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LAS VEGAS, Nev. — At one point during the Oakland Soldiers’ game Wednesday night, prized Class of 2018 wing player Taeshon Cherry missed a three-pointer in the corner and put his head down as he walked to the other side to play defense.
“Get back!” a fan yelled at the Spring Valley High School gym.
Cherry, who did not hear the shout because of the noise from the packed gym, shook off his own disappointment and sped to the other hoop to disrupt the opponent from scoring in transition. Maturity is settling in with Cherry, a 6’8″ junior-to-be at San Diego’s St. Augustine High School.
Last year at this time, his emotions would have got the best of him. His coaches would have sent him to the bench. Gone are those days.
“I was kind of hothead last summer, but I’ve cooled down a little bit,” Cherry told me after the Soldiers defeated the A-Level Eagles in pool play at the Bigfoot Hoops Las Vegas Classic at Spring Valley High School.
“My attitude and everything is getting better for me. I’m always in the gym trying to get better.”
It helps that former Oakland Soldiers standouts and NBA lottery picks Aaron Gordon and Stanley Johnson, formerly of the Arizona Wildcats, are offering their support with their wisdom of going from AAU hoops to the pros.
Gordon and Johnson sat on the Soldiers’ bench for most of the second half of the game. They mingled with players and coaches afterward for more almost an hour. Cherry spoke with them for more than 10 minutes.
“They told me what it takes to get to the next level,” said Cherry, who has carried on a friendship with Gordon for a while now. “I am trying all that I can to get where I want to be and that’s the NBA.”
Gordon and Johnson did not sugarcoat anything with that process while talking to Cherry and other members of the Oakland Soldiers.
“They compliment you but they also tell you that you have a lot of work ahead of you,” said point guard Alex Barcello, a Class of 2017 target of Sean Miller and his coaching staff who sat next to Gordon on the bench.
'18 Taeshon Cherry (CA) has a motor, size & upside. Sky is the limit.
“They tell you to able to get to the level where they’re at you have to work hard every day and take criticism.”
Cherry has communicated with Miller since his freshman season. Arizona was one