Note: The following is an excerpt from this week's Inside Indiana Summer Recruiting Special. If you're interested in purchasing a single copy of the issue, CLICK HERE.
TOP FIVE SMALL FORWARDS Indiana Interest Level - Moderate
After seeing the position become dominated by skinny power forwards with ball-handling skills, the 2003 and 2004 crops of talent have every intention of putting the small back in small forward. No one in the Inside Indiana top five stands taller than 6-7, but they all play taller. All these guys can handle the ball, shoot at least a mid-range jumpshot and have amazing athletic ability. Of all the players on I.I.'s top five list, this quintet possesses more physical tools than any other and perhaps more flexibility as all could find comfortable homes at as many as three positions.
1. Luol Deng 6-7, 221 (Blairstown, NJ)
College coaches showed up in droves to see Deng perform, but sitting right next to them was an array of NBA scouts who have every intention of making sure Deng never sets foot on the college hardwood.
Deng can do it all and his body is NBA ready. Even if he does go to college, it will be a short trip unless he just really has a hankering for education. The most amazing thing about Deng is that at 221 pounds he moves smoothly and effortlessly in everything he does. When you see him play, you would think he weighs about 180 pounds, because 220-pound small forwards aren't supposed to be capable of such fluid motions. Ball-handling, shooting, positing up, finishing in traffic, you name it, Deng makes it look easy.
2. Vakeaton Wafer 6-4, 203 (Homer, LA)
What a physical specimen this guy is. One look and most coaches begin to mentally shuffle their rosters to find him a spot. Wafer is lightening quick, as strong as he looks, a nifty ball-handler and easily possesses one of the most textbook jumpshots in America. When Wafer catches the ball on the wing, you're hoping he'll shoot, because you could watch him fire up shots all day, but he often crosses-over his defender and takes it to the rack. There's nothing wrong with that, because we've yet to see a player who can keep up with his speed. Wafer also loves going to the offensive glass, particularly after his own misses, and has the strength to come down with the ball in a crowd. Indiana and Wafer seem to share a mutual interest and with the tools Wafer brings to the floor it's obvious why the Hoosiers are shopping. If you're going to nit-pick, Wafer could work harder on defense, but rarely do all-star camps produce defensive exhibitions.
3. Joe Crawford 6-3, 204 (Detroit, MI)
Regardless of who Crawford takes the court with, he's going to get your attention. This kid soars to the basket and just victimizes anyone in his path. In one contest at Nike, Crawford caught a pass flat-footed about six feet from the rim and without taking a step, leaped into the air and jammed it. For most of the camp, I thought he just got by on his athletic ability, and believe me he could, but as the camp wound down he proved he can shoot from the perimeter. Hailing from Detroit, it seems like only a matter of time before Tom Izzo makes Crawford the next Jason Richardson.
4. Brandon Foust 6-5, 190 (Columbus, OH)
When I first spotted Foust it was completely by accident. He played on the same team as IU target D.J. White and forced onlookers to take notice by cleaning up missed shots in dramatic fashion. The first game we caught of White and Foust's California squad, Foust soared through the lane and collected three offensive putbacks. That proved he warranted a closer look over the rest of the camp and he only improved his standing by showing a reliable jumper and solid ball-handling skills. He's a player and after an impressive performance at Nike he can figure on getting plenty of attention from high-major schools.
5. Renaldo Balkman 6-6, 193 (Temple Terrace, FL)
Here's proof that long arms and a good set of springs can earn you a free education. While the rest of the guys at small forward impressed with offense first, Balkman garners mention for repeatedly returning shots to the sender. He played primarily inside, but his ability to get off the floor quickly served as an equalizer against taller and more physical opponents. Balkman did a lot of damage on the offensive glass and when opportunities did present themselves on the wing he showed nice touch from about 15 feet. He's not going to beat you from behind the arc like Wafer or run you over like Deng, but he finds a way to get the job done, especially on the defensive end.
Roderick Stewart 6-4, 196 (Seattle, WA)
He looks the part, but certainly didn't play it in Indianapolis. Stewart is considered a top-30 player nationally and one of the finest wing prospects available, so when he didn't prove he was even one of the top 10 small forwards at Nike it came as a bit of a surprise. Hopefully, his performance wasn't indicative of what we can expect at the next level or Stewart has been grossly overrated. His shot wasn't falling and against other premier players he just didn't stack up. Could be a fluke, but he'll need to redeem himself the rest of the summer.
Gary Forbes 6-5, 197 (Brooklyn, NY)
Where did Forbes come from? Or maybe a better question is why didn't anyone pick up on this guy sooner? Apparently, this smooth small forward wasn't completely unnoticed as Virginia and Georgia Tech have been in contact, but why in the world aren't East Coast teams other than Providence showing interest. He shot the lights out in a couple games and when his shot wasn't falling he has no problem putting the ball on the floor and taking it to the hole. Programs should have bought low, because Forbes' stock is about to soar.
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