Jason Kidd

R.J. Hampton, LaMelo Ball making case to be Warriors' draft selection

R.J. Hampton, LaMelo Ball making case to be Warriors' draft selection

The Warriors are going to have a very high draft pick. That much seems obvious. What's less obvious is which prospects they might be zeroing in on as the missing piece of Golden State's next championship pursuit.

Some prospects like Memphis' James Wiseman, Georgia's Anthony Edwards and North Carolina's Cole Anthony are all stateside -- Golden State doesn't have to send scouts very far to get a glimpse of any of them.

Two other highly-rated prospects, however, require a far greater trek to evaluate them in person, as 18-year-olds LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton currently play in the NBL, Australia's top basketball league. Both players elected to go overseas for their final year of basketball before entering the NBA draft, rather than enroll in a collegiate program or join the G League.

Liam Santamaria is a writer and broadcaster for the NBL, and whereas the Warriors likely haven't had a ton of opportunities to see Ball and Hampton firsthand, Santamaria has had no such issues. So far, he has been blown away by what he has seen from the two young prospects.

"I've been not just impressed with the way they've played and the improvement that they've shown in their game over the course of the season thus far in Australia," Santamaria told NBC Sports Bay Area, "but also just how they've handled themselves on the court with their teammates, in the heat of battle in a professional situation like this."

The two phenoms currently find themselves in quite different scenarios. Ball, playing for the Illawarra Hawks, has far less talent around him than Hampton does on the New Zealand Breakers, where he plays alongside the likes of former NBA players, McDonald's All-Americans and foreign league MVPs. Consequently, Ball fittingly has the rock in his hands more often than Hampton does, which helps explains why Ball's stats are so comparatively eye-popping.

"While he hasn't been putting up the same kind of stat sheet-stuffing performances as LaMelo, I think he's actually been equally as impressive," Santamaria said of Hampton.

Both Ball and Hampton project as guards at the NBA level, but they're different kinds of players.

Ball has a knack for highlight-reel plays, but still needs to round out his game.

"He's obviously a phenomenally talented playmaker, and his feel for the game is incredible," Santamaria described Ball. "And we knew that coming in, but his game still is for the most part pretty raw."

Specifically, Ball's shooting mechanics and defense remain works in progress.

"When he arrived here in Australia and started playing, it looked like he'd never really been taught much of anything about how to defend," Santamaria recalled. "The fundamentals of 1-on-1 containment defense, but also fundamental concepts of playing defense off the ball, five guys defending as one ... just team defensive concepts. And that for me is the area that I think has probably undergone the most rapid improvement because he was almost nonexistent as a defender when he first stepped on Australian shores. Now you can see him taking some big strides in that regard. He's much more engaged at that end of the floor."

Hampton, on the other hand, is more refined at this stage of his young career and has what Santamaria described as better fundamentals than Ball currently possesses. 

"R.J. looks to me like he's a sure-fire certain thing, in terms of panning out to be a really productive pro," Santamaria summarized. "He has a great combination of size, length, athleticism, explosive quickness and basketball IQ."

As Ball and Hampton go through the draft process, they inevitably will be compared to other NBA stars, past and present. Santamaria has already begun that process.

"There's an element of Jason Kidd, for me," he said of Ball's comparison. "Where he just looks like he's got that thing on a string and makes those passes and plays look so easy." 

Santamaria added that Ball particularly reminds him of Kidd when handling the ball in the open court. Ironically, his comparison for Hampton involved another guard who has proven to be exceptional in the open court.

"He doesn't have the kind of strength and the kind of muscular frame yet that [Russell] Westbrook has, but when he gets that ball in the backcourt and starts pounding it, his head's on a swivel offensively and he's super quick attacking, putting heat on the rim," Santamaria said of Hampton. "In those situations, I see elements of Westbrook in his game. If he can become a little stronger and bounce off physicality like Westbrook does, I think that comparison might become more obvious over time."

As such, if the Warriors choose to draft another guard -- which seems unlikely, considering the presence of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, not to mention D'Angelo Russell -- it would appear they have a couple of fantastic prospects to choose from. If they come anywhere close to living up to Santamaria's lofty comparisons, they almost assuredly will have been worth the high draft selection.

[RELATED: Top NBA draft prospect LaMelo Ball is a big fan of Steph]

So, if push comes to shove, which one should the Warriors choose?

In formulating his answer, Santamaria mentioned yet another NBA MVP.

