In Case you Missed It: the Best NCAA Performances 2/22-3/1

In Case you Missed It: the Best NCAA Performances 2/22-3/1
Mar 19, 2005, 12:00 am
Toiling away in obscurity...

Paul Millsap, 6-8 PF, Louisiana Tech

Who do you think led the NCAA in rebounding last year? No, it wasn’t Emeka Okafor or Jaime Lloreda. It was actually a freshman from the WAC, Paul Millsap. Even though he’s only 6-8, Millsap is once again the top rebounder in the country this year, at a little over 12 per game. This past week he really outdid himself, scoring 29 points and pulling down a ridiculous 25 (!) rebounds against Boise State, with 13 of them being on the offensive end. Millsap almost outrebounded the entire Boise State team by himself

Millsap has already been drawing some serious attention from NBA scouts in his sophomore season. He may be missing an inch or two to really be a serious NBA prospect, but if there is one stat that translates extremely well from the NCAA to the NBA for big men, it’s rebounding. Expanding his offensive game a bit more from beyond the paint next season will help him a lot, but Millsap is a guy who will have scouts flocking to Ruston for as long as he decides to stay there. There are very few players in the country right now that can keep this kid off the glass.

Ronnie Price, 6-2 Guard, Utah Valley State

Continuing with the trend of superstar players from smaller teams, we get to talk about off the radar, Ronnie Price, from Utah Valley State of the Division I Independents conference, who is a pretty amazing story in himself. He graduated from high school as a scrawny 5-7 kid who had to make it onto the mighty Nicholls State squad as a walk-on. Despite not being a scholarship player initially, he led the team in points, assists and steals and was named team freshman of the year. As he grew (and grew and grew), Price managed to get himself a scholarship and eventually transferred to Utah Valley State, then a Junior College. While he was there, they became the first school to go from being a Junior College team to a full fledged D-I program, and are now amongst the independents with Price as their unquestioned leader.

Price played his last home game ever in a Wolverine uniform this week, and put on a show for his fans and team on senior night. He scored 36 points, a season high, on 13-24 shooting from the field and 6-11 from behind the arc. While it is very hard to evaluate a player like Price based off the level of competition he goes up against every night, along with the type of players that surround him, he has been drawing attention from the scouts this year. Danny Ainge from the Celtics has scouted him, as has more than half the league so far this year. Luckily for us, he has been invited to Portsmouth and has accepted his invitation. He could be a legit draft sleeper, but we will have to take a look and find out for ourselves.

Matt Nelson, 7-1 Center, Colorado State

Nelson woke up this week to show that he still has a pulse and some kind of interest in being drafted. The enigmatic big man has regressed in most parts of his game this year, looking slower and less motivated than he did last season and the year before, but he did manage to stay healthy all season, which is an accomplishment in itself. In his last game for Colorado State on senior night, Nelson left fans with a good taste in their mouths, scoring 31 points to go along with four blocks (both season highs) and seven rebounds. He has been wildly inconsistent for most of the year, but a guy with his size and decent touch around and away from the basket is going to get looks no matter what. He will probably be invited to Portsmouth (we’re assuming), and it would definitely be in his best interest to accept, based off what we’ve seen of him this season so far.

Jay Straight, 5-11 PG, Wyoming

Straight isn’t considered much of an NBA prospect by most people I’ve spoken to, but his last line of his NCAA career deserves mention. 41 points and eight assists is outstanding anyway you look at it, and it’s far and away the best offensive performance he’s ever had in a Wyoming uniform. Straight lacks size and one specific part of his game where he really excels at to be considered a 2nd round draftee in such a deep point guard draft. His outside shot is streaky and he turns the ball over an awful lot, but he’s an excellent NCAA point and he will be sorely missed by his team. If things don’t work out for him with the NBA, he will surely make decent money playing in Europe.

