WHEELING, W.Va. — D’Angelo Russell is already a five-star prospect in the class of 2014, but there’s still plenty the Louisville native can work on.
Just ask his coach at Montverde Academy, the always-demanding Kevin Boyle.
“He’s definitely a top-10 talent in the country,” Boyle said. “And now if he can match that with top-10 intensity, then he’s going to be a big-time player at a big-time school. And he’s going in the right direction.”
Boyle has been on Russell to work harder and play smarter ever since they both arrived at Montverde in 2011.
Russell’s teammates say the coach gets on his case the most.
Boyle’s message to his starting shooting guard: “You’re an outstanding player, but if you took the top 100 NBA players that are 6-4 to 6-7, a lot of them are more athletic than you. Most of them. … You can still be better, but you have to be fundamental as hell. You have to be tough as hell.”
When point guard Kasey Hill heads to the University of Florida next season, Boyle expects to give Russell more of the ball-handling duties on offense.
in the meantime, Boyle wants Russell to adopt a “gym rat” mentality.
The former Central High standout says that’s not a problem at Montverde.
“We don’t have any off time,” he said. “We practice three or four hours a day. You have to have a good practice to feel like you did something, or it’s just a group of guys stepping over you. So, when we step on the court, everybody is going hard. It’s just like a game.”
Russell mentioned Louisville, Ohio State, Missouri, Indiana, North Carolina, Georgetown, Arizona and Florida as some of the main schools pursuing him.
Kentucky hasn’t been as active in his recruitment, though UK has offered eight players from the class of 2014 — including Minnesota shooting guard Rashad Vaughn.
Russell is being patient with the process, and he doesn’t plan on making a decision until the spring of his senior season.
Boyle isn’t surprised that UK has yet to come hard after the homestate kid.
“Obviously, when you’re Kentucky, you can be the 13th-best kid and they can say, ‘No, we’re not gonna take you. We’re taking the second-best kid.’ They have that luxury,” he said. “So I think they’re evaluating him to see where he’s at and if he fits in with their needs.”
If Russell does find that “top-10 intensity,” it’ll be hard for the Cats to stay away.
Boyle turned up the Jersey accent when assessing how good he could be if that happens.
“Forget about it,” he said.
Kevin Boyle predicted Saturday that Dakari Johnson would only spend one season at Kentucky.
“I think there’s going to be too much pressure on him not to be (one-and-done),” he said. “I love to see guys stay, but it’s hard to tell somebody to do that … when they have a pretty good chance of making a lot of guaranteed money.”
That said, Boyle does think that Johnson will return to school to get his degree at some point.
Johnson’s mother, Makini Campbell, is a middle school guidance counselor in Florida and was an English teacher at St. Patrick High in New Jersey before Johnson transferred to Montverde. Boyle said the future Cat comes from a family that puts a high value on education.
“He’s a kid that, I really believe, will get a degree,” he said. “And will seriously get the degree — not just get it to say he got it or if the school asks him to get it. I’m positive he will graduate college, and he will use that. He’s a smart kid. He’s a bright student.”
Coaching ’em up
ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep had nothing but praise for UK assistants Orlando Antigua and Kenny Payne. Not just for their recruiting victories, but for their ability to teach freshmen in such a short amount of time.
Telep said Willie Cauley-Stein is “a different guy” from a year ago, and noted the immediate improvement of Nerlens Noel and other recent big men who have played for Kentucky.
That success, he said, means a lot to high school players with dreams of going to the NBA early.
“These guys that are committing to Kentucky … they all have dreams of not being there very long,” Telep told the Herald-Leader. “So, if you’re not going to be at a place very long, you better work really hard. And they push you. And you better have some people who know what they’re doing telling you to work hard. And they definitely have that.”
Telep also touched on the recruitments of Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle, which you can read here.
They’ll meet again
At Montverde Academy, Dakari Johnson plays alongside the No. 2-rated point guard in the class of 2013 — Kasey Hill.
Next season at Kentucky, Johnson will play alongside the top-rated point guard in the class — Andrew Harrison.
Hill will be sorry to see the big man go.
