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COLUMN

Mid-major or high-major? Sometimes it is a fine line

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For more on high school basketball and recruiting, follow Jonathan Batuello on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/jkenny_ns

Prep prospects Smits and Kessinger among those on the fence

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 2:08 pm

There is no exact formula for evaluating prep basketball talent.

Apply this to the potentially thin line between what is a mid-major and high-major prospect, or even further yet, what is a mid-major prospect versus a low-major, Division II, Division III or NAIA prospect and an inexact process gets even murkier.

With scouting evaluations beginning in the early days of high school (if not middle school), even the noticeable physical attributes can change over time.

Add the growing pressure where a top recruiting class can save a coach's job by providing hope for the future and it all becomes a game of high-stakes job roulette.

For the players it can be just as grueling to be right on that verge of receiving the major conference offer and the notoriety and legitimacy it can bring to years of work.

For instance, take Bronson Kessinger and Derrik Smits. Both played for the Under Armor Grind's 17U team last weekend at the adidas Invitational. Both players are sitting on the ground between high-major and mid-major prospect and are doing so on different paths.

Smits has the namesake of his father, Rik, and began his high school career seemingly on his way to a major conference. He still has offers to play for Clemson and Xavier, but has already had interest cool from schools like Butler, who at one point offered him a scholarship.

The 7-foot power forward out of Zionsville has the physical attributes with height and length, but has struggled to add offers to his list. Over the weekend, Smits displayed a deft passing touch out of the high post, but seemed a step slow defensively and needed to work on finishing stronger near the post.

For a coach, do you take the chance and offer him a scholarship to a major program based on the potential and physical attributes? Do you think you can mold those weaknesses and find a gem? Is it worth the risk?

Then there is Kessinger of Corydon Central, who has plenty of low and mid-major programs desperate for his skills on the basketball court. IPFW, Indiana State, Evansville, Ball State and IUPUI are just the state schools to offer the 6-foot-8 small forward.

At the adidas Invitational, Kessinger showed the versatility to shoot accurately from outside and attack off the dribble. Just as importantly he attacked the glass for rebounds and fought for position.

Kessinger's weekend put him on the radar of high-majors. For these coaches, do they go with a player who has seemed to develop and could go even further? Or has he reached his potential and showcased everything in a very strong weekend of AAU play?

The players have to ask these questions to themselves as well. Do they think they can go further with their talent if they receive that high-major offer?

As it sits, both Kessinger and Smits could be playing with a high-major program in due time. For them, if their skills have peaked, they are looking at going to a high-major program and playing 10 minutes a game as a role player or taking a mid-major offer and potentially being a star.

It isn't an easy question to answer for anyone.

Coaches have to decide what is good enough to make their roster and provide strong minutes. All coaches have the players they evaluated wrong to look back on as well. Just ask Tom Crean and IU fans about "The Movement"or Purdue about Jacob Lawson, Patrick Bade and Donnie Hale.

When the jobs of coaches can depend on projecting who not only has the physical tools and game skills, but who mentally will be prepared for the work it takes at the collegiate level, these decisions can mean a prolonged or shortened tenure at the school.

For players, it can mean the difference between heavy minutes or finding yourself transferring to a different school.

For everyone, it means double-guessing and wondering what went wrong if the player doesn't pan out.

As for myself, after watching Smits and Kessinger, I think Smits would be a starter at the mid-major level but could struggle off the bench at a high-major. Kessinger appears to have the hustle where he could be a contributor to a high-major program and become a player the program's fans fall in love with for his effort or a star at the mid-major level.

If nothing else, I can rest assured when I am inevitably wrong at least I won't lose my job because of it.

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