If You Don't 'Neau Me By Now | The Weekend Warrior
PRELUDE: Here We Go Again | FEATURING: Indiana Freshman, Malik Reneau | PLUS: Weekend Warrior Awards
Here We Go Again
Family, the Draft Cycle has officially kicked off in a real way. With college back making its return, we know can look at most of the major prospects side-by-side—metaphorically, of course. It’s nice to see the majority of the big names all playing at the same time. Sure, Dariq Whitehead, Cam Whitmore, Baba Miller, and others are all missing some playing time for different reasons, but getting to see some of the new faces compete in meaningful basketball is a dream come true in a lot of ways. But with that comes some of the same things we see every single season.
Comments on the Class Depth
This one gets everyone. There are preconceived notions about the quality of every draft class before the players see a game. Even I have been on the record in written pieces and on audio stating that I believe this class could rival some of the greatest of all time. Opening week certainly didn’t squelch my feeling. Even without some of the assumed major players, several prospects have risen to meet and/or exceed my expectations.
And that is exactly what this portion of “Draft Class Bingo” is addressing: short-sighted validation. Guess what? It’s totally fine. We all love sports, and we all love to be right about sports. It’s nice to be affirmed in your feelings—especially when it’s based on a positive prognostication. There will be boo-birds (or just more logically sound human beings) that are significantly lower (or “logical”) on the depth in this class. They just have to wait longer than I do to be correct *winks*.
Overreactions to Game Outcomes
Of course, there is the potential that the opening results are just a foreshadowing of what is to come. However, we know that losses to “Whatever-the-F*** State”—shoutout to Corey—can simply be one-offs to an otherwise good season. Stetson beating Florida State and Sam Houston beating Oklahoma are certainly surprises, but they are not verdicts on how those teams are going to perform for the rest of the year. Again, it’s fun and totally acceptable to formulate takes based on a one-game sample size. Have a good time, folks!
Dialogue Now vs. Later
One of my personal favorite evergreen occurrences that take place is how thankful we are early in the season that college basketball is back, to later comment on “how hard it is to watch” every season. Everyone is super stoked to see the first few games—especially the Champion’s Classic—and then we do what all humans do: get bored. We can grow a little complacent in our appreciation for a game we love. We’ll complain about how charges are officiated at the college level. We’ll scream our heads off when Zach Edey gets 20 paint touches. It’ll drive us nuts when Matthew Mayer misses “X” number of consecutive threes. Insert whatever players you want (again, keep it fun), but hoop-heads are very fickle creatures. And I love it!
And Now, our Featured Presentation!
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If You Don't 'Neau Me By Now
Montverde Academy had a very loaded roster during their last season. ABSOLUTELY LOADED. Dariq Whitehead is considered by many to be a Top 5 prospect in this year’s class—he was ranked fourth on our No Ceilings Composite BIG Board. Dillon Mitchell has a unique variance in how “The Consensus” views him, as noted by Corey Tulaba in the latest $DRFT IPOs (he was ranked 15th at No Ceilings). The ever-rising and aesthetically pleasing Jalen Hood-Schifino was also on this squad. Oh, we have him ranked 18th on our collective board. Although he is currently dealing with health issues, big man Vincent Iwuchukwu committed to USC and figures to get significant playing time. Guard Skyy Clark committed to Illinois, and Dravyn Gibbs-Lawhorn is playing for Illinois as well. Kwame Evans Jr. isn’t in college this season, but he is a top recruit for next year’s class, and he saw nearly 15 minutes per game. Amier Ali is getting some buzz and some college scholarship offers too.
With all of that talent, Malik Reneau found a way to be one of the more reliable contributors on a game-in-and-game-out basis. He finished third in points per game (PPG) at 11.1. This was only behind Dariq Whitehead and Dillon Mitchell. He was second in rebounds per game (RPG) with 6.7. Dillon Mitchell was the lone player ahead of him. Jalen Hood-Schifino led the team in steals, but Reneau finished second with one per game. With all of this, Malik is widely a little-known and seldom-discussed prospect—even among avid scouts and analysts.
According to Sports Reference’s Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI), Malik was the 26th prospect in the 2022 class—placing him higher than players like Jett Howard, Judah Mintz, and Leonard Miller. ESPN ranked him 22nd, ahead of players like Mark Mitchell, Jalen Hood-Schifino, and Ernest Udeh. And yet, he was an under-the-radar prospect throughout the preseason.
The Athletic didn’t include him in their latest Mock, which included 60 (ish) picks. He is excluded from ESPN’s Top 100. Basketball News didn’t have him on their board. SB Nation’s Top 30 also kept Reneau off. SI was Reneau-less, as was Tankathon. Our board, mock, and Preseason Guide at No Ceilings excluded him as well.
