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New Recruit - Denton Koon.

Photo: Jeffrey Billings / KCSC Sports

Princeton's first publicly-revealed member of its 2011 recruiting class is versatile 6'7", 200+ lb forward Denton Koon from Liberty Senior High School - located just north of Kansas City, Missouri. Koon averaged 16.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game for the Blue Jays as a junior with nine double-doubles.

According to KC Prep Hoops, Koon settled on Princeton over offers from Bradley, UMKC and Yale.

This afternoon I had the chance to speak with both Koon's high school head coach Roger Stirtz and former Liberty assistant coach Chris McCabe, who helped develop Koon his first three years in high school.

Each shared their thoughts with me about the newest Tiger. Exclusive quotes and links to numerous articles and evaluations about Koon can be found after the jump.

Stirtz, now in his 13th season coaching Liberty, said his Princeton-bound forward was "skill-wise, multi-talented. He's got excellent coordination. Runs well. He's the best-conditioned athlete that we have on the team - guards, posts, whoever. Got good hands, good guard skills. I would be comfortable with him being a point guard on our team. Sees the floor very well, is an excellent passer. Understands the game to make those passes."

McCabe, who has known Koon since he was an eighth grader, called the future Tiger "a coach's dream. As a coach you try and teach your guys certain things that maybe they don't understand because of age or basketball experience, but you never have to teach Denton those things. He knows'm. He's beyond his years. I wish that you could have 12 of him on your roster."

"He's always working," McCabe added. "He's the hardest worker in practice. He cares so much about winning when the games are going on. He took every assignment that we gave him, whether it was 'you need to be more aggressive offensively tonight' or 'you need to be our defensive stopper tonight' - he took on each different assignment and was successful. He's so versatile. As a player, he's just getting better and better and better."

Koon, who has grown considerably since the start of high school, had a breakout season as a junior, but Stirtz feels the Liberty senior has not yet reached his full potential.

"He's really come on," said Stirtz. "Over the past few years he's really grown a lot vertically. I think he might still be getting taller. There might be a few inches left in him. His growth has slowed down just a little bit which meant he was able to put on more muscle mass. He gained 15 pounds after the season. That's really helped his overall game and his athleticism by being a stronger player."

"I'm not sure if he quite knew what kind of player he was when he was a freshman with us," McCabe shared. "Then at the end of last year he turned into an All-Conference caliber, All-State caliber player. Some of it was through his development, some of it was through his work ethic. He's just a perfect storm for him to develop. He's got the ability to play off the dribble, he's got the ability to shoot. he's a good rebounder and he's getting better at that. He's really good in transition. He can handle it for his size, so he's versatile. Of course, maybe I'm a little biased but I think he's the total package."

The leap from his sophomore to junior year was evident from last season's opener according to McCabe. "Our first game of the year as a junior, he played really, really well," said the former Liberty assistant who has left Liberty Senior High School to lead the inaugural campaign for soon-to-open Liberty North High School in 2010-11. "He was a dominating force in a game that featured two teams that were pretty top-tier teams in our city."

Another moment from the Blue Jays' 19-7 season stood out for McCabe.

"We host a tournament in mid-January. We played Leavenworth High School, who had Nino Williams (Kansas State)," McCabe recalled. "Denton's defensive assignment that night was to guard him and I think Nino ended up with [single digits] and he had been averaging 20+. At that point [Denton] had asserted himself offensively, been a leader through the season - somebody the ball needs to go to. That night he was our best defensive player and we were able to handle a team that was previously undefeated."

"He's competitive," Stirtz said of Koon's defense. "He takes pride in a lot of things that he does. It is important for us to have him score points, it is important to have him rebound, it is important to have him block a few shots. All of those things can be measured via numbers but the pride that it takes to play great defense is also important to him. He knows that to be a contributor and to be successful at the collegiate level his defense has to improve even more."

While Koon entered high school a scrawny guard and will exit a lean, lengthy forward, he has made a successful transition.

"His game has developed as he's grown too," McCabe told me. "He still has some guard tendencies but he's developed some back-to-the-basket tendencies and some face up things. He's grown but his game has grown as well."

When asked about Koon's outside shot, both coaches saw this as an area that still needed improvement but had already improved greatly through three years in high school. With added physical strength, dependability from deep will follow.

""If he can have consistency with his outside shot, then I don't know how you guard him," answered McCabe. "Because he's long enough and athletic enough where you have to put a taller player on him. But if he develops the outside shot then you have to drag that post player out to guard him from the perimeter and then Denton's good enough to take him off the bounce."

"His shooting has really come around," said Stirtz. "Each year his range gets better and better. I think that has to do with his strength. He's able to shoot a shot with better form and better technique by getting stronger further away from the basket."

