WESTFIELD, Ind. — Nitpicking E.J. Liddell is a foolhardy venture.
Since showing up at Belleville (Ill.) West, the 6’7, 220-pound combo forward traced a predictable arc from precocious freshman to Mr. Basketball last season. Few prospects are as explosive on the second jump as Liddell, whose rebounding and rim protection are just as alluring as his polished and powerful interior game.
Yet Liddell sees the way the game is trending.
Hybrid forwards who can step out and thrive in space are prized commodities. And it frames his self-assessment of his game, which includes the acute need to shore up his jump shooting, especially at the elbow and on pick-and-pops on the perimeter.
E.J. Liddell — EYBL Statistics
In Brad Beal Elite’s opener, an 81-74 victory against CIA Bounce, his shooting stroke was off-target. Liddell missed two 3-pointers and a jumper from the middle of the lane after slipping from a screen, and he saw an open mid-lane floater thump of the heel of the rim. One of his buckets was a stick back and the other was a thunderous dunk in the open floor.
Rather than force the issue after a couple of shaky outings, though, he went back to leaning on the skills that have long defined the power forward position.
“Rebound, block shots,” said Liddell, who averaged 13.0 points and 4.0 rebounds over the weekend. “And that’s what I did. I got a lot of offensive rebounds and put them back up.”
The activity on the glass helped him pave a path to the foul line, too. When the weekend concluded, he had taken six more free throws (33) than shots from the floor (27), and he saw his inside scoring touch return — he went 11-for-16 in BBE’s final two outings. His team went 3-1 for the session.
By now, we know the chase for Liddell is likely a two-team race between Cuonzo Martin’s Missouri and Brad Underwood’s Illinois.
Since Cuonzo Martin became coach of the Missouri men’s basketball team after having the same option at Illinois, his childhood team, the Braggin’ Rights rivalry between the two schools has intensified.
Just ask E.J. Liddell.
The top recruit for both schools in the 2019 class, the 6-foot-7, do-it-all forward said he can’t go on social media anymore without finding himself in the middle of an argument between the two fan bases.
However, four new offers came in last week — UConn, Georgetown, Louisville and Texas A&M — and brought his tally to 16 total.
Even as his profile grows and he works to expand his game, it’s heartening to see he hasn’t shed skills that made him so attractive in the first place.