They have nearly 80 years of combined experience observing young players at high school tournaments, all-star contests, instructional camps, workouts and high school games.
The scrupulous attention they’ve paid to thousands of boys’ attitudes and basketball attributes on and around the court predate the advent of ESPN, the shot clock and 3-pointer, and shorts so baggy they resemble culottes.
Mention a basketball player, present or 30 years past, and either Tom Konchalski or Elmer “Brick” Oettinger can instantly unspool information regarding everything from where the youngster attended high school to how many points he scored in a particular game.
As practice opens for yet another men’s basketball season, there are simply no observers better at helping to gauge the newcomers at North Carolina’s ACC schools.
Wake Forest, struggling to escape the league’s lower reaches, can build around two gifted juniors, playmaker Codi Miller-McIntyre and post player Devin Thomas, the league’s top returning rebounder (7.5 per game).
Unfortunately, the transition from Jeff Bzdelik to new coach Danny Manning disrupted recruiting and sparked several transfers (Tyler Cavanaugh and Arnaud William Adala Moto).
Bzdelik’s top catch, 6-foot-3 guard Shelton Mitchell, withdrew his commitment and enrolled instead at Vanderbilt. There isn’t a top national prospect left among the six newcomers, in contrast with the league’s other in-state programs. The group does have its intriguing aspects, however.
Konstantinos “Kostas” Mitoglou, the tallest Wake Forest freshman at 6-10, is the best Greek big man to join the ACC since N.C. State’s Panagiotis “Pano” Fasoulas, a one-year wonder and fellow Thessaloniki product who led the 1985-86 Wolfpack in blocked shots.
Forward Cornelius Hudson, like Mitoglou a late signee, is a younger brother of Michael Crabtree, the San Francisco 49ers receiver. Combination guard Mitchell Wilbekin is a younger brother of Scottie Wilbekin, the 2014 SEC Player of the Year at Florida.
“He’s got good genes,” Oettinger says of the junior Wilbekin. “I didn’t think at the same stage he was as good as Scottie, but it’s not like I’m saying he’s a bad player. I’m comparing him to somebody who was really good.”
A brother tandem comprises half of N.C. State’s newcomers. According to Konchalski, twin 6-7 freshman forwards Cody and Caleb Martin are not as good as the ACC’s last male twins, David and Travis Wear, high school All-Americans who transferred after playing at North Carolina in 2009-10.
This year, Caleb Martin, considered the better prospect, had surgery on his right foot, slowing his development. He’s said to be more skilled and perimeter-oriented than his brother. Cody, older by a minute, is tabbed the superior rebounder.
Oettinger thinks the siblings from Mocksville “are talented enough to be contributors as freshmen.” Konchalski sees them as “journeymen.”
The talent scouts are more enthusiastic about 6-8, 235-pound freshman Abdul-Malik Abu. Oettinger, a Durham resident who writes for ACC Sports Journal and accsports.com, notes Abu’s athleticism. But, as with last year’s cluster of young interior players at N.C. State, Oettinger thinks Abu must upgrade his skills.
New York’s Konchalski, producer of HSBI Report, an evaluation newsletter for coaches, sees Abu as “a strong, physical kid with some skill.” He was particularly impressed with the Boston resident’s determination in refusing even a drop of water while playing two games in a summer tournament that fell during Ramadan.
Konchalski and Oettinger agree the Wolfpack’s top newcomer is Trevor Lacey, eligible after sitting out a year because of overly restrictive NCAA transfer rules. Lacey, a 6-3 junior guard, switched from Alabama, coach Mark Gottfried’s alma mater. He’s a strong driver, physical defender and competent ball-handler.
Most important for a squad that last year made 30.5 percent of its 3s, second-worst by an ACC team since 2000, Lacey is an adept outside shooter.
“He could be an impact player there,” Konchalski says.
Adds Oettinger: “He’s not a guy who’s going to be a superstar, but he’s going to be a good ACC player.”
When it comes to newcomers with impact potential, look to North Carolina and Duke, which brought in seven McDonald’s All-Americans between them. All are rated among the top 28 prospects by Rivals.com.
The trio added by Roy Williams at North Carolina help make the Tar Heels the 2014-15 ACC favorites. Point guard Joel Berry II reputedly is a respectable shooter and solid floor leader. “He won’t make mistakes,” Konchalski says. For now Berry projects to back up Marcus Paige, the frontrunner for ACC Player of the Year.
Greensboro’s Theo Pinson, coached at Wesleyan Christian Academy by Keith Gatlin, a former Maryland standout (1984-87), is a fluid 6-6 wing with a good shooting touch, solid ball skills, and sufficient athleticism to guard all three perimeter positions for the Tar Heels.
“He’s one of the better two-guards in the class,” Konchalski says. “He just needs to get a little stronger. He’s going to be a very good player for them.”
The most-touted Tar Heels freshman is Justin Jackson, a 6-8 wing who played for the same Houston AAU club as Kansas recruit Kelly Oubre and Duke’s Justise Winslow. The slender Jackson is known as a scorer with exceptional hands and a soft shooting touch.
“He has terrific skills,” says Oettinger, who played on UNC’s freshman team in 1960-61. “Flies up and down the court. He quick-shoots you around the basket.”
Duke’s foursome includes 6-1 Tyus Jones, a much-lauded point guard expected to press incumbent Quinn Cook for playing time. Konchalski praises the unflashy Jones as “a throwback player in that he’s so sound fundamentally.”
Oettinger admires the Minnesotan’s ability to drive to the basket and his decision-making en route. New backcourt mate Grayson Allen, a Floridian like Berry and Wake Forest’s Wilbekin, shoots and defends well. The 6-4 guard has a notably explosive first step to the basket.
Konchalski uses words like tough, strong and competitive to describe Allen, but expects him to ride the bench for a while.
Playing time is apt to come more quickly to 6-6 freshman Winslow. He too is strong and versatile, and Oettinger places him with UNC’s Pinson among the premier wing defenders in the class.
The forward comes from elite basketball stock – his father, Rickie Winslow, was a member of Houston’s Phi Slama Jama squads of the mid-1980s that featured Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler – and a bevy of dunks.
The capper on what Konchalski calls Duke’s banner recruiting class is mature 6-11 Jahlil Okafor, rated by many (including Rivals) as the year’s top freshman. The 260-pound Okafor has a smooth shooting touch, good footwork, an interior orientation, and a facility for running the court with purpose.
“He’s built like a bus, moves like a greyhound,” Konchalski says. (Presumably not a Greyhound bus.) Okafor is apparently the best pure low-post player recruited by Mike Krzyzewski, a fellow Chicagoan, since Elton Brand in the late 1990s.
In fact, Okafor could well follow Austin Rivers in 2012 and Jabari Parker last season as a one-and-done ACC Rookie of the Year at Duke. Enjoy him while you can.