I remember when I first heard that DaVonte Lacy -- a guard from Curtis H.S. in University Place, Wash. -- had committed to WSU. My first thought was ...
Many of you know that I teach at Rogers H.S. in Puyallup, which plays in the same league as Curtis. I'm even the boys basketball announcer. And yet, I had no recollection of Lacy after his junior season.
To be fair, Curtis is a basketball powerhouse in the state, and it's not uncommon for some pretty good players to be the third or fourth (or even fifth) option for the Vikings. But it seemed like a stretch to think that a legitimate Pac-10 recruit could be that nondescript.
So, I walked upstairs and asked our basketball coach: "Did Lacy play against us last year here?" Of course, the answer was yes, but I still for the life of me could not remember anything he did on floor. I asked him what he thought of Lacy -- whether he was a legit Pac-10 guy. He was polite in his assessment, but his answer wasn't exactly effusive and did not inspire confidence. I did not find this comforting.
Looking back today at the box score from that junior-year game at Rogers, Lacy indeed didn't really do anything to stand out -- 3-of-9 for 12 points, 0-of-3 from 3-point range and 6-of-10 from the free throw line. This explains why I had a much stronger recollection of his teammate, Julian Vaughn, who blocked 10 shots in that game. But I digress.
Interestingly, Lacy averaged nearly 20 points in that junior season. But you know how you can usually tell when a kid is a legit recruit, even if he doesn't have a big game? How you can just see the tools, even if the results aren't there? It bugged me that our newest recruit hadn't jumped out to me in that way.
Fast forward to today. As I sit and write this post, I could not be more excited about Lacy becoming a Coug. After watching him last year, I believe Ken Bone has signed a future All-Pac-12 player, a guy who will be a star soon.
How did a guy who didn't stand out as a junior turn into a guy who I think is going to become the cornerstone of the program?
For starters, over those 12 months, Lacy turned into a man. Here he is as a junior (possibly even a sophomore; it's unclear) on his select team. His junior year roster at Curtis listed him at 6-foot-3, 180 pounds:
The word that comes to mind? Nice. He's a nice player. Not a Pac-10 player.
Now, here's a reasonable facsimile of what I saw last year when he visited Rogers:
Now THAT'S more like it. Just a little bit of a difference, no?
That game was not against run-of-the-mill competition, either -- it was against Lincoln H.S. of San Diego, the No. 3-ranked team in California, featuring incoming UCLA freshman Norman Powell. Lacy finished with 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting, including 4-of-8 3s. He also had five steals and four assists.
All of Lacy's assets are on display in that video. He's the proverbial combo guard, one who will never be a true point guard but possesses enough all-around skills to contribute to his team in many ways from the perimeter. His game reminds me an awful lot of this guy's, and if he develops into 85 or 90 percent of that, we'll all be doing backflips.
The thing I love most about Lacy's game is his ability to finish around the basket. He's not Marcus Capers in terms of athleticism, but he's athletic enough to use his strength to not only get his shot off, but put it in the basket -- he made 58 percent of his 2s last year in high school play. On a WSU team more or less devoid of guys who can put it on the floor and penetrate following the loss of Klay Thompson, it's the main reason why I believe he can play this year and more than hold his own as a freshman.
Other things I like about Lacy? As you saw from that first video, he was more of a point guard before he blew up and turned into a beast, so those dribbling and passing skills are still in there. I won't say he projects to a full-time ball handler a la Reggie Moore, but he'll certainly be good enough to know what to do with the ball when he's got it. To be honest, I think he could instantly be the team's primary ball handler when Moore is on the bench this year.
He's not a perfectly polished player -- few, if any, freshmen are. He turned the ball over a fair amount last year, and while I think some of that was due to the burden placed on him as the team's do-everything leader, he will indeed need to get tighter with his passes at this level.
