37 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 turnovers, 15-18 FG, 6-8 FT, 1-1 3P
One of the most athletic players in the country may have just had his coming out party at the national level. On the road, against a nationally ranked team with one of the best frontcourts in the country, Thornton had the best game of his career so far in a Florida State uniform. And while this was the most hes scored so far, Thornton has been playing extremely well all season long and is long overdue for a spot in this column.
Against BC he did it as always in spectacular fashion; with emphatic dunks, being active all night around the glass and pulling up high for mid-range jumpers. It wasnt enough to come away with a win (FSU lost 90-87), but it should be a wakeup call telling people that one of the best players in the ACC resides in Tallahassee.
Thornton is about as close a player you will find to Hakim Warrick in todays NCAA. Hes an unbelievable leaper, tough as nails, incredibly active and long-armed, a bit on the skinny side and a definite tweener at this point for the NBA. You are not going to find a player with stronger legs anywhere in the country. Thornton shows an outstanding bounce and 2nd bounce getting off the floor to wreak havoc on both ends of the court, and is nearly impossible to keep off the offensive glass with his quickness and wiry frame. We are talking about an elite level athlete here who simply outquicks and outleaps everyone in the paint and grabs an exceptional amount of offensive rebounds, a characteristic that already makes him pretty intriguing for the NBA.
Only being 6-7 and without a very wide frame, there is little doubt that his future position for the NBA is on the wing. He is slowly getting there and surely looks farther along in his development in the perimeter skills department compared with Warrick at the same age, but still has plenty of work to do. His ball-handling looks good enough in open spaces, especially in transition or even leading the fast-break, and he can even pull-up off the dribble for a jump-shot if hes not being too closely contested. However in half-court situations he is still extremely raw, not possessing good enough range at the moment and making mental errors that stem from his inexperience and somewhat average feel for the game.
Word around Tallahassee even before his 37 point outing was that Al Thornton will almost certainly test the waters this year to gauge where his NBA draft stock sits at the moment. Being a 6-7 power forward, even though he is nothing less than an incredible athlete, its a bit difficult to see a scenario in which he could land in the 1st round already this year. Another season of working on his raw perimeter skills, possibly playing a bit more of the small forward position and maybe even winning a few more games or making the NCAA tournament behind another excellent recruiting class (led by Auburn transfer PG Toney Douglas) would definitely improve his draft stock.
Quincy Douby, 6-3, PG/SG, junior, Rutgers
28 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 6 turnovers, 3 steals, 3 blocks, 11-19 FG, 3-5 3P, 3-5 FT
For the last few years, the college basketball punditry has been talking about the imminent rejuvenation of Rutgers basketball. First came Dahntay Jones (transfer), then the Billet boys (graduated/transfer) and then a hot up-and-coming coach in Gary Waters. The RAC, the Scarlet Knights' home floor, has always been a bear of a road destination. But now, with a good crop of freshmen and a junior blistering the nets in Quincy Douby, perhaps that turnaround is neigh. Despite falling in overtime to then-#3 Villanova, the Douby-led Knights proved a worthy adversary, and the junior guard was scintillating in front of the scouts and cameras.
Douby is hardly an unknown. Tenth in the nation and leading the Big East in points per game at 23.5 points a game, Douby is the true definition of a scorer. At 6'3", 175 pounds the Brooklyn native is not a physical specimen, but has the hops, first step and quickness to hang with either bigger or faster opposing backcourts. And most of all, the kid can flat out shoot. He's hit his threes at a 38% clip in '06, despite being the frequent target of double-teams and box and ones, and has posted a 36-point game and tallied 27 vs. Temple and 29 vs. Seton Hall. But all that paled in comparison to his performance against the Wildcats.
With a chance to raise his school's profile against a highly ranked team, Douby did everything he could. He buried 3 of his 5 three-point attempts and filled out the score sheet nicely with 4 boards, 4 assists, 3 steals and an impressive 3 blocked shots. His 28 points were a season high by a guard against Villanova, besting a bevy of highly-touted prospects including Mike Gansey, Mardy Collins, Taquan Dean and Daniel Gibson.
While Douby's shot has range and is effective, he's got the look of a scorer more than of a pure shooter at this stage, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. In his way, he bears a resemblance to former Maryland star and current Trailblazer Juan Dixon. As a junior, Douby has time to further hone his overall game. It's impressive that Douby's hitting 48% of his shots, given that he's the Scarlet Knights' clear number one option. It's a testament to his skills and drive that the team is 12-4 early in the conference season. He not only is an outstanding scorer, but also puts a lot of pride into locking down his man, making him a prime candidate for the perfect backup combo guard to bring off an NBA bench.
