Letters of Interest: The anatomy of a college basketball prospect

February 22, 2013

Montrose Christian alum Kevin Durant had the necessary work ethic, attitude and basketball IQ to go from high school phenom to NBA star (The Washington Post/Getty Images).

By now, you’ve probably heard about Bruce Pearl’s fictional account of Victor Oladipo’s rise to stardom — from a senior reserve at DeMatha who couldn’t shoot or dribble to Wooden Award candidate at Indiana.

Not quite, Bruce.

Ironically, Pearl’s words on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” stemmed from a loose comparison he made between Oladipo and Michael Jordan, another high school star who rose to heights that few could have predicted.

That got me thinking — what does it take to turn high school talent into college (and NBA) success? Every year, there’s talk of can’t-miss prospects and rankings are thrown around, but what intangibles have allowed Oladipo to reach this point? What separates a Kevin Durant from a Kwame Brown?

I figured the best way to find an answer is to ask two coaches who have churned out their share of Division I and NBA stars. DeMatha Coach Mike Jones has had the likes of Oladipo, Quinn Cook and Jerami and Jerian Grant come through his program. Meantime, Montrose Christian Coach Stu Vetter counts Durant, Greivis Vasquez, Justin Anderson and Michael Carrera among his former players.

Both Jones and Vetter harped on work ethic as a major component of a true college prospect. A player’s motor can’t only run during games and sometimes in practice. Their love of the game and labor within the game must go hand in hand.

“Work ethic is what separates players with talent because that’s what helps you become the best player you can be,” Vetter said. “A lot of guys don’t reach their potential because they don’t work hard. What’s outstanding with Kevin [Durant] is that you’ve seen steady improvement, from being player of the year in high school to the national player of the year in college to now being a superstar in the NBA.”

Vetter admits that, like most anybody, he didn’t think Durant would blossom into being “potentially one of the greatest NBA players ever.” But Durant’s impressive skillset and work ethic to match let Vetter know undoubtedly that Durant was no bust.

“I knew Kevin was a pro. I always used to say he could play for us on Friday and play for the Wizards on Saturday,” Vetter said. “Had he been able to go straight to the NBA in 2006, he could’ve. But whereas in [Victor] Oladipo’s case, his development has been more gradual than Kevin’s, the work ethic is there for both of them.”

Both coaches also cited attitude as a critical attribute in a true college prospect. Jones said the first thing coaches typically ask him about is a player’s character.

“Many kids don’t realize that they are being watched when they are in the stands, waiting on the JV or the AAU game before them to finish,” Jones said. “They want to see how they carry themselves, how tough they are. Those are the guys who are ready to go.”

A lot of that has to do with the structure and sound environment promoted by high schools, especially the ones in this area. Liking choosing an established brand, college coaches know what type of product they are getting when they recruit a player from DeMatha, Montrose Christian or many other DMV schools that boast tradition and success.

“Players in this area are blessed because they learn how to play with other good players and how to really play defense,” Jones said. “I’ve been at Team USA tryouts and some of these kids don’t know what the heck they are doing on defense; they just want the ball.”

The final common thread within Jones and Vetter’s advice was being a student of the game. Between the winter season and AAU circuit, some players compete in 75 games a year. But as Vetter points out, there’s a difference between playing constantly and understanding the fundamentals of the game.

“With social media and rankings, a lot of kids do get overhyped and while playing a bunch of games in the summer is fun, most players aren’t taking time to understand and develop their fundamentals,” Vetter said. “Michael Jordan talked about how with all those big shots he made, he had practiced and gone through those situations over and over by himself to where it became natural. And like he said, work ethic eliminates the fear of missing those shots.”

Take it from the GOAT, who knows a thing or two about success.

In Thursday’s hoops action:

  • In the Virginia AAA Northern Region girls’ semifinals, Edison beat Centreville and South Lakes downed defending state champ Oakton to advance to Saturday’s final. Read Preston Williams’s game story for more.
  • Stonewall Jackson’s Nicole Floyd scored 27 points in leading her team to a 68-49 upset of Potomac (Va.) in the AAA Northwest Region semifinals. Check out Roman Stubbs’s game story for details.
  • Potomac Falls advanced to its fourth straight Virginia AA Region II Division 4 championship by downing Loudoun County, 79-53, as Gabe Hiatt writes.

NUMBER CRUNCH:17
Total number of boys’ and girls’ champions that will be crowned in the area this weekend (AAA Northern Region, AAA Northwest Region, AA Region II Division 4, AA Region II Division 3, A Region B Division 2, Capital Beltway, ISL AA, ISL A, MAC, MISAL and PVAC.)

BREAKFAST LINKS
–Stay in the know on how the postseason picture is shaping up with our updated playoff brackets.

WHAT TO WATCH TODAY
Northern Region boys’ basketball semifinals, 6 and 8 p.m. at Robinson
Spots in the state tournament are on the line as W.T. Woodson takes on South County and Wakefield plays Robinson. Here’s a breakdown of the matchups.

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Matt McFarland | February 22, 2013