February 2, 2010

Sophomore Hare making noise in Saginaw

SAGINAW - You knew it couldn't have been a Saginaw Valley State home game. With 4,000 strong filling SVSU's Ryder Center, it had to be another showdown in the state's most riveting intra-city rivalry.

Saginaw Arthur Hill won for the second time this season, surprisingly easily, 81-61. While 6-7 Saginaw junior Tommie McCune has been receiving significant Michigan State recruiting buzz, Arthur Hill had the two best players on the court. The senior most likely to challenge future Spartan Keith Appling for Mr. Basketball, small but mighty USC signee Maurice Jones, had 21 points, six assists and six steals for Arthur Hill, while 6-9 sophomore Jordan Hare showed why he's already a high-major recruiting priority and the No. 1 sophomore in Michigan with 18 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots.

Hare was the picture of efficiency, making 9-of-10 field goals. It's hard not to like a young kid who knows his limitations and perimeter, and doesn't try to get better and show off his "college range" on the team's time. But make no mistake, Hare is developing his game.

Two weeks ago, when Arthur Hill beat Chicago Simeon on a neutral Muskegon Heights court, Hare got a lot of offensive tips, but didn't do much on the defensive boards. Against Saginaw, half his rebounds were defensive. While he's not going to overpower anyone, physically resembling Austin Daye as much as anyone, as a rebounder now Hare is playing to his (figurative) strengths.

He went up small, came down big, looked long with the outlet and when that pass ends up in Jones' hands, it's the equivalent of a hockey assist. When someone else got the rebound, Hare got out and ran well.

Despite his slim physique, there's a certain toughness to Hare that you'd expect from a Saginaw kid, and he's not afraid to get his nose dirty. He continued to be active on the offensive glass, aided by both wingspan and bounce, including one first-quarter series when he played one-man volleyball right over the head of McCune. And while Hare's offensive repertoire looks limited to dunks -- like that's a bad thing? -- his shot continues to develop in the off hours.

"Jordan has become a gym rat," Arthur Hill coach Greg McMath said. "He's really been working on his ball skills, and he can handle it out on the floor now, and his shooting. He just keeps getting better."

Evidence of Hare's comfort with the ball came in the second half. He was cutting to the hoop from the right wing, and was thrown a pass behind him and at the heels. But he reached back to snare it, then brought it through his legs to regain balance and salvage the possession. It was a boring but necessary ball-handling drill come to life, and may have seemed like a little thing, but it was very rare to see from a 6-9 sophomore. It's easy to see why Hare is firmly on Michigan State's recruiting board.

McMath said his budding star has already received scholarship offers from Kentucky, Alabama and Providence, and has piqued the interest of programs like Kansas, Louisville, North Carolina, Ohio State and Memphis.

USC's Jones Looking Good

Arthur Hill has another high-major recruit, of course, and as usual, Maurice Jones set the tone of the contest. His 21 points came within the flow, but it was his floor game -- those six assists and six steals -- that really got the momentum going in the Lumberjacks' favor. To see him weaving full speed through Saginaw's zone press to finish high and strong in the lane is a sight to behold.

"That's why he's the best player in the state," McMath said. "He's our quarterback, our defensive leader, he does everything for us."

McCune has the talent to one day do it all on the court himself. But a week after dominating Romulus to give the No. 1 Eagles their only loss of the season, McCune has gotten off to slow starts in these past two games, including last Thursday at Belleville, and Saginaw dropped both.

Fouls weren't his friend against Arthur Hill. McCune sat out five minutes in the first half with two fouls, then sat for two more after being whistled with his fourth in the final period.

Thus taken off his rhythm, a veteran player will often go inside to get things going. But McCune is intent on showing his wing guard skills, and as a result missed a couple three-pointers and didn't have a field goal until there was 3:25 left in the game.

McCune finished with eight points, but respectable rebounds and assist totals of 11 and three. He's a good passer up top, and also finds perimeter shooters well out of double-teams in the post. If only McCune were in the post more often. When he does play with his back to the hoop, he prefers to receive it where the international lane line might be, so as to better pivot and face the hoop.

With Hare on the court, and Bay City Western's Matt Costello in the crowd, the state's top two sophomore prospects were at the Ryder Center. Here are the best dozen:

Michigan's Top Sophomores

1. Jordan Hare 6-9 Saginaw Arthur Hill
Has the length, bounce, timing and, increasingly, the skill that big-time teams covet.

2. Matt Costello 6-9 Bay City Western

Big farm boy that loves to play and compete. He has an easy shot out to three-point range and moves so well horizontally to rebound outside his area.

3. Ray Lee 6-2 Detroit Cass Tech

Transfer from Dearborn Heights Robichaud recently became eligible. Rangy with a good first step. At his best thinking and executing a pro-style, pick-and-roll halfcourt game.

4. Javonte Hawkins 6-4 Flint Powers
Yes, another transfer, this time from Flint Beecher. Your basic big-time wing guard prospect who can finish over the rim or drain three-pointers.

5. Anton Wilson 6-5 Flint Carman-Ainsworth
Good whenever I've seen him. Athletic, covers the floor, good motor.

6. Jared Klein 6-1 Otsego

Steve Nash-style pass-first speedster. Pushing 6-2, and if he approaches 6-6 like his older brothers are, it's all over.

7. Denzel Valentine 6-5 Lansing Sexton

Son of former Spartan, and current Sexton coach, Carlton Valentine is deceptively athletic and still improving after injuring his knee last season.

8. Chris Jenkins 6-6 Detroit U-D Jesuit

Have to like a kid who keeps growing, while maintaining his guard skills and first-step explosion.

9. Chris Harrison-Docks 5-10 Okemos

Louisville transfer is tiny, but highly skilled, competitive and tough defensively.

10. Justin Klein 6-0 Rockford

As naturally talented as anyone on this list, though the Rockford system and his playground style don't necessarily mesh.

11. Sherron Dorsey-Walker 6-3 Detroit Pershing

The next star for the Doughboys. Great wingspan, can shoot it, but playing next to a scorer of Keith Appling's caliber has allowed/forced him to do just about everything else in order to contribute.

12. Sean Sheldon 6-8 Traverse City St. Francis
Maybe the most skilled low-post scorer in this class, and a smart passer. Just needs to get tougher and meaner.

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