By Roy & Harv Schmidt
We thought we spelled it out long ago, but apparently there are some who just don't get it when it comes to why we regard Warren's Brandon Paul as the top player in Illinois from the class of 2009. Therefore, what follows is our recap as to the things that we believe separate Paul from the other top prospects in the junior class. But better yet, we feel a strong need to set the record straight as to why the reasoning given by those who question Paul's ability is totally off-base.
Let us begin by saying that we have seen every player who is generally regarded as being among the top ten prospects in the state from the 2009 class at least twice this season with the exception of Eureka's 6'8 Jordan Prosser. That is why we believe that we have just as good (if not better) handle on the class than just about anybody. With that being said, once again here are our thoughts on Paul.
The biggest reason why we tab Paul as the #1 junior in Illinois is because he has a considerably higher degree of versatility than any of the other top guards in the class, including Peoria Central's D.J. Richardson, Sterling's Joe Bertrand and Whitney Young's Chris Colvin. Simply put, Paul is the most well-rounded offensively of any of these players. Not only is Paul an outstanding long-range shooter, but he is also highly athletic, is an outstanding passer and has above-average ballhandling skills which allow him to consistently beat opponents to the basket in one-on-one situations.
Secondly, and a factor that we believe is just as important, is the intangibles that Paul brings to the table. He plays as hard from start to finish as any player in the junior class and never takes a play off. The same cannot be said about either Richardson or Bertrand despite their enormous skill level. Paul's outstanding work ethic is especially noticeable at the defensive end, as he uses his incredibly long wingspan to get into the passing lanes and convert baskets off of turnovers. And the best part part is that he believes there are still things that he can improve on and he works every day on trying to become even better. You have to love a kid who thinks that way.
What is laughable is that the talent evaluator who seems to be Paul's greatest detractor has only seen Paul play on one occassion this season. That was at the WDWS/News-Gazette Shootout at the Assembly Hall in Champaign back in December. Paul struggled in that contest, finishing with 21 points on 8-20 shooting, including 3-10 from 3-point range in a 61-50 loss to New Trier. However, did this evaluator bother to take into account the outstanding defensive effort turned in by New Trier, as they took the ball out of Paul's hands, and the fact that Rick Malnati is simply one of the best coaches in the state? Somehow we don't think so.
Ironically enough, we were also in attendance for what may have been Paul's worst outing of the season, as he wound up with only 5 points on just 2-7 shooting in a 48-40 loss to Simeon in the semifinals of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. Again, credit must go to Simeon and Robert Smith, who has proven to us that he is the best coach in the Chicago Public League and one of the tops in the state as well. Despite the subpar performances in both the Simeon and New Trier games, we never gave a thought to moving Paul out of the #1 spot. We had seen all that we needed to see when we watched Paul at the Fremd Thanksgiving Tournament earlier in the season, an event in which he was absolutely spectacular. And while we were not in attendance for this one, it is also worth noting that Paul's best performance to date was a 36 point outburst vs. Oak Park and Iman Shumpert, who is generally regarded as the state's #2 prospect in the class of 2008. Moral to the story? You can't base a player ranking or an evaluation on just one game.
What also makes the opinion of the downstate-based talent evaluator who is questioning Paul's game highly absurd is the faulty reasoning behind it when he says that "Paul isn't big enough to be a 2-guard in college." Excuse us? Are you kidding? Nothing could be further from the truth, as Paul has the perfect blend of size, athleticism and length (wingspan) which makes him an ideal shooting guard prospect at the college level. As one of our esteemed colleagues pointed out, both Shannon Brown (Proviso East and Michigan State) and Jerel McNeal (Hillcrest and Marquette) were believed to be undersized shooting guards upon entering college and both ended up or are doing just fine.
The common knock on Paul which makes more sense to us is that he cannot play point guard at the next level, although we aren't buying into that one either. While Paul is more of a natural two, we have seen enough instances which indicate that he has the ballhandling skills and the playmaking skills which would allow him to make the conversion to the point. It is now merely a question of Paul developing the mindset/mentality of a point guard.
The bottom line is that all three guards that University of Illinois head coach Bruce Weber has landed commitments from in the class of 2009 are interchangeable (Paul, Richardson and Bertrand). They can be used in much the same way as the "three-headed monster" attack that propelled Weber and the Illini to the final four in 2005. We aren't saying that they will be as good--we are simply saying that they have similar capabilities. While none of the three may be pure point guards, they are all capable of handling the point and doing an above-adequate job. That is why the argument that Weber still desparately needs to recruit a point guard is hogwash.
In summary, everyone is entitled to an opinion with respect to a player. However, the more one sees that player the stronger the opinion becomes. Paul is the perfect case and point. We hope that everyone who has seen Paul is capable of coming away with their own opinion. But when comparing the opinions of the talent evaluators, we ask that everyone keep in mind the fact that we have seen Paul on numerous occassions as opposed to the detractor who has only seen him once when deciding which opinion carries more weight.