Friday, January 1, 2010

Heavily-Hyped Majok Still Learning How To Walk

Ater Majok's name is littered all over college basketball websites and magazines canvassing who's who in the Big East. UConn's 6-foot-11, 23-year-old freshman center was very much a mystery to the NCAA last year.

Majok briefly tested the NBA waters after being ruled ineligible (due to NCAA clearing house issues) for the 2008-09 campaign.

After finding that his stock did not register on the NBA Richter Scale, the highly-touted prospect opted to return to the Huskies before placing his professional package on the scale.

A weaker than Chinese tea 2009 NBA draft saw offensively inept Hasheem Thabeet,
the 7-foot-3 shot-swatting behemoth (who starred at UConn last season) get selected at No.2. Last year's draft also saw gangly, sushi-raw Ohio State freshman B.J. Mullins find an NBA hardwood home with the 24th pick.

Thus, the league's gates opened up for promising players 6-foot-10 or taller.Size matters. Majok, a Sudan refugee via Australia, believed in the big green light while salivating at the fantasy of following the long green paper trail to the NBA.

"Were working on those things that some scouts said," explained Edward Smith, Majok's coach in Australia and current advisor, prior to Majok's cold dip in the NBA ocean.

"Some scouts came out and said well, for him to get to the NBA he needs (to gain) about 20 kilos and a dependable shot."

Few teams last spring, however, were sold on an enigma yet to play a minute in a college game. So, Majok made a wise decision and returned to school.

Since stepping his size-22 sneakers on the Storrs, Conn., campus, high expectations, hyperbolic bravado, and hearsay have followed Majok. This hype and hyperbole has moved around campus faster than word of a multi-keg frat party.

Majok was billed as a versatile 6-foot-11 big man who can tear down boards and score the rock in a variety of ways.

So-called "gurus" said he had a feathery jumper that he could extend to beyond the arc, which would certainly make the big fella a compelling threat in the Big East (Remember West Virginia's tattoo-drenched, sweet-stroking Kevin Pittsnogle?). Usually it's the haters that speak out, saying he can't do this, he can't do that, but most were majorly riding Majok's jock.

Jim Calhoun, UConn's Hall of Fame coach, has a penchant for super-sized, shot-altering bigs. Interior players with superior size and bar room brawling bigs (see Adrien, Jeff or Okafor, Emeka) who can seal the rims shut and crash the boards with a vengeance have been the lifeblood of UConn's frontline.

Majok is a figure of intrigue because he's advertised as a five-tool talent who can shoot, dish and own opponents on the glass.

So far, Majok been much more rumor than reality. Work in Progress are three words we should commonly associate with the hyped up to heaven-send recruit.

The big neophyte looks lost in UConn's speedball, fast break facilitating-style offense and has given a listless account of himself.

Defensively, Majok has also shown about as much fury as Chris Dudley on valium. He frequently gets saddled with foul trouble, which explains why the starter only averages 17.5 minutes per game.

Through four games, Majok is averaging a paltry 2.0 points and 3.8 boards. He hasn't been featured at all in an offense led by NBA prospects Stanley "Sticks" Robinson and Jerome Dyson. He's attempted just seven shots and hasn't snared more than six rebounds, even against goldfish (Maine, Central Florida) who can't swim with the Big East sharks. Majok hasn't been able to utilize that mid-range game.

Part of it is because Huskies point guard Kemba Walker, a New York City native who got his streetball teeth cut at the famed Rucker Park in Harlem, is more of a scoring guard. UConn DOES NOT install an offense that pounds the ball into the post. They play a brand of end-to-end basketball that emphasizes the running game, significantly.

“We’re definitely a faster team this year,” said Walker during a pre-season interview with ZSmart Sports this fall.

"It’s going to be an uptempo system."

So, Majok is projected to be more of a clean up man and boardsmith down low. While he could improve as the Big East portion of UConn's schedule picks up, Majok is still very much raw material.

Could he break out of this rough patch and pan out? Sure. But it doesn't look like it will happen anytime soon. The Huskies' top dogs (Walker, Robinson, Dyson, Gavin Edwards) have developed a rapport with each other and established chemistry while advancing all the way to the Final Four last year. Majok wasn't a part of that, and may take some time to mesh with his new squad.

He's still rough around the edges.

A work in progress.

Not a five-star recruit who bleeds NBA potential. Not the five-tool talent, rebound-inhaling beast that every die-hard UConn seemed to have him pegged as.

Bloggers lie, hype artists lie, numbers don't.