Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Scouting Renardo Sidney

If it's Martin Luther King Day in Seattle, that means it's time for the King Holiday Hoopfest, an all-day marathon of high school basketball held this year at the University of Washington's Bank of America Arena.

Highlights of this year's seven-game schedule included the opportunity to catch's No. 1-rated H.S. junior, Renardo Sidney of Fairfax H.S. in L.A., and also Hoop Scoop's No. 1-rated H.S. freshman, Tony Wroten of Seattle's Garfield H.S.

Among the dignitaries I spotted in the house were UW head coach Lorenzo Romar, the immortal Eldridge Recasner, and Microsoft CEO and future Sonics franchise savior (just planting the seed...) Steve Ballmer. Rick Pitino was also in attendance, but I did not personally see him, ahem, walk through that door.

Since Wroten's just a freshman, I'm going to refrain from writing up a scouting report on him for now. There will be plenty of time to evaluate the young man. For now, suffice it to say that the 6-5 lefty guard looks like a hell of a prospect, and I look forward to watching his career develop. (Here is some background on Wroten if you're interested.)

Instead, we're going to focus on Sidney, who led his Fairfax Lions (ranked No. 17 in the U.S. in the ESPN High Elite 25) against Franklin High (ranked no. 2 in the 4A division of Washington state), a perennial Seattle power whose alumni include Jason Terry, Aaron Brooks and also Clock Killin' Corey Dillon.

Franklin has a top 50 junior of its own in 5-11 PG Peyton Siva - that's who Pitino was in town to recruit - and the Quakers came away with a wild 56-55 win over Fairfax on a putback in the final seconds (Game story).

OK, enough preamble, let's try to get our Givony on with an evaluation of Renardo Sidney (USC is thought to be the leading contender among his college suitors):

- The young fella has a pro body, that's for sure. Sidney's a long 6-10 and is solidly built (listed in the 230-250 range), though he seemed to be carrying extra weight and did not appear to be in great shape, as he struggled to get up and down the court occasionally when the pace picked up.

- Sidney really moves and handles the ball exceptionally well for his size. He led the break a few times, and while he didn't necessarily create buckets, his decision-making was sound and his court vision was quite good overall (he was an able and willing passer from the post, as well).

- He often had trouble getting ball in the low post in the halfcourt O. While I would have liked to have seen Sidney work harder to sit down in the post and establish position, I have to note that his coaches and teammates didn't seem to know how to set him up with post entry passes.

More notably, Franklin is very well-drilled in team D, and despite being drastically undersized, their hustling combo of ball denial in front of Sidney and weak-side help behind him was effective.

Franklin's Keiwaun McMorris did an especially good job of ball denial as his team built a 36-20 halftime lead, but Sidney ultimately led Fairfax back by wearing the Quakers down into foul trouble. Renardo was just too damn big for them to handle, and ended up with 24 points and 22 boards, with most of his buckets coming inside.

- Fairfax set up Sidney with the ball on the wing a few times and he looked comfortable (they probably should have done more of this when they were struggling to feed him down low). He's coordinated and has a good first step, though he didn't always finish with strength at the basket.

That might have been due partially to the fact that another key element of Franklin's D is that their help defenders hustle like crazy to establish position and fearlessly take charges against driving opponents. (And I mean *fearless* - they were stepping in on Sidney, and last year I saw them do the same against Kevin Love!)

- Sidney also showed good shooting form and touch from the outside overall, even though he wasn't connecting on his jumper.

- On the defensive end, Sidney was a minimal presence, given his size. He did not patrol the lane as a help defender, and did not really work to affect shots unless they were coming right at him. I know this is weird to say about a guy who had 22 rebounds, but he was not really an active presence on the boards. Most of his rebounds were due to sheer size advantage (he did have a bunch of offensive rebounds as he showed good timing/coordination on putbacks/tip-ins).

- All in all, Renardo Sidney seems like a diamond in the rough - a top prospect who is going to need to establish a professional work ethic to ultimately be worthy of the status as the No. 1 pick of the 2010 Draft, as many currently forecast him to be.

On the one hand, just this weekend in the Boston Globe, Paul Pierce offered strong praise for Sidney:
    Then-NBA star Reggie Miller was so impressed with Pierce when he starred at Inglewood (Calif.) High that he would get him on the floor during exclusive pickup games with pros and college stars at UCLA in the offseason.

    Pierce is now equally impressed by Los Angeles Fairfax High forward Renardo Sydney, who is arguably the best junior in the country. In fact, the versatile 6-foot-9-inch, 240-pounder gave Pierce more than he expected during a one-on-one knockout game in Redondo Beach last offseason.

    "I worked out with him one day," said Pierce, who likened Sydney to Lakers forward Lamar Odom. "He can handle, big, he has good size. He was nice. I couldn't believe he was in high school when I played him. He was good, man. He should be a pro.

    "He could do pretty much everything. He made me kind of raise my game up. You don't want to let a high school guy beat you. I went extra hard on him . . . He scored a little bit on me. He didn't win."
Yet, Sidney is something of an enigma, as this quote from a story on captures:
    Intrigue surrounds Sidney because he's a big man with stunning, guard-like skills; he's susceptible to lapses in effort but also more versatile than the NBA player to whom some recruitniks have him compared, Chris Webber. Of Sidney's potential, [Sonny] Vaccaro says, "Should he be the No. 1 pick [in 2010]? Physically it would be without question. The key is what happens, mentally and with everything else over the next two to three years."
Note that, if we're playing the comparison game, I think that SLAM gets its best in its list of top Class of 2009 players (which, shockingly, is headed by a player from Brooklyn's Lincoln High School):
    Almost unfairly talented, Sidney is a 2008 version of Derrick Coleman: he can shoot, pass and handle like a guard, but has the bulk, athleticism and footwork to dominate the paint and boards.
I'll take that one. Sidney appears to have all the tools to be a force inside and out. But can he harness them? How bad does he want it?

Tom Wyrwich, prep reporter for the Seattle Times, offers a fine collection of Sidney stories from the New York Times, Washington Post and LA Times, plus a video highlight reel, in his blog.

The full portrait makes it clear that Sidney certainly has a unique backstory. He's originally from Mississippi but moved to Southern California after his freshman year to increase his profile. He's been on a different high school and AAU team each summer. He's even toyed with just playing summer AAU ball, and not playing high school ball, considering that it's possibly unnecessary given that most serious player evaluation is done in summer competition, when the top potential talent can be collected and matched up against one another. The stories are definitely interesting reads, with the ones from the Washington Post and SI probably being the best overall.

Finally, here's Sidney's profile and scouting report from Draft Express, in case you think our player evaluation skills are dodgy. Or even if you don't, really.


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