Lightning in a Bottle: De’Anthony Thomas

July 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

by Kevin Harrington

If you are an athlete from Los Angeles known as “The Black Mamba” (see Bryant, Kobe)… you better be good at what you do. De’Anthony Thomas excels at just about everything he does on the football field. Even before he became a star for Crenshaw High School in the highly competitive south Los Angeles district, he was a household name thanks to Snoop Dogg’s “Black Mamba” endorsement from Thomas’ Pop Warner days. Then after high school, due to his ability to shine at every position he played, recruiting sites such as Rivals and Scout were unsure exactly how to rank him. Despite his diminutive stature (5’9”, 173 lbs.), Thomas was considered the number one ranked “athlete” in the 2011 football recruiting class by Rivals.com, and the number one cornerback by Scout.com. Under his Scout.com bio, Scott Kennedy said, “The only player I’ve ever said that could legitimately be 5-Stars at four different positions; running back, safety, cornerback, and wide receiver.”

That being said, let’s take a look at how he performed at each of those positions. Including his debut season as a hybrid running back/receiver at the University of Oregon, Thomas has NEVER averaged less than ten yards per touch in any aspect of his game. This includes receiving, rushing, as well as punt, kickoff, and interception returns. His pure speed, ball carrier vision, and cutting ability are on an entirely different level than his competition. If you need any evidence of this, refer to the 2012 Rose Bowl game against Big Ten champion Wisconsin. Thomas was only given two carries throughout the game, but it would be fair to say that he took advantage of his limited opportunities when he outran the stout Wisconsin defense for 64 and 91 yard touchdowns. It’s a pretty impressive feat for a teenager to be the fastest athlete on the most electric offense in the nation.

To put his success in perspective, De’Anthony Thomas won the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award as Oregon’s tertiary running back option behind starter LaMichael James and backup Kenjon Barner. If he had qualified, Thomas would have led the nation with a ridiculous 10.8 yards per carry average. Still, Chip Kelly and Oregon found creative ways to involve Thomas in their gameplan. On top of his impressive rushing statistics (595 yards, 7 TD), he averaged 17.3 yards per punt return, 27.3 yards per kickoff return (983 yards, 2 TD), and 13.2 yards per reception (605 yards, 9 TD). Now that Oregon has lost 2011 All-American LaMichael James and starting quarterback Darron Thomas (no relation), they will rely on Thomas’ game-breaking abilities even more.

Without James to compete for touches in the backfield, I firmly believe that Thomas will contend for the Heisman trophy for the next two to three seasons. Every so often, there is an athlete in college football who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, from anywhere on the field. Essentially, he is his team’s greatest weapon and an opposing defensive coordinator’s worst nightmare. Desmond Howard, Reggie Bush, Devin Hester, and Percy Harvin come to mind. As a reference, I’ll use the most recent Heisman winner out of the bunch to compare against De’Anthony Thomas’ freshman year. USC’s Reggie Bush scored a touchdown once out of every twelve touches during his Heisman campaign season. In 2011, Thomas scored once every nine times he touched the football. May I remind you that Thomas gives up three inches and almost thirty pounds to the former Trojans superstar. Barring injury or a sophomore slump, I would count on the nineteen year-old traveling to New York this December as a part of college football’s most prestigious award ceremony.

Check out this highlight reel of De’Anthony Thomas’ incredible plays from his 2011 freshman season.

What Happened in Vegas Will Restore Greatness: Shabazz Muhammad

July 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

by Kevin Harrington

Throughout every season since 2006, sports fans across the country witness a temporary wave of new superstars that enters the one-year stopgap to the NBA that college basketball has become. We’ve already seen the likes of pro-ready athletes such as Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, John Wall, and Kyrie Irving graduate high school, dominate college competition for a year, carry their school to the tournament, then immediately depart for the NBA. This seems to be the way that college basketball is viewed to top-flight NBA prospects of late, and I see no end to this perception anytime soon…at least for as long as the NBA minimum age-requirement stays in place.

We’ve seen some of these athletes excel during their lone college season, and others fail to meet lofty expectations such as former North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes. Although I think the Associated Press has learned from their mistake of bestowing pre-season All-American honors upon a freshman who is yet to step on a college basketball court, it would be foolish to think that we have seen the last freshman who can establish himself as the most dominant basketball player in the NCAA by season’s end. I believe the next one will be an 18-year old from Las Vegas by the name of Shabazz Muhammad.

While John Calipari and defending national champion Kentucky may have brought an Anthony Davis clone to Lexington (Nerlens Noel), UCLA has secured a supremely talented wing with the athletic/playmaking ability the program has lacked since the likes of Russell Westbrook. Despite the questionable status of UCLA basketball over the past few seasons, Shabazz Muhammad has embraced the challenge rather than cruising to the NCAA tournament with one of the other schools in his top three, Kentucky and Duke. Instead, Muhammad will step on the court with arguably the most talented, yet under-proven team in the country this year. UCLA head coach Ben Howland has to be salivating at the potential, yet losing sleep at the thought of maturing the young Big Three this year that is Muhammad, point-forward Kyle Anderson, and big man Tony Parker in what will almost definitely be his only chance with all three super-recruits on the court together. If Howland can’t squeeze every ounce of potential out of this star-studded group, he may have coached his last season in Los Angeles.

