Chicago talent scout Daniel Poneman was the first to post videos of a rising star named Anthony Davis on YouTube, and he predicted that Davis’ growth spurt after his sophomore season was going to turn him into a future star.
He was right, as Davis led Kentucky to a national championship and became the first pick in the NBA draft. Now Poneman is following another Chicago product, 6-9 junior Cliff Alexander, who is making a dramatic climb in the recruiting rankings much as Davis did.
“The thing I love about Cliff is his competitive spirit and joy for playing basketball,” Poneman said. “In middle school, he was not even playing organized basketball. There was no projected career of greatness. Coach (Mike) Oliver pulled him off the playground and changed his life. I saw him as a freshman, and could you see his raw talent. It was scary.
“He was almost a forgotten guy in the 2014 (recruiting) class in Chicago to contending for the No. 1 spot in America. Chicago might be 1-2 (with him and Jahlil Okafor). He is a hybrid of Amar'e Stoudemire and Dwight Howard. He attacks relentlessly. He has such a great frame at a young age. In a lot of classes, he would be ranked No. 1. Okafor is out-of-the-world good. I saw (former Ohio State star) Jared Sullinger at this age, and Okafor is far ahead of him and taller.
“But the thing I love about Cliff is that he is still creeping up the recruiting rankings, and when I first brought it up to him that Okafor is at top of the rankings, he was quick to say, ‘I am coming for him.’ He wants the spotlight and wants that top spot.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari found time while working on a projected monster 2013 recruiting class to offer Alexander a scholarship this summer. Michigan State has been considered the leader for him — just as it has for 2013 Chicago star recruit Jabari Parker.
“A lot of other kids might hide what schools they are leaning to, and he has come right out and said it’s Michigan State and Kentucky,” Poneman said. “His profile picture on Twitter is him and (Michigan State coach Tom) Izzo.
“I think he would be a new-type player Kentucky has not had because of his personality. He really loves the spotlight. He is natural. He believes in his ability and will talk your ear off and not take himself seriously. I think if Kentucky got him, Kentucky fans would love his personality and electrifying dunks. Put a good team around him, and Kentucky would, and I could see him being one of Kentucky’s all-time favorite players.”
Poneman, 20, has developed a wide network of contacts from high school players to high school coaches, AAU coaches, college recruiters and other scouts since he ventured into this realm at age 14 when he was a high school freshman player. His name first went national in 2007 when he was featured in a Sports Illustrated article, and his work has been written about many times since then.
He first went to see Alexander play when he was a freshman, and Alexander did not play in the game.
“After the game, the whole team was pointing at Cliff and saying he was the one I had to come back and see. He did not say a word. The first time I did see him play, it was immediately apparent he would be a special, special player,” Poneman said. “With Anthony, the first time I saw him he did not score a point. It took a few years before I realized how special he could be. With Cliff, it was clear right away and was just a matter of time before the rest of the nation figured it out.”
Poneman thinks Davis’ success at UK could impact Alexander, but not because both are from Chicago.
“Any player can see what happened with Anthony at Kentucky and that is a big plus,” Poneman said. “I worry about any guy trying to follow Anthony. I feel for Nerlens Noel next year because the bar is set so high. I hear people say he is a better shot-blocker than Anthony, which is ridiculous considering Anthony just had the best shot-blocking season of any college freshman ever. I think Nerlens is a nice player, but (there) is no way is he Anthony Davis.”
He’s not saying Alexander is the next Davis, either.
“I think Cliff could come in at Kentucky and do great. I am not saying he will be the centerpiece of a national title team because he still has a long way to go,” Poneman said.
“I think he will enjoy recruiting and not take himself too seriously. He is not a kid that will draw out the process. He’s taking all the attention with a grain of salt. He realizes all the big-time schools want him, and he’s the kind of kid that when he knows what he wants, he’ll let everybody know. And right now he’s making it clear Kentucky and Michigan State are the teams at the top with him.”