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COLUMN

IU in recruiting battle for No. 3 Noah Vonleh

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For more on college basketball, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

AAU coach calls him nation's 'most talented player'

Thursday, July 12, 2012 - 5:26 am

INDIANAPOLIS -- Noah Vonleh is just a high school junior. Technically, he's a junior to be, but who worries about technicalities these days.

Keep that junior thought in mind.

He is 6-9, blessed with a 7-4 wingspan and weighs a listed 222 pounds, with enough basketball potential to make you rant at the unfairness of life.

Not that we admit to doing that.

Vonleh is developed beyond his years, which is what you'd expect from the nation's No. 3 player in the Class of 2014. No, he is not the second coming of LeBron James, who was a man when he was, well, a boy. But Vonleh has the physical presence and multidimensional skills you expect from a future one-and-done college player, although it's still way too early to worry about that because he is, yes, a junior.

How is this possible? It is good genetics? A great diet? A top-secret workout devised by a former Navy SEAL?

“It's God's gifts,” says Vin Patore, his Mass Rivals AAU coach.

“He's got everything. He plays hard. He can put the ball on the floor. He didn't shoot well (Wednesday), but he can really shoot. He rebounds the heck out of it.

“He's mean on the court, but he's a sweetheart of a kid off the court. He's everything you want in a basketball player.”

Oh, there's one other thing.

“I think he's the most talented kid in the country,” Patore says. “I really do.”

Vonleh is a high-energy power forward from New Hampshire via the African nation of Liberia (his parents are from there, but he was born in the Boston area) who can shoot over you (he has three-point range, although he fired perimeter blanks in Wednesday night's 71-63 adidas Invitational loss to the Atlanta Celtics at North Central High School), drive past you and jam on you -- when he's not rebounding everything in sight. He can play multiple positions (“He plays them all, which is beautiful,” Patore says) and was basically a point forward against the Atlanta Celtics, which is another reason why he's high on IU coach Tom Crean's 2014 recruiting wish list.

Crean likes multidimensional players, if you haven't noticed, with forward Christian Watford as Exhibit A. That's the same Watford who won the ESPY award for best play Wednesday night for his Kentucky beating three-point shot last December.

Anyway, Vonleh has visions of being another Kevin Durant (“He's my favorite player,” Vonleh says), the NBA scoring champ for NBA finalist Oklahoma City Thunder.

Durant, by the way, is 6-9 and 235 pounds. Vonleh hopes to be 240 when he gets to college. Patore thinks he could get to 6-10 and 245.

Vonleh thrived at last weekend's LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas and, before that, at the NBPA Top 100 camp (he scored 19 points against Andrew Harrison, the No. 3 player in the Class of 2013).

But all that travel -- he didn't arrive in Indianapolis until 2 a.m. Wednesday -- took its toll in the adidas Invitational opener. Vonleh scored only 12 points and struggled with his shooting and efficiency.

“I wasn't getting to the basket like I normally do,” he says. “I was tired from the LeBron camp.”

Vonleh didn't get much sympathy from Patore, who accompanied him to Las Vegas.

“I could feel bad for him, but I don't. It's part of what he's trying to be. It's a great learning experience. He's 16 years old. It's good for him.”

Vonleh understands he remains a work in progress. He wants to improve his ballhandling, shoot better, rebound better and develop a strong midrange game. He enjoys competing, a must for a Crean recruit.

IU offered Vonleh in May and is recruiting him hard. Vonleh had an earlier unofficial visit to Bloomington scrapped, but plans to make one as soon as possible. Powerhouse programs such as Kentucky, Louisville, Florida, Connecticut and Ohio State also are recruiting him. The North Central court was full of prominent coaches for Vonleh's game (Ohio State's Thad Matta, Kansas' Bill Self, Kansas State's Bruce Weber, Purdue's Matt Painter, UCLA's Ben Howland and Connecticut's Jim Calhoun), although not all are recruiting him

Crean wasn't there because he was in Los Angeles with Watford for the ESPY awards show. But IU associate head coach Steve McClain was there.

Crean has a strong foundation for a powerhouse Class of 2014 with Bishop Luers guard James Blackmon (rated No. 47 in the class) and Indianapolis Tech 6-9 forward Trey Lyles (rated No. 9). Crean has emphasized to Vonleh how IU has helped develop big man Cody Zeller, who might be the No. 1 pick in next summer's NBA Draft.

Vonleh said he doesn't have any favorites right now and that he's open to anyone.

Patore says Vonleh will “have an incredible body and skill package” by the time he reaches college, and “I think he's going to be incredible.”

He adds that Vonleh is an unselfish team player, which is a strength, “but also a weakness. When one day he plays with all great players, he's going to be unbelievable. But sometimes in a game like this, he has to be more selfish.”

And then there's one final thought.

“He's a zero-maintenance guy who plays hard, has great size and length, and is talented,” Patore says. “What more could you want?”

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.