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Andre the Giant

Mon, 12/19/2011 - 11:31pm

Andre DrummondAndre DrummondProjected No. 1 pick Andre Drummond broke out with a career night Sunday, posting 24 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks. Granted, the effort came against Holy Cross, which isn't exactly a basketball juggernaut.

Drummond's performance was noteworthy because he's quickly developing the confidence to be a dominant force on the college level.

He made 11 of 12 shots from the floor, knocking down three impressive mid-range jumpers, a jump-hook and numerous ally-oop dunks. He blocked shots and displayed his freakish speed in the open floor. He capped everything off by turning on a dime and making a beautiful 3/4-court outlet pass in the closing minutes.

Drummond is a personable, fun loving kid who seems to understand how to flip the switch on the court. Against Holy Cross, he showed that he really enjoys the game and could be seen supporting teammates after made baskets.

At 6-11, 270 lbs, Drummond may be UConn's fastest player, coaches say. Let that sink in for a minute.

We first wrote about Drummond in August of 2009 when he was 15 in an article called "Hoops Prodigy: Andre Drummond." Drummond had announced his presence at an AAU event in Orlando and displayed the unmistakable potential of a future NBA superstar.

In this day and age of Internet hype, it's easy for young prospects who get labeled future superstars to buy into their own hype, lose motivation, and develop poor work habits. Players such as Derrick Caracter (who was once labeled the next Shaq at age 15) and Renardo Sidney (thought to be the best player in high school regardless of class at 15), are examples of players who have fallen from grace and far short of their potential.

Andre DrummondAndre DrummondDespite his immense talent, Drummond has gone through bouts of inconsistency and was not considered the unanimous top prospect in his class. When he reclassified into the Class of 2011 this summer, many recruiting gurus ranked him behind Kentucky bound Anthony Davis.

A number of draft experts followed suit and placed Davis at the top of their draft boards.

Davis is having a fine season and is an extremely intriguing prospect in his own right, with the length and athleticism to be a Marcus Camby-level shot blocker and defender in the NBA. But as one scout contact recently told us, "I see guys like Davis all the time. Guys like Drummond are rare. We haven't seen a guy like him since Oden, which has been five years. He's in the same class with Dwight Howard and Amare. Bigmen with that combination of size, freakish athleticism, and strength are hard to come by."

The scout added, "Some scouts feel that he doesn't have a good feel for the game, but he actually has a GREAT feel for the game. He just needs to gain confidence and learn the nuances and how to play in a structured environment. He plays hard, his motor is not an issue. The only thing he needs to sustain is his confidence."

The scout went on to say that while it's far too early to anoint anyone a lock for the top pick, Drummond is clearly the front runner.

Before the season, we were critical of Drummond's announcement that he would go to a small prep school, despite the fact that he was eligible to go to college. Whether or not Andre (and his advisers) read our criticism/advice, his great decision in September to attend UConn and play under Jim Calhoun, whom we consider the top NCAA coach at developing NBA prospects, will be extremely beneficial to his career.

Drummond is finally getting comfortable after playing the first month of the season with a Phantom of the Opera-like mask on his face after breaking his nose in a pre-season practice in late October. The mask seemed to inhibit his vision and overall comfort level on the floor.

He started slow but has had an uptick in production with four out of his last five games scoring at least 12 points. After 10 games, his season averages are up to 9.4 ppg, (59% fg) 6.2 rpg and 3 bpg.

With the mask now off, the nation is being put on notice: A freshman phenom is gaining momentum and confidence up in Storrs, Connecticut.

Despite losing their heart and soul from last year's team, Kemba Walker, these Huskies are an even stronger bunch with championship experience and a number of quality freshmen, including Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels. They began last season outside the top 25 and entered the NCAA tourney as a three seed. This year, they were a consensus preseason top five team and stand an excellent chance to earn a top seed in the tourney barring any significant injuries.

There are a number of talented teams who are more highly regarded (North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio State and Syracuse) at this point. But UConn's giant in the middle gives them as good a shot as anyone to cut down the nets in New Orleans in April.

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