You may be wondering right now, “Stephen. Nobody is talking about him. Why should I care?”
I’m glad you asked.
Listed at 6’9” and 233 pounds, Reneau is a mountain of a man. His physical gifts make it easy for him to get to where he wants to go while putting defenders in positions they don’t want to be. There are varying reports as to Malik’s official wingspan, but all reports conclude that it is a plus. The film shows it as well. His legs are huge, which makes his base is incredibly powerful. He uses this to his advantage on quality post-ups.
This clip shows how massive Reneau is, but it also shows how gifted he is around the rim. As he catches the ball in the short corner, Malik knows he’s getting to the bucket. The question is only “how?” Notice how comfortable Reneau is at putting the ball on the court. He maintains his head up, which displays confidence in his dribble and it allows him to potentially find an open teammate. Being a lefty, he takes a few power dribbles to get close enough to start working on his post moves. Reneau’s ability to set up a soft jump hook after a few counters is beautiful. It’s nice to see that he can provide both power and finesse on the interior.
If the ol’ post grind session isn’t your cup of tea (you’re probably younger than me), then perhaps this clip of Malik getting to the paint off of the bounce does it for you. On this possession, we see Reneau get the ball at the top of the key. While many fancy the young man as a post, I believe Reneau to be a forward with some ability to work from the perimeter. He’s closely guarded once he catches the ball but is still able to get to his dribble. It’s a line-drive approach, but Malik is able to find his way to the left block and work his way into a lefty layup off of the bounce.
This clip shows a little bit more pizazz off of the bounce. In another instance of him receiving the ball at the top of the key, Reneau gets to his left on a straight drive to the hoop. As the help defense shows up, Malik sells a quick up-fake off the wrong foot. This gets another defender out of the way, and that allows him to go under and then back up for the fancy finish. Oh, then he gets the go to the line for the And-1. His strong frame allows him to absorb the contact, while his soft touch sees the ball home.
But that was high school. There’s no way that it translates to the college ranks, right? Well, it’s “only” Morehead State, but Reneau is showing more of the same here in his debut. Malik gets the ball on the left block and immediately gets down to brass tax. I’m impressed by the poise he displays here. Like a quarterback, you can see how he goes through his progressions. He doesn’t go for the left hook off the bounce—something he’s shown he’s comfortable with doing. He does a great job of going up and then through with the ball, which allows him to reposition himself and get some space between his shot and his defender, with his massive left shoulder now into LJ Bryan’s chest. Bryan (#22), by the way, is a senior that is listed at the same height and is a little heavier than Reneau. Doesn’t matter. Reneau not only gets to where he wants to be, but he finishes with his off hand (his right)—a great sign for someone that looks as if he could be limited to only utilizing his strong hand.
In this matchup versus Bethune-Cookman, we get to see how Malik handles some additional pressure. Now, this isn’t the cleanest play for him, but we’re not in the business of simply showing mixtape moments here at No Ceilings. Malik gets the ball on the left block again, doing his best Tim Duncan impression. Bethune-Cookman’s frontcourt man, Dylan Robertson (#22), gets the unfortunate task in defending our guy here. He’s taller at 6’10” but a little lighter at 210 pounds. His teammate, Damani McEntire (#5), shades off of his assignment to attempt to pressure Malik. He power dribbles right to the hoop, but the defense forces the ball out. Showing resiliency, Reneau is able to regain possession and quickly assesses his next move. He strides right around Robertson and lays the ball in with a soft finish.
One of the things about Reneau’s game that stands out to me is how much of an under-the-basket player he appears to me. There are instances where you can see that he relies on his reach, strength, and height to create an advantage for himself offensively. On defense, Malik seems to tap into his athleticism a bit more. While you can get a bit lulled to sleep by the methodical post play he gives you on one side of the ball, he shows reasonably quick feet for a man of his size and position, along with some surprising bunnies.
This play epitomizes help defense. Take a look at where Reneau is at the beginning of this possession—just under the right elbow. The ball handler is looking toward the action Malik is defending while there is a shallow cut on the left side. He does a good job of preventing a clean look at an entry pass, as he knows the clock is winding down. As the ball is swung to the other side, Reneau is positioned on the left block and remains attentive to what’s to come. By the time the ball handler is at the short corner, Malik springs into action to cover up a clean blow-by. Malik tracks the ball cleanly, using his reported 41-inch vertical to erase the buzzer-beater. This isn’t a one-off, either.
Baylor’s Keonte George is considered to be a Top 10 pick by most outlets. We have him ranked seventh collectively at No Ceilings. In this matchup against prep powerhouses, George is looking to either hand the ball off on the left wing or—what actually takes place—attack the rim. We see a lot of similarities on this block and the prior one. As George gets to the short corner, Malik is in position to get off the floor and gobble up the shot attempt by one of the premier freshmen in this year’s class. It’s clean, too, as he doesn’t even need to body him up. His ball tracking ability is on full display. But is he simply limited to help defense? Is this only sustainable against high school competition?
