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Analyzing what skilled forward Billy Preston will bring to Kansas next season

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Oak Hill Academy's Billy Preston #23 in action against Nathan Hale during the second half of a high school basketball game at the 2017 Hoophall Classic on Monday, January 16, 2017, in Springfield, MA. Nathan Hale won 80-77. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Oak Hill Academy's Billy Preston #23 in action against Nathan Hale during the second half of a high school basketball game at the 2017 Hoophall Classic on Monday, January 16, 2017, in Springfield, MA. Nathan Hale won 80-77. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

With the Kansas basketball team’s season over a week earlier than those in Lawrence hoped, it became easy to look ahead to the 2017-18 season and what kind of team Bill Self will be able to put on the floor.

Those thoughts conveniently coincided with the 40th Annual McDonald’s All-American Game and KU-bound Billy Preston’s appearance in the Chicago showcase, where he put up 10 points and hit a pair of 3-pointers in 16 minutes.

One can only learn so much about a top-rated high school player via YouTube mixtapes and nationally-televised all-star games, though. So I was excited to find out Wednesday night wasn’t the only time Preston’s game would be on display. As it turns out, his Oak Hill Academy (Va.) team also played Thursday afternoon — yes, as in: less than 24 hours after the McDonald’s game — at the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School Nationals, in New York — as in: nowhere near The Windy City. ESPNU broadcasted the quarterfinals of the eight-team tournament, giving us the opportunity to analyze Preston’s game in a slightly more competitive setting.

You may have learned by now Preston, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward ranked No. 8 in the Class of 2017 by Rivals, went for 21 points and 9 rebounds in his high school finale against Findlay Prep (Nev.) on the short turn-around that involved an early-morning flight from Chicago to NYC. Preston’s Hall of Fame coach, Steve Smith, said Oak Hill’s star forward, who came in off the bench on Thursday, was tired entering his second ESPN-broadcasted event in one day.

Jet lag might have played a factor in the the future Jayhawk’s performance. But who could pass up a sneak peek at Preston, particularly given he spent much of the game competing against Kentucky signee P.J. Washington, a 6-7 prospect ranked 11th in the class by Rivals.

What follows are observations of Preston on both ends of the floor during a 77-65 victory by Findlay.

FIRST QUARTER

OFFENSE

  • Down 13-5 before he subbed in for good, Preston spent his first couple of possessions occupying the space near the free-throw line and top of the key against Findlay’s 2-3 zone. He first touched the basketball going up for an offensive rebound several possessions later

  • Preston’s first true touch within the offense came in the final minute of the first quarter. He took a jumper from roughly 17 feet, which rimmed out.

  • Got in the scoring column by running the floor with guard Ty-Shon Alexander, a Creighton commit. Alexander sucked the defense in, setting Preston up for an easy, two-handed flush.

  • After going many of his initial minutes against Findlay un-utilized, Preston got the ball with the first-quarter clock winding down by finding an opening in the zone, at the free-throw line. Preston rose up to drill a jumper. Very Marcus/Markieff Morris of him.

DEFENSE

  • Just getting into the game’s flow, Preston went under a screen and his man, Kentucky-bound Washington, knocked down a 3-pointer on the right wing.

  • Preston moved well in the half court but didn’t assert himself at times.

SECOND QUARTER

OFFENSE

  • Upon securing a long defensive rebound, Preston showed his ball-handling ability, pushing it up the floor and using a hesitation dribble and cross-over to get into the paint, before finding a wide-open teammate in the left corner.

  • After his transition push, the ball swung over to the opposite side of the floor and Preston jumped out of bounds to keep the ball alive on a missed shot, allowing Oak Hill to retain possession.

  • With a smaller defender on him on the perimeter, Preston displayed a quick and effective behind-the-back dribble going left to right to create some space before moving the ball to to a teammate when a help defender came his way.

  • Posting up on the left baseline with an immense height advantage, Preston took three back-down dribbles before turning into the paint, drawing three defenders and dropping off a perfect pass for guard Lindell Wigginton, an Iowa State signee.

  • On a catch in the right corner, Preston sized up the defender in front of him, took a dribble to his right and drained a long 2-pointer (had a toe on the arc) to give Oak Hill a three-point lead in the final minutes of the first half.

  • After showing his willingness to keep the ball moving within the offense, Preston flashed to the ball at the right elbow and used his strength and athleticism to get off a difficult fall-away jumper that he left short.

  • Trapped in the back court, near the right sideline against Findlay’s full-court press, Preston put too much air under a diagonal pass into the front court, resulting in a turnover.

  • With Findlay still pressing in the final minute of the quarter, Preston waited along the baseline for Oak Hill to break the pressure, then cut hard toward the rim to receive a lob pass from future Texas Longhorn Matt Coleman. Preston finished it with an easy layup.

DEFENSE

  • Though he anticipated the screens coming in the paint as he began chasing Washington from the left wing to the right corner, Preston left his man with a little too much space and the future Wildcat buried a 3-pointer over the soon-to-be Jayhawk. You could tell that Washington is more of a true perimeter player and Preston was doing his best as a rangy man to defend him. Washington will play small forward at Kentucky and Preston will be more like a stretch-4 for Self at Kansas.

