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November 26, 2012

Does Randle have room for improvement?


HOOPFEST: Saturday | Friday

Over the course of the last four years, Glenn Smith's Thanksgiving Hoopfest at Duncanville High has become a must stop on the recruiting trail.

The event always highlights the best current and upcoming talent from the Dallas Metroplex while bringing in some players from out of the area. Here's a look back at what we learned over the weekend.

Outside the box

Watching kids play, it's part of the job to point out areas where a player could improve. There's also a fine line between what a scout or coach wants a player to be and what that player really is. We are perhaps starting to see a little bit of that with 6-foot-9, 240-pound senior Julius Randle from Plano (Texas) Prestonwood.

When you are ranked as high as Randle (No. 2 nationally in the class of 2013) people are going to have to look closely to find the faults in your game. And that was before his mother confirmed to USA Today that Randle sustained a fractured right foot that will cause him to miss three months. Randle's mother called the injury a "minor setback."

Notwithstanding the injury, with Randle's talent, people can be overly critical. But that's just one of the costs of doing business for somebody so highly rated. With Randle, the area that many scouts and coaches seem to be harping on is that they want him to play more on the interior.

An argument could be made that Randle would be well-suited to play a little more around the rim. However, it's also important to understand who Randle is as a player and what his strengths are. Yes he's solid in the post. In fact, he's a beast around the rim. He rebounds well, scores at the rim with either hand and can generally big boy his way to a bucket against anybody who wants to stop him. But, Randle is a lot more than just a low-post brute and it's not like he isn't ultra-productive on the glass. Nor is he soft in any way.

The thing is that Randle is a unique talent and is just fine playing the way he plays right now. Watching him play, you can see some parts of Zach Randolph, some parts of Glenn Robinson and some parts of a guy like Chris Webber. Sometimes we spend so much time trying to make a current player be one of those guys that we forget to let them be the first Julius Randle. He's a gifted and explosive ball-handler for a guy his size and an excellent passer. In Duncanville, he showed off a much improved shot (he hit two step-back 3-pointers off of drives going to his right (off) hand that were beyond impressive) while still being able to beast guys down low when he wanted to.

Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, N.C. State, Oklahoma and Texas remain his final six, and Randle is noncommittal about naming a leader. The local buzz in Dallas is that the Longhorns could be emerging as the team to beat, but time will tell how accurate it is.

Something to learn

It's kind of funny to write this because Elijah Thomas is just a sophomore himself. But, there is an awful lot that young post players -- and by young we mean anybody in high school -- could learn from the 6-foot-8 power forward at Rockwall (Texas) High.

Already a high-end four-star prospect, it's no surprise that Thomas was productive during the two games we saw over the weekend. It's the way that he goes about his business, though, that we think others could learn from. In an age where so many young post players are trying to prove that they can play out on the perimeter when they aren't ready to do so, Thomas is the opposite. Does he have some tools facing the bucket and will he integrate that more into his game as he gets older? Yes, he does and will. But for now, Thomas is all about going to work in the low post and it is fun to watch.

What sets Thomas apart from many other young players on the block is that he has a high skill level and basketball IQ down there. He creates space with his body, understands angles, he has great hands and soft touch. Also, he's always in motion toward the basket. Because of that he creates contact, gets to the free throw line and stays aggressive on the glass. Does it result in some offensive fouls?

Yes, but he'll learn to be a little more controlled with time and coaches are going to be good with a highly skilled and hard-playing low post threat if he picks up some offensive fouls from time to time.

Dallas vs. Houston

If there's one thing that supporters of Texas high school basketball like to do, its debate whether Dallas or Houston has the best talent. Like the chicken-or-egg debate, it is one that might not have a real answer because both metro areas pump out some serious talent. At least at the top end of things, Dallas has thrown down the gauntlet to its friends to the south on I-45 and the Hoopfest gave Dallas kids a chance to shine.

The class of 2013 is a very close call and so is 2014. Dallas has Julius Randle and then Keith Frazier, while Houston of course hasAaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison. In the class of 2014, Dallas features point guard Emmanuel Mudiay -- who was terrific over the weekend - and is ranked No. 2 nationally while Houston's best player, Justise Winslow, is hot on his heels at No. 6.

The question is, who from Houston is going to emerge to match the Metroplex's top players from 2015 and 2016? In Dallas, high-end four-stars King McClure and the previously mentioned Thomas have emerged as the top players in the area. McClure is an aggressive scorer who plays with physicality and a killer's instinct. In 2016, shooting guard Terrance Ferguson has all the tools to be Dallas' next big-time player because of his size, length, athleticism and lights-out shooting from deep.

We'll be watching closely to see who emerges from the Houston area to challenge those Dallas sophomores and freshmen. As to the original question of which city is better? It's too close to call. But ultimately it doesn't matter because the talent being produced by the two cities has turned Texas into one of the premier hunting grounds for college coaches.



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