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"Sometimes those with the most power have the least grace."
In terms of adjectives used to describe the 6 '9", 270 lb McDonald's All-American, graceful would be buried six feet under. At first glance, Cameron Ridley looks like a sledgehammer: a cunning Littlefinger, he is not. But look beyond the sheer perception of power, and there's more to Ridley than meets the eye.
Ridley emerged on the scene during his sophomore season when he helped propel a surprise Fort Bend Bush team to the Texas Class 5A UIL State Championship. He committed to Texas in January 2011 during his junior year, with promises to rival Baylor's Isaiah Austin--himself a 5* center--for Big 12 supremacy. Ridley's recruitment was not without drama. Though he never publicly decommitted from Texas, many a Longhorn fan wrote him off from ever contributing in Austin.
Luckily for Texas Longhorns head coach Rick Barnes, Ridley stayed true to his word and signed with Texas in the spring. At worst, he's a space-eater who can clog the lane and scoop up rebounds, even if by accident. He's built more like a big-bodied NBA power forward, but Ridley's game is strictly center-esque and contained in the paint at this point. He has great hands, a couple of post moves, and a will to play above the rim.
In high school, Ridley often went against smaller, quicker lineups, particularly in the powerhouse 23-5A district, home to Travis (the Harrison twins) and Hightower (Danuel House, Bralon Addison). As a result, Ridley was forced to develop quickness and economy of motion to be an effective offensive threat. He continually improved each year in high school, and in Austin, continued development of a varied offensive game will be key to Ridley's NBA prospects.
Ridley showed his mettle by starring in the McDonald's All-American Game and All-American Championship (where he garnered West MVP honors). But before I completely talk up Ridley, some cautionary names from the 2011 class alone: Fab Melo, Adreian Payne, Josh Smith, Patric Young, Meyers Leonard. Most big men don't come in and make an instant impact like Jared Sullinger or Anthony Davis, particularly when--like Ridley--conditioning and skillset diversity are not extreme pluses. 11 PPG and 7 RPG are reasonable barometer numbers. If Ridley, penciled in as Texas' starting center, can approach Tristan Thompson's freshman year numbers of 13.1 PPG and 7.8 RPG, consider it gravy. Like with Thompson, avert your eyes when Ridley shoots free throws.
"Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you."
5' 10" may be generous for New Orleans native Javan Felix, but big things are expected from the minute point guard already drawing comparisons to Texas Ex D.J. Augustin. A natural-born leader, Felix strapped on the brass plates and led his high school team, St. Augustine, to back-to-back Louisiana State Championships. His size probably hurt him in the recruiting rankings, but he still finished as a 4* and comfortably inside the top 100 by the services.
With Kabongo's eligibility status uncertain, Felix may get first crack at the starting point guard role. More often, Felix will be one of Texas' primary bench players as the backup 1. His development will be crucial towards next season's championship hopes, as Kabongo is likely to test the NBA waters as an early entrant following his sophomore year.
It's not just size that is a limiting factor for Felix. He does not possess the unreal next level quickness that allowed T.J. Ford to get to the rim at will, nor the offensive diversity like D.J. Augustin, nor A.J. Abrams' marksman jumper. What Felix does have in spades are the drive, makeup, and determination that past Texas backcourt greats have possessed.
As a floor general, Felix is an easy player for a team to rally around. He's a pass-first point guard, and will look to get his teammates involved. That said, Felix can score if need be. He reportedly poured in 24 points against Davidson in Texas' first "secret scrimmage" this year. Living up to comparisons to a legend like Augustin can't be easy, but if anyone can manage those expectations while impressing, I'd feel comfortable betting money on Felix.
"There's a king in every corner now."
And if you don't watch out, a prince in the low block will swat your shot away. That would be Prince Ibeh, defender extraordinaire. The 6' 10" center didn't want to venture very far from Garland Naaman Forest, choosing Texas last fall. He's long, lean and incredibly athletic, a trio of attributes that make him a natural shot blocker. Check out Ibeh's highlight tapes, and there's shot after shot getting sent into the stands or the crowd.
As a backup big, it's an ideal elite skill to have. Ibeh will be Barnes' primary big defender off the bench, and looks like the polar opposite of fellow freshman teammate Ridley. Ibeh has worked hard this summer putting on weight, while Ridley has gone through the Todd Wright conditioning program to take some off. Meanwhile, Ridley looks like he will provide more immediate impact on the offensive end, whereas Ibeh looks strictly like a defensive stopper.
Take another look at the highlight tapes, and you'll notice something noticeably absent: a lack of offensive finishes except for dunks. Ibeh is beyond raw on the offensive end. His NBA draft stock is off the charts--think Baylor's Ekpe Udoh--but is contingent on some sort of offensive firepower. By his junior season, Udoh had developed an array of competent to stellar offensive moves from multiple spots on the court. That's the ideal career arc for Ibeh.
