Friar Basketball

Live from Barrington, RI – Day 2 of the St. Andrew’s Christmas Tournament

Coming into this weekend my focus was on the future – the distant future – with super sophs Ricky Ledo and Khem Birch (both top 25 in the class of 2012 and Friar targets) in the St. Andrew’s Holiday Classic.  As always when taking in prep games, an unheralded kid’s game jumps out at you.

Last February at the National Prep School Invitational I had the names of two kids highlighted: Chris Gaston (Fordham) and Hassan Whiteside (Marshall).

In reporting back on the weekend I commented on how Gaston was an active, but undersized (6-7, 210) 3/4 hybrid that would have sent Friar fans up the wall had he committed here due to being the dreaded combo forward, and because of his national ranking, but he would have been the type of active body the Friars could use on the glass this year.  Gaston was the only reason New Hampton stayed reasonably close against Vincent Council and the Patterson School.  I came to see Council and Evan Smotrycz and rushed home to see if Gaston had committed.

Fast forward 10 months and Gaston is averaging 19 and 12 with 2.5 blocks for Fordham, with the highlight being a 32 point, 15 rebound game against St. John’s (we’ll ignore the 7 turnovers and the 4.4 TOs per game for argument’s sake).

Council’s teammate, Whiteside, is the Marcus Douthit type that the Friars are lacking.  A long kid with great shot blocking potential who, according to all reports, had a ways to go offensively and physically (215 lbs).  On a team stacked with D1 studs, the two kids who were consistently solid were the future Friar point guard and the 6’11 Whiteside.

Fast forward 10 months and Whiteside is averaging 5 blocks a game at Marshall, with his personal bests coming in a 17-14-11 game in his most recent outing and a 14-17-9 against Ohio earlier in the season.  Oh, and he’s shooting 61% from the field.

The latest unheralded prep to keep an eye on is Winchendon’s Eric Ferguson.  Unfortunately, the 6’8 do-it-all scorer is already committed to Georgia Southern, but he was, by far, the best player I saw today on a Winchendon team that is among the best in the country.

How does a kid like this fall under the radar?  According to Jeff Goodman, he was spare part at Winchendon until late in the season a year ago and didn’t join the AAU summer circuit, opting to go to summer school.  Goodman labels Ferguson as “the ultimate steal” and after seeing him today I couldn’t argue.  He dominated in a blowout win over Marianapolis.


The 2012 Targets 

Now that I’ve spent half of this article singing the praises of underrated kids, let’s spend the second half of it talking about two players who PC will have to beat out the biggest names in the country to land.

Khem Birch (11th nationally per ESPN): The athleticism was obvious early and the 6’9 sophomore started on a team featuring frontcourt studs Markus Kennedy (Villanova), Ferguson, and Angel Nunez (top 50 junior).  Unfortunately, Birch was pulled early and was spotted icing his knee for the rest of the game, so all I saw was an early dunk and rebound.  Winchendon versus Brewster (February 2 at Winchendon) is going to be a tremendous game.

Ricky Ledo (13th nationally per ESPN): Been dying to see Ricky in action and what I saw was a sophomore with a world of ability and plenty of room to grow.  The strength of his game is clearly the jumper.  Ledo possesses a great touch from beyond the arc and as a 6’5 sophomore he could turn into a great scorer if he grows another two inches.  Combine additional size with better ball handling skills, and a firmer grasp on how to find himself shots and you’ve got yourself quite a player.  When he was open and squared up, he hit from 3.

Still, he didn’t dominate a Boston Trinity Academy team (NEPSAC Class D) that a top 20 player nationally should.  My unofficial stat book had him at 18 points on 6-12 FG (3-8 from 3), 3-5 FT.

Ledo reminds me of Rudy Gay (not just physically) in how you can see all of the physical tools are there, you just wonder when he’ll put it all together.  That was the question on Gay heading into the draft.  Like Gay, he projects to be a long kid with a great jumper and good athleticism (had a great tomahawk dunk in the final 3 minutes), but he isn’t great off of the dribble yet.  I don’t know if he’ll ever be great off of the dribble, but could turn into a Rudy Gay type, great shooting athlete.

In comparison to Alex Murphy, Ledo has more athletic ability, but Murphy comes off as the more polished player at this point in regards to passing and decision making.  What jumped out this week in seeing Ledo, Murphy, and Kaleb Tarczewski is that it takes a special sophomore to dominate at this level.


Additional Notes 

Loyola Marymount commit, and Winchendon point guard, Anthony Ireland is a good one.  I sat next to a D1 head man who sounded really impressed with his quickness and passing ability.  I liked his game a lot.  Ireland is coming off of a strong summer splitting the point guard position with Naadir Tharpe and the New England Playaz.  He’s quick, an above average passer and a good shooter.  What’s not to like?

Nova commit Markus Kennedy continues the Wildcats transition from smurf ball.  He’s a big boy.