Saturday, July 16, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Isaiah Cottrell receives a pass a few feet from the basket and immediately looks to score. He makes a quick move and drains a short jumper. The play, like many this afternoon for the Las Vegas Prospects in the Las Vegas Live tournament at Liberty High, looks effortless for the 14-year-old post player.
As the basketball game progresses, the 6-foot-7 Cottrell continues his good play. There’s a layup in transition in which he beats multiple defenders down the court. There are a 12-foot jumper and plenty of blocked shots and rebounds in which Cottrell’s long reach overwhelms the competition.
“I have a good hook and good jumper,” he said. “I just need to work on getting stronger in the post, and my dribbling, so I can attack the basket.”
The Prospects won with ease, 71-30. Cottrell, who averages double figures in points and rebounds, finished with 22 points, seven rebounds, five blocks and three assists.
It’s no wonder the incoming freshman at Bishop Gorman has been labeled as one of the Las Vegas area’s next great college recruits. He already has three scholarship offers — from hometown UNLV, Pacific and St. John’s — and interest from many other colleges. Another incoming freshman, Liberty’s Julian Strawther, has offers from UNLV and Florida State.
Only a few players nationally receive offers before they attend high school. It has happened a few times locally in recent years, and two of those players — Shabazz Muhammad and Stephen Zimmerman Jr. — are in the NBA. A third, Centennial senior Troy Brown Jr., is ranked as one of the nation’s top 20 players for the class of 2017.
“I told Nike (the Prospects’ sponsor) that I feel the same way about Isaiah that I felt about Troy when he was in the eighth grade,” said Anthony Brown, the Prospects’ director.
Unlike Troy Brown, who excelled almost immediately on the varsity level as a freshman at Centennial, Cottrell is a work in progress. He has only played organized basketball since sixth grade and has moments in which his inexperience, whether it’s a turnover on a bad pass or attempting an awkward-looking shot, is obvious.
What’s also obvious is the talent, coaches say. And Cottrell has the one trait that’s impossible to teach: measurables.
“He’s a good-looking kid already,” Anthony Brown said. “He’s 6-7 with a size-18 shoe. He’s going to get better. He’s going to get stronger.”
There will be built-in expectations for Cottrell, or any player who has major scholarship offers entering high school, to develop into a blue-chip recruit. Those expectations could be magnified at Gorman, where he follows notables such as Muhammad or Zimmerman, or with the Prospects, for whom Troy Brown is a star.
But Cottrell doesn’t seem concerned about expectations. He is described as quiet, laid-back and polite, which helps explain why he’s more concerned with developing his skill-set than the fame that comes with being an elite prospect.
“I feel a lot more confident when playing,” Cottrell said. “I don’t really have a lot of pressure because I know (recruiters) are already focused on me.”
Cottrell’s recruiting interest should spike next week during the NCAA open-evaluation period. A majority of college programs will have multiple coaches in Las Vegas to scout a handful of tournaments in what’s considered the most significant recruiting week of the summer.
If Cottrell and his teammates perform like they did Friday at Las Vegas Live, where multiple players had strong games to help the Prospects easily outclass a team from California, recruiters could be lining up. While Cottrell was the main attraction, guard Keshawn Hall also scored more than 20 points and continued to have a strong summer.
“We don’t think about (the coaches in the stands). Just go out and play our game,” said Hall, who will attend Cheyenne.