Rajon Rondo guarded his home turf and showed us exactly why many consider him to be the best point guard prospect in this draft; Jordan Farmar went on the road and helped his team beat a tough Michigan team with another outstanding individual performance; Corey Brewer put up a rare NCAA triple-double in a crushing home win over in-state Jacksonville; Cedric Simmons tried to do the same in NC States ACC opener against Miami; Steven Smith played an incredible 59 minutes and scored 41 points in quadruple overtime; Greg Paulus broke the record for assists by a freshman at Duke; and Sammy Mejia willed his team to victory on the road against Wake Forest.
Also check out our updated 2006 mock draft, as well as the 2007 mock-- reflecting the developments described in this article and around the NCAA lately.
Rajon Rondo, 6-2, sophomore, point guard, Kentucky
25 points, 7 assists, 3 turnovers, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 7-12 FG, 10-15 FT, 1-3 3P
It's a story told so often, the folks in the Bluegrass State are bound to be sick of it, but Rajon Rondo -- Kentucky's star point guard and arguably the best all-around guard in the country -- was supposed to be a Louisville Cardinal. But his hometown school didn't offer him a ride, preferring to wait for big fish Sebastian Telfair, who opted instead for the Trailblazers. On Saturday, Rondo made that decision look as foolish as it sounds. Rondo scored a career-high 25 points on 7-for-12 shooting and 10-of-15 from the line, and perhaps as notable, harassed Louisville's opposing star, Taquan Dean, into a 5-for-16 shooting night, including 2-of-10 from three-point range.
Coming off two 20-point games in blowout Kentucky losses, Rondo had more to prove than his ability to put points on the board. He needed to show that he could make his incredibly inconsistent teammates around him better, something that has garnered the sophomore point rave reviews from scouts since he took charge of this summer's U-21 Team in international competition. Rondo's ability to get the shot he wants on the drive is almost unsurpassed on the college level, and while his jump shot is not a thing of beauty, a massive attention to it in the offseason has improved it tremendously. In Saturday's win, the Louisville native was electric, scoring 13 first-half points and utterly dominating UL's young defense. Rondo weaved in and out of traffic, and passed over the double-teams with ease. He finished with 7 assists, many of them on draw-and-dish moves in the lane.
When he's at his best, Rondo can disrupt the opposition all over the floor with his defense, and lead his team to easy baskets in transition. He added 2 steals on Saturday, raising his season total to 19 in 9 games. The one thing Rondo didn't do against Louisville is the thing he has done all year in droves: rebound. But as Kentucky found out, its point man is far more valuable filling the stat sheet in other ways than outrebounding ineffective big men. To wit, Rondo's mind-boggling 19 rebounds against Iowa came in a UK loss.
Rondo's jumper is still awfully inconsistent for a guard, but like T.J. Ford or Telfair, he can burn you in other ways, namely rendering your half-court defense meaningless and making his teammates better. From an all-around perspective, Rondo easily played his best game of the year -- and on national television no less. The scouts are already watching him closely, and the spotlight at Kentucky burns bright. A few more performances like this one should be more than enough to ensure a lottery spot whenever Rondo decides it's time for the next level.
Jordan Farmar, 6-2, sophomore, point guard, UCLA
21 points, 2 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 7-15 FG, 3-5 3P, 4-7 FT
His assist numbers can be misleading at times as hes been asked to play off the ball a lot more than last year, due to the emergence of extremely talented freshman PG Darren Collison. Coach Howland likes the youngster a lot (for good reason) and tries to get him on the floor as much as possible, which pushes Farmar to the 2. Farmar has been doing what hes asked and contributing to his team however possible, though, whether its scoring, setting up his teammates or providing outstanding leadership on the floor. Anyone that has seen Farmar play in the last year and change will tell you that he is one of the best pure PGs in the country from a standpoint of controlling tempo and making teammates better, so getting to show a new part of his game isnt necessarily such a bad thing. Where as last year he dominated the ball exclusively and showed inconsistent scoring ability, he has clearly added some new wrinkles to his offensive game that make him a much more dangerous all-around player. He still uses a wide array of head and body fakes to compliment his outstanding ball-handling skills and extra gear getting into the lane, but is now showing a wider arsenal of moves finishing around the basket, including floaters, short pull-up jumpers and a soft touch using the glass. His outside shot has been much better as of late after getting off to a very slow start, shooting 64% from behind the arc in the month of December. Farmars biggest weakness remains his defensive ability. Its not rare to see opposing guards blow right by him, as this is the part of his game where his lack of incredible athletic ability really comes to play.