"Well, Bob Myers -- it depends if he's ready to swing for the fences, because LaMelo Ball is that swing-for-the-fences pick," he said. "Somebody's going to be brave enough to do it. I'm certainly not going to say he's going to be an NBA MVP at any point, but Giannis Antetokounmpo was a swing-for-the-fences pick a few years ago that a lot of teams decided they didn't want to or didn't have the courage to take. The Bucks did, and they have reaped the rewards. I think LaMelo Ball is going to fall into that category a little bit as well.

"If Myers and the organization have the courage to swing that bat, then he could very well be a home run."

The Warriors have long been expected to pursue Antetokounmpo if and when he hits free agency. There's no one quite like the Greek Freak, but perhaps Golden State ends up with its own version of him.

Schea Cotton story is cautionary tale for future prep basketball stars


Schea Cotton story is cautionary tale for future prep basketball stars

OAKLAND -- Basketball legends don’t grow on trees. Sometimes, they don’t grow at all.

Jason Kidd kept growing and was inducted into the Hall of Fame. LeBron James kept growing and will enter the Hall as soon as he is eligible. 

Schea Cotton, whose breathless teenage hype matched that of Kidd and James, even sharing their status as being subject of features in Sports Illustrated, was not as fortunate.

Once described by AAU opponent Kevin Garnett as “LeBron before LeBron,” Cotton was not as fortunate. A star sophomore at powerhouse Mater Dei High School in Orange County, he was the biggest name in West Coast prep basketball. Folklore at 16.

An emotional wreck by 19.

A shattered dream before he turned 21.

Cotton, now 41, wants you to know of his journey. He has produced a documentary, “Manchild: The Schea Cotton Story,” that will be shown Friday night at Castlemont High and Saturday at Oakland Tech.

“It’s a humanitarian story," he said Thursday morning. “I was the No. 1 player in North America in 1995. I was 15, 16 years old and everybody thought I was sure-fire, can’t-miss NBA lottery pick. And the car came off the tracks.

“If it happened to me, it can happen to anybody. I don’t want this to happen to anybody else.”

Cotton was 6-foot and throwing down dunks at 13, winning dunk contests at 14, leading Mater Dei to a state championship at 15 and being stalked by shoe companies. He was, by many recruiting services, the top prep in the nation at 16.

What followed, though, was a couple troublesome injuries, leading to a meandering road of junior colleges and colleges, the last being the University of Alabama, and miles of NCAA red tape, mostly related to challenging Cotton’s academic status.

And, ultimately, there was the abject disappointment of declaring for the 2000 NBA draft and not hearing his name called.

One of the labels that cost Cotton was “tweener.” At 6-6, 220, he was considered too small to be a power forward and too muscular to be a wing.

The Orlando Magic invited Cotton on its Summer League team, which competed only once before being canceled when another invitee, Conrad McRae, collapsed and died at a practice in Irvine. From there, Cotton got no further on American soil than the minor leagues, such as the American Basketball Association (ABA) and the Continental Basketball Association (CBA).

Cotton’s professional basketball career consists of a few seasons abroad -- Europe, China, Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

It’s not what he visualized in high school, and he didn’t see it clearly until his early 20s. Along the way, he fought off bouts of depression and even considered suicide.

Cotton wants to share his experience with youngsters aspiring to reach the NBA, their parents and anyone else looking out for their best interests.

“I want them inspired,” Cotton said of his audience. “I want them to realize they have to take their education seriously and to very conscious of their support group. Like they always say, ‘If you want to see your future, look at your circle.’ Take this story very seriously, because if you don’t it could be you.”

The documentary upon its initial release in 2016 was shown at several Southern California film festivals and received rave reviews. Cotton also took it to the NBA’s All-Star Weekend in Toronto in 2017.

Former Warriors Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson, as well as Paul Pierce and Elton Brand are among those appearing in the film. Current player Tyson Chandler also shares his memories of young Schea, as does NFL Hall of Famer Randy Moss.

"Schea Cotton is the best high school athlete I've ever, ever seen," said Moss, a two-time West Virginia basketball high school Player of the Year.

[RELATED: Steph addresses scenario in which Iguodala rejoins Warriors]

Cotton lives in Long Beach and is the CEO of Schea Cotton Basketball Academy, where he serves as coach and mentor to young athletes, with the hope they will avoid the pitfalls he did not. You might say, he grew up late.