His shot is also very much a work in progress. If you only watched that video above, you'd conclude he's a great shooter. However, he only made 33 percent of his 3s last year, and if you look closely at the video, you see why. The repeatability on his stroke just isn't there, due mostly to questionable footwork. The first shot looks textbook, but the pull-up from 28 feet looks a little awkward, as does the step back. When you add in the high volume of 3s he shot -- 146 in 25 games; nobody else on his team shot more than 24 -- you get a relatively low percentage.
The good news is that it's something that can be improved with hard work and coaching. Everything I've heard about Lacy suggests he works tirelessly on his game, and there's a first round NBA draft pick who's already shown us what Bone can do for a player's footwork -- spot up, pull up, step back ... every single one of Klay Thompson's 3s looked identical. That's what Lacy should aspire to. Shooting far fewer 3s -- and almost exclusively spotting up -- should help. He'll probably never shoot 40 percent from out there, but I think 36 or 37 percent is a reasonable expectation eventually, and will be more than enough to make teams respect it to the degree that it should accentuate his ability to get to the rim.
His defense also needs a fair amount of work. He has excellent hands and generates a lot of steals -- Curtis played a gambling style on the perimeter that would remind you of Washington because they had an elite shot blocker in the paint. In that respect, he'll fit right in at WSU. But he also had a tendency last year to get a little lazy in man-to-man defense. Check out some more video from that game down in San Diego -- fast forward to the 2:00 mark to see what I mean:
Two plays really stick out to me. The first is at about 2:10, when Powell gets a loose ball and streaks out in transition. Lacy sort of gives up on the play, eventually making a half-hearted swat at the ball. About 30 seconds after that, you see Powell, a legitimate Pac-12 prospect, abuse him off the dribble when Lacy gets caught flat footed. This jives with what I saw when Rogers beat Curtis at our place and Derek Jobe -- who's headed to the University of Puget Sound -- scored 31 points, primarily with Lacy guarding him. Jobe's a nice player (and an excellent, excellent shooter), but there's really no way Lacy should have allowed that.
Now, I don't think Lacy is doomed to be a bad defender. The main issue, from my vantage point, was that Lacy was being asked to carry so much of the offensive load that he often rested on defense. That obviously won't fly in the Pac-12, but I also don't think it will be as much of an issue, since he won't be using 30+ percent of the Cougs' possessions. Additionally, like his shooting stroke, there are some technique flaws with his footwork on defense which, again, can be corrected. When they are, I fully expect Lacy to become one of the better defenders on the team. It might happen as soon as this year.
I'll leave you with one final thought. For those of you who place a lot of stock in the value of leadership, heart, desire and other similar intangibles, you're going to love this guy. He's an intense competitor who takes losing personally -- I saw that first hand. After his team got it handed to them by Rogers, they didn't lose another game until the falling in the 4A championship to Gonzaga Prep. He's as demonstrative as, say, DeAngelo Casto, but he'll never be accused of whatever it is fans didn't like about Thompson. Beyond that, he puts in the work behind the scenes to give legitimacy to any kind of barking he does on the floor. He is a leader.
I've honestly never been this excited about a WSU basketball recruit. Maybe it's because we've rarely signed anyone worth getting excited over; maybe it's just because I've gotten to see him up close. But you guys know me as one who isn't really prone to hyperbole, so take it for what it's worth.
The way Lacy developed from his junior to senior year has me believing that Bone got a steal in the Thompson mold -- a kid who committed to WSU when he was a middling prospect before blowing up as a senior. As you hear in the interview video at the end of the post, WSU was the only major program to offer Lacy when he committed, but more teams came sniffing around as he developed. If he played in California, as Thompson did, I guarantee he would have ended as a four-star recruit and a lot of other teams would have been all over him late.
Is he Klay Thompson 2.0? I won't put that much pressure on him, because Thompson was a special talent. To expect him to develop into a lottery pick, as Thompson did, just isn't fair. But I expect him to be very, very good.
And that's why I'm stoked.
Bonus material! Here's an interview with Lacy from when he was in San Diego. Sort of lame, but hey -- he talks, and he explains why he chose WSU.
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