Filiberto Rivera, 6-2 PG, UTEP

Fili Rivera is another guy who is flying under most radars due to the fact that he isn’t being shoved down our throats on a weekly basis by the national media. He is one of the purest point guards you will find anywhere in the NCAA, but he can also score and play some defense, which makes him that much more attractive to the many NBA scouts who have come to visit him this year in El Paso. This week, Rivera was responsible for probably the most impressive point line we have seen all year in the NCAA. In a game against Paul Millsap’s Louisiana Tech squad, Rivera shattered two assist records, one of them held by none other than legendary UTEP guard Tim Hardaway. The first record was the school's all-time record for assists in a single game, which he destroyed by putting up 18. The second was UTEP's all-time record for assists in a season, which he now holds with 193 and counting. What’s most impressive about the 18 assists Rivera dished out was the fact that he did it without committing even a single turnover.

In terms of the NBA, Rivera isn’t being overlooked by anyone, as almost every team in the league has scouted him this season already, some of them more than once. He regularly draws 5-10 NBA scouts every time he steps on the floor for a good matchup. His outside shooting is something that he has been criticized for in the past, but on the year the kid is shooting a very solid 39% from behind the arc, while shooting 45% from the field and over 81% from the line. He does have to improve his outside shooting to really stick as a backup point guard in the League, much like fellow Puerto Rican Carlos Arroyo did coming out of college. Rivera has made his presence felt very well on the NCAA level, even if you haven’t heard of him yet.

His UTEP team is on the bubble for the tournament, but hopefully for him and fellow senior stud Omar Thomas, along with the rest of the talented Miners squad, they will be able to pick up some good wins and work their way into the dance, so the rest of the nation can see what they’ve been missing out on all year. Rivera hasn’t decided whether to commit to Portsmouth (NBA draft camp for seniors) yet, as he is hoping that a good showing afterwards in Chicago will be enough. There are so many great point guards in this draft that his stock is really all over the place, but he’s got as good of a shot as any of the 2nd round points in our mock of getting drafted and sticking with an NBA team.

Richard Roby, 6-6 Guard, Colorado

Lost somewhere in the Mountain Time zone is perhaps the best freshman guard you haven't seen play. Richard Roby, a fearless and athletic lead guard averaging a shade over 16 points a contest, has been carrying his Colorado teammates for most of the season. On Saturday, the talented freshman out of San Bernadino, Cal. had his best statistical game of the year, nailing seven three-pointers en route to a season-high 30 points in the Buffaloes' close loss to Kansas State.

Roby, whose complexion and game reminds one a little of Notre Dame's Chris Thomas, is a superior leaper with a quick, no-hitch release. He is the half-brother of NBA star Kenyon Martin, and definitely has basketball in his blood While his team's season has been an unquestionable disappointment (13-13, 11th in the Big XII), Roby has been a bright spot in Boulder. The youngster leads his club in scoring, steals, threes made and, tellingly, turnovers. But while his game needs seasoning, Roby's talent is undeniable to anyone who watches him play. He is unflinching in pressure situations and, undoubtedly, should show more control and improved decision-making next season. Despite a lost season for the Buffaloes, Roby is one to keep an eye on.

Yemi Nicholson, C, Denver

Last week, we chronicled the achievements of a big kid working hard out in Denver. This week, as if to justify our exposure, Yemi Nicholson did it again, nearly notching a triple-double against New Orleans with 14 points, 10 boards and a whopping nine blocked shots. Despite a bit of a flop in the Pioneers' midweek game (only seven points), Nicholson showed up when it counted, as Denver won its third straight game, and finished a perfect 8-0 at home in Sun Belt conference contests this year.

Nicholson is raw, especially offensively, preferring to score near the basket over smaller interior big men. And the caliber of opponent he faces week in and week out no doubt allows him more leeway to develop than if he were battling ACC, SEC or Big East big men. But blocking shots is a marketable skill, one that Nicholson by all accounts possesses in droves. Plus, Nicholson is only a junior, so barring an unfortunate decision to go pro, he will have another summer and season to impress scouts and to work on his mid-range, facing-the-basket game. But one thing is for certain, the former music major certainly has grabbed our attention.