Alex Gross is a 6’10”, 250-pound senior at Morehead State—so he’s more experienced and bigger than our guy. Reneau’s defense is more preventative than reactionary on this play. He has to rely on technique and film study. Gross gets the ball on the left block, looking to give Malik a taste of his own medicine. Reneau stays with Gross on every move and counter, forcing him to go somewhere he doesn’t want to be. As Gross is becoming more frantic due to not having any opening to get a shot off, he loses the ball off of his own foot. This is an example of not needing to block a shot if you don’t allow one to get off.
One of the most important factors a player in drop coverage has to account for is to know where the penetration is coming from. Reneau understands that on this possession that his assignment, the 7’, 260-pound Elijah Hulsewe (#32) will be involved as a screener in some capacity. He does set a pindown screen for Joe French (#30) within the early moments of the play. Notice where Malik establishes himself. He stays under on the screen. He doesn’t step up while French drives down, understanding how momentum would likely give French the advantage. As French continues to pursue the drive to the right, Malik slides in step with him and walls his angle off. French tries to regain his footing while stopping off his sprint, but stumbles into a traveling violation. Reneau stayed light on his feet and positioned himself to deny the drive or a dump pass. But his defensive instincts aren’t reserved for interior play. He shows some promise as a switchable defender on the perimeter as well.
Zion Harmon (#1) is second on his team in scoring and is leading in assists. He’s a solid playmaker. He doesn’t fit the bill of someone you would want to have Reneau lined up against, right? As Harmon is coming off of some drag action, we do see our guy pick him up on the right wing. I love how Malik does a good job of showing his hands to prevent picking up a ticky-tacky foul. He uses his powerful base to close off Harmon’s angle, which forces the guard to reset. Reneau is visibly into this matchup. Look at him clap at Zion! The young guard has 15 seconds left but wants no part of trying to get around Malik. Instead, he tries a contested step-back three. It’s a miss. That’s the type of possession you want to see when Reneau is switched onto a perimeter-oriented player.
On this inbound play, Reneau is back to defending Hulsewe. He gets the ball and goes right into a DHO with McEntire in the left corner along the baseline. This isn’t an ideal location to run a set like this if there is a switch. Bethune-Cookman had to have expected Malik to drop, but our guy switches right onto McEntire. His quick hands poke the ball loose and allows his teammate, Tamar Bates (#53), to engage in the trap. McEntire tries to move Reneau off his spot but to no avail. As McEntire is forced to hold the ball, the pestering from Malik and Bates result in the ball coming loose. Reneau gathers the ball and kicks it ahead to Trey Galloway for a dunk on the break.
Being 6’9”, there will be no shortage of naysayers who question the role Reneau could bring to a team. He doesn’t profile of a perimeter player, as his handle isn’t considered to be a strength as of now. He isn’t the most electrifying athlete—or at least consistent in using it in multiple facets of his game. For a player that will be a very capable defender who is more polished on the inside, he has to do other things well on the court that would be worth a real look from scouts and analysts. Even as an enthusiast of Malik Reneau, I recognize that he has to show that he can contribute in more ways, but I believe he can and is already showing improvements in the early going.
Shoutout to colleague Maxwell Baumbach for the new terminology that I will be using for players that aren’t ready to be initiators now, but show some interesting signs of life in that department. Reneau averaged less than an assist per contest while at Montverde but is averaging two per game at Indiana. His vision and timing seem real enough from the early film. That makes me wonder if this went underutilized by Montverde—granted, Jalen Hood-Schifino is who he is.
Even in high school, there were signs that Reneau could be utilized as a passer for Montverde. This play is used to get Dariq Whitehead open to cut to the basket. Timing is crucial for this possession to result in points. As Whitehead is coming off a well-placed screen, Reneau finds him open in the restricted area for the finish. Well executed and well placed.
While that play occurred earlier in the game from the perimeter, this one is my favorite. Reneau is setting up camp on the right block. It’s easy for young players to just get to work and focus on getting their own shot up. It sounds simplistic, but keeping your head up on the block and keeping your dribble alive can give you such an advantage if you are patient. While being defended by Jarace Walker, Reneau is able to work across the lane and draw the attention of another defender. The gravity Malik draws gives Dillon Mitchell a lane to slip to the hoop. Reneau sees Mitchell cutting and hits him for a reverse layup. Coach Woodson at Indiana has done well to put Malik in similar situations early this season.