  • Charged with defending Washington with an on-the-ball screen coming, Preston let his big man show before jumping back into position, but he did so at an angle that allowed Washington to drive to the left side of the paint for a layup attempt, which his foe missed.

  • Unable to haul in a layup attempt altered by one of his teammates, Preston couldn’t recover quickly enough to prevent an easy second-chance bucket in front of him.

THIRD QUARTER

OFFENSE

  • Left wide-open on the right wing, Preston’s first touch of the second half, which he started and played every minute in, resulted in a smooth and easy 3-pointer.

  • After running the floor and finding an open spot on the right side, Preston looked effortless rising up on a catch, and in one motion sent another 3 splashing through the net.

  • Fresh off a steal at the opposite end of the court, Preston took off for the right sideline, caught the ball behind the 3-point line, made a head fake to get space and elevated for a pretty 2-point jumper.

  • His 7-foot wingspan made it easy for Preston to control an offensive rebound off a missed 3 by Wigginton.

  • A rare offensive miscue, Preston caught a pass on the left wing, made two strong dribbles toward the left block but turned the ball over while trying to get up for a shot.

  • Showing how his size and athleticism could make him a problem for opponents in the open floor, Preston went right at his man in a one-on-one opportunity to draw a foul.

  • Defenders will have a difficult time closing out on Preston, who can shoot or drive. He went right by Washington on one possession after catching the ball in the left corner. The play resulted in a missed shot in the paint once the help came over, but served as a reminder of the forward’s multiple skills.

DEFENSE

  • After helping off Washington to protect the paint, Preston closed back out to his man but left himself suspect to a drive. Washington took advantage and got past Preston, and although the UK-bound forward missed he beat Preston to the offensive board.

  • Lurking in the paint in Oak Hill’s zone when a pass came in his area, Preston knocked it away for a steal and then ran the floor to get another quality offensive look.

  • Manning the spot on the right baseline within the 2-3 zone, Preston didn’t slide over to cut off a pass to the paint after his teammates shifted to the left side of the floor and Findlay scored an easy lay-in.

FOURTH QUARTER

OFFENSE

  • Receiving the ball on the move to the hoop on a baseline-out-of-bounds set, Preston initially had his shot rejected by Washington before gathering the miss and powering his way over his defender for a basket inside.

  • In response to Findlay taking a double-digit lead, Preston attacked the paint in a three-on-three situation, forcing the defenders to converge on him before he dished an assist.

  • Late in the game, Preston delivered his top highlight. Once Oak Hill solved the press, Wigginton had Preston breaking from the left side and floated a pass above the rim for the KU signee to flush with a two-handed slam.

  • Not a dazzling passer, Preston is an effective one. In the final minutes with the game all but decided he whizzed a pass ahead while pushing the ball toward mid-court, finding a teammate for a successful 3-pointer.

  • Missed a corner 3-pointer and a potential one-handed alley-oop in the final 30 seconds, with Oak Hill down 15.

DEFENSE

  • Gave up an offensive rebound inside with Oak Hill down 10 and just more than four minutes remaining. … Surrendered another offensive board less than a minute later.

As Matt Tait rightly pointed out earlier this week, Preston is not Josh Jackson; nor should fans expect him to be.

Jackson is a top-three pick in this year’s draft. As of now at least, DraftExpress.com doesn’t even project Preston as a one-and-done 2018 early entry. That obviously qualifies as good news for Kansas. Two years of a high school all-American sure beats one.

The biggest difference between Jackson and KU’s latest blue-chipper has to be their level of intensity, not to mention Jackson’s dazzling passing ability and court vision.

ESPNU analyst Paul Biancardi said the following of Preston during the broadcast: “I mean this in the nicest way. Billy Preston has one-and-done ability, but he has four-and-out … effort. It’s not the talent with Billy Preston. It’s the consistent effort.”

It could take Preston a while to adapt to the college level, the analyst suggested, but Biancardi also went on to praise the Kansas signee at various points, especially regarding his shot selection, which often involved Oak Hill’s top frontcourt player making quick decisions with the ball in his hands.

Just how long Preston sticks around at KU remains to be seen, but the smooth-shooting forward will become a fan favorite. And you have to figure Self and his assistants will determine how to light a fire under Preston and get him to compete harder on both ends of the floor.

Now that his high school playing days are through, it’s time for Preston to embrace the idea of constant improvement, because that’s what will get him to his ultimate destination, the NBA.

None by Billy Preston♕

None by Billy Preston♕

Comments

Steve Johnson 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Welcome to Kansas young man. We are happy to have you and welcome you to our family! Be patient and play within the system and you will have a great career.

Humpy Helsel 3 weeks, 5 days ago

I am sure this young man will be a good player, but the standard of OAD has been set at KU forever by Josh Jackson. Very doubtful anyone will ever surpass it. It will be a special player to surpass what he did in their Freshman year. We could only hope as much.

Harlan Hobbs 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Unfortunately, it comes down to money most likely. Given his size and versatility, the NBA would likely take a chance on him as soon as they can. I hope that I am wrong, but I will predict a one and done.

Layne Pierce 3 weeks, 1 day ago

America. The land of opportunity. As long as NBA teams pay for potential, totally unprepared players will take the $. That is what makes it all the more miraculous that the Florida players stayed together to win the 2nd won in a row. Not sure it will ever happen again.

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