On Wednesday, I went down to the Philadelphia Catholic League semi-finals at the Palestra. It was an enjoyable evening with competitive basketball in the best venue in sports. It also had the added bonus of giving me a front-row view of 2014 Penn State point guard commit Shep Garner. Here are some notes from the game:
- If you check out Roman Catholic's stat lines throughout the season, you'll notice that they have a very balanced attack. They are no different on the court. There is no "go-to guy" on the team, in the best way possible. They're loaded with talent. The bad thing, from a Penn State perspective, is that on the surface Garner doesn't pop out. He didn't take a ton of shots and didn't handle the ball a lot. So he didn't stand out in a way that made you say, "Wow, that's a D-1 talent right there." But basically no one on Roman does. They're the top seed in the Catholic League and didn't lose a league game all year. It's not as big of a deal as it seems.
- Garner is a pretty good perimeter defender. He's about 6-2 and moves pretty well, and he's strong for a high schooler. He's active on defense and played some man-to-man against La Salle's best guards (though that was admittedly a weaker spot for them). Roman sat in a passive zone to force the guards to make plays for much of the first half (it worked: La Salle only scored 12 points) and Garner still managed to come up with two impressive steals.
- He's excellent in transition. He makes plays on defense and immediately is looking up the court to throw outlet passes, all of which were on the money. He also is a solid ballhandler in transition, and displayed a couple of nice, controlled crossover moves.
- While Roman played him on the wing for most of the game, he projects as a point guard at the next level in my estimation. He doesn't have (or at least didn't display it here) the driving ability to flourish on the wing yet, and his ballhandling is sure enough that point guard makes the most sense. I imagine your primary ballhandlers next year will be he and Graham Woodward.
- Garner's best play of the game came at the end of the first quarter. With 5.5 seconds to go, he dribbled the length of the court, with one impressive crossover move at halfcourt, and pulled up at the top of the key to nail a three at the buzzer.
- Garner didn't do much in the second half, mostly because Roman let the air out of the ball pretty early. This was a mistake, and La Salle cut a 17-point lead down to four points with under four minutes to go. Garner did help to maintain the lead with some clutch free throws down the stretch, however (I believe he was 4-for-4 at the line).
Summary: I don't think Garner is a program changer. I think he can step in day one and help out in the guard rotation as a ballhandler who can play a little D, but he probably has a somewhat limited ceiling because he's 6-2 and not all that fast. Still, he's solidly built for a high schooler and already looks more game ready than, say, Graham Woodward did at the season's start. I would have liked to have seen more games to get a better feel for his scoring ability, but the few shots he did take looked good and he did well at the line down the stretch. Rotating him and Woodward at the point next year sounds good to me.'
I'll follow up with more after the Catholic League championship on Monday.