2009 National Prep Showcase: Elite Prospects
Khem Birch, 6-9, PF/C, Winchendon School, 2012
One of the most athletic players in New Haven, Canadian Khem Birch (? Scout, ? Rivals, #11 ESPN) did not take long to leave a very strong impression regarding the type of player he could develop into down the road.
Currently standing around 6-9, Birch possesses a superb wingspan and a very lanky frame that he still has plenty of time to grow into. He's a very bouncy young guy, running the floor extremely well and looking extremely quick getting off his feet.
Birch doesn't possess much in the ways of offensive skills at this very early stage of his development, but he does find plenty of ways to impact the game, mostly through the work he does on the offensive glass, where he is an absolute menace going after loose balls well out of his area. Rarely do you see this type of aggressiveness out of a player so young, which combined with his terrific physical attributes and soft touch, leaves a lot of room for optimism regarding his future. He's an excellent finisher on top of that, running the floor well and presenting himself as a terrific target on the fast break for easy looks around the rim.
Defensively, Birch is limited by his lack of strength, but is still quite an impressive presence around the basket as a weak-side shot-blocker with his superb length. He's very intense as a man to man defender as well, not backing down from players older and stronger than him, really competing and showing nice toughness.
Birch is mostly all upside at this point, with some very clear-cut strengths and a bundle of weaknesses that hopefully will work themselves out as he matures. Our enthusiasm is slightly tempered by the fact that he has academic issues and is a year or two older than most players in his class, having recently turned 17 in September, but there is no denying the potential he possesses. Will he grow another inch or two over the next year or two? Will his narrow frame be able to carry much more weight, particularly in the lower body? Will his perimeter game and post-moves develop? These are the things we'll have to wait and see about in order to get a better gauge for his true potential.
Naadir Tharpe, 6'0, Point Guard, Brewster Academy, 2011
Naadir Tharpe (#62 Scout, #80 Rivals, Unranked ESPN) was one of the more effective players at this level we saw this weekend, and he appears to have all the tools to see that translate to the next level as well, this all while still just a junior. Listed at a generous 6'0, Tharpe doesn't have much bulk to him, and his length might be below average, but he's a quick point guard with a good feel for attacking the basket, and plays with a high motor to boot.
Tharpe is very good getting into the lane, where he shows good ability to adjust, being able to go all the way to the rim or make the dump-off around the basket, where he frequently finds open teammates. At the rim, he shows the ability to put up lay-ups with both hands, though had some trouble finishing with the left here, even though he had some good attempts. He's good in both transition and the half-court, keeping his head up with the ball and making pretty good decisions, though he can over-dribble at times.
Tharpe showed some excellent ability from the perimeter, hitting smooth pull-up jumpers from two-point and three-point range, including one very big pull-up 18 footer with a hand in his face down the stretch. He's solid on the defensive end as well, being attentive and playing pretty solid perimeter defense, taking a charge on one nice play in his lone game this weekend.
It's tough to project much for the long-term at this stage, with him being only a junior and a bit undersized, but Tharpe has all the tools, physical and skill-wise, to be a very successful high level college point guard, and just needs to continue developing his game and playing strong two-way basketball.
J.J. Moore, 6-6, Small Forward, South Kent Prep, 2010
Committed to Pitt
A talented player with intriguing physical tools, J.J. Moore (#75 Scout, #107 Rivals, Unranked ESPN) shows excellent size for the wing position to go along with a sturdy frame, a nice wingspan, and explosive leaping ability.
Moore is a raw player with plenty of potential who will probably need some time to adapt to playing in the Big East under Jamie Dixon, particularly on the defensive end. He's capable of making a barrage of shots from anywhere on the floor, although his shot-selection looks average at best and he tends to hunt his shot a little too much. His ball-handling skills are not up to par with his athleticism, making it difficult for him to create shots for himself at a very high level at this juncture.
His feel for the game in general needs some work, even if there is no question that the talent is there and then some. He's someone we may need to keep track of down the road, although he reportedly has a lot of work to do academically to qualify to play at Pitt next year.
Shaquille Thomas, 6'6, Small Forward, NIA Prep, 2010
Shaquille Thomas (Unranked Scout, #77 Rivals, Unranked ESPN), nephew of NBA player Tim Thomas, has some great raw tools, being a long, smooth, and athletic wing who appears to have some good natural ability as well. He's very skinny right now, and doesn't have the biggest frame, but he does look like he'll be able to add more strength as he develops.
Thomas shows flashes of a lot of offensive skills, be it pull-up jumpers with range to the three point line, finesse moves in the post, or dribble-drive moves in isolation, but his biggest problem right now is he can often disappear for about 10 minutes at a time, just going through the motions and not looking to put his stamp on the game. The fact that his team lacks much size, forcing him to play in the pivot very often, where he doesn't really have the skills or size to do much damage, definitely doesn't help matters, but Thomas' lack of assertiveness is still largely concerning.