Jeremiah Massey, Kansas St.

Not every player in the NCAA is playing only for a shot at the NBA draft. For many of the better players at non-tournament bound schools, a solid showing in the postseason after a good regular season could lead to a possible Chicago or Portsmouth camp invitation, or to a contract with a top team overseas. One such player who may be playing his way into some work is Kansas State power forward Jeremiah Massey.

Massey, a 6'7; JUCO transfer from Oxnard (CA), has had a great senior year, dropping 20 against arch-rival Kansas, 25 on top 5 Oklahoma State, 23 against a streaking Iowa State club and is averaging 17.6 points on the season. Also strong is his 79% mark from the free-throw line, a great sign for any aspiring pro big man. But his final collegiate year has to be highlighted by his 28 point, 19 rebound performance on Saturday. The Wildcat forward was 10-of-13 from the floor, scoring mostly around the rim and on offensive put-backs. Of his 19 rebounds, a whopping seven were offensive. With no chance at an NCAA bid, Kansas State needed this road win over Colorado to keep them in consideration for a postseason NIT berth, and thus more face time for a guy like Massey to impress some pro scouts.

Under the glare of the spotlight...

Joey Graham, WF, Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State's standout wing has been the topic of much debate amongst the DraftExpress staff. On one hand, you have to love the absolutely fantastic physical package. Graham is an all-world athlete, and built like a tank. On the other, it is fairly clear that he started out his college career as a post player. Despite having the perfect body to do damage as a slasher, Graham lacks the first step or the instincts to make it part of his repertoire at this point. While Saturday's game against Kansas may not have cleared up anything about his weaknesses taking the ball to the basket, what he did show is a very, very nice midrange jumper. His 56% field goal percentage shows just what kind of midrange shooter he really is. Graham is comfortable shooting it from just about anywhere, and has no problems when a defender gets a hand in his face. He continues to show a nose for putting the ball in the basket right around the hoop, probably due to his days as a power forward. He is so strong and athletic that he can probably play that kind of "Shawn Marion" type of game in the league. Graham could end up getting drafted in the mid to late lottery, in spite of his lack of ball skills, if he continues to show that he can create that midrange jumper.

Channing Frye, F/C, Arizona

Channing Frye is a long-time household name in draft circles, as his stock was quite high early on in his college career, but slowly fell as his body and game never really developed, at least the way some people expected them to. As his collegiate days wind down, Frye has been playing a bit better. This past week, Frye averaged 28 points on an astonishing 85% shooting in two games against the Washington schools. While neither opponent has much of an interior presence, it is notable that Frye has begun to show that assertiveness that he has lacked throughout his career.

Being fairly athletic at 6'11;, one might think Frye has a long pro career ahead of him. Unfortunately, he hasn't shown the intensity or physicality that a center needs in the NBA. While he has nice touch out to 15 feet, it is unclear whether he will be able to get position in the post due to his slender frame. Nonetheless, he is a player to keep an eye on as we head deeper into March. Channing Frye's size and skill will be attractive to many teams picking in the late first/early second round, and he probably has a chance to move up (as he has in our mock draft) if he continues to produce.

Bracey Wright, SG, Indiana

It comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Hoosiers tumultuous season that Indiana's biggest week of the year by far occurred primarily because of a junior sharp-shooting guard from Texas. Bracey Wright, one of the nation's best -- if unheralded -- scorers, dropped 32 points on then-No. 10 Michigan State Saturday in a game the Hoosiers had to win to even be considered for the NCAA tournament. That IU is even being discussed as a tournament team at all after their rough start to the year is a testament to the play of their heart and soul, Wright.