Despite being an established college player already who is well known in basketball circles, Farmar only turned 19 a few weeks ago and clearly has a bright future ahead of him. If he continues to play the way he has so far this year and takes his team deep into the tournament, he could have a tough decision ahead of him this May. The fact that UCLA has a young, but incredibly deep and talented team that could be in position to make a national championship run next year might make him want to stick around for another season. At the same time, Farmar could look at this years weak crop of point guards and see a good opportunity for himself to land himself a guaranteed contract in June.
Corey Brewer, 6-8, small forward, sophomore, Florida
15 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 7-16 FG, 0-3 3P, 1-2 FT
Brewer makes this list once again for the 2nd time in the past 3 weeks thanks to a rare NCAA triple-double, the first in Florida Gator history.
Looking beyond the stats, though, its important to note how crucial Brewer has been to the Gators--a team that was picked by many analysts in the preseason to go to the NIT, but it currently ranked nationally in the top 5. A well known sentiment was that Brewer is establishing himself as one of the premier defenders in all of college basketball with his work both on and off the ball...that is nothing new. What Brewer is showing lately is that he is the glue that holds together Florida's young and inexperienced offense (featuring four sophomores and one junior) as well as providing the spark and hustle that keeps his team in the game from a leadership standpoint as well. Donovan is giving Brewer a green light lately to use his phenomenal athletic ability to beat his defenders off the dribble and force defenders to rotate in his direction. The always unselfish Brewer has been exploiting this fact extremely well to find his two huge big men targets in the post for easy baskets, either by breaking down his man off short dribbles or by handling the ball in transition in Florida's constant efforts to up the tempo. Brewer came up with 13 assists in this game and helped his fellow frontcourt starters Joakim Noah and Al Horford score 41 points combined (with 21 rebounds) in just 39 minutes between the two. He's become a willing static passer as well in Florida's dynamic half-court offense that more often than not sees every player touch the ball and features some of the crispest ball-movement of any team in the country. In just ten games, the swingman Brewer has already racked up 2/3rds as many assists as last season's point guard Anthony Roberson did in 32 games.
Brewer must continue to work on polishing his ball-handling skills while improving his perimeter (down to 31% this year) and free throw shooting (65%), but its become quite noticeable that he's been improving day by day and has a ceiling that few in the NCAA have today.
Steven Smith, 6-9, SF/PF, senior, La Salle
41 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 turnovers, 3 steals, 1 block, 17-27 FG, 3-5 3P, 4-5 FT, 59 minutes
In possibly the most memorable performance in his four year college career, Steven Smith almost single-handedly willed his team to an incredible 107-106 win after almost three hours and four overtimes. The numbers on this game are nothing short of astonishing, with Smith playing 59 (!) of a possible 60 minutes, scoring a career high 41 points on terrific percentages, pulling down 11 rebounds and still finding time to dish off 6 assists.
Beyond the numbers there is very little doubt that the All-American candidate was the catalyst for his team's victory. With his team down 3 in double overtime Smith hit one of his three three pointers with 5 seconds left to tie the game and send it to a third overtime. Then with his team down 4 late in quadruple overtime, Smith went strong to the basket for a dunk and then hit yet another clutch three pointer with 8 seconds left. That set up a foul with no time remaining and the eventual two clutch free throws by teammate Darnell Harris to give the Explorers the win. La Salle is now 6-0 on the year.
Although Smith is still toiling in obscurity as far as any type of national exposure goes, the progress he has made as a player over the past few months, the fact that he is carrying his team on his back to win after win, and the way he played in the Chicago pre-draft camp last June can not be lost on NBA scouts and decision makers. Looking at the numbers, Smith is just a much better all-around player than he was last year, as he's increased his scoring by 3 points per game, pulling down 2.5 more rebounds, dishing out more assists, averaging far less turnovers, and shooting a much higher percentage from both the field (almost 50% compared with 44.5%) and beyond the arc (36% compared with 31%). Most importantly, his team is 6-0 on the year compared with starting 1-7 last season.
Cedric Simmons, 6-10, sophomore, power forward, NC State
8 points, 9 rebounds, 7 blocks, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 2-6 FG, 4-8 FT, 28 minutes
One player that hasn't received his fair share of draft hype this season is up-and-coming big man Cedric Simmons. After a freshman season in which he received spotty playing time, Simmons has emerged as Herb Sendek's top post player as a sophomore. His breakout game was a 22 point, 6 rebound, 4 block effort against Delaware, and Simmons also impressed on national TV against Iowa with 13 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, and 8 blocks. On Saturday against Miami, Simmons set the tone early with his physical post play. He finished the game with 9 rebounds and 7 blocks, to along with 8 hard-earned points.
