He played point guard in high school, and idolized Kobe Bryant as an adolescent - rushing outside after dinner with his older brother, Kevin, to mimic the Laker-great's jab-steps and possum-duping jumpshots. Now, after only one season removed from high school, 19 year-old rookie, Kevon Looney has drawn gushing praise from his two most influential coaches - Coach Tom Diener of Alexander Hamilton High School, and coach Steve Alford of UCLA.
Diener, with nearly 30 years of coaching experience, has a keen basketball mind with over 500 wins, 5 state titles, and three of his former players making the big time. But in all Diener's years on the sideline, he's never seen a talent like Kevon Looney. "Diener notes Looney's ability in this enthusing article:
"I've been fortunate. I have coached a lot of great players over the years, but I would have to say Kevon's the most gifted kid I've had a chance to work with. The game has really become dominated by what I call athletic players, not necessarily skilled players, but Kevon is extremely skilled - Meaning he pivots very well, passes very well, has a very textbook-looking jump shot and then he's just very smart -- makes great decisions. I think he's going to be one of those guys that can play all over the floor... More and more, the great players are the ones that can play all over the floor… He's a lot like (Oklahoma City forward Kevin) Durant in the way that he plays where he can go inside and he can play facing the basket, 20 feet from the basket."
"He's going to be pretty versatile. I don't think Kevon will play second fiddle to any other high school player in the country. Michigan State and Kansas, they call me every other day. He's getting hounded."
- Alexander Hamilton High School Basketball Coach, Tom Diener
Wisconsin honored Looney with the Mr. Basketball award for his senior year averages:
27.9 points, 12.7 rebounds, seven assists and eight blocks per game - Nearly a quadruple-double.
Growing up in the city of Milwaukee, Looney's body holds a striking resemblance to another resident of his beloved hometown - Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek-born Giannis came onto the NBA scene as a relative unknown, riding the shockwaves of his long-arm predecessor, Oklahoma City's versatile scoring machine, Kevin Durant. Looney seems to be the third-coming amongst this breed of athlete.
"It's an honor to be compared to someone so good like (Durant) him. I'll be honest, I watch him a lot. I take some of his moves. I see myself as a wing, almost like a slasher-type player. Off the wing I can shoot the ball pretty good."
- Kevon Looney
It's refreshing to draft a high-ceiling prospect with exceptional basketball IQ and Kevon's body-type; a colt, who's set on developing his mid-range game. Not only is it somewhat of a lost art in the league and complementary of the Warriors' offense, but a mid-range arsenal is extremely effective when a freakishly long player can create his own shot and confidently release over virtually any defender. It should also be mentioned, that KL models his inside game after Anthony Davis. The new Warrior is not lacking in confidence. He displayed moxie even back as a 16 year-old sophomore in high school - when he was climbing the ranks as a McDonald's All-American, under some bigger names.
"Usually the players are ranked higher than me," Looney said. "I look forward to playing them to prove I'm one of the best players."
In his debut game at UCLA, Looney scored 20 points, pulled 9 boards, and handed out 3 assists in a 35-point blowout over Montana State. CBS Sports called it, "One of the more impressive freshman debuts in UCLA's rich history." Kevon followed that game up with 4 straight double-double outings, and is the only freshman in school history to record 4 double-doubles in the first 5 games. Looney also scored 27 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in a pivotal win against Stanford.
A rebounder by nature, Kevon's outside shot slowly but surely came along as the season progressed. After struggling early, he finished his year shooting over 43% from deep, and connected 11-17 3pt during the final 7 games of the season.
ESPN.com reported on the morning of the draft, that Kevon would "probably miss the season," due to a surgery he would inevitably have to undergo, after injuring his hip during the summer before his freshman season at UCLA. Looney's camp disagreed with the report, and saw a different future for his first NBA campaign. After all, the Pac-12 standout missed nary a game or practice under coach Alford during the entire season, and averaged 31 minutes per game.
"There's no question. He definitely dropped because of that. Fortunately he dropped into a great situation. He's driven. Regardless of where he's drafted, you're going to get somebody who's passionate about the game. A very young player who's only going to get better. You can't teach 6'9, 7'4 wingspan. You've got somebody who works as hard as he does, with the skill set he has, with the mindset to get better...
I think he's going to be a really good pro for a long time. He's extremely low maintenance. Went to class ever day, came to practice with a tremendous demeanor. Tremendous teammate. You don't usually see that in freshman. Most freshman who come out of high school think they have all the answers. Kevon was different. He knew he had more questions than answers, and worked that way every day."
- UCLA coach, Steve Alford
In the aftermath of facing elimination at the hands of Gonzaga at the Sweet-16, Kevon sat down and thoughtfully spoke to reporters about his college experience.
At season's end, Kevon led all college freshman in double-doubles.