After missing three games earlier this season due to an ankle injury, the streaky, but deadly shooter was rusty in his first game back. But Wright got it going quickly and has now returned with a vengeance, averaging a shade over 28 points in the two games since, both much needed wins. In games this week, Wright shot 10-of-16 on threes and hit all 13 free throws. Wright has had a good, but not great, season this year, but has also had the burden of being the baby Hoosiers' only consistent scoring threat. On the year, the junior is averaging 19 points a game, up a hair from last year. In fact, Wright's numbers in assists, blocks and steals are all up from last year, a testament to the leadership role he plays.

Wright has always possessed a textbook jumpshot, with little wasted motion and an effortless stroke, even from 26 or 27 feet (NBA range). Wright has also tried to drive to the hoop a little more this year, making him much more difficult to guard than when he's simply launching it from the perimeter. And his spot as the unquestioned backbone of the team cannot be understated. If the Hoosiers are going to make a run for a Big Ten Tournament title, and an NCAA berth, they will need their leader to play like he did Saturday in every single game. It says here that Wright is up for the challenge. He was thinking about declaring for the draft last year already, and could test the waters this time around to see what the scouts think.

Sharrod Ford, F, Clemson

Despite playing in the ACC, Ford is a guy that we can’t say we have an outstanding handle on his pro prospects just yet, but expect that to change as the game tapes start rolling into our mailbox. Ford has been extremely inconsistent this year, but he seems to like playing against Maryland (as do many weaker teams). This week he put up a very nice line against the Terps, scoring 24 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking nine shots. The 6'9" lanky Ford is lacking somewhat in the perimeter skills he will surely need at the next level, but he is making a case for himself with his athleticism and especially his shot-blocking skills. We’ll keep you posted on him.

Nate Robinson, PG, Washington

Nate Robinson is another Pac-10 player currently fighting to get into the first round of the upcoming draft. Normally we wouldn't talk much about a 5'7 guard, but Robinson was impressive enough in last season's pre-draft camp that he may just get himself a guaranteed contract someday. Blessed with unbelievable quickness and leaping ability, Robinson plays more "above the rim" than your average 6'6; wing. After starting out the season on a tear, Robinson has been willing to play more of a playmaking role and defer to his team's other very talented guards from time to time, but Saturday's win against Arizona was all Nate. He hit a couple of crucial three-pointers down the stretch, and finished the Wildcats off with a beautiful driving layup over the outstretched arms of the previously mentioned Channing Frye. On the week, Robinson averaged 21.5 pts on 64% shooting and added five assists per game in a sweep of the Arizona schools. To earn a spot in the first round, Robinson needs to continue to show that his decision-making skills are improved, as well as pick up the defensive intensity a bit.

Curtis Withers, F, Charlotte

Is there a team in America having a better season with less media coverage than the Charlotte 49ers? At 21-4, and leading the CUSA, Charlotte has had a magnificent run thus far, much of it attributable to the play of outstanding junior forward Curtis Withers, a 6-8 man-child out of North Carolina. On Saturday, Withers continued his torrid pace of late, dropping 25 points -- his third straight 20-plus point outing -- and snaring 11 rebounds as Charlotte finished off a perfect February slate.

Teaming with Eddie Basden, who you will hear more about on DraftCity very soon, Withers has had an outstanding season, pumping in over 17 points a game to go along with eight boards and two assists. Despite a propensity to launch up some ill-advised shots (Withers is shooting just 46% for the year), the combo forward has decent ball skills and is unafraid to mix it up down low. As his team continues to win, the accolades are bound to come for Withers, a talented player who just needs to inject some consistency into his otherwise stellar floor game. Withers has talked in the past about his desire to play in the NBA, and at times this season looked like he is forcing the issue and trying to impress the scouts with his perimeter skills, but he appears to be more relaxed lately and as we all know that playing well and winning is the best way to impress the scouts.

Darius Washington, PG, Memphis

Based on some out of control high school hype and the general reputation of the Memphis program, many people may have a misconception of John Calipari's latest freshman phenom. While Washington may still be a bit turnover prone, he certainly is not a 2-guard stuck in a point guard's body. Washington is actually shooting 47% from the floor and 42% from three, and plays the game at an astonishingly fast pace. Since the conference slates began, there might not be a more impressive freshman lead guard in the entire country.

