After being spurned by both Ahmaad Rorie (Oregon) and Brandon Chauca (Cal), Ernie Kent finally landed the point guard he apparently had been coveting when he signed Trevor Dunbar of St. Ignatius College Preperatory in San Francisco to a financial aid agreement on Tuesday.
Dunbar held offers from a plethora of midmajors but no high major schools. That's usually a pretty reliable indicator of the kind of player you're getting at this point in the process, as the musical chairs of the late signing period has more or less stopped. If any high major school thought he was worth a scholarship, he'd have had a solid offer or two by now. WSU was the only school to bite.
That's hard to believe for some, such as Cougfan's Barry Bolton, who have seen his highlights (right and above) and come away impressed by his court vision and handles. And he is impressive, no doubt. The first message I sent off after watching the video said, "We signed Hot Sauce?" because I'm 37 and that's the only guy I actually remember from the old And 1 Mixtapes. It's definitely entertaining to watch.
The sticking point among coaches, though, is obvious: He's 5-foot-10. If he came in and lit the league on fire, he certainly wouldn't be the first player to have success in the Pac-12 at sub six-feet, but it's important to acknowledge that it takes a special player to succeed at the high major level at that kind of stature. That nobody else thought he was special enough to warrant a scholaship ought to color your expectations of what he'll be able to do.
There's a bit of a school of thought out there that Kent knows what to do with small guards, predicated mostly on his extensive use of perennial Coug killer Tajuan Porter, who stood a mere 5-6. But that's not really a valid comparison unless the players are of comparable style, and they really don't appear to be.
I was able to find a couple of full games of Dunbar's at St. Ignatius on YouTube, and with the caveats that neither is from his senior season (one is from his junior year and the other is from his sophomore year) and it's just two games, I think it gives a pretty decent look into the style of player he is. And one thing that's immediately clear is that Dunbar is really nothing like Porter, who was -- and always will be -- first and foremost a shooter without a conscience. (That wasn't a good thing, by the way, as he was only a marginally efficient player.)
Porter shot close to 1,000 three-pointers in his career, while Dunbar is more of a quintessential floor general who might not shoot half that many threes in his four years in Pullman. Most people assumed Porter was a point guard because of his size, but his assist rate was under 15 percent in all four seasons; a point guard will typically be around 25 percent. For context, Reggie Moore was at 32.5 percent in his last season, and in fact, Dunbar actually reminds me a little bit of a smaller version of Moore. He's appears to be most comfortable directing traffic with the ball in his hands and has a tremendous first step that allows him to penetrate fairly easily.
Here's the difference, though: Moore was 6-1. And remember Aaron Brooks, another "small" point guard for Kent? He was 6-foot. And while you might think, "5-10, 6-foot, whatever," there's actually a pretty enormous difference in two or three inches. Both Brooks and Moore shot more twos than threes, and both were adept at finishing around the basket: Brooks hit 47 percent or better on his twos his last three seasons (a superb record for a guard that included a 50 percent mark as a senior), while Moore made 47 percent in his freshman year. That's a product of their athleticism and height.
It's actually the sophomore and junior version of Moore that ought to be a bit of a cautionary tale with regards to expectations for Dunbar. In the games I watched, when he couldn't get into the lane or saw too many tall guys looming, he often settled for midrange jumpers rather than venturing in for contact. I should add, by the way, that he was pretty good at hitting those jumpers. But while having the ability to use every part of the floor effectively is important, it's awfully hard to be efficient on a steady diet of midrange shots.
I don't think Dunbar will have too much trouble continuing to get into the lane at the college level, but I'm concerned -- at his size, against the length of the big men in the Pac-12 -- that he'll have trouble getting his shot off at the rim. Think of all those times Royce Woolridge -- who is taller, but athletically challenged in terms of getting off the floor -- got into the lane last year but couldn't draw contact or get off a good shot. That's what we're talking about here. And without the threat of getting his shot off inside, it'll be more difficult for Dunbar to do what he does best, which is find the open guy once he gets in there. Defenders will stay on the ground and play the passing lanes. This could force Dunbar to simply become primarily a jump shooter, which negates all of his physical advantages, something WSU obviously wants to avoid, but might be hard to overcome.
Defensively? You should probably just remember that Kent is the guy who played Brooks and Porter together for 25 minutes a night on a team that earned a three seed to the NCAA tournament, so who really cares? (If you do care, though, he's got the foot speed to stay in front of people and quick hands to match. He looked pretty unmotivated defensively in his junior video, though that likely was a byproduct of the energy he was expending on offense -- I think he played about 29 minutes in that game.)
There's obviously precedent for guys of his size being able to impose their will on the Pac-12; Isaiah Thomas (5-8) and Jahii Carson (5-10) have proven recently that it can be done. But although he clearly got stronger for his senior year Dunbar still doesn't possess Thomas' kind of strength and doesn't seem to have his craftiness in the lane in terms of getting off shots. And Carson is even quicker than Dunbar. Remember, if Dunbar was that kind of player, he'd have been a four-star recruit, as those guys were.
Hopefully it doesn't sound like I'm tearing down Dunbar. This almost certainly isn't another Dre Winston. I think Dunbar can be a really useful player if people are reasonable in terms of expectations for what he should be able to do. Perhaps he can become a version of Johnathan Loyd, who was a superb backup point guard for Dana Altman at Oregon last season. He didn't take a lot of shots but made a good percentage of the ones he did take, he took care of the ball, found open teammates and chipped in some steals for good measure. It led to him being an incredibly efficient player in the limited possessions he used this past season.
If WSU has on its hands a reasonable facsimile of Loyd, then Dunbar's recruitment will be an unmitigated success.
His commitment brings the total of Ernie Kent recruits to four. Here's how the scholarship situation now stands:
It's an interesting mix of kids Kent has brought in. It includes three guards -- Dunbar, 6-1 Ny Redding and 6-3 Jackie Davis -- all of whom seem to have slightly different skill sets, and one forward in Aaron Cheatum. There's one more scholarship left to play with, and the team is still badly in need of frontcourt help. That said, if the choice is between banking it for next year's class and going the James Hunter route again? Please, coach ... just save it and make do with what you've got.