New Virginia Tech men’s basketball coach Mike Young and staff had their work cut out for them when they took over in April. Despite losing their top 5 scorers from last season and their inherited 2019 recruiting class, Young and Co. managed to turn the tide and bring in a talented group of players via traditional high school recruiting and the transfer market.
The highest-rated of these is four-star point guard Jalen Cone from Walkertown, NC.
Cone, listed at 5-11, 163 pounds by 247Sports, was originally part of the 2020 class but was given the opportunity to reclassify to 2019 and enroll at Virginia Tech.
What can the Hokies expect from Jalen Cone? First and foremost, a player who will make an immediate impact.
Despite being younger than most players in his class, Young essentially promised Cone the keys to the car.
“They need Jalen Cone,” Cone said of the Hokies at the news conference following his commitment announcement. “Coach (Mike) Young and his system have Jalen Cone written all over it.”
It is pretty rare to see an 18-year-old be promised that much responsibility in a Power Five program, but when watching his highlights, one can easily see why.
What stands out first is his quickness and overall athleticism.
Here on this play, his quickness is displayed on this nasty hesitation move. In the blink of an eye, he goes from the top of the key to the basket, blowing by his man and elevating to the rim before the help defense can get there.
Here you see a couple of examples of his leaping ability as well. He can not only throw it down, but he can throw it down with authority. And that is especially impressive, given his under six foot frame.
Athleticism, however, is not the only reason why Young is so confident in Cone.
Cone is one of those rare players that can seemingly do no wrong with the ball in his hand. A stellar combination of handles, passing ability, craftiness, and a smooth jump shot make Cone a nightmare for opposing defenses.
These two plays display that craftiness and ability to score. The first ends in a step-back jumper, while the second ends with a tough layup at the basket.
Cone has an arsenal of moves offensively that keep the defense guessing while he can also score from any part of the floor.
He also knows how to anticipate and make the right pass as you see below.
On this play, Cone runs the pick and roll to perfection, knowing exactly where and when to put the pass. With zero hesitation, he draws the defense to him then dishes a perfect pass to the screener for the and-one. It says a lot that the screener looks down and suddenly sees the ball in his hands before he’s even looked for a pass.
On the offensive side of the ball, it is pretty clear that Cone has the potential to be a truly special player. He may already classify as the best offensive player on Virginia Tech’s roster.
The problem, however, lies at the defensive end. Cone’s athleticism allows him to compete at the defensive end, but he will almost certainly be limited by his size.
His listing at 5-11 may even be a bit of a stretch. When watching his tape, Cone looks small, and that can be a problem.
He uses his size to his advantage on the offensive end with his shiftiness. But in the ACC, there are plenty of big, athletic, skilled point guards that he will face every night. Will he be able to keep up?
Being under six feet typically does not bode well for basketball players. However, there are still plenty of five-footers who have still managed to make names for themselves, particularly Muggsy Bogues, Spud Webb, Isaiah Thomas, and Nate Robinson.
Each of these players still had/are having successful NBA careers, but have had to make up for some disadvantageous defensive matchups.
Thomas, who has been seen as an incredible scorer his entire career, finishing fourth in the NBA MVP race in 2017, has particularly had a spotlight on his defensive ability during his pro career. His size has given him a tag as a defensive liability, and most NBA teams have opted not to take a risk on him over the last two years.
Luckily for Cone, he is probably taller than all four of those players, and may still be growing given his young age.
If he is able to get at or near six feet, those defensive concerns may begin to go away. He would still be considered undersized, but the potential for defensive success increases significantly when a player crosses six feet.
Chris Paul, who is hailed as one of the greatest point guards of the modern generation, has been an All-NBA Defensive player nine times despite being only six feet.
Cone will still likely be very successful as a Hokie whether he grows or not, but another inch or two of height could really elevate his ceiling significantly.
The notorious player that Cone most reminds me of is Darren Collison.
Collison is a six-foot point guard that recently retired after ten seasons in the NBA. He averaged 12.5 points and 5.0 assists per game during his career.
In college, Collison started three years for UCLA, earning all-conference honors each year. Coming out of UCLA, Collison was also viewed as a bit of an undersized guard but made up for it with his scoring, passing, and steals.
Collison and Cone have similarly efficient jump shots and both possess the shiftiness to create offensively.
Here we see some of that creative ability by Collison on display, and here is a similar play made by Cone:
Both players have a knack for putting the ball in the basket, and defenders have to guess whether they will rise up for the jump shot, take it to the basket, or pass to a teammate while also trying to keep up with their flashy dribbling.
Jalen Cone is going to be a player that folks in Blacksburg will remember for a long time, and should he grow a couple more inches and continue to improve, he could very well see himself on an NBA roster.