“I love playing with him. He makes the game easy for me,” he said. “He’s a competitor. He works hard and he plays hard.”
But Hill and Johnson will still see plenty of each other during their freshman seasons. Hill has signed to play for Florida, so the Montverde teammates will be SEC opponents at least twice in 2013-14.
As Johnson prepared to commit to UK on Saturday, Hill acknowledged looking ahead to their future matchups.
“I always think about stuff like that,” he said with a smile. “I’ll just have to play against him. We’ll compete against each other but at the end of the day we’ll still be friends and brothers.”
Coming to America
Montverde Academy already has the No. 1 team in the country. Sooner or later, Coach Kevin Boyle will be adding one of the best amateur players in the world to his roster.
Ben Simmons, a 2015 prospect from Australia, tweeted last week that he was moving to the United States to play for Montverde.
The 6-foot-8 forward has been called the best player in his class, but he might not suit up for the Eagles until next season.
Boyle said Simmons would first have to be cleared by the high school athletics association in Florida. Even if that happens, there’s no guarantee he’ll play this season.
“It’s probably in his best interest to get comfortable in school and work on academics,” Boyle said. “I think the main reason he’s coming to the United States — obviously he’s an excellent basketball player — but I think the primary reason is, to get in college, obviously you have to be qualified for the NCAA.”
Boyle said getting a quality education is important to Simmons’ parents and mentioned Duke, Vanderbilt and Stanford as schools they’re interested in. He said the family didn’t want him to attend a school that’s “just about sports.”
Boyle also sounded hesitant to mess with his team’s chemistry as it pursues a perfect season and national championship.
“Adding somebody might even hurt us right now,” Boyle said. “No matter how good of a guy he is.”
Who’s the big dog?
When Huntington Prep got into its offensive set for the first time Friday night against Prime Prep, one thing stood out.
Prime point guard Emmanuel Mudiay had been assigned to defend Huntington Prep forward Andrew Wiggins — despite giving up several inches to the top-rated prospect.
The move worked for Prime Prep, which held Wiggins scoreless in the first quarter.
Prime Coach Ray Forsett said he decided to put Mudiay on Wiggins before the game. He wanted to see how his highly touted point guard would react.
“If you’ve got a big dog, and I’m supposed to be the big dog. The only way you figure out who’s the big dog, is you go out one-on-one,” Forsett said. … That’s what people want to see. I want to see it too.
“That’s what that was about: Just see what he can do against the best.”
Forsett was pleased with Mudiay’s performance, and Prime Prep rolled to a 59-46 victory to hand the Express their first loss of the season.
“He showed leadership,” Forsett said. “Big-time leadership.”
Dozens of spectators gathered around Dakari Johnson as the big man made his announcement Saturday night in the McDonough Center at Wheeling Jesuit University. But hardly anyone could hear what he was saying.
Johnson — who committed to Kentucky — was not hooked up to the gym’s PA system, so only the ESPN announcers and those standing within a few feet of him actually knew which school he had chosen when he first made the announcement.
A crowd of people — several of them wearing West Virginia shirts — standing behind Montverde Coach Kevin Boyle were asking each other what Johnson had said.
Without turning around, Boyle excitedly yelled, “West Virginia! Yes!” before walking away with a smile on his face.
Individual statistics for the UK recruits who participated in the Cancer Research Classic:
Dakari Johnson — 18 points, 15 rebounds, 8/11 FGs
Andrew Wiggins — 18 points, 9 rebounds, 7/12 FGs
Jahlil Okafor — 32 points, 6 rebounds, 14/18 FGs
Emmanuel Mudiay — 18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists
D’Angelo Russell — 14 points, 5 assists, 4/9 FGs
Montaque Gill-Caesar — 5 points, 3 rebounds, 2/8 FGs
Elijah Thomas — 18 points, 12 minutes 8/10 FGs
He said it
Prime Prep Coach Ray Forsett simply wanted to contain Andrew Wiggins in Friday’s game. Wishing for anything more would have been foolish, he said:
“Nobody in the country is going to stop Wiggins. If you’re a coach and you think that, you’re stupid.”