Now that he's on the radar it will be up to Douby to continue to grow his individual game without resorting to the stat-stuffing that can occur on scoring guard-dominated clubs, especially if Rutgers' season doesn't go as planned. An NCAA berth would be a serious goal, and one of Douby's more unknown and questioned traits is whether he has his focus on leadership and team play. His shot selection and body language can be very poor at times, and his teams ball-movement suffers in turn. Leading the Big East in scoring for the season certainly wouldn't hurt, but there's more to winning basketball than simply firing up jumpers.
Yemi Nicholson, 6-10, PF/C, senior, Denver
28 points, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 blocks, 0 turnovers, 12-20 FG, 4-5 FT
Currently labeled as a potential second round pick, Yemi Nicholson has been the best player in the Sun-Belt conference over the past two years while playing through constant double teams. On a team with less than stellar guard play, Nicholson manages to average close to 20 points a game while being a double-double threat every night.
Against North Texas, Yemi managed to score in many different ways, despite the fact that he faced multiple defenders every time he touched the ball. Using an NBA body and nice footwork on the block, he got off a right handed hook multiple times, and also showed nice touch out to 15 feet. If there wasn't a way to score, Nicholson made the pass to the open man, often finding wide open teammates on the other side of the court. His understanding of the game appears to be very solid, despite only playing basketball for a few years now. On the glass, Yemi put his wide frame on somebody every time a shot went up, and collected 16 rebounds using very solid rebounding fundamentals. Nicholson scored nearly 40% of his team's total points, and played a significant role in crunch time when he grabbed an offensive rebound and dunked on North Texas center Jeffery Simpson while drawing a foul. He did miss the ensuing free throw (which would have made it a one point game), but this was the only free throw he missed the entire game. Despite a monster game from Yemi Nicholson, Denver lost the game 72-70 after turning the ball over 17 times (North Texas only had 7 turnovers).
In a league deprived of good big men like the NBA, a guy built like Yemi Nicholson is always going to get some looks from scouts. Nicholson has a great frame, but has too much baby fat right now, and toning his muscles would immensely improve his game and draft stock. Being fairly slow at getting up and down the court at times, Nicholson appeared to be winded and had to come out and rest for 30 seconds early in the second half, though he did play 34 out of 40 minutes.
Yemi has nice footwork in the post, and good touch around the rim, but tries to finish with his right hand every time. In warm-ups, he looked comfortable using his left hand, but he didn't attempt to use it in the game. In the Sun Belt conference, Yemi doesn't really face any centers with his size, so he doesn't fight too hard for position in the post. To play in the NBA he will need to work on this, though part of it could be the fact that his guards struggle to give him the ball when he does have good position.
As a senior putting up monster numbers in a mid-major conference, Yemi Nicholson is drawing plenty of attention from the NBA. If he really worked hard to tone his body and increase his conditioning, Nicholson has the size, frame and skills to land in the first round. As it is, he is a second round pick at best, and could just as easily go undrafted if a rush of underclassmen and Europeans declare. It's difficult to see his game translating to the NBA without chiseling his frame and improving his all-around skill level, because the centers at the next level are a lot bigger than the 6'8" centers of the Sun Belt
Mike Gansey, 6-4, shooting guard, senior, West Virginia
33 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 turnover, 1 steal, 1 block, 11-14 FG, 8-11 3P
Another day, another terrific shooting performance from one of the best shooters in college basketball. And while this wasnt 19 points in two overtime sessions to knock Wake Forest out of the NCAA tournament, it was impressive nonetheless. This time the St. Bonaventure transfer lit up Marquette for 33 points in 34 minutes, hitting 5 of his 5 three point attempts in the first few minutes of the game and 8 of 11 total on the day.
Gansey is establishing himself as one of the best three point shooters in the country this year, nailing 63% of his field goals, 52% from behind the arc, and nearly three 3-pointers made per game. This is not only a testament to his much improved shooting ability (he shot just 35% last year) but also his terrific shot selection and unselfish team play that also sees him average 2.4 assists compared with just 1 turnover. Gansey moves off the ball extremely well, his mechanics are picture perfect, his release lightning quick, and his range extends well beyond the NBA 3-point line.
But all that alone would not make him anything more than just a fringe NBA prospect if he didnt do other things on the court as well. Gansey is an above average athlete at the collegiate level who is also capable of beating his man off the dribble and finishing around the rim. He had a couple of very athletic finishes in the Marquette game to emphasize this, and also is quick to get in the passing lanes and ignite the break.
