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College basketball notebook: BC recruits battle each other in California playoffs

02.25.11 at 9:56 am ET
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While Boston College is focused on a strong finish to the campaign in an effort to secure a berth in the NCAA tournament, there is some excitement about the Eagles’ incoming class of recruits. BC coach Steve Donahue talked last week ‘€” before the Eagles got a commitment from their sixth recruit, Southern California point guard Jordan Daniels ‘€” about what he wants from players he brings to BC.

“First and foremost I just want high-character kids,” Donahue said. “Basketball at this level can be very stressful in a lot of ways. [We want] kids that can maintain their perseverance on and off the court, just have a great way about them, incredibly coachable, love the game. I think those things are critical. And obviously we want talent. But those things are first and foremost. And I think we did that with all five kids. I think they’re very coachable. I think they really care about the team first. And I think their skills fit what we do on the basketball court as well.”

Added Donahue: “I think at a place like Boston College, I think I have the ability — as opposed to Cornell ‘€” to really go after kids who fit what we do. ‘€¦ In terms of basketball things, it’s more of a skill, basketball IQ, you err on the side of that, as opposed to length and athleticism ‘€” not that I don’t want length and athleticism ‘€” but I think I’ve got to have those first two in a player before I really start moving on.”

According to one Los Angeles-area high school coach, Donahue got it right with at least three of his Southern California recruits.

Ryan Anderson, Lonnie Jackson and Kyle Caudill played on the Double Pump AAU team that won the prestigious Super 64 tournament in Las Vegas last year. Christian Aurand was the coach of that AAU team ‘€” he also coaches at Simi Valley High School outside of Los Angeles ‘€” and he said BC is getting a special trio, one that used chemistry and fundamentals to overcome any athletic deficiencies in Vegas.

“They’re getting three kids that are just unbelievable kids,” Aurand said. “Their character is awesome. They’re easy to coach. ‘€¦ I think all three of them have got great basketball IQ. That’s something that makes up for a lot of things.”

Anderson comes in with the most impressive resume. Aurand said the 6-foot-8 Long Beach Poly standout is deserving of the attention he’s been getting this season, as he’s accepted his role as the Jackrabbits’ go-to guy. “Two years ago, when I coached him, you could see that he was starting to get more and more confident,” Aurand said. “He was somebody who had tremendous upside. He’s tremendously skilled. And he’s developed kind of a mean streak to him That’s might have been a question mark. But he’s just gotten tougher and has that extra mean streak you need to have.”

Aurand points to Anderson’s ability to bang down low or take the ball up top as something that will create problems for opponents at any level. Said Aurand: “He’s crafty enough to create space down on the block, and at the same time, at his size he’s going to be a tough guy to guard out on the perimeter, because he can go pick and pop.”

The Eagles appear to have been fortunate to have recognized Anderson’s potential early on. “Ryan just jumped out at me on the basketball court as a skilled big who really knew how to play,” Donahue said. “And I don’t know if he was highly touted when we started the relationship with him and got him as he is now, after playing his senior year and playing on a high-profile high school team. I think he’s opened eyes up at this point. We did the right thing. We evaluated fairly quickly that he would be right for us.”

The 6-4 Jackson will head to BC with a  reputation as a player who knows how to find his way to the basket. “The obvious thing is he’s an outstanding shooter,” Aurand said. “He’s a kid that’s an extremely hard worker. His dad’s been a driving force, pushing him since a young age. Lonnie knows what to do and how to prepare. He’s extremely competitive, and a guy that this last spring and summer, on that national stage, has really developed into a player who can get to the rim as well. He’s a great scorer at the high school level.”

For Jackson to continue to have success in college, the consensus is he’ll need to bulk up. “People are longer, they’re more athletic, they’re more physical in college,” Aurand said. “He knows this. He’ll need to develop his body and get in that weight room. Just get physically stronger.”

Donahue agreed. “I think the thing people hesitated on Lonnie was his frame,” he said. “I feel strongly that once that comes, he’ll be fine.”

Caudill, who stands 6-11, 265, is a true big man who has shown he is willing to sacrifice individual glory for team success. “Kyle is one of those guys who is a team guy,” Aurand said. “He’ll do the little things for you. He’s strong and tough and extremely cerebral. ‘€¦ He’s an outstanding passer, a good shooter from 15-17 feet, makes his free throws.”

