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December 31, 2013

What we learned: West Coast

MORE: Class of 2014 Rivals150

Over the last week of 2013, Rivals.com took a trip out west to attend the MaxPreps and Under Armour Holiday Classics in Palm Springs and San Diego. The trip proved to be a valuable one with lots to learn about players like Thomas Welsh, Michael Humphrey and many more.

Pac 12 bound big men are improving

Let's go ahead and get this out of the way directly, UCLA bound Thomas Welsh and Stanford bound Michael Humphrey have both put themselves in position to move up the 2014 rankings when they get finalized during the spring.

Welsh took the floor with his Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola team in San Diego and won a title at Under Armour, while Humphrey was impressive with Phoenix (Ariz.) Sunnyslope in Palm Springs at MaxPreps. Though they are roughly the same size, Welsh is pushing seven-feet and Humphrey is every bit of 6-foot-10, they have completely different styles and reasons they are trending up.

Already the higher ranked of the two at No. 52, Welsh's improvement over the past few years has been nothing short of staggering. Watching him as a sophomore he labored to get up and down the floor and struggled to make a big impact on the game. Now a senior, Welsh has blossomed into one of the most skilled players in the class of 2014 -- at any position -- and is a force in the lane scoring and rebounding. Because of relatively limited lift, he's never going to be a big time shot blocker, but Welsh does play solid positional defense and the positives he can give on the offensive end because of great hands, touch and feet far outweighs any areas that still need work.

Steve Alford and his staff have to be tickled pink over landing Welsh's signature and he should be considered a viable candidate for the McDonald's All-American game.

Ranked No. 74, Humphrey's rise from relative obscurity as a prospect has been a different path than Welsh's, but it has resulted in a similar outcome. Just a few years ago, Humphrey was more focused on football, where he stood out as a gigantic quarterback. Last spring, though, things started coming together for him on the basketball court as he came out of nowhere to achieve high major status and end up signing with Stanford.

Unlike Welsh, who operates almost exclusively in the low post, Humphrey is a big who likes to face up a bit more. He is also a superior athlete with a long and lanky frame and explosiveness around the rim. Though he lacks strength, Humphrey is quite scrappy and his agility, ability to run and range to the three-point line at 6-foot-10 make him a very dangerous weapon down the road.

Bottom line, Welsh and Humphrey are shining examples of why it is important to patient with young big men and understand that they will develop their games at a different pace than other positions.

Simon an intriguing option as a guard

One of the early knocks on the class of 2015 is that it is just so-so in the point guard department. But, there's still plenty of time for people to step up and Temecula (Calif.) Valley's Justin Simon. Perhaps more of a combo guard than a true point guard at 6-foot-4, it doesn't really matter because he is plenty capable of running an offense.

In fact, Simon's size and ability to play multiple positions on the perimeter only make him more attractive as a point guard option. You can never have too many ball handlers and playmakers in the college game, and the idea of rolling him out there as a playmaking two guard who can attack from the wing and baseline when he isn't playing the two is an appealing one.

Simon's primary offensive strengths are as a driver/playmaker and guy who can finish in the lane. He is still lean, but he does a good job of using his frame to ward off defenders and his athleticism is quite functional in that he is just as explosive in traffic while taking bumps as he is in the open floor.

Moving forward, Simon will need to work on his jump shot. He will make some but he has an inconsistent release and shooting motion and needs to get locked into the same shot. It's just a matter of repetition and what he currently lacks in jump shooting he helps to cover up by being an outstanding defender.

Currently ranked No. 80 in the class of 2015, Simon is positioning himself for a run at the national top 50. With offers from Arizona, USC, Oregon, Washington, San Diego State, Penn State, Boston College, Arizona State and others, he is arguably the hottest recruit in the West Coast's junior class.

North can make a difference at Long Beach State

Give a lot of credit to Corona (Calif.) Centennial senior Deontae North for making an outstanding decision. The 6-foot-4 guard signed with Long Beach State in the fall rather than holding out to see if he could draw "bigger" offers during the spring. From where we sit, he made a wise decision because he figures to have an outstanding career there.

A three-star wing, North is one of Rivals.com's favorite players to watch in the class of 2014. A committed teammate who has an outstanding will to win, North is simply a big time competitor who does anything he can to help his squad. He makes just enough shots to be dangerous from deep, he is an athletic finisher at the rim and he is a very talented defender.

North does need to get stronger and continue to improve his ball handling, but he will be able to do all of that at Long Beach State. Right now, we'd be very surprised if he doesn't develop into a team leader and a two or three-year starter during his time playing for the 49'ers.

Quick hitters from the West

2016 four-star Lonzo Ball is a major talent on the offensive end. The No. 20 player in the sophomore class is pushing 6-foot-5, has deep range and is a fantastic passer who sees the floor very well. He is flashy and can be very entertaining to a crowd when he has it rolling. However, he lacks strength and physicality in his game. When pressed and roughed up a bit, Ball turns into a bit of a shrinking violet. If he is going to tap into all of his potential, embracing the grinding, ugly and thankless side of the game is going to be very important.

In this regard, Ball should study lots of film of Arizona bound Parker Jackson-Cartwright or take notes from fellow 2016 four-star Devearl Ramsey. A sub six-footer who is all arms and legs and skinny, PJC doesn't have the size or physical gifts of Ball, but the 150-pound sub six-footer is exceedingly tough and has learned to deal with the physical side of the game. Ramsey, as well, is tough as nails. Ramsey brings the fight to anybody he goes against and his in your face style is one that serves him very well.

The 2014 point guard class is picked over pretty thin when it comes to left over point guards, but Devin Watson has established himself as a legit high-major option. The former Oregon State commit is a sub six-footer, but he has blazing speed, a very good pull-up jump shot and can score some from deep. He's not quite as physically gifted as say UConn's Ryan Boatright, but he is a similar style player and could help somebody out as a spring signee.

Eric Bossi is the national basketball recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. You can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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