For now, the Longhorns will have to be content with Ibeh affecting just one end of the court. He'll rack up more than a handful of blocks and cash in on the boards, but points are a surplus, not a staple. A vision of Ibeh and Ridley as twin towers is a fun pipedream, but probably fool's gold this year. However, either Ibeh and Ridley would look good as the middle interior presence in a 2-3 zone, with a primary responsibility to knock the stuffing out of anyone brave enough to enter the paint.
"A man needs a name."
And what better name than Athenian-born Ioannis Papapetrou. His parents' names, no joke: Argiris and Anastasia. ALL-some. I'd like to see Ioannis get a better nickname than just "Papa" (the fans' choice) or "Poppy" (the team choice), which both seem way too plain for this international man of mystery.
There's an air of curiosity about Papapetrou, who played for a lightly regarded high school program, Florida Air Academy. Finding highlight clips has proven challenging, so most of what is known about Papapetrou has been word of mouth. Despite the 3* ranking by the recruiting services, the 6' 8" Papapetrou was well-regarded, earning offers from Florida, Kansas, and Alabama prior to settling on Texas.
He garnered significant buzz in summer practices, drawing praise from the coaching staff akin to the words bestowed on Jaylen Bond last summer. Early returns make it sound like Papapetrou can play the 2, 3 or 4 positions, score from outside or inside, and create artisan masterpieces on par with Daedalus.
Phrases like "high IQ" and "all-around offensive threat" sure look nice on paper. Realistically, Texas fans won't really have a baseline of expectations until Papapetrou plays in live games. Like with Bond last year, Papapetrou's present value will likely be as a spot bench contributor.
"And here we have Bronn, son of..."
"You wouldn't know him."
In recent years, Barnes' spring additions haven't exactly panned out. In 2011, Kevin Thomas never qualified academically, while Sterling Gibbs struggled to positively provide even 3rd string minutes before transferring to Seton Hall. Varez Ward, added in 2008 after D.J. Augustin declared for the NBA Draft, had a promising freshman season before injuries and family issues caused him to transfer to Auburn. And who could forget the dynamic junior college duo of J.D. Lewis and Craig Winder in 2005?
Now here we have DeMarcus Holland, teammate of Prince Ibeh, hoping to buck that trend. Holland, a 6 '3" combo guard from Garland Naaman Forest, committed in April last year, just a couple days before Texas announced Gibbs' intent to transfer. Originally committed to South Florida, the 3* Holland does have some basketball pedigree. He and Ibeh led Naaman Forest to State last year, where the Rangers fell to eventual champion Flower Mound Marcus.
Like Gibbs last year, Holland will have to fight for minutes this year if he wants to see playing time. He's behind starters Kabongo and Julien Lewis, with Felix the primary backup 1 and Sheldon McClellan capable of shifting from the 3 to the 2. However, Holland's future has started off more promising than Gibbs'.
First, Holland has drawn praise as a plus defender, which should help him earn minutes backing up the defense-first Lewis. Holland also projects to be a more capable ball-handler than Gibbs, a requirement in a Rick Barnes offense. Finally, Holland has more prototypical college combo guard size, allowing him to rotate between the 1 and 2 if he proves capable. Add it all up, and Holland should become a solid multi-year backcourt contributor to a team that has funneled through its guards in recent years.
"If we do it your way kingslayer, you'd win. We're not doing it your way."
Would it be stereotypical to compare Connor Lammert to Brad Buckman or Brian Boddicker? I don't think he'd mind, actually. Despite being listed at 6 '9", Lammert is not your prototypical power forward. Instead he's a stringbean with a solid outside shot.
Now if he went his own way, I wouldn't put much faith in the forward from San Antonio Churchill being much of an impact player. Watching the tapes and judging by recruiting rankings, Lammert doesn't have the talent level and high school pedigree that guys like Buckman or Boddicker did. Still, Lammert impressed enough in his senior year that he was a fringe top 100 player on some recruiting services.
More importantly, he appears to be a hard worker and is tireless about improving aspects of his game--namely, rebounding and defense--that he needs to endear him to Barnes and the potential of playing time. Had J'Covan Brown returned or Texas landed recruit Devonta Pollard (who eventually chose Alabama), Lammert was probably staring at the business end of a redshirt season. But with scoring at a premium and question marks with regards to offensive frontcourt production, Lammert could garner some run this year as a scoring big off the bench.
In the long-run, Barnes has actually had success of developing perimeter-oriented big men. Lammert provides length and versatility, two traits sorely missing from recent prior iterations of Longhorns basketball. Don't write him off yet.
Next, a look at Texas' aggressive scheduling...