Saint Mary's, Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Why he went under the radar: "He came from a small school, Palm High, in the Salinas [Calif.] area. He played for West Valley Elite, not one of the nationally-ranked AAU teams. He didn't travel to any of the individual camps. He was recruited as a mid-major player. If he was recruited as a high-major, he would've been a role guy. He got into a situation where he could be the guy. We didn't win, but you could see he was going to be something special. His freshman year [at Loyola Marymount], we started four freshman and a sophomore. You could tell he was getting better. I knew he would be a pretty good college player."
When did you first see him: "My assistant had seen him, and I had known his AAU coach from years ago. Those guys saw him in his school year, and I saw him in the summer in Washington. He had a chance to do an official visit, then I did an in-home visit and convinced him to commit."
What you saw in him: "You could see he's a hard-worker. He's relentless offensively, was developing offensive skills. He was a big, strong football player as well, but his love was basketball. His brother was a player at Boise, and he was about winning. Orlando would do whatever he could do to make himself better. He had a great attitude."
Most significant area of improvement: "His overall game. He wasn't just a strong inside player anymore. He was a total complete player. Instead of a post-up big wing, he was a guy that you had to guard out on the perimeter. His development as a passer, as a pretty good defender, a solid rebounder. That was the key. Orlando comes from a tough background, but God, is he special. The best thing about him is that he's a great kid. He knows what he wants to do, and he'll do whatever a team wants him to do. He knows he has a ways to go. He's got the right approach about it. He's not going to be outworked."
Recruiter: Aki Collins (currently an assistant at Memphis)
Other schools: TCU, Kentucky, Nebraska, N.C. State
Why he went under the radar: I think people lost track of him. He was deemed a non-qualifier because of a class that the NCAA was debating about. People didn't know that he was going to qualify to play D-I after one year in junior college and I don't think too many people recruited him because of it."
When did you first see him: "At the Hoop Hall event in Massachusetts. I watched him play against John Riek's team and Darius finished with one point, but we signed his friend when I was an assistant at Fairfield and he kept telling me how good he was so I followed up on it."
What you saw in him: "His strength, athleticism and competitiveness. He only had one point, but he had a nice shot and it was just one of those days where his shot wasn't falling."
Most significant area of improvement: "His mid-range game. He's always been able to shoot the 3 and finish at the rim, but he's really worked on his mid-range game and now he doesn't take as many contested shots."
Recruiters: Randy Rahe, Jeff Linder (former Weber assistant, current Boise State assistant)
Other schools: Saint Mary's, San Diego State, SMU
Why he went under the radar: "Our advantage was I knew his AAU coach (Raymond Young) really well," said Rahe, who along with Linder earned Lillard's loyalty by being the the first big school to push his recruitment. "Raymond actually called me during Damian's junior year and asked if we needed someone for our  recruiting class."
When did you first see him: "I can't remember which tournament it was, but it was in April of '07. I thought, I don't think we can get this kid. I think he might be too good."
What you saw in him: "He could always really, really shoot the ball. I loved how he stroked it. But when you watched him, he did everything well. It wasn't like, Wow, he can shoot it but can't really go by you. He was a good passer, had great effort. At our level [the Big Sky], normally, when you get guys they have one strength and then a bunch of weaknesses. But when I watched him, he didn't have a lot of weaknesses that I could see him for our level."
Most significant area of improvement: "I think he needed more work in playing off the ball. In high school, in AAU, so much of it is, 'Hey I got the ball, I'm going to go do what I want.' We needed him to play off the ball, use the screens. He used to catch balls off screens, be wide open, and not know what to do with it."
Recruiter: Dan McHale and Shaheen Holloway (both now at Seton Hall)
Other schools: Norfolk State, George Mason
Why he went under the radar: He changed high schools a little bit. At St. Mary's, he played with Danny Green as a freshman, then moved to North Carolina, so he got lost in the shuffle a little bit. At St. Benedict's, he played with Samardo Samuels, Zack Rosen, Chris Smith. With AAU teams, bounced around a little bit. I remember, one time in Vegas, it was myself, coach [Kevin] Willard and Shaheen [Holloway] in a back gym. The rosters weren't right, but we knew Scott because we were on him. He made four or five great bounce passes, and people were wondering who he was. No one knew his name. Sean Doherty from Quinnipiac asked me who he was, and I said, 'Nah man, I don't know.' "
When did you first see him: "In Houston, he played with Team Takeover, a small team from Connecticut, with Devin Ebanks and Christian Morris."