“I know I had the talent. I was better than my peers, and they know it,” Cotton said. “That’s why they’re giving these interviews (in the documentary).

“The thing is, God didn’t want that for my life. He allowed me to go through all these trials to be in the position I’m in now.”

Tickets are $10 for the Oakland showings and can be purchased at therealmanchild.com.

Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, and Rick Welts enter Basketball Hall of Fame

Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, and Rick Welts enter Basketball Hall of Fame

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Lefty Driesell had the crowd laughing. Dino Radja fought back tears. Blue Devils and Tar Heels brought their rivalry to the Basketball Hall of Fame, and Ray Allen made a peace offering to his spurned Celtics teammates.

And they did it with an assist from three of the greatest point guards in NBA history.

The Springfield shrine inducted its 13-member Class of 2018 on Friday night, recognizing the players, coaches and contributors who broke records and barriers in equal measure.

Rick Welts, the NBA’s first openly gay executive, went in along with Charlie Scott, the first African-American to receive an athletic scholarship at North Carolina. Ora Mae Washington was honored for a pre-World War II career in which she won 11 consecutive Women’s Colored Basketball Championships. Tina Thompson was the first-ever draft pick in the WNBA.

Also inducted were New York Liberty coach Katie Smith, the leading scorer in women’s professional basketball history; longtime NBA executive Rod Thorn; and Grant Hill, the first Duke player in the Hall.

“It’s a real honor to go in with all of you guys,” said Steve Nash, who was inducted along with fellow point guards Jason Kidd and Maurice Cheeks.

“I was never even supposed to be here,” said Nash, who was born in South Africa and grew up in Canada and went on to win back-to-back NBA MVP awards. “Play the long game. You don’t have to be the chosen one. If you’re patient, the plateaus will become springboards.”

Allen gave a shoutout to Celtics teammates Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, calling the 2008 NBA championship teammates “future Hall of Famers”; both posted congratulatory messages on social media, a thaw in the relationships that have been icy since he left Boston for Miami to chase another title in 2012.

But Allen spent most of his speech describing a life “repeating those boring old habits” that made him the most prolific 3-point shooter in league history.

“What’s so incredible about it is that I loved it,” he said. “I wouldn’t have rather been anywhere else in the world.”

Kidd trudged up the steps into Springfield’s Symphony Hall carrying a baby stroller. Nash carried his son in his arm. Dikembe Mutombo stopped to take a selfie with Julius Erving and Kyrie Irving. Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki made their way up the red carpet. Larry Bird was a late arrival.

Wayne Gretzky showed up in the video introducing Nash, crediting him with spreading the love of basketball across the hockey-loving country.

“From Vancouver to Newfoundland,” the hockey Hall of Famer said, “he gave them the opening and belief that they could play in the NBA.”

Welts was a pioneer of a different sort.

The Golden State Warriors President and COO, who started in the NBA as a Seattle SuperSonics ballboy, read a letter that he wrote to his 10-year-old self, telling the boy he will have his dream job by 24. But risking it to come out as gay in 2011 “will be the most important thing you ever do.”

Radja, a champion in three different European leagues and two-time Olympic silver medalist, said he cried for 10 days when he learned he would be inducted in the Hall and choked up as he began his speech.

“Playing basketball was easier,” he said.

Cheeks also struggled to hold back tears, at one point breaking down until his presenter, Dr. J., stepped forward to console him.

“Charles (Barkley) told me not to cry, but I’m about to talk about my mother right here,” Cheeks said, calling her “My very first coach, Mama Cheeks.”

Driesell’s meandering speech was such a crowd-pleaser that every time he stopped to ask if his time was up, the crowd shouted back: “No!”

Scott followed Driesell and Hill and said if the Duke guys were going to go over their time limit, the Carolina guy can, too.

“Duke and a short speech is an oxymoron,” said Scott, who broke the color barrier in Chapel Hill and brought the Tar Heels to back-to-back Final Fours before winning the 1976 NBA title in Boston. “I am very proud to be standing here as a black man that took a patch that wasn’t easy, but was the right path to take.”

Thorn played eight years in the league, coached in both the NBA and the ABA and has been in basketball for half a century. But he knows it was the selection of Michael Jordan when Thorn was the Chicago Bulls general manager in 1984 that cemented his place in basketball lore.

“Thank you, Michael, for your friendship,” Thorn said. “I know I wouldn’t have a Wikipedia page without you.”