However, I believe that Shabazz Muhammad may have provided the spark necessary to get Howland and UCLA back over the hump. After making the Final Four in back to back years in 2007 and 2008, the Bruins failed to make the NCAA tournament twice in the past four years and haven’t advanced past the second round in the two years they did qualify. While the program has lost a bit of its luster, Muhammad appears more than ready to restore the greatness. Shabazz has already shown his elite scoring ability, putting up over 25 points per game as a junior for Bishop Gorman high school, then over 30 points per game last year which earned him Nevada player of the year honors as well as the Parade National Player of the Year award. He has even shown that he can dominate elite competition, as he won MVP at the McDonald’s All-American game this year.

While scoring dominantly at the high school level is expected for the nation’s top guard, elite rebounding is not. This is why Shabazz Muhammad stands out from recent top guard recruits as he averaged over 7 rebounds during his junior year, somehow managed to improve to an astounding 10.4 rebounds per game during his senior campaign. In a league where 6’7” Andre Roberson led the Pac-12 with just over 11 rebounds per game, the 6’6” Muhammad has a solid chance at contending for more than just the league’s scoring title.

On top of an incredible rebounding ability, Muhammad possesses a post game unheard of for an 18 year-old guard. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time on defense, which results in plenty of steals, rebounds, and blocks, but the real beauty of his game comes in the form of a sweet lefty hook when he gets close to the basket. As pretty as his hook can be, the jaw-dropper of his inside game is his ability to finish above the rim. Muhammad not only has shown his ability to create his own shot, but his ability to finish it. Flat out, the kid can throw it down. Not only did he take home the MVP trophy from the prestigious McDonalds All-American game, he also showed off his vertical creativity when he won the McDonald’s slam dunk contest during the same weekend.

With a resume like Shabazz Muhammad’s, I think it’s clear that it is more than possible for him to achieve any collegiate honor his unstoppable work ethic will allow, including the Naismith trophy in my opinion. Even though he will most likely be in Los Angeles for only a year before he turns his attention to the NBA like many stars before him, he currently has his sights on restoring greatness to UCLA and bringing the program back to where it rightfully belongs…the Final Four.

Blazing the Trail: Duke Johnson

July 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

by Kevin Harrington

Sometimes a recruit will come along and infuse a slumping football program with not just talent, but also hope. The recruit will not simply look at the school as a springboard to the NFL, but as his home. In an age where a verbal commitment means next to nothing, loyalty is a rare trait exhibited by 18 year-old super athletes. Norland’s Randy “Duke” Johnson, however, is not your average five-star recruit. He has unwaveringly stood by his words since his initial commitment to the University of Miami in September 2010. Not only has he stayed true to the U, but he has also acted as an unofficial recruiter to bring in more talent to a program that has experienced its fair share of adversity (both on and off the field) over the past few seasons. Johnson proudly stated “George McDonald was my recruiting coordinator..and I was his.” Johnson used his influence to convince defensive back Tracy Howard, a highly heralded fellow 5-star recruit to bring his talents to South Beach. With this kind of leadership, loyalty, and not to mention ridiculous talent, Duke Johnson appears to be the next of a long list of superstar running backs that the University of Miami churns out.

The man who wore #3 on the field and one of his custom Miami hats (with “DUKE” stitched above the U) off the field finished his stellar senior campaign with a 2,087 yards and a 10.0 yards/carry average, 29 touchdowns (best in the Miami-Dade county), and a perfect 15-0 record that included a 5-A state championship MVP performance. In that game, Norland, ranked 8th nationally by ESPN, defeated Crawfordville Wakulla 38-0 behind Duke’s 266 all purpose yards, 4 rushing touchdowns, and 1 punt return touchdown. As impressive as this showcase was, it could be argued that this was Johnson’s least impressive rushing performance of the playoffs. He amassed over 1,200 rushing yards throughout the playoffs alone, including a county-record 375 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 20-point comeback against Baradenton Palmetto in the semi-finals. This came just a week after he ran for 260 yards and 4 touchdowns against Belle Glade.

Clearly Duke Johnson has the attitude and the talent that Miami desperately needs in a young superstar, and he looks to become a stud with Al Golden and his coaching staff at Miami. If he can stay out of trouble unlike a certain 5-star running back recruit from last year (cough, cough, Isaiah Crowell), it would not surprise me to see Duke Johnson surpass Lamar Miller’s 1,272 rushing yards from last season…and eventually even threaten the records set by Miami greats such as Frank Gore, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, and Edgerrin James. If Duke can even be half as amazing as I expect him to be, he will help Miami’s ever-growing case to firmly be known as “Running Back U.”

For any sports fans that want to see what kind of talent Duke is bringing to Miami this fall, check out this highlight reel from his senior season.

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