Aurand acknowledged that Caudill is “one of those guys that doesn’t have eye-popping athleticism,” but that hasn’t slowed his success. “I think you know what you’re getting from him ‘€” a big strong kid who is going to have to use his strength to move people around and screen and get people open,” Aurand said.

Caudill’s high school career ended Friday night, when his 22 points and 14 rebounds weren’t enough to prevent Brea Olinda’s 65-58 loss to Harvard-Westlake.

Two other BC-bound Southern California recruits met on Tuesday night, as Daniels’ Etiwanda Eagles knocked off Jackson’s Valencia Vikings in a CIF Southern Section Division 1-AA quarterfinal. Etiwanda (28-2) smothered the high-scoring Jackson and limited him to 21 points on 5-of-19 shooting.

“They had a defensive game plan that was really tough. They’re really fast, and they play tough defense,” Jackson told the Los Angeles Daily News. “I tried to get some shots off, but it was just one of those nights when my shots just weren’t falling.

Daniels, a speedy 5-8 point guard, scored 12 points, second on Etiwanda to USC-bound Byron Wesley (27 points).

With his high school career complete, Jackson said he’s looking forward to teaming up with Daniels, a former AAU teammate, at BC in the fall.

“We’ve been playing AAU ball together since were were 9 or 10. He’s fast and a really tough defender,” Jackson said. “I’m excited we’re going to be playing together in Boston. He’s the type of the player who can get you the ball.”

Daniels and Etiwanda advance to play in next Tuesday’s semifinals at the Anaheim Convention Center, and there they will face Anderson and his 27-1 Long Beach Poly team. The Jackrabbits knocked off Montebello on Tuesday night, 74-65, as Anderson recorded 25 points and 11 rebounds.

Meanwhile, down in Florida, future Eagle Eddie Odio scored all 11 of his points in the second half to help Columbus knock off South Miami, 60-56, on Tuesday night. The Explorers (28-3) advance to the Class 6A state semifinals and will host Hialeah Miami Lakes on Saturday.

Closer to home, BC-bound center Dennis Clifford and Milton Academy (15-6) close out their regular season Friday. Donahue noted that while he’s comfortable recruiting nationally, he’s making sure not to overlook this region, making the Clifford signing an important step.

“I think it’s important to try to try to recruit kids locally who fit what you do,” he said. “You’ve got to be careful. You don’t want to recruit kids that it’s not the right situation for them. So, we’re careful with that. We want the kid to have a great college experience, so he’s got to fit what we do. And in the same sense, they’ve got to feel this place is right for them.

“So, I don’t overdue it with that, but we’re out actively recruiting all the kids within a 30-mile radius of our campus. You’re really trying to hone in all all the talent and all the grades. To get someone like Dennis I think is great for all these reasons.”

The Eagles also will have at least one more new player next season, as Matt Humphrey becomes eligible after sitting out a year following his transfer from Oregon. In his injury-shortened sophomore season with the Ducks, the 6-5 Humphrey averaged 5.4 points and 2.5 rebounds.

HARVARD IN DRIVER’S SEAT WITH ASSIST FROM BROWN

Harvard got both a boost and a warning when Brown knocked off Princeton, 75-65, on Saturday in Providence. Princeton’s first loss dropped the Tigers a half-game behind Harvard in the Ivy League standings.

‘€œI thought there were going to be some twists and turns before this was over,’€ Harvard coach Tommy Amaker told the school paper. ‘€œWe’€™re going to be focused on what we’€™re doing and where we are. That’€™s been our priority, but we’€™ll see how it’€™ll all shake out in the end.’€

The Crimson (20-4, 9-1 Ivy), whose lone league loss was at Princeton, host the Tigers next Saturday night, one night after welcoming Penn to Lavietes Pavilion. But first, Harvard plays at Brown and Yale this weekend.

Not only is Brown (10-14, 3-7) coming off an upset of Princeton, the Bears had a 24-point second-half lead on Harvard when they met two weeks ago, before the Crimson rallied for an 85-78 victory. It was the largest comeback in Harvard history and the second-largest in league history.

Harvard’s next win will tie the program record for victories. The record-breaker could come Saturday in New Haven, and the school is offering to bus students and give them a ticket to the game, along with food and a T-shirt ‘€” all for free.