Washington recently put up 25 on Louisville and 29 on Charlotte, before cooling off a bit in Saturday's rematch against the Cardinals. Even then, however, he showed an ability to attack the basket that is almost impossible to defend. He was the only Tiger to have any amount of success against Rick Pitino's defensive scheme. While Darius Washington would be smart to spend another couple of seasons in college honing his floor general and decision-making skills, he plays the game with the intensity and explosiveness of an NBA-level point guard. With development, Washington is a first-round draft pick down the road.

Hakim Warrick, F, Syracuse

It's been an emotional week for the Syracuse basketball program, as fans had to say a Carrier Dome farewell to senior forward Hakim Warrick, one of the Orange's all-time best players, and the team had to weather the attention of Jim Boeheim's 700th career victory, all the while battling a tough Big East slate coming to a close. Luckily, both Warrick and the team were up to the challenges.

In his two final home games, Warrick scored a career-high 35 points in a midweek win over St. Johns and then topped that effort with a new career-high 36 points, on 12-for-17 shooting, in the aforementioned 700th win, a blowout victory over Providence. Warrick noted before the week began that he wanted to go out in style, and he certainly accomplished that. The 6'9 forward wowed the Orange faithful with his typically above-the-rim play. Flashing his unreal athleticism, Warrick scored on an array of highlight-reel dunks, many of them starting a full two feet above the rim.

Warrick has explosive jumping ability and superior footwork, allowing him to compensate for a slight frame. Four years at the college level have also allowed Warrick to develop a big man's knack for knowing his placement near the basket every time he gets the ball, so he rarely commits silly charge fouls by barreling over opponents, preferring to jump over them. His incredible wingspan allows him to play the game much bigger than his 6-8 height would initially suggest.

While Warrick will complete his college career away from the friendly confines of the Syracuse campus, there is no doubt the orange-clad fans will miss his high-flying ways.

Antoine Wright, G/F, Texas A&M

Did any player have a bigger game under tougher circumstances this week than Texas A&M's Antoine Wright? The junior from California, whose team was an afterthought last year in the Big XII, led the Aggies to two huge wins as they try to make the NCAA tournament. Against Iowa State and Curtis Stinson earlier in the week, Wright poured in 21 points and added seven boards. But he outdid himself on Saturday against Bobby Knight's Texas Tech team, another club facing a burst bubble, nailing an eye-popping 7-of-8 from three-point land on his way to 29 points on the night.

The athletic swingman has raised his level of play as the season winds down, adding a lethal stroke from deep to an already impressive scoring arsenal. At 6'7 Wright possesses the height to shoot over shorter guards, and he is athletic enough to maneuver amongst the trees down low as well. NBA scouts know he is interested in jumping early, and a postseason spotlight would certainly help him raise his profile -- much like Larry Hughes did a few years ago for St. Louis. If he keeps shooting the way he has lately, and his team keeps winning in crucial situations, there is little doubt Wright will get the attention he deserves. With the lack of depth at the SG position in this draft, and many teams like the Nuggets looking for a player to fill that role, Wright could end up being the #1 SG taken in the draft, which explains his positioning at the end of the lottery on our 2005 mock draft.

Jarrett Jack, PG, Georgia Tech vs. Guillermo Diaz, G, Miami

This was a fantastic Saturday matchup between two of the most intriguing prospects in the draft this week in Miami. The two guards couldn't be any more different in their style of play, and this game was a must win game for both teams as they try to get off the bubble and into the tournament. This was such a compelling matchup that we've decided to dedicate a whole article to it, and you'll be to read it on the site tomorrow most likely. Just for the record, Diaz finished the game with 24 points, 3 assists and 4 steals, while Jack came away with 21 points, 4 assists and the important win.

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