August 2, 2011

Best is heading south

Kevin McCarthy

Michael Best made it happen. Despite not participating in club ball during the spring and summer of last year, the 6-foot-10 Best has earned a scholarship from a Big West Conference member.

photo of Michael Best

Gaining exposure by playing with Joe Fuca's 2011 Lakeshow squad, Best piled up the suitors and has committed to UC Irvine and Coach Russell Turner.

Here's Fuca on Best: "Mike was a complete game changer. He got the job done for us when we went on our 12 and 1 start by blocking all kinds of shots and posting a double-double in most games. Mike is also a great shooter who can hit from all spots on the court. He became a great leader in our program."

Best detailed a number of reasons for his decision: "It's a great area and I got along well with Coach Turner and his staff and the team has a chance of winning the league. Plus, there aren't a lot of big man coaches in college." Best recalled that Turner, who stands 6-foot-7, coached Tim Duncan when the latter was at Wake Forest and that Turner also worked with Andris Biedrins during a coaching stint with the Golden State Warriors.

Remarkably, Best had hopes for landing in D-1 but was also entertaining the thought that going D-2 was in his future.

Turner and Best first talked in April and the former came up north for a visit a week later. An unofficial campus visit occurred in May.

Best said he will be playing center for the Anteaters.and that "the opportunity for playing time" was another factor in his choice.

Irvine seniors Peter Simek and Pavol Losonsky have graduated and power forward Eric Wise transferred out, leaving newcomer Will Davis, the 6-foot-9 former Sacramento High big who just completed a post grad season at New Hampton School in New Hampshire in the middle. 6-foot-9 sophomore John Ryan will be redshirting this coming season after transferring from Fresno State.

Philippe Doherty, the former assistant coach at USF and a longtime Bay Area basketball fixture who is now in Sacramento, had quite a lot to say about Best and his recruitment process.

Doherty opened with, "Having seen Michael up close and personal and working with him the last three Falls at Jeremy Russotti's North Bay's Finest Events, Michael has showed constant improvement and a passion to work and get better. Usually you have to beg kids to work hard and train but, with Michael, you actually had to remind him to get rest because he would go so hard. This past Fall, Michael came to consecutive events just because he wanted to get better. Mind you, these showcases aren't where many games are played but rather where you get seven hours of position-specific training in two days. Since I always work with the bigs, I took a liking to Michael as he constantly wanted more and wanted to be coached."

About Best's skills, Doherty offered "Michael is a 6-foot-9 skilled forward who is also athletic. He has unbelievable timing ability and keeps most of his blocked shots in play -- his gigantic wing span impacts the game in so many ways on the defensive side of the ball. Michael can also run the floor, is a great finisher,and has great hands. He also can really shoot the basketball -- he actually shoots it better than most guards and has range out to the three-point line. Michael is also an above 80 per cent free throw shooter which is a great skill."

As for Best's future, Doherty close by offering "Michael will shine in college because he will grow into his body and has the offensive skill set to impact the game. He has great skill and is very bouncy. Michael's length and athleticism will impact the game on the defensive side of the ball immediately at the next level. If he played in the OAL, EBAL, or the WCAL, he would have had 10-15 scholarship offers by his senior year. However Michael played in the MCAL [at Terra Linda High], and sometimes labels are formed which make it hard for exposure to be garnered. If Michael had played AAU the previous summers, he would have been a known commodity and his recruiting would have picked up a great deal. It wasn't until after his senior basketball season and some prodding with college coaches that people finally took notice. Not many people invested the time to recruit him and evaluate his game because he played in a league not known for big men. Also, coaches always shied away because Michael is skinny, however skill and athleticism always trumps someone's build. Michael will continue to grow and add to his frame and will have a solid career in the Big West at a level where he will be able to impact the game on both sides of the ball. UC Irvine got a great kid and talent in Michael, and he will be coached by one of the best in the business when it comes to working with big men in Russell Turner. Michael is lucky to have found a great match in school and coach, and sometimes having some patience and waiting can land you a perfect match."

So a pair of northern California talents (Will Davis), both frosh, will be holding down the center spot for UCI as Turner will be set for paint players for years now. Backcourter Travis Souza is also Irvine bound and former San Ramon Valley star guard Chris McNealy just completed his initial season in Orange County, and Brandon Scott is coming off of a redshirt year.

An ancillary benefit is that Hawaii joins the Big West a year hence so the Anteaters will be making an annual journey to the islands in cold January or colder February to face the Rainbow Warriors amid warm sun, sand and bikinis.