It took a few years longer than the Longhorns had hoped, but 6' 11 center Prince Ibeh finally showed some signs of life during his senior campaign, boosting his NBA Draft stock in the process.
With Cameron Ridley missing 20 games due to injury, head coach Shaka Smart turned to Ibeh, who had spent the majority of his first three years battling foul trouble, offensive limitations and confidence issues.
While he still fought some of those same demons, the London, England native set single-game career highs in points (17), rebounds (12) and blocks (7), and played 25 or more minutes eight times a feat he accomplished only once in his first three seasons.
Unlike Rick Barnes before him, Smart found a way to get something out of Ibeh, highlighted by a seven-point, seven-rebound, seven-block performance versus Kansas in a career-high 35 minutes of play. At times, Ibeh looked like a poor man's DeAndre Jordan, who was also marred by lackluster college production, leading to second-round pick status.
While it would be unfair and irresponsible to compare Ibeh, a fairly underwhelming four-year college player, to Jordan, a ho-hum one-year college player turned fringe NBA All-Star, their measurables are almost identical.
Its Ibeh's physical profile alone that figures to catapult him into the second round of the 2016 NBA Draft. At the Portsmouth Invitational this month where he posted a forgettable 6.6 PER in three games Ibeh measured 6' 11 with a 7' 5.5 wingspan and 9' 4.5 standing reach, giving him elite tools for an NBA center. Equally as impressive as his measurements is Ibeh's agility, especially given his outstanding 261-pound frame.
He's quick off the floor, finishes above the rim with ease, and shows potential on the glass, despite average production in that area (career 10.3 rebounds per 40 minutes). The most important byproduct of Ibeh's physical gifts is his defensive impact, both on the interior and the perimeter.
Big men who can both protect the rim and provide versatility as a pick and roll defender aren't easy to come by, making Ibeh that much more valuable. He ranked second among DraftfExpress Top 100 prospects in blocks per 40 minutes with 4.6, doing so by using his tremendous reach, while showing excellent timing and quick leaping ability.
Ibeh's awareness and fundamentals often leave something to be desired, as he loses focus easily, and gets himself out of position by going after shots that he has very little chance of swatting, leaving the defense handicapped. But all in all, Ibeh has the tools to be one of the best rim protectors in the draft.
He also shines on the perimeter at times thanks to his ability to drop and contest, hard hedge and recover, blitz with active hands, switch and keep it in front, or stay step for step with the ball handler if beat off the bounce. Defensive flexibility, especially guarding ball screens, is in high demand in the NBA, and Ibeh is able to provide exactly that at the center position.
With that said, it's important to note that Ibeh is still far from polished defensively. He struggles to stay on the floor due to foul trouble (7.3 per 40 minutes), bites on shot fakes from non-shooters, and doesn't always have his motor running as hot as you might like. Ibeh's physical gifts can't be taught, but he'll have to continue to improve his awareness and find a way to pick up the sometimes-complex NBA defensive schemes, while bringing maximum intensity on every possession.
Becoming a more aware and motivated defensive rebounder is also on Ibeh's laundry list of improvement areas. He corralled only 6.4 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes as a senior, ranking twelfth among fourteen DraftExpress Top 100 centers. He doesn't always pursue rebounds, misses box outs regularly, and bobbles boards due to his shaky hands. He'll have to improve on the defensive glass to become a rotation player in the NBA.
Ibeh's main value as a prospect is on the defensive end, and rightfully so, as there aren't many positive things to say about his offensive game. Scoring only 9.1 points per 40 minutes with a true shooting percentage of 54.1 on his career, Ibeh is extremely limited in the post and as a pass-catcher, free throw shooter and distributor.
While he will never be called upon to go get a bucket', finding a way to improve his hands and maximize his finishing ability will help him make use of his elite physical tools. At the moment, Ibeh bobbles passes regularly or will lose the ball going up for dunks. Ibeh, however, will surprise with occasional one-handed lob catches or tough grabs in traffic, which at least gives teams hope that this may be more of a confidence and experience issue than anything.
With his back to the basket, Ibeh displays very rigid footwork, poor balance, and only one real move a left-handed jump hook over his right shoulder that he makes with very little frequency. He scored only 0.48 points per possession on 54 post ups, while turning the ball over on 35% of those possessions. He really struggles to think the game, evident by the fact that he's totaled only 14 assists (to 103 turnovers) in 1763 career minutes. Ibeh was the only player in the country this season to post an assist percentage less than one and a turnover percentage greater than 25. He panics versus pressure and certainly isn't a player teams will want touching the ball aside from catching and finishing around the rim or snaring offensive rebounds. Lastly, his poor free throw shooting (career 43.2%) makes him more of a liability on the offensive end, and a potential hack-a-Prince target like DeAndre Jordan.
With all that said, it's not Ibeh's offense that could help him make his mark in the NBA. There's a clear-cut need for rim protection, pick and roll switch-ability and athleticism at the center position in the NBA, and, despite all of his deficiencies, Ibeh has proven, albeit in small doses, that he can do exactly that. It's easy to classify 21-year-old Ibeh as an underachiever during his four years at Texas. He lacked consistency and never quite made the impact his tools would suggest. But he's a better fit for the NBA game, and as he slowly realizes that, there aren't a surplus of players who can do the things he can on the floor, he may very well finally put it all together and become the player he showed he can be for stretches of his senior campaign.