Mystery Man Revealed - Scouting Report on CanesHoops JUCO signee (UPDATED)

Josh Frank

Coming off of winning the ACC double and making the Sweet 16 in 2013, the Miami Hurricanes signed what is widely considered to be one of the top 30 recruiting classes nationally for 2014. The three high school players - Ja'Quan Newton, James Palmer and Omar Sherman - have received extensive coverage by the major recruiting sites. Rivals.com referred to Harcum College big man Ivan Cruz Uceda as "the wild card" of the class.

We had an opportunity to send SOTU hoops consigliere Josh Frank (@JoshDaCane) on a recon mission to watch Cruz Uceda against Baltimore City Community College last month, and to chat a bit with him and Harcum coach Drew Kelly after the game. Here is his scouting report:

Two caveats, Canes fans. The first is that junior college basketball is not suited to a cerebral, skilled big man like Cruz Uceda. Coach Kelly explained to us that junior college basketball is "up and down," and that he generally likes to full-court press and try and score "120 points per game." Kelly's teams, which have been extremely successful since he established the Harcum program in 2005-2006, are often at or near the top of the NJCAA in points per games and three-point attempts. Though Kelly's team has not surrendered any momentum this season, scoring over 92 points per game and attempting over 24 three-pointers on average, he believes that a good coach "has to adjust to [his] personnel." The team has settled into a two-three zone to take advantage of its long frontcourt, and is trying to work the ball inside more, though Kelly admits that it is a "work in progress."

This leads to the second caveat. In addition to a game that is far less suited to him than Division I basketball, almost all of Cruz Uceda's teammates are angling to fill up the stat sheet in order to impress college coaches who may not be able to track them in person. He, of course, has already signed a Letter of Intent with Miami. Though he admits that as a competitive player, he wants more touches, Cruz Uceda ultimately doesn't care about statistics. "I care about us winning and what I can do to help us win," he said.

Statistically, Cruz Uceda had what could considered a pedestrian game in Harcum's 93-74 victory. He played 26 minutes, scoring eight points (4-6 FG), grabbing six rebounds, and adding two assists and a block. One could only wish that they'd seen the earlier game when he scored 21 points and had a school-record 29 rebounds. However, there were plenty of flashes that should have Miami fans excited about his potential. On the season, Cruz Uceda is averaging a double-double with 14.0 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, and is shooting 62.3 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from three-point range, with six double-doubles through Harcum's first 13 games. Though we didn't see him at his best, SOTU will keep tabs on him throughout the season and we hope to see him in action again soon.

Strengths:

1. High IQ/Maturity - Cruz Uceda will be 23 years old at the start of his junior season at Miami, and his maturity was evident on the floor. He consistently was in the right position and made the right plays, and made decisive moves on his rare offensive touches. Though he was credited with four turnovers, none of them resulted from making the wrong play, and three of them may have been more attributable to his teammates' court awareness than anything that he did (one of them was a questionable offensive foul).

2. Offensive Versatility - Cruz Uceda showed a solid jump shot while warming up, though his one three-point attempt during the game rimmed out. He showed offensive aptitude in the post, scoring all four buckets from the paint (and drawing several non-shooting fouls), as well as in the high post and around the perimeter, setting solid screens and making correct passes. There was not much of an opportunity to see him put the ball on the floor, but he won't be asked to do that consistently in the Miami offense.

3. Rebounding - Though he was only credited with six rebounds on the night, Cruz Uceda is currently averaging 11 rebounds per game on the young season. At his current pace, he would leave Harcum as the leader in career rebounds, single-season rebounds, single-game rebounds, and per game averages for both a career and season. Playing in a zone with two other players who were taller than the opponent's tallest player limited his individual chances, but Cruz Uceda always looked to box out and put a body on an opponent, and often made subtle positioning changes based on where the shot was coming from.

4. Good Hands - Obviously, someone with this level of rebounding prowess will have good hands. But Hurricanes fans will be comforted to know that Uceda showed them on the offensive end as well. Two of his buckets came off of clean catches from penetrating guards, where he quickly laid the ball in the basket. His two others came off of clean catches on post-entry passes, where he made a one-dribble move before the defender even had time to gather himself.

Weaknesses/Questions:

1. Strength and Physical Development - Cruz Uceda admits himself that he needs to work on his physique. At the JUCO level, there is very little organized strength and conditioning, and he rarely gets into a weight room. Though Cruz Uceda is a legit 6'10" (he told us that Harcum wanted to list us at 6'11", but he "didn't want to lie") and 230 pounds, there is a big need to get stronger and improve his athleticism to compete with the types of players he will see nightly in the ACC. Additionally, Cruz Uceda averages 25 minutes per game at Harcum (in an admittedly faster paced game) - how will he handle potentially playing similar or greater minutes in a more physical game? The Miami staff has placed an emphasis on strength and conditioning and Cruz Uceda will have the opportunity to improve in these areas during his first summer in Miami.

2. Defense - Quite frankly, there is very little defense played at the JUCO level. Harcum takes advantage of a large and talented backline to play a low-risk, two-three zone that, similarly to Syracuse, limits the development of man-to-man defense among its players. Cruz Uceda showed good timing in blocking a fast break layup attempt, and is averaging more than one block per game on the season. However, he will have to step up the intensity and defensive awareness to keep up with a Miami team that is more likely to take advantage of its deep and athletic roster to scramble and play tight man-to-man defense the next two years.

3. Being a focus of the offense - As noted earlier, big men simply not the focus in JUCO basketball. Cruz Uceda averages 8.8 shots for a team that averages just under 65 shots per game. Kenny Kadji averaged nearly 10 shots for a Hurricanes team that averaged 54.7 shots per game his senior year. Along with James Kelly, Cruz Uceda is likely to be the most offensively advanced big man on next year's Hurricanes - is he prepared to be more involved and accordingly, to be more of a focal point of defenses?

Update 02/23/14 (Courtesy Josh Frank):

According to the NJCAA website, Ivan had 20 points and 16 rebounds last night in a 76-71 Harcum win over ASA College (Bishop Daniels' JUCO, FWIW, but he did not play). Based off of the statistics on the Harcum website and the NJCAA website, Ivan now has 562 rebounds over his two seasons - which is a school record, beating the previous record of 557. He now has 274 rebounds on the year, and with tournament games yet to come, has an outside shot at the school's season record of 304. He is averaging 9.8 rebounds per game on the year, down from 10.67 per game last year (also a school record) and set the school single-game record with a 29 rebound performance in December 2013.

On the year, Cruz Uceda is averaging 14.2 points on 63.7 percent shooting from the field, 45.8 percent from three (27-59), and 74.4 percent from the line (58-78). He's also averaging 9.8 rebounds, as stated above, to go along with 2.0 assists, 1.3 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game.
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