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April 7, 2013

2014 Arizona basketball evaluations

We got a good look Saturday at Arizona State basketball 2014 commit Connor MacDougall and top targets Zylan Cheatham and Casey Benson and have updated scouting reports on all three.

Connor MacDougall -- There's a lot to like about MagDougall's approach to the game. He competes with a high motor, likes to rebound and defend, and has a knack for setting screens and moving off screens that belies his age. Most bigs simply don't have anywhere near his comprehension and feel for how to play in the high pick and roll/pop two man game that pervades today's version of college and professional basketball. MacDougall's understanding of this skill is greatly enhanced by his ability to knock down jump shots out to the college 3-point line. If you pair MacDougall at the college level with a dynamic point guard, the two will be able to cause a lot of headaches for opposing defenses due to the paired skill sets. MacDougall also is improving at being able to put the ball on the floor off the shot fake when facing the basket and if he can start converting one dribble pull ups and two dribble straight line drives to get near the cup his offensive game will go to another level. He's strongly constructed with long arms on a 6-foot-8 frame and will finish through contact and use his body nicely on the offensive end. There's a little bit of Tyler Hansbrough in his mannerisms and playing style but he's probably a tad shorter and of course not nearly as refined at this juncture. He's a quality high major basketball recruit, however, and Arizona State is wise to have locked him up. We'd have him in the 100-150 range nationally and among the Top-20 center recruits in most classes at a minimum, perhaps Top-15.

Zylan Cheatham -- The knock on Cheatham has always been that he has little-to-no ability to shoot the ball out onto the floor but there are increasing signs of development in this area and if he can become even a moderately decent shooter, watch out. We saw Cheatham make seven free throws in a row in one half of a game Saturday, with a much smoother release and better form. He missed the eighth free throw but knew where it was going, followed it up, got the rebound and scored. Away from the basket, Cheatham has always been inconsistent with his lift and balance when leaving the floor on his jumper and that's translated to problems through the rest of his mechanic to his release. But he realizes this was the issue and has clearly been working on correcting it. His mechanics are quieter now and he's trending in the right direction now. At 6-foot-8, Cheatham has a live, well constructed body. He is a long strider with an explosive first step that is made all the more deadly by his tight ball skills. On straight line drives going either direction from the perimeter, Cheatham will dunk on opponents on one or two compact and efficient dribbles. He's also a very good passer -- essentially good enough to be a point forward when coupled with his handle -- who sees the floor very well, so help defenders are going to find that he'll leave the ball off for layups/dunks by teammates. His length and athleticism make him a high ceiling defender who can guard multiple positions on the floor. Every aspect of his game is ready for prime time except his shooting, and by prime time we're talking NBA prospect at his age. We watched a lottery pick Kawhi Leonard a lot at the same age as Cheatham is now and they were similar players except Cheatham was further ahead at the same stage. That, as much as anything, gives an idea of what's possible for him if his shot continues to improve. This is the best Arizona basketball class maybe ever, and Cheatham is its best prospect. We'd go as far as to say he's the best from the state in years. He's without question a Top-50 level national prospect and possibly Top-25, five star caliber. He is a truly elite basketball recruit. ASU has offered Cheatham and is aggressively pursing him. We'll have a story on him Sunday.

Casey Benson -- We have no problem saying that Benson is the player we most enjoy watching in the state. He has tremendous flare, is an extremely passionate player who competes with reckless abandon, has a very high basketball IQ, and makes everyone around him better at all times. That's a winning combination. Standing at least 6-foot-2 and with a well put together body for a guard, Benson can play either backcourt position though he's at his best with the ball in his hands as a set up man. He's a rare guard who is able to keep his dribble alive in a way that allows him to constantly probe opposing defenses until there is a lapse and then he has the skills to exploit it via scoring it in an unconventional way or hitting teammates with every type of pass imaginable. He's basically a poor man's Steve Nash, but someone who can play effectively at the highest college level, we have no doubt. The most enjoyable part of watching him play Saturday is the same thing we always come away with. He gets a higher percentage of 50-50 balls than just about anyone, seems to always cause a lot of deflections, and is an utter annoyance with his close outs on guards shooting the ball. All of these things mitigate his biggest liability, which is lateral quickness. If he was better in this area on offense and defense, he would be an even higher profile recruit than he is, and as it stands there's no doubt he's good enough to play successfully in the Pac-12. We'd rate him as a borderline Top-100 national prospect. Benson probably had as good a high school season as anyone in the state. ASU has been deeply involved with Benson for several years and has a good shot at landing him.


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