He did still have some good plays on the weekend, however, being able to elevate around the rim and finish, getting out ahead in transition, and making some good individual moves on occasion as well. Unsurprisingly, he struggles with contact as of now, not really having the strength to power through defenders, and he also doesn't seem to react very well to double teams, especially when posting up.
Looking forward, this is clearly a player with a lot of raw potential, but given his casual demeanor on the court a lot of the time, and his unpolished game, it's really hard to say anything definitive about his long-term potential, though he's clearly someone we'll be paying attention to in college as he develops.
Shawn Kemp Jr, 6'10, Center, Hargrave Military Academy, 2009
Committed to Auburn
The son of the former NBA player of the same name, Shawn Kemp Jr (Unranked Scout, #105 Rivals, Unranked ESPN) definitely looks the part of a basketball player, standing at a well built 6'10 with good length and athleticism to boot. He came off the bench for Hargrave this weekend and probably played about 20-25 minutes combined between his two games, but he looked like a good complementary player in his time on the floor, finishing on some athletic transition plays, playing good post defense, and hitting a nice turnaround jumper in the post on one occasion. It's tough to draw many long-term conclusions about Kemp given the limited action we saw, but he clearly has the physical tools and potential that makes him someone we'll be following as he develops in college.
Mardracus Wade, 6-2, Shooting Guard, Hargrave Military Academy, 2010
Committed to Arkansas
One of the glue guys of this very talented Hargrave team, Mardracus Wade (#94 Scout, #103 Rivals, Unranked ESPN) shows below average size for the shooting guard position and a narrow frame, but makes up for that with strong athleticism and a terrific motor.
Wade's calling card right now is on the defensive end, where he shows excellent lateral quickness and terrific intensity staying in front of his matchup and putting pressure on the ball. He's an unselfish player who is willing to make the extra pass and do the dirty work for his team, but is a bit limited on the offensive end. Wade sports inconsistent shooting mechanics and a very flat looking stroke, being capable of making spot-up jumpers from time to time, but not looking all that confident in his ability to do so. He has very nice quickness in the open floor but could definitely stand to improve his ball-handling skills and shot-creating ability in the half-court.
Wade looks like a good fit for the style of play that is typically found in the SEC, and should develop into a nice role player for the Razorbacks.
Colton Christian, 6'7, Power Forward, Hargrave Military Academy, 2009
Committed to Tulane
One of the most effective players at this level in all the games played this weekend, Christian was super involved in most of his team's plays, showing an extremely high motor on both ends of the floor. At 6'7, Christian is an undersized 4 who unfortunately doesn't appear to have much length or strength to compensate. That said, he's a solid athlete with a good second bounce around the basket, and he constantly puts all his physical tools to work with his relentless style of play.
Christian does the majority of his damage on the defensive end, attacking the glass, hustling back in transition, attacking passing lanes, and playing strong, fundamentally sound post defense. Offensively, he appears a bit limited, not showing much prowess on his perimeter shot, and relying mostly on a turnaround jumper in the post, which he has limited success with. He is good on the offensive glass and finishing around the basket on cuts, but he clearly has a ways to go here.
Word around the gym was this was the best most people had ever seen Christian play, so maybe it was somewhat of a fluke occurrence, but if he brings this kind of energy level to Tulane, he should be a very effective hustle player for them, as based on what we saw here, he looked like he could be a rotation player for a high-level D1 school.
Russell Smith, 6'2, Point Guard, South Kent, 2010
Committed to Louisville
Russell Smith (Unranked Scout, Rivals, ESPN) is a very quick and athletic point guard with a lot of shot creation skills, something that was definitely on display this weekend. He appears to be a player who needs the ball in his hands, not doing much damage off the ball and not showing much in terms of a spot-up outside jumper. Off the dribble, he has a great first step and shows creativity in the lane, being able to draw contact and finish in a variety of ways. While he shows good vision at times, he appears to be more of a scoring point guard at this stage of his development, though he did have some nice drive-and-dishes. He also might be generously listed at 6'2, though he plays very big, not being afraid of attacking hard around the basket.
Antonio Barton, 6'2, PG/SG, Notre Dame Prep, 2009
Committed to Memphis
Antonio Barton (Unranked Scout, Rivals, ESPN) is a very talented combo guard, having very good athleticism, good size for a point guard, and a lot of scoring ability, but he doesn't always play the most under control game, and he appears to have quite a few warts at this stage of his development.
Attacking the basket, Barton shows very good ability to adjust and nice creativity around the rim, but he relies way too heavily on an up-and-under finger roll move, going to it on almost every drive to the basket, leading to high difficulty attempts that lead to some bad misses. On the perimeter, he has good range, capable of hitting threes pulling up, spotting up, or coming off screens, including one very impressive buzzer beater in his first game of the weekend.
He doesn't show much point guard prowess at this stage of his development, not looking for teammates much, preferring to create his own shot, and being very turnover prone, though he did have once nice alley-oop assist between the two games.