BARON HEADS HOME

Virginia freshman guard Billy Baron, son of University of Rhode Island coach Jim Baron, left the team earlier in the month, announcing plans to transfer to URI.

“I love my coaches and my teammates at Virginia,” Baron said in a Virginia press release. “Virginia is a great place, but I want to go home, be with my family and play for my dad.”

Said Virginia coach Tony Bennett, who himself played for his father at Wisconsin-Green Bay: “I knew when Billy decided to come to Virginia he had a very hard decision and labored over it. Obviously, we’€™re sad to see him go and appreciate his contributions to our program, but the desire to play for your father is very strong, as I can personally attest. We’€™ll miss him and wish him well.”

Baron averaged 3.0 points in 17 games for the Cavaliers, with 19 of those points coming in a season-opening win over William & Mary. He did not get off the bench for five of his last nine games with the Cavs.

“When you have a child and he wants to come home to play, and play for you, there’s nothing more special than that,” Jim Baron told the media after a recent URI game. “I don’t want to make it a soap opera. I’m a father before I’m a coach. I have two children and I’m very fortunate.’€¨’€¨”He’s a great kid. I want to thank the people at Virginia, Tony Bennett, the whole community. But I think he feels real comfortable being home.”

JWU’S THOMAS TOPS SCORING CHARTS

The nation’s leading scorer ‘€” and that includes NCAA Divisions 1, 2 and 3, junior colleges and NAIA ‘€” resides in Rhode Island. Lamonte Thomas, a junior guard at Division 3 Johnson & Wales University in his hometown of Providence, is averaging 30.3 points per game.

Thomas scored 40 points Thursday to go along with a Great Northeast Athletic Conference-record 20 assists to lead the Wildcats to a 128-107 victory over Albertus Magnus in the semifinals of the GNAC tournament. JWU (19-8) shot a tournament-record 75.4 percent in Thursday’s win, which catapulted the Wildcats to an appearance in Saturday’s GNAC championship game at regular-season champ St. Joseph’s of Maine.

Despite being a 1,000-point scorer in high school, Thomas did not receive interest from college recruiters. “Nobody looked at him, believe it or not, coming out of high school,” said JWU coach Jamie Benton, who played at Boston College in the mid-1980s.

Benton acknowledged that Thomas had some “personal problems” and frequently clashed with his coach. Benton, who mentors youths at the local Boys Club, knew Thomas and his family and decided that he was worth the risk.

Things didn’t go smoothly from the start. In fact, Benton suspended Thomas more than once for his behavior ‘€” including one time for the league playoffs his freshman season, despite Thomas averaging almost 18 points per game.

“We had to suspend him a few times, but you kept seeing the improvement every time he’d come back,” Benton said. “You’ve got to work with him. We talked a whole hell of a lot the last two summers. He’s really matured. He’s really taken on this responsibility.”

Benton pointed to how Thomas has been mentoring his younger brother and spending more time bonding with his teammates, rather than just focusing on himself.

“That’s the major difference right there,” Benton said. “He just didn’t get that before. Now, he sees where it really matters. We could start to see it last year. He’s really, really stepped it up.”

Thomas is a thin, 6-foot-2 guard who has shown an ability to score from anywhere. He’s shooting 51.5 percent from the field, 41.5 percent from 3-point range and 81.3 percent from the free throw line. He also contributes 6.5 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game.

“His midrange game is there, and he can get to the basket,” Benton said. “He’s improved his free throws, and he’s definitely improved his shot. ‘€¦ He’s coming at you. That’s where I think next year this kid’s really going to be something to watch, really catch and shoot.”

WILLIAMS NEW NO. 1

Heading into this weekend’s NESCAC semifinals and final, Williams moved into the top spot in the d3hoops.com Top 25. The Ephs were No. 2 the previous week. Williams hosts Trinity in one semifinal Saturday, while third-ranked Middlebury and seventh-ranked Amherst meet in the other semi. …

Becker became the latest New England team to move into the rankings, debuting at the No. 23 spot with a 22-3 record. Behind senior center Trae Jacobs, the Hawks went undefeated in the New England Collegiate Conference regular season and host the conference tournament’s semifinals and final this weekend. …

The Division 3 NCAA tournament field will be announced Monday afternoon.

Read More: Christian Aurand, Dennis Clifford, Eddie Odio, Jamie Benton
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