While Simmons hasn't put up scoring numbers that scream "NBA player", he is succeeding on the court in other ways. Blessed with a near-perfect 6-10 frame that simply ripples with muscle, Simmons isn't going to be pushed around by anybody in the paint. He relishes his role as post enforcer, and bangs fiercely with any player unfortunate to draw his defensive attention. A near-freak athlete, long arms and explosive athleticism allow Simmons to block more than his fair share of shots, usually in a spectacular fashion. It is safe to say that Simmons really got into the heads of the Miami players after blocking a few shots and altering many more.
On the offensive side of the ball, there is a bit more work to be done. Simmons will never be a big scorer in Herb Sendek's variation of the Princeton offense, and doesn't have the best touch in the paint at this point in his career. He does have a fundamental understanding of how to create his own offense, but still mostly scores on putbacks around the cup and spectacular open court finishes after flying down the court on the break.
Simmons clearly has some work to do before he is ready for the NBA, but you have to like the tools he is displaying. In terms of sheer athleticism and strength, he nearly tops the scale. NC State looks like a team primed to make some noise in the ACC, and you can be sure that Cedric Simmons will be a big part of any Wolfpack success.
Greg Paulus, 6-2, freshman, point guard, Duke
3 points, 15 assists, 3 turnovers, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 1-3 FG, 0-1 FT, 1-2 3P, 34 minutes
On a team with what may be the nation's best scorer and shooter (Redick), rebounder and shot blocker (S. Williams) and future NBA prospect (McRoberts), you'd think it would be hard for someone to stand out, to find a way to grab some ink in the midst of all that future professional money.
On Sunday, Duke freshman Greg Paulus found a way -- a freshman school-record 15 assists in a win over visiting Valparaiso. Paulus, whose record-breaking high school football career has been well-chronicled, came to Duke with a reputation as a pass-first point guard who lacked only a consistent jumper and some big game experience. While the first is clearly true and the second remains a factor, the latter is already history. Paulus' ability to fill the entire stat sheet is remarkable, and following in the hallowed footsteps of the Duhons, Wojciechowskis, Averys and Hurleys, the precocious youngster has already shown a knack for the timely pass, the big steal and the heady play.
In a testament to his poise, the freshman more than held his own against heavyweights Indiana (13 pts, 6 ast) and Memphis (5 pts, 7 reb, 8 ast), and on Sunday shredded the Valpo defense, often creating holes when he could not find them. He is adept at looking his defender off, and then whipping passes to open areas where his teammates soon will be rather than relying on finding them already open.
At this point, it doesn't appear Paulus is a guy who looks destined for early-entry status. Barring a sudden change, he's the sort of solid, team-oriented floor leader that will get better every year under Coach K. With a strong dribble drive and the ability to control the ball with either hand, Paulus is more of a dynamic floor general, rarely seeming out of control, than he is a star scorer.
Besides his suspect jumper (38% FG on the year), Paulus doesn't yet possess the defensive intuitions it takes to play PG on the next level. He finds himself out of position occasionally gambling against his man, and at 6'1", 185, he's hardly an imposing presence.
However, Paulus is also young, and with an array of athletic gifts similar Duke points Wojo and Hurley could only dream of, Paulus seems to have barely scratched the surface on his talent. While Valpo is hardly a world-beater, they're a solid mid-major with a coach known for defensive soundness. In other words, Paulus' record-setting day on the hardwood wasn't just news on campus. On the nation's number one team, we may have seen one of the kids grow up a little. That sound you hear is the rest of the NCAA groaning en masse.
Sammy Mejia, 6-6, junior, guard, DePaul
24 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 turnovers, 1 steal, 9-15 FG, 3-4 3P, 3-4 FT
Mejia is an intriguing prospect to watch because of his outstanding combination of size, length, ball-handling skills and point guard instincts, using all of them to make his presence felt and will his team to this impressive road win. He created his shot time after time in this game and used his trademark footwork, body control and mid-range jump shooting ability to put the game away down the stretch when Wake Forest made a late run.
While his talent with the ball in his hands is undeniable, his decision making (negative assist to turnover ratio), perimeter shooting (23% on the year beyond the arc) and body language all leave serious questions about his pro potential at times, as hes gained a reputation over the years for being a soft player that is unable to string together more than a couple of good games. Indeed in DePauls very next outing at Old Dominion just a few days later, Mejia struggled badly shooting 1-9 from the field with 5 turnovers in a 44 point drubbing by the Monarchs. When Mejia is on, he is a true triple double threat that can also contribute defensively if need be. More often that not he floats in and out of games, dribbling the ball excessively one minute, forcing up a terrible shot the next, and then looking like hes in a completely different world for the next 15. Watching him play, its hard to comprehend at times, as he has the type of versatile talent that few players in the NCAA possess at his size. Turning 22 this February, Mejia will have to get his stuff together and string together some good games in the Big East. Not only for his own sake, but also if DePaul is going to have any shot at making even the NIT.