What you saw in him: "We knew at the time he was going to be good, but not this good. We thought, I could really make this kid into a great player if he wants to be distributor first and a scorer second. He had such a great body, a good first step, a good work ethic."
Most significant area of improvement: "Changing speeds. He's not the type of guy who is a jet-quick guy, but he has a chance to play at two different speeds. Just seeing the floor, he has such great vision. He knows where everyone is, two passes ahead of time. He's become a better shooter under the coaching staff. His knock in the NBA is that he's not a great shooter, and shot selection. But he's gotten better. We put the ball in his hands from Day One."
Recruiter: Scott Spinelli (currently an assistant at Maryland)
Other schools: Michigan, Oklahoma, Clemson
Why he went under the radar: "He blew up late. He played behind a couple of talented kids in the summer -- including Devin Booker. I think that he didn't stand out because of it."
When did you first see him: "The King James tournament in Ohio. We had Josh Carter leaving and we needed a skilled guy with length who could shoot it. He fit the description perfect and filled a need for us. I remember seeing him and coming back and telling Turge [former A&M coach Mark Turgeon, now at Maryland] about him. He had some family down in Shreveport, La., and dropped off some tape while he was visiting. Turge watched them and offered him."
What you saw in him: "That he could shoot it, was long and filled a need for us."
Most significant area of improvement: "He's become more aggressive. He came to us with plenty of skill, but he was young and needed to mature both physically and mentally. He wasn't very assertive. He was a quiet kid and we wanted him to take over instead of deferring so much. He's came a long way since he got to college."
Recruiter: Tony Madlock (now at Auburn)
Other schools: Mississippi State
Why he went under the radar: He was 6-7 or maybe 6-8 going into his junior year and weighed about 180 pounds. He didn't play at a powerhouse high school in Memphis and also didn't play a lot of AAU ball. He was a goofy, long and lanky kid who would play well one day and then people would laugh at him the next day. He liked to shoot it from the perimeter and didn't really want to mix it up."
When did you first see him: At a high school game in Memphis where I was there to watch someone else. But he was intriguing. He would have a great play -- and then float."
What you saw in him: "He's really athletic and had pretty good ball skills at his size. He could put it on the floor and could make shots from the perimeter and also would have moments where he opened your eyes."
Most significant area of improvement: "His body. When he came to us at UTEP as a freshman, he was 190 pounds. He was young for his grade and he gained confidence as he gained strength. That's allowed him to become a big-time rebounder -- and that's what will keep him in the league for 10 or 15 years."
Recruiter: Russ Willemsen (Tennessee Tech)
Other schools: South Carolina State
Why he went under the radar: "If you look at his AAU team, it was one of the best Georgia Stars teams. It had Al-Farouq Aminu, Ralph Sampson Jr., Tony Woods, Travis Leslie, Tanner Smith, Wesley Witherspoon. He was on a loaded team so he didn't play very much. And this was before there were 50,000 people covering Georgia basketball. If you didn't get there during warmups, you didn't know if he could play or not."
When did you first see him: "Scott Bracco, the coach at Dunwoody, called me about him after Murphy's sophomore year, said we needed to check him out. So we called his coach, let him know we were interested. Then we followed up every couple weeks. During his junior year, he had South Carolina and some other schools talking to him, but no one was biting. He didn't have great grades, and everybody sort of backed off. We went into his school, and worked out a plan with the guidance counselor, figuring out what classes he needed to be in that would best suit him qualifying."
What you saw in him: "We always knew from Day One he would have a chance to play in Europe because of his size. He came in as a small forward, and evolved in a shooting guard. We thought he would be a Player of the Year candidate, which he was. We knew that he was a good player. One thing about Murph that separates him is his work ethic. You can't tell me he doesn't work hard when he's in the gym before and after practice working on his game. He just had the 'it' factor when it comes to scoring. He would miss six or seven shots in a row, but he would take eight, nine, 10, 11 with the same confidence as one through seven."