In terms of his NBA potential, Gansey is still just an average athlete at best for the shooting guard position and is also very undersized at 6-4. With that said, there is something about the way he performs that makes you believe that someone in the league will fall in love with him and find a way to utilize his terrific skills. He has a very complete offensive game, is extremely intelligent in everything he does and is really fun to watch.
Jermareo Davidson, 6-10, PF/C, junior, Alabama
28 points, 8 rebounds, 1 block, 2 steals, 10-14 FG, 8-12 FT
With senior All-SEC performer Chuck Davis done for the year with an injury, Alabama's hopes this season rest squarely on the shoulders of a 6'10" beanpole junior. If Saturday's performance against Kentucky is to be believed, Jermareo Davidson may just be up to the task. Davidson tallied 18 of a career-high 28 points in the second stanza to give Alabama only their 10th win ever at Kentucky. Most of Davidson's points came on layups, short jumpers and dunks, as he repeatedly abused the Wildcats interior players.
Long on talent and lean on bulk, Davidson shocked many observers by initially placing his name on the NBA draft register last spring. While he was clearly testing the waters, many wondered if he wasn't burning up his draft card too early. More of a shot blocker entering the season, Davidson can jump out of the gym but lacks the meat to hold his position against sometimes shorter, but beefier, SEC big men. Even in Saturday's game, Davidson had some trouble containing Kentucky center Randolph Morris who, despite showing improvement, went undrafted last summer.
Still, on Saturday, it was hard to fault Davidson for much, as he put on a clinic around the hoop, going over and around Kentucky, helping to erase an early deficit and keeping the Tide in the lead late. Shooting a strong 10-of-14 from the floor and adding 8 rebounds, Davidson gave his club a huge boost in the middle.
Davidson's rebounding has been exceptional thus far this year -- he's got six double-doubles and a season high of 19 -- adding to his already gaudy rejection total (37 in 15 games). It's hard to picture Davidson in the NBA from pure skills and offensive standpoints, however athletically and defensively he's well above average. However, production similar to Saturday's over the rest of the SEC season could change a lot of NBA minds.
Julian Sensley, 6-9, SF/PF, senior, Hawaii
32 points, 5 rebounds 3 assists, 2 turnovers, 12-21 FG, 6-7 FG, 2-7 3P
Julian Sensleys basketball odyssey is a long one. Despite being one of the top 10 prospects in the high school class of 2001, Sensley spent time at prep school, committed to California and Iona, and played a season of JC ball before returning home to Hawaii. Talent has never been the issue, as Sensley is blessed with nice athleticism and a refined skill package to go along with a 6-9 frame. A lack of intensity and bouts of inconsistency have kept him from cashing in on his immense potential. This season alone, very nice outings against Michigan State, UNLV, Saint Louis, and Nevada have been sandwiched around sub-par showings against lesser competition.
Sensleys best outing of the season came against New Mexico State this past weekend. While the Warriors would end up losing, Sensley came up huge with 32 points on 12/21 shooting. He showed off range out past the three-point line, a deadly midrange jumper, and the ability to slash to the basket for easy scores. While he did cool off down the stretch when New Mexico State made their comeback, this type of outing is the reason that NBA scouts continue to show up at his games.
Sensley has all the raw tools that will get NBA types excited. Beyond the ideal small forward size, he creates for himself very nicely in the midrange, and can score both facing and with his back to the basket. Consistency and intensity issues are likely to continue to be an issue here, but dont be surprised if Sensleys name pops up come draft time this summer.
Shelden Williams, 6-9, PF/C, senior, Duke
19 points, 11 rebounds, 10 blocks, 3 steals, 2 assists, 8-16 FG, 3-5 FT
Posting his first triple-double in his NCAA career, Shelden Williams was once again the man for his team in an extremely impressive blowout win against Maryland. The Terps came into this game with a 10-3 record and a lot of hype, but were no match for the overpowering Blue Devils.
Williams had a very typical performance besides the absurd number of blocks he amassed. He was steady and reliable as always on both ends of the floor, playing his role, cleaning the glass and being opportunistic around the hoop. Williams patrolled the paint and gave the Terps fits all night by simply not giving up anything easy around the basket. He ended up rejecting 10 shots, but only came up with 2 fouls in the process. Many of his blocks were simple tips to himself or a teammate, which is the most effective play because he intimidates his rivals from challenging him in the future but at the same time restores the possession to his team while providing a fast break opportunity. Probably none where Sportscenter top 10 play nominees, but all of them contributed to the shellacking his team put on Maryland. Ultimately it could be his sheer stability and no-nonsense style that lands him in the lottery, being one of the few players you can point to as being a sure-fire contributor amongst big men in this draft.
For more on Williams, read his recently completed scouting report to get a better feel for his game and NBA potential.