After a heated recruiting battle, Elijah Saunders has committed to SDSU. Saunders is a 6’8″ Power forward out of Sunnyslope High School in Phoenix. He is ranked by the 247 composite as the 23rd best power forward in the nation, and a four star recruit. He chose SDSU over schools such as Norte Dame, Virginia Tech, and the university of Miami.
The first thing one notices when they see Elijah Saunders is his size. Standing at 6’8″, he weighs in at 220 lbs. He has a very strong, muscular body, which is pretty rare among incoming freshman. Many freshman, especially bigs, come in looking like Jalen McDaniels; tall and long, but also very skinny. This isn’t the case with Saunders. He has a college ready body as a senior in high school.
He is also used to playing with another big on the floor. Sunnyslope played another player at the center position, so Saunders is used to playing the power forward position. That should help his learning curve when transitioning to college ball.
What does Elijah Saunders bring on defense?
Defensively Saunders will need some work. He’s generally quick enough to keep up with high school level athletes, but he may struggle against quicker players at the college level.
He also played in a very basic defensive system in high school. For the most part his role was to guard his man. He didn’t play a lot of help defense, he didn’t make many flashy plays. He just did his best to stay in front of his man, and he was successful more often than not.
What he does well is use his strength and size to bother opposing players. he has a strong base and is hard to back down in the post, and his height helps him contest jump shots.
He’s also a good rebounder. He’s able to use his size and strength to keep other players away from the ball, and has the bounce to reach up and grab boards.
He’ll have a lot of work to do defensively when he arrives at SDSU. Learning the help principles, screen coverages, and rotations may take some time since they’re things has hasn’t done much at the high school level. He’s shown he has a strong work ethic, so when he learns the system he should be a solid, if unspectacular defender. If he can improve on his lateral quickness he becomes a much better and more versatile defender capable of guarding most anyone on the floor.
What does Elijah Saunders bring on offense?
The offensive side of the floor is where Saunders shines. He is still learning and developing, but he already has a versatile scoring arsenal.
Saunders is most comfortable down on the low block. In the twenty or so shots I’ve tracked from within ten feet of the basket, he’s only missed one, and he rebounded the shot he missed and scored on the putback. He’s been near automatic down low in the games I’ve seen. Saunders does benefit from playing against players that are smaller or weaker than he is, but he has shown good touch around the rim and he knows how to position himself to open passing lanes.
One of the actions Saunders uses a lot is a high low play. This is something the Aztecs do sometimes as well. If Saunders is being fronted in the post or is being guarded by a smaller player, another big will throw the ball over the top of the defense and put Saunders in an easy scoring position with no defenders in between him and the basket.
While scoring around the basket is what Saunders is best at, he is by no means limited to it. Saunders will be lethal on offense with his ability to stretch the floor. He is no Jordan Schakel, but he is a threat in both the midrange as well as from behind the arc. Defenses will have to honor his shot and close out hard. The SDSU coaching staff likes to have a power forward who can hit shots from deep. From Malik Pope to Matt Mitchell, the offense seems to work best when the power forward can stretch the floor.
No offensive arsenal would be complete without the ability to hit mid range jumpers. The Aztecs especially like having forwards who can hit free throw line jumpers, as that’s how they attack the 2-3 zone. They put a forward at the free throw line and let them decide whether to shoot, attack the basket, or kick out to a shooter for a 3. That is a role Saunders can grow into in a few years.
Make no mistake, Saunders will do most of his damage around the basket. The versatility will make him a dangerous weapon in the Aztecs offense though. He’ll be able to score over smaller quicker players and pull bigger players out to the perimeter away from the rim.
While Saunders has some ability to score at all three levels, his offensive game is by no means complete. He doesn’t have great ball handling skills, so don’t expect him to initiate offense early on. Along those lines he doesn’t create most of his shots. He has some shot creation ability in the post, but he won’t create much out of isolation on the perimeter.
He’s also not asked to make many decisions in the Sunnyslope offense. He decides if he’s open for a shot or not, and the passes he’s asked to make are passes usually simple reads, and not designed to create holes in the defense.
Having a 6’8″ player who can score at all three levels is a valuable commodity even without the other skills. Saunders will likely turn some heads early in his career with his scoring abilities.
Saunders is a good pickup for the Aztecs. His versatile scoring arsenal will fit right into what SDSU likes to do offensively. He’ll be able to cause mismatches without giving up any size or rebounding ability. He can score inside and outside, and if I had to bet I’d say he finishes his SDSU career with over 1,000 points.
Defensively there will be a leaning curve. It’s hard to gauge what his ceiling might be due to the limited responsibilities he has at the high school level. He may miss time early while trying to learn the system, but by his sophomore year he should at the very least be a solid team defender and a good rebounder.
Also, take note that all these observations and clips were from Saunders junior year, and he has another whole year of high school development before he gets to SDSU. He has shown a strong work ethic and so it is likely that he develops his game even more before coming to SDSU, covering up some weaknesses. That development is something fans will need to watch closely as he finishes his high school career.