When I got to my hotel near LAX on Wednesday, I decided to take in some of the big summer high school basketball tournament being held at Loyola Marymount University. I cruised over and watched Spokane-based Eastern Washington Elite play, with an eye on seeing how Washington State recruit Patrick Simon had progressed. Anyhow, I promised to post this tonight and though I didn't have time in Seattle, there's time before I collapse. Read on for some thoughts.
• Before we delve in too deep, it's time for full disclosure. Before I became the S-R's WSU beat writer, I assisted – but, really, how much in the way of help can a sportswriter offer? – a couple of years on Simon's summer team. I've also volunteered at a basketball camp run by former GU head coach Dan Fitzgerald that Simon has attended for years. So I have some history here and am not passing judgment based on one summer game. That history is partly why I wanted to take in Wednesday's game, to see how far Simon had progressed.
A lot, in some ways. And that progression has come despite Simon sitting out last high school basketball season for Ephrata with a foot injury. The surgery he underwent seems to have been a success, because Simon was cleared to play recently and seems to be moving as well as ever, with no traces of favoring the injury.
What does the 6-foot-7 Simon bring to the table? He's always been an exceptional outside shooter, but he's quickened his release, giving him the ability to get off his shot with less space – and, subsequently, making it tougher to guard him. When his feet are set and his legs solid, whether in the flow of a half-court set or in transition, he's deadly. In the game I watched, against an athletic BASS team with players from the Houston and Louisiana areas, he hit his first two long-range shots and, despite missing two hurried shots in a late comeback attempt, finished 4 of 8 from beyond the arc.
But he's not just an outside shooter. Midway through the second half he caught a pass at the left-side short corner and attacked the baseline with his left hand. Cut off, he spun back to the middle, only to be stymied by a help-side defender. No problem. He spun back to the baseline, put it on the floor hard and glided all the way under the backboard for a reverse layup that drew an admiring comment from Santa Clara's Kerry Keating, about two seats down.
• So, offensively, Simon has skills that could help the Cougars right away. But, like all high school players, he has some holes to spackle over. Obviously, he's not yet strong enough to compete in the Pac-10, and it showed on the glass. On one free throw attempt, he was shoved all the way under the backboard, unable to deny the BASS player position. The lack of strength is one of those flaws, of course, that can be addressed in the weight room and is rarely fatal, especially if the player has Simon's build. He looks sturdy enough to add the muscle needed in the Pac-10. Foot speed, however, is a little tougher to improve. Simon has over the past two years, despite the injury. He did a nice job of keeping his opponent in front when the smaller BASS posts stepped out and faced up. And the other hand he was late giving help at times, though that may have been a recognition problem more than speed.
• All in all, Simon has progressed well, maybe even better than could be expected, since former WSU assistant Matt Woodley noticed him prior to starting high school. By the way, Simon hit 4 of 5 inside the arc and finished with 21 points.
• That's it for now. It's back to football for a while and we'll be back in the morning with links from Pac-10 media day. Until then …