Comparisons are the backbone of sports discussion (and argument).
Bird or Magic. Brady or Manning. Team USA 2012 or the “Dream Team”. The list grows every season.
Not only are comparisons used as the groundwork for arguments of legacy and overall greatness, but they also allow sports fans to immediately paint a picture of some unknown player for whoever may be listening. My sophomore year of high school, the minor cultural phenomenon that was Jimmer Fredette was sweeping the nation. Any shot we took that year that was more than a couple of feet behind the arc was called “Jimmer range”. For an entire season. The appreciation by our teammates for hitting one of these shots made us addicted to trying them. Only in practice, however, or else the coaches wouldn’t play us much the rest of that game, as we soon learned.
These comparisons must have become commonplace within the sports world at some distant time in the past, but they have stuck around. So, as a writer for Reign Cane Sports, I see it as my duty to write the inaugural player comparison article for this year’s incoming basketball class. Take these with a grain of salt, as many of these players had little tape for me to watch in order to gather my thoughts. Some, if not all, will likely play much differently as they develop and grow as D1 players, but I hope these brief descriptions may provide a preliminary view into their respective styles of play.
Will Magnay: First up, the big Australian. The international man of mystery is nearly impossible to find online. Half an hour of searching turned up some sort of PSA informing Queensland that “basketball is everyone’s game!” and not much else, perhaps because he has been recovering from a fractured tibia. At 6’10, 235 and with an accent betraying his country of origin, my first thought as an Oklahoman is to compare him to a rookie-year Steven Adams (I know Adams is from New Zealand, but cut me some slack). It’s an obvious thought, but I would expect Magnay to immediately be a defensive presence under the rim and be able to rebound at the college level right away, and after some time, an offensive game will likely develop. Like Adams, I doubt Magnay will ever be a go-to scoring threat, but will always be available for put-back baskets and dive cuts for dunks after his man steps over to stop the drive. He started playing basketball fairly recently, after playing rugby earlier in life. It’s also worth noting that Harry Froling, a fellow Queenslander big man he competed with at the Australian Institute of Sport, will be playing for SMU.
Geno Artison: A Josh Smith shot selection and form, but Nerlens Noel athleticism, packaged in a long 6’10 frame make an exciting incoming member for the Golden Hurricane. Briefly attending Fresno State before transferring to the College of Southern Idaho, he has more Oklahoma ties than anyone might notice at first glance. Southern Idaho’s basketball program was started by former OSU great Eddie Sutton. Their mascot? The Golden Eagles. Artison is even from Seattle, Washington, former home of the now-OKC Thunder. He’s close to Pat Birt in his long 3/stretch 4 variable position, with a long, drawn out left-handed jumper out to 3 point range. He moves similarly to recent Tulsa player Rashad Smith, able to glide to the basket with ease. Able to shoot outside at 6’10, he has huge potential to develop into a matchup nightmare, almost analogous to Kevin Durant. In fact, Eugene “Geno” Artison already seems to have an appreciation for Durant, going by “Young KD” for a time on Twitter, and often tweeting things like this:
It's Durant Time ! #35
— Geno Artison Jr. (@LankBoyGeno) May 1, 2016
Lawson Korita: Ron Baker? Ok, sorry, but it popped into my head before the highlight video had even loaded. He has rocked a similar haircut, and, after watching a few highlights, a similar skillset. He plays in the vein of Klay Thompson: he shoots off the catch quite a bit, and always catches the ball with his feet square and facing the basket, ready to shoot. Obviously, those guys are great mentally and legendary for everything they do without the ball, so time will tell if Korita can do the same at the D1 level, but he has the right frame (6’5, according to MaxPreps) and base to build a solid college career from. Also of note, he attended Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, which is where Tulsa backup quarterback Will Hefley is from.
Martins Igbanu: As an athletic forward with raw ability, Igbanu reminded me of Jeff Green at first glance. No, he isn’t quite as explosive, but very, very few high school players are NBA caliber athletes as high school seniors. He has a limited jumper from the game footage I watched, but he has also improved considerably from his summer of ’14 highlights to his senior season. His potential is high, as no amount of coaching can make someone obtain his height, but he seems to be a player who needs some development before he can really contribute. Since they have similar body types, imagine Tulsa forward Junior Etou, minus two years of D1 experience and coaching. He is from Covenant Christian Ministries Academy, Tulsa alumnus center Emmanuel “Big E” Ezechinonso’s former school.