Most significant area of improvement: "He still takes some bad shots, but he's really improved on not just being a volume shooter. He can still be a volume shooter, but that's rare. The game he scored 50, he went 16 of 21. I think he's improved his 3-point field-goal percentage, and that is a little bit of both shot selection and improved shooting. He also has one of the best step-backs I've ever seen."
Recruiter: Jeff Massey (St. Bonaventure)
Other schools: Niagara, Buffalo, Canisius, Duquesne, Virginia
Why he went under the radar: "Two reasons, really. One, he stepped on his cellphone, and I don’t think a lot of people could reach him. It was those size 18 shoes. I tried for two months before I could get a hold of him. Second, he hurt his ankle, so he didn’t play AAU the summer before his senior year." But there is another reason though, and that was where Nicholson actually played high school ball. Father Michael Goetz Secondary School in Ontario was a uniform school, and "basketball wasn't one of the main things," Massey added. "Most of the coaches are volunteer coaches. They could teach home economics and then head to the gym for practice."
When did you first see him: "In workouts right as his senior year of high school started."
What you saw in him: "Andrew's a very different kid. Very studious. He's always been more student than player. When I first saw him, I thought he was a skinny kid, and was like, 'Coach, that's he kid?’ And he was like, 'That's him. Just watch when we start.' Then the organized scrimmage started, and out of nowhere, Nicholson suction-cupped a ball against the glass. Eye-opening, to say the least. His footwork stood out. His hands have always been good."
Most significant area of improvement: "That's a really tough question, because I think he's always been that skilled. I would have to say his shooting, if we had to break it down and pick one thing. He didn't really shoot 3s as a freshman and sophomore. He could always shoot, but him showing us with reps, day in and day out, that he could make the long-distance shot, confidence went through the roof. His hands are huge, and I’m still trying to figure out how he shoots, because it looks like he’s holding a grape sometimes."
Recruiter: Robert Jones
Other schools: Binghamton, Southern, Rutgers
Why he went under the radar: "He did very well after his senior year of high school," Jones said of O'Quinn, noting he was more of a football player who played only one year of high school hoops. "Also, he wasn't a familiar name or face. Then he averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds as a senior. He was 6-9 and growing."
When did you first see him: [Semifinals of the Port St. Lucie tournament, and on film shortly after that] The next day, I went to O’Quinn's house. It all happened very fast. It was a two to three week process at most, probably two weeks."
What you saw in him: "He was able to trap, run, work the press and had decent moves around the basket. All this without much basketball experience."
Most significant area of improvement: "Kyle's whole thing when he came to Norfolk State was, he wanted to get into the rotation," said Jones, noting that O'Quinn's mental approach to the game has completely turned around from where it was when he was a freshman -- and that coaches started telling him as a sophomore that a professional career was possible.
Recruiter: Todd Howard (recruited as an assistant, now head coach at IUPUI)
Other schools: Ball State
Why he went under the radar: "Nowadays, there aren't many secrets, and he may be one of the last. He wasn't a typical AAU kid. He wasn't a regular within the Indiana spring and summer circuit. It was out of sight, out of mind with him a lot. His name would always come up. But he just wasn't a household product of AAU. The whole time you're thinking, This is too good to be true."
When did you first see him: "Junior year during the high school season, but we thought a bigger school would inevitably come in and swoop in. ... In July, Alex would bounce from team to team, through no fault of his own; he just wanted to play with whoever he could play with."
What you saw in him: "A smart kid. He was like a man playing with kids in the backyard when we saw some of his games. It was unique because he blocked so many shots [Young led the state in blocks his senior year and near the top in rebounds] at the high school level, but also let it fly. Whatever setting he was in, he could score in bunches. It's a put-back here, free throws, a 3 in transition."
Most significant area of improvement: "I think attacking off the dribble. That's who he is and will be playing at the pro level. He's continuing to get bigger. Because he is 6-6, if you stay with him, he can shoot over you. But as a slithery, left-handed driver, he has a good floater. He's become from an interior-type player to someone on the perimeter and someone who can get on the wing or at the top of the floor and going against the set defense."