At this point, it’s becoming pretty clear that Syracuse’s 2020 hoops recruiting class is going to be small. It doesn’t look like the Orange will be able to bring in more than about two players, maybe three if there’s an unexpected departure going forward. So with that in mind, as I headed into Drive Nation in Irving, Texas on Saturday morning I was focused on checking out the two players I think are most likely to fill out that small Syracuse recruiting class: Andre Jackson and Woody Newton.
Let’s jump right into things, beginning with Andre, the local kid playing for the City Rocks who, at this point, I think everyone expects to wind up wearing Orange. At 6-foot-6, Jackson has a long, lanky frame that looks like the ideal shooting guard, but his game is definitely that of a small forward at the moment. If you’ve checked Andre out at all, you know that he’s a freak athlete. And let me tell you: in person, he does not disappoint in that department.
Jackson ended up scoring 23 points in the game I saw against BABC out of Boston, a game in which the City Rocks trailed by about 8-12 points for most of the game before turning things up defensively and using transition offense to chip away and eventually assert control in the fourth quarter. Jackson was very much at the forefront of that comeback. After struggling a little to finish in the first half, he became a dominant force, particularly in the fourth quarter. In essence, that fourth quarter basically became a one-man dunk contest for Dre. I lost count, but he must have had 3-4 in those final nine minutes, and missed another where it looked like his speed and momentum got the best of him and he was unable to adjust enough to finish.
And let me tell you: his explosiveness is insane. I tweeted this yesterday as well, but I’ll just underline it here: if Andre Jackson comes to Syracuse, I honestly don’t think I could name a more explosive athlete to put on the uniform since I’ve been watching Orange hoops. It’s not just that he can jump (and, oh man, can he ever jump). It’s how quickly he gets up, and how violently he finishes at the rim. Jackson thrives in transition, and once he gets the ball on the wing with even a little bit of space, you know immediately he’s going to rise up and try to jam it on anyone foolish enough to get in his way.
That said, there are some flaws in Jackson’s game. For as great as he is in the lane (including, for his second basket of the game yesterday, catching the ball at the top of the key, taking a couple dribbles, taking off from about 10-12 feet out and tomahawking it through traffic), he really struggles to score anywhere else. Any sort of perimeter game is essentially non-existent at this point in his young career, but that’s obviously something he can work on improving moving forward. It’s a trade-off you’ve got to accept to get his otherworldly athleticism on your roster.
Of course, another area where Jackson desperately needs to improve is on the free throw line. Given how aggressively he takes the ball to the rack, he’s going to get fouled a lot. Right now, he’s just not a very good free throw shooter. That’s going to need to change considering how many trips he’ll be taking to the line at the next level. His handle is solid, if not spectacular, though he did get his pocket picked a couple times. One area that I didn’t expect to be at the level I saw was his court vision and passing. I was surprised by how well he sees the floor and moves the ball.
Defensively, while Jackson projects to be a small forward offensively, it’s clear he’d do the most damage at Syracuse playing at the top of the 2-3. First of all, as I mentioned, his build is that of a shooting guard. He’s got long arms and tremendous quickness, and did a nice job getting into passing lanes yesterday. Put him at the top of the zone and you could see some real fireworks in transition.
Overall, I like Jackson as a prospect. He’s incredibly exciting to watch, but certainly has room for improvement. If he chooses the Orange, he’ll immediately become one of the program’s most exciting open court players in memory.
I didn’t get to see all of Woody Newton’s afternoon game, but from what I saw it’s clear why Syracuse likes the 6-foot-8 forward. He’s long, lanky, and just looks like the prototypical Orange forward. He’s not quite a power forward, and not quite a small forward, but you take one look at him and see how impactful he could be at the back of the vaunted 2-3 zone.
I’m not sure an AAU setting is the right place for a guy like Newton to really showcase his game, because from what I saw, he seemed to play a pretty unselfish brand of basketball that’s easy to kind of just ignore in the flashy world of EYBL. He moved the ball, moved without the ball, and looked to set a lot of screens. But he’s also got real offensive skill. In fact, his overall offensive game is above that of Andre Jackson’s, if for no other reason than the fact he can stretch the floor out to the three point line. At this point he’s not going to trick you into believing he’s James Southerland in terms of three point proficiency, but he’s already got a better deep shooting stroke than, say, Jerami Grant at the same age.
Newton also handles the ball well, and looked solid battling for rebounds despite his flight frame. With his rebounding, handle, and quickness, he showed the ability to grab a board, and then turn and push the ball himself, always making a smart decision in the process in terms of knowing when to give it up, and where to pass.
Strength is going to be a concern for Newton, as it tends to be for Syracuse forwards with his build every time the Orange bring the new model in. The game I saw, he struggled a bit to finish through contact at the rim, something that will improve with added bulk. He’s athletic enough and handles the ball well enough to get to the rack… now he just needs to focus on getting strong enough to consistently finish with authority.
Newton will announce his college decision on Tuesday, and right now I like where the Orange sit for both Woody and Andre Jackson. Both players have outstanding length and athleticism, and the upside to both guys makes them tantalizing prospects. If the Orange wind up with both players, we should be pretty damn satisfied with how they project moving forward.