Forty-inch verticals? Bulls have two ...
Last week, senior guard Jesus Verdejo was raving about freshman forward Eladio Espinosa's athleticism, saying he had a 40-inch vertical. My instinct was to take it as general praise -- "he's got a 40-inch vert" could be a lot like "he runs a 4.4" -- not an exact measurement, just a ballpark compliment.
So Thursday, before watching USF practice in the rec center on campus, I had the chance to speak with the 6-foot-7 Espinosa, and sure enough, the 40-inch comment was a little off.
It's actually 41.5 inches.
"He's a freakish athlete," coach Stan Heath said. "Right now, we have pull him back in terms of aggressiveness. He can foul out in two minutes. We've got to help him learn how to play, to use his aggressiveness the right way. ... Those two guys are great athletes."
Just to put 41 inches in perspective, it's maybe eyes-high on my 5-year-old son. According to vertcoach.com, Julius Erving (pretty good leaper) had a 41-inch vertical. Kobe Bryant's is said to be 38 inches; Vince Carter's 43. Not saying he's those guys, just saying he can jump like those guys.
Espinosa is a dunker, too, excited about his new team, appreciative of the help he's getting from teammates and surprised his vertical is the highest on the team. He was sure that would go to guard Mike Mercer, who checked in at 40 inches, nothing to be ashamed of.
"It was crazy. I thought Mike would have it," Espinosa said. "Mike jumps out of the building, jumps like a trampoline. I was shocked. At first, I thought mine was like 39, but when I saw it, I was happy."
More notes from practice ...
-- Heath continues to sing the praises of freshman guard Justin Leemow, whose defensive skills should make him the fifth guard, behind Dominique Jones, Jesus Verdejo, Chris Howard and Mercer. "Those four guards, they go at it every day and play at a pretty high level," he said. "The surprise probably has been Justin. He's been competitive enough, especially on the defensive end, he might be one of the better guys we have to just pressure the ball, and he has good speed. ... He's the fourth guy until we get Mike. He's going to get some minutes early on. He's been a pleasing surprise."
-- Heath is pleased with the off-season progress of starting center B.J. Ajayi, who averaged less than three points a game last season but takes on a much larger role after the graduation of Kentrell Gransberry. "B.J. has been playing good. The last three or four days have been his best practices he's ever had since he's been in a Bulls uniform. He's bigger, stronger, he has more confidence about himself. He knows what he's good at. He defends guys very well, he's a good screener for us. He needs to stay right around the basket. That's where he's going to get his points. He's identified his role and stuck to it."
-- Again, the two major wild cards for this team are whether power forward Gus Gilchrist gets an NCAA hardship waiver allowing him to play this season, and whether forward/center Alex Rivas Sanchez can get fully healthy recovering from surgery on his lower legs. He's practicing in halfcourt scenarios right now, but not ready to run up and down in fullcourt, optimistic about playing through pain and being a player this season. We've presumed the two options on Gilchrist were a yes or no from the NCAA, but there's also the possibility that Gilchrist could be ruled eligible starting with the end of the fall semester, as he would have been at Maryland. It's a compromise of sorts, and would mean he'd miss the first six games as Mercer will, but I'd imagine Bulls fans would take that, knowing they'd have him for the entire Big East season. Heath said he expects to hear from the NCAA by the start of the season, now just three weeks away.