Corey Henderson: Silky smooth! (Rest in peace, Steve Harris). Looks like a classic UCONN guard. Like a younger Damian Lillard back in his Weber State days, he is a smooth playmaker, both for himself and others. Henderson doesn’t have Dame’s insane athleticism, but he has the full range of shots: 3 pointers, a solid midrange game, floaters, and tough layups off every inch of the glass. He can pull up off the dribble, catch and shoot, and has a strong drive-and-kick game that meshes well with modern basketball philosophy. Check out Henderson’s highlight video below, followed by Damian Lillard’s highlights from Weber State.
Joseph Battle: Athletic. Battle not only led his basketball team to a state championship on 31 points per game for the season, but he brought a state football title back to his school as their quarterback. He can shoot off the dribble and has a nice tall release at the peak of his high jump shot. Watching his top plays, his skillset mirrors that of Stanley Johnson. Wings that can attack on the dribble but also have nice jumpers are always a hot commodity. Johnson’s play style changed from his rookie summer league days to the end of the season, showing his versatility to fit the team’s needs. I expect Battle, the 2016 Gatorade South Carolina Player of the Year, to be able to do the same depending on the opponent.
Jaleel Wheeler: From Kilgore College, where they played an awesome 3 out, hi-lo offense. All their guards could shoot and score and Wheeler was no exception. He is an athletic guard who can shoot outside comfortably with the possibility of making a deep 3 here or there. He is also a dangerous slasher, and able to drop the ball off to cutters. He reminds me of young Baron Davis (not D-League comeback Davis), with his compact body and “athletic playmaker” role. He was a willing passer, but able to create opportunities by beating his man and dishing to whoever was open because of the help man. Wheeler’s experience in Kilgore’s system will hopefully pay dividends at Tulsa; Haith runs a motion offense that is predicated on being able to beat your man and then make the right play with the offensive advantage you now have. Kilgore’s dependence on individual creativity has likely fostered an “attack” mindset in Wheeler, and Tulsa will reap the benefits.
Travis Atson: The first video I viewed of Travis Atson had the forward dunking on a fast break, turn around, and flex as he was running down the court. The attitude and showmanship, combined with his look of being a scrapper inside, brought forward visions of Marshall Henderson, the former Ole Miss lightning rod. Yes, Henderson was a quick guard while Atson is more of a shorter forward, but both go all out for their respective teams, regardless of the ire it attracts from opponents. Atson isn’t nearly as brash as the combustive Henderson, but I could see him drawing a few boos from away crowds as he celebrates a play. As much as I hate the oft-used phrase, he has surprising athleticism, getting up for two-hand dunks with little effort. His shot selection and ability reminds me of a poor man’s Doug McDermott. This is not meant to be a slight to Atson; McDermott was a generational-phenomenon level player. Atson doesn’t have the same turn-arounds and fades (or height) in his arsenal, but he can create a shot for himself and has range to outside the arc. Coming in as a freshman, he seems to be between positions right now as a somewhat slow 6’5 small forward in the quick guard-heavy AAC, but as he practices his offensive game and matures as a D1 athlete, I have no doubt he will find a role on this team.
Again, forgive me if a player I compared to Kevin Durant doesn’t go for 54 this winter. It is difficult to make direct comparisons of high school players with little available footage to players that are the top 250 or so in the world; these are just rough foils to give an outline of who and what to expect on the Reynolds Center floor later this year. Players change (some dramatically) between high school and college. Expect Birt and Taplin to be this team’s foundation. They will anchor the team to the level that is expected of Hurricane basketball, and will, with Coach Haith, construct the roles that need to be filled by the newcomers. There is athleticism, length, and shooting ability available to Haith and company. Playmakers, role players, and new stars will come from this incoming class, and I’m looking forward to watching it all unfold.