Friday, July 09, 1999

XU's big issue: finding big man


Musketeers won't sacrifice mobility for size

BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Each year, the Xavier coaches try to find a big man during the recruiting process. They want someone in the 6-foot-9, 6-10, 6-11 range who is athletic enough to play a fast-paced style of basketball.

        “You're really narrowing the pool,” XU coach Skip Prosser said.

        There are only so many high school and junior-college players who fit that description — and every school in the country wants them.

        Still, the Musketeers coaches are on the trail this month, trying to land a center or big power forward who could play center in XU's system.

        “We would love to have a big guy that could run, jump, score, block shots, but ... there are very few of them,” XU assistant coach Mark Schmidt said. “What you try to do is find somebody that maybe has two out of the (four) things, and the way we play, he has to be able to run. If he can't run, then we're not going to recruit him.”

        Russ Blake of Insiders Report national recruiting service doesn't think Xavier is in a position to sign a polished center out of high school. Those players, he said, are heavily sought after by — and typically end up with — the elite programs such as Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and North Carolina.

        “They're in the same spot as a lot of schools,” Blake said of Xavier.

        One of the players who interests Xavier, Blake said, is Arthur Johnson, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound athletic post player from Detroit. Blake added, however, that it will be tough to get Johnson with in-state Big Ten schools Michigan and Michigan State after him.

        He likes XU's chances better with a guy like 6-9 Kyle Davis, from Blakely, Ga., who “runs the court all day” but needs to get stronger. Or 6-9 Marcus Melvin from Fayetteville, N.C., who isn't going to be heavily recruited by the top Atlantic Coast Conference teams but rather by teams such as Clemson, Florida State and Wake Forest.

        “He fits right in to what they're trying to accomplish,” Blake said of Melvin.

        Dave Telep, a recruiting analyst for PrepStars.com, said: “It's tough to explain. They should be able to go out and get a guy. Xavier is a program that goes to the NCAA Tournament, and once you get past the guys who are looking at the pros, every player wants to be in the NCAA Tournament.

        “I would think that the region might be part of the problem, with Cincinnati taking some of the players (i.e. B.J. Grove, Eugene Land). You've got to get lucky and get a good crop locally.”

        Xavier came close to signing Ashante Johnson, a 6-9 junior-college standout who had a good on-campus visit in the spring of 1998, then opted to sign with Kansas because, well, it was Kansas.

        Schmidt said the XU coaches were interested in players such as Kevin Lyde and Lamont Barnes, who form Temple's frontline, but those recruits wouldn't take their calls.

        “And now we're competing against them,” Schmidt said.

        XU has been trying to bring in players and develop them. Three centers are on the roster: junior Reggie Butler and senior Obi Harris, both 6-10, and incoming junior-college transfer Marcus Mason, who is 6-9.

        The Musketeers struggled at times last season without a true center, mostly using 6-7 freshman Aaron Turner and 6-8 freshman Kevin Frey, both better suited to forward.

        During the Pete Gillen-Prosser era, Xavier has relied mostly on versatile power forwards to man the center position.

        This past season, four former XU inside players were in the NBA: Brian Grant, Tyrone Hill, Derek Strong and Aaron Williams. Torraye Braggs was drafted last year by the Utah Jazz and — after playing overseas — will try to join the NBA team for next season. All those players spent time at center at Xavier.

        The Musketeers coaches think having so many post players in the pros, plus the fact that all of them have degrees, are selling points.

        “It's frustrating,” Prosser said, “but on the other hand, we've won a heckuva lot of games. We can't get so wrapped up in inches that we take away from how we want to play. That's why sometimes we end up taking a 6-8 guy who can run and press and maybe get done what a 6-10 guy can't.”

       



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- XU's big issue: finding big man

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