Malik begins this play with a screen set for his teammate, both in high school and now at Indiana, Jalen Hood-Schifino. Hood-Schifino draws the attention of the defense, which causes a shift on the left side. Reneau comes out to get the ball on the left wing. To be totally transparent, I wish Malik would have taken the jumper (more on that later). I digress. We see Tamar Bates in the left corner, and he appears to be coming to take over ball-handling duties. With a quick shoulder fake to the right, Bates creates separation and cuts to the basket. Reneau dishes a beautiful bounce pass to Bates, in step, and registers the assist.
Bethune-Cookman is in a zone here. Malik Reneau is starting on the right block, with Tamar Bates on the perimeter with the ball. Bates dishes the ball to Trey Galloway, who then passes to Xavier Johnson. As the ball is moved around the arc, Malik goes from the right block to the left elbow as a zone breaker. When Reneau catches the pass, the defense collapses. Reneau recognizes who in the zone engages him and finds Jordan Geronimo with a slick feed.
Reneau’s shooting is what will take him to another level. At Montverde, he shot 67% from distance—albeit on just three attempts. If you believe free-throw shooting to be an indicator of touch, Malik shot slightly north of 63% from the line. Not exactly the percentage that gives you a warm-and-fuzzy feeling. Counting exhibitions, Reneau has already attempted three shots from deep—he’s made one. He’s only at 44% from the line. The percentage is bad, but the fact that he’s shooting provides the opportunity to improve. The fact that he’s getting to the free-throw line is good. He isn’t shying away from the opportunity. It won’t take long, but let’s look at all two of his attempts in sanctioned, in-season play.
We’ll start off with the result: Reneau missed the shot. One thing I want to credit Malik with is that he did not hesitate to let the shot fly. He knew he was taking the shot when he caught it. The thing you have to do before you shoot it is to at least be a threat. You have to make the defense respect you and account for you. On top of that, the shot doesn’t look bad. Even though it’s a miss, Reneau steps into it. His base is fine. The upper part of the shot doesn’t have any significant flaws to it. His follow-through is fine. And look at where he misses. It’s in line to the rim; it’s just a smidge long. Believing in your shot is huge—something that should not be easily dismissed. Because he’s confident, and because he believes it can go in, sometimes it does.
I love the promise that this clip is telling me. It’s negotiating with me in believing the shot from Malik can become a real weapon over time. Of the number of possessions I’ve seen of Reneau catching the ball in this very same spot only to either pass the rock or drive to the block, he catches the ball on the break and rips it. The confidence is there. We see the base and upper mechanics repeated, as well as a nice follow-through. It’s a clean make. Again, the sample size is small, but the foundation is something promising to build on.
Weekend Warrior Awards
The long-awaited return of the Weekend Warrior awards is here! These awards will vary throughout the year. Sometimes it will be awarded to individuals. Sometimes it will be given to conferences, positions, coaches, or other philosophical stances. One thing I want to do as often as I can (or want to) is to recognize players within multiple conferences. I’ll give a little shine to multiple players because they have done something worthy of praise. Without further ado, here are your first edition Weekend Warriors of opening week.
Terquavion Smith | Guard | North Carolina State:
22.5 PPG | 5.5 APG | 2.5 RPG | 2.0 SPG | 0.5 BPG | 55.6 FG% | 43.8 3P% | 66.7 FT% | 2.5 TOPG | 1.5 FPG
Jalen Wilson | Forward | Kansas
20.0 PPG | 4.0 APG | 10.0 RPG | 0.5 SPG | 0.0 BPG | 45.5 FG% | 46.2 3P% | 100 FT% | 2.0 TOPG | 1.0 FPG
Colby Jones | Perimeter | Xavier
15.0 PPG | 9.0 APG | 6.0 RPG | 3.0 SPG | 3.0 BPG | 37.5 FG% | 0.0 3P% | 75.0 FT% | 4.0 TOPG | 1.0 FPG
Jett Howard | Wing | Michigan
15.0 PPG | 4.5 APG | 2.5 RPG | 1.0 SPG | 1.5 BPG | 43.5 FG% | 41.2 3P% | 50.0 FT% | 1.0 TOPG | 2.5 FPG
Azuolas Tubelis | Big | Arizona
20.0 PPG | 3.0 APG | 7.5 RPG | 1.5 SPG | 1.0 BPG | 76.2 FG% | 100.0 3P% | 63.6 FT% | 4.0 TOPG | 3.0 FPG
Cason Wallace | Guard | Kentucky
11.5 PPG | 6.5 APG | 5.5 RPG | 2.0 SPG | 0.5 BPG | 58.8 FG% | 66.7 3P% | 50.0 FT% | 3.0 TOPG | 2.5 FPG
Maxwell Lewis | Forward | Pepperdine
22.0 PPG | 4.0 APG | 7.50 RPG | 1.0 SPG | 1.5 BPG | 66.7 FG% | 60. 3P% | 100 FT% | 2.5 TOPG | 2.5 FPG