How does he fit in with the Warriors, theoretically?
A) Offensive rebounding - Looney averaged 4.2 offensive rebounds per 40 mins pace. That's a lot. The Warriors are in need of a prolific offensive rebounder, and Looney has a chance to develop into just that. Extra possessions crush opponents when you have shooters like Klay and Steph. We need a player with Kevon's length, who can grab rebounds well out of his zone and put the ball back in Curry's hot hands, or earn some precious trips to the line.
B) Defensive rebounding to transition - Imagine Draymond Green and Kevon Looney's ability to create off the defensive rebound. Both of these guys can pull and pass downcourt. Both of these guys can go coast to coast. Kevon played point guard in high school, and was one of the best rebounders in all of college basketball. He and Green, on the court at the same time, with the Warriors lockdown defense, would clearly speed up the transition even more. There's no interval when a ball handler rebounds.
C) Trailing shooter - To ad-lib from point B, Looney is developing into a threat from three-point range. Being an excellent rebounder at 6'10, Looney can be the stretch 4/5 that the Warriors so greatly desire, and trail plays on the break with an intention to pick his spots; draining the trailing three regularly.
D) Defensive versatility - He fits into the versatile philosophy. Many believe that Kevon has the potential to guard 3 positions in the NBA. His length and foot speed allow him to defend both the perimeter, and the post. His length in passing lanes will serve to keep the fast break flourishing (1.3 spg), and his ability to both close out on shots and block FG attempts at the rim are the sort of sweet things that make Igoudala smile.
E) Development/inheritance - Many question his power, but his build should seamlessly invite strength, given his very wide shoulders. He may start off as a power forward in this league...which is a bit counter-intuitive perhaps, given that I believe that he can/will develop into a small forward. At 19, he will be 23 when Igoudala is just over his 34th year. I think the timing and mentorship couldn't be more ideal.
F) Spirit - Kevon's been praised before as the ultimate teammate and competitor. He fits into what Lacob has built - The winning attitude and collective togetherness towards the ultimate goal. Looney is a positive and bright prospect with a worker's mentality in the off-season, and under the boards late in games.
G) Dumb, stupid luck - If anyone can doubt that the Warriors are riding some sort of cosmic missile to glory, this could prove to be just another pretty coin in the wishing well of long-time fans. No matter how you slice it, whether or not this kid turns out to be anything worthwhile, there's no reason at all Kevon's prospects should have fallen into the Warriors' hands. Many experts, looking back at the draft, consider Looney to be "The steal." This team seems to be blessed every month with a new flavor of greatness, and Kevon could prove to be the story of April, instead of the chasing of the Bulls.
H) Ultimate scenario - Looney develops into a physical specimen who can score anywhere on the floor. He turns into a 10+ rebounder. He hones his defensive instincts under Adams, Green, and Igoudala, and becomes one of the best two way prospects in the league - A go-to, Iso, face-up scorer, to pair with Steph - Sandwiching Thompson's shooting and Draymond's all-around goodness - sprinkle Barnes' complementary explosiveness. Result? 4 more banners.
Yes, it's summer league. But that first move (0:00) - How he shields off with his long, off-arm and cradles the ball with his right while he takes that long step and fades off one foot while warding off with the left elbow and drawing the contact, for a controlled, high-arching shot. That's impossible to stop for someone his length. That's an "NBA move." One could imagine an NBA defense, in all it's capability in the typical sense, and him scoring in that fashion against it.
The Santa Cruz Sentinel reports that Looney recently participated in two full scrimmages, and left Casey Hill with these observations:
"His Instincts are still there. He went live with us once and played pretty well. He's still a little bit off-balance and his strength and his edge isn't quite there. But that will come the more he plays with us and stays with us and continues to work."
"I wouldn't etch that in granite by any stretch of the imagination, (Looney playing Tuesday) but I would say that's probably what it is. His minutes restriction will be probably between 18-20 minutes. It will go up steadily every game after that."
Looney says the hip is feeling good, and was available for these comments:
"Hip is going good. It feels good, I'm ready to play. I went live for the first time (in practice), that was my first time getting up and down the court. It was a lot of fun, I feel good out there, my hip was reacting good to it...it was a good experience."
"I missed a couple shots that I usually make. But other than that, I've been running good. I still got my instincts for the rebounds and stuff, so I was pretty happy with my performance. I don't feel a lot of pressure...since the team is so good, they're not really counting on me to make an impact. Whatever I do is a plus for them. So I come in, no pressure. I'm just gonna play my game. Being around greatness like that is always amazing. Being part of something special, being part of the streak...seeing them guys everyday, seeing all the work they put in and how it pays off has been a great learning experience."
- Kevon Looney, Sunday's practice at Santa Cruz Warriors facility