Sunday, February 17, 2008

Keeping Tabs: RSIII's HS Career Ends; Class Could Grow

PJS Note: Periodically over the remainder of the basketball season I will post updates of Tubby Smith's incoming five-man 2008 class. The group has been ranked as high as 10th nationally and it is part of the hopefully golden future of Minnesota basketball.

I know many online pundits aren't fans of the Star Tribune's Jim Souhan. I am, and his feature on Ralph Sampson III today is the latest reason why.

Souhan made the trip to Georgia for the state's high school playoffs and walked us through Sampson's last game as a high school basketball player but also weaves in the up and down life story of RSIII's father, the legendary Ralph Sampson.

The younger Sampson fouled out of the state playoff game, and despite a bum knee, finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, nine blocks and three assists.

But be sure to check out Souhan's feature. Here's a snippet:

Ralph III is folded onto a narrow wooden bench in an empty locker room, alongside his brother and Bombard. He's friendly and soft-spoken. His mother says he's an "A-B" student who was impressed by Minnesota's academics as well as by Smith.

Sampson chose Minnesota over Kentucky, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.

"Coach Smith was what attracted my attention to Minnesota," Sampson says. "They were also the first school to offer me a scholarship."

The brothers are obviously close. They joke about their 1-on-1 games and the collateral damage of dunking at home.

"Robert was outside, trying to practice dunking, and he was hanging on the rim, which loosened it," Ralph III said. "I was going to go out there and show him how to do it, and when I went up and dunked it, I pulled the whole basket off the side of the house."

Ralph III is asked what his goal is for his Minnesota career. "My No. 1 goal," he says, "is to win a national championship."

I like the sound of that, RSIII.

Sampson finished his senior year averaging 20 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks per game. Nice line.

** The PiPress' Marcus Fuller continues to report via his blog here and here that the Gophers are still pursuing two or three other players for next year's class. The current targets are point guards Verdell Jones, Jorge Gutierrez, and big man Krys Faber. Here's a mini PJS scouting report on each:

Verdell Jones is a 6'4 point guard from Illinois that is weighing offers from Minnesota, Kentucky and Tennessee. According to Rivals, Jones has "high" interest in each school. This would be the second recruit--Sampson being the other--that had his decision boil down to Minnesota and Kentucky, effectively pitting Tubby Smith against Billy Gillispie in a recuriting war. Jones is a Rivals 3-star prospect, but his value is increasing because he could be the most talented point guard who is still uncommitted. Insider, which indicates Minnesota is Jones' #1 right now, said the following about the guard:

"He really knows how to score in various ways; a prolific scoring guard. He is a deep outside shooter, excellent scoring shot from anywhere on the court and gets to the rim at will. He's quick, but needs a lot of strength; weak up top. He is not a great defender but is capable of playing defense but loves offense a lot more. More of a 2 guard than point; not a playmaker; looks to score."

Jorge Gutierrez, a native of Mexico, might be a new name for most of you. The long-haired 6'2, 175 pound combo guard from Henderson, NV, has seen his value rise over the last weeks due to strong play, and also because of the aforementioned lack of quality point guards remaining on the market. Unlike Jones, the Gophers haven't offered Gutierrez, but he could be a Plan B if Jones doesn't sign on. According to Insider, Guttierez is more of a pass-first kind of point guard.

"He prefers to involve his teammates over scoring the ball himself, though he indeed has the ability to score. He easily finishes around the rim, using his either hand, though he shoots jumpers as a righty. He rebounds the ball well for a player of his height and seems to make the right plays at the right times. He also plays defense well and typically matches up with the opposing teams best perimeter player"

Krys Faber is a name that has been bouncing around Minnesota recriuting boards for awhile. A 6'9 center from Los Angeles, Faber reportedly visited Minnesota but decided to wait until April to make a decision. He's also received ineterst from programs like USC, Connecticut, Washington State and St. Johns. Faber would help give the Gophers depth in the already thin frontcourt. And with the graduations of Tollackson and Coleman, the Gophers need all the height and girth they can acquire. RSIII and Colten Iverson are two key big men signees, but Faber would help provide the depth the Gophers don't have right now. Insider indicates Faber's current #1 is Minnesota.

"Faber is one of the more promising big men that have yet to sign a Division I letter of intent. He has a high-major frame with broad shoulders, long arms, and huge hands. This lefty catches everything thrown into his vicinity and generally makes savvy-type decisions, despite being double and triple-teamed throughout each and every game. ... Overall, Faber projects to being a solid "five" at the next level, and with proper coaching and work ethic he should be a solid contributor by the time he's a sophomore in college."

** Meanwhile, my friend Tom at Gopher Nation put together a thorough look at Sampson, Devron Bostick and Paul Carter last week. Instead of rewriting that on PJS, I'll gladly send you to Gopher Nation to check out his fine work.

** Grandpa Sid Hartman also did his version of a Keeping Tabs article last week. His piece which was short on substance on the incoming crop, suggested that next year's team could well struggle more than the current Gophers led by seniors Lawrence McKenzie, Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson. Sid wrote: "My guess is that it will take another recruiting class after next year's before the new coach will be competing for Big Ten titles and a position in the NCAA tournament."

That could well be true, that it will take two years of quality recruiting to get the Gophers into the upper echelon of the Big Ten. But Sid also posits that it takes seniors and experience to win in college basketball today. I don't think that's the case any longer. While senior leadership once ruled the day in college hoops, today's winners are typicllay the team's with the best talent, nevermind the experience factor. Look at Matt Painter's Boilermakers, occasionally called the Baby Boilers. Experienced they are not. Look at Thad Matta's young, stud-laden squad from a season ago. The Gophers don't have a Greg Oden, Eric Gordon or Carmello Anthony type coming in next season, but there is no reason a more talented group of freshman can't outperform a trio of seniors who have been short on talent and leadership.