"It's better and better and better," concurred McCabe about Koon's perimeter jumper. "His strength is catching up to him so his form is still developing. His consistency is developing. I would not call him a great outside shooter, but because of knowing Denton, by the time he's done he will be."

"A couple years ago his shot was too flat because he wasn't strong enough to extend his elbow," analyzed Stirtz. "Some kids, they're just not strong enough to shoot a three point shot until they mature. Denton was growing vertically and that took away from some muscle development. Now his technique and form is much better from the perimeter. That's only going to continue to get better because of the numerous shots that he gets up working on becoming a better shooter."

Playing in the most competitive league in the area, the Suburban Big Six, collecting the half dozen largest Missouri schools around Kansas City, Koon is expected to be the primary scoring option on his team during his senior season.

"He's going to be one of the key leaders on our team and that's something that Coach Johnson will see the minute that he sets foot on campus," said Stirtz. "He's a great leader, mainly because he's verbal. He's an encourager. He's an instructor. He's a coach on the floor but he's also an amazing leader by example. He was a kid last year that won all of our sprints. That's leading by example. Busting your tail and getting better."

Koon appears to another in a series of diverse forwards brought in to the Princeton basketball family by Sydney Johnson to create intriguing on-court combinations.

Koon plays his AAU ball for L.J. Goolsby and KC Pump N Run. Goolsby told Rivals that he believes the Princeton coaching staff sees Koon as someone who can play both forward positions for the Tigers.

"The new thing Jon is 'point forward,' these guys that are bigger so you don't need to necessarily have a point guard to bring the ball up and start your offense," McCabe said to me. "He will be good enough to handle the ball, maybe not his first day on campus as a freshman, but with his size he's good enough to handle the ball and create matchup problems."

Stirtz felt that the Blue Jays' system helped develop the many facets of Koon's game.

"We run a motion offense - Bobby Knight, five man motion. It's not the 'Princeton offense,' but there's some similarities to it," described Stirtz. "He's always a pass or two ahead of the game and understands it very well."

"Our point guard can post up and do some things inside. Likewise I'm very comfortable with Denton bringing the ball up the floor facing the basket," Stirtz added. "Bread and butter-wise he's an inside guy but if there's any kind of mismatch, you've got versatile players who can take advantage of those mismatches."

"He will be good enough to handle the ball, maybe not his first day on campus as a freshman, but with his size he's good enough to handle the ball and create matchup problems."

Koon wasted no time deciding Princeton was the place for him.

"It was a situation where he knew this was a great fit and there's no sense in dragging on a decision when everything that he knows about Princeton - he's visited, he knows the coach, he's formed relations, he's met the players - he's done his homework," said Stirtz.

Both coaches praised Koon's character and intelligence off the court when describing him to me. Said Stirtz, "Denton's a top notch kid. Unbelievable when it comes to who he is and what he stands for in all aspects of his life. He's got it all put together. The one thing about Denton that stands out person-wise is success is very important to him and he works extremely hard to be successful in what he thinks is relevant." McCabe added "My wife and I, we don't have kids but we hope that if we have a kid we have a kid like Denton Koon. It is very bittersweet that I don't get to coach him this next year because of all those things. I just think he's the best."

Stirtz sees Koon's early commitment to Princeton as something that can only benefit the rest of the Tigers 2011 recruiting class.

"He mentioned something very, very crucial in this decision - it locks up a position for Princeton and now they can move on to the next guy. Hopefully, with the addition of Denton, it will help Princeton get in better players. Hopefully they can use Denton to help them recruit," Stirtz said.

"If I was Coach Johnson and I was recruiting players A, B and C I would have Denton give them all phone calls and say 'hey, come join me.'"

Time will tell how the rest of the 2011 recruiting class shapes up, but it is off to a promising start with the still-developing Denton Koon.

Koon earned Class 5 All-State honors from the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association after the 2009-10 season. He was also selected first team All-Conference and All-District by both his conference and district coaches.

Koon was named All-Northland by the Kansas City Star.

Koon made the Class 5 Boys Second Team as handed out by the Missouri Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

KC Pump recently won the 17s Platinum title over a highly-regarded Saint Louis AAU team at the Metro Sports/KC Invitational.

In January 2010, Koon came in #46 on the Missouri Super 50.

MO Sports has Koon on its list of Top Missouri Seniors.

By now you should be taking all Hoop Scoop rankings with several pillars of salt, but a 5'10" Denton Koon was the 16th best wing forward in the 8th division at the 2006 Adidas Junior Phenom Camp. Two years later a 6'4" Koon ranked #20 on the list of top players in the sophomore division at the Phemom Top 150 Camp. More recently Koon shows up as #369 in Hoop Scoop's 2011 National Rankings.

Here's a December 2009 Hoops Hot List mention of Koon.

Finally, enjoy video of a buzzer-beating lob to Koon which gave Liberty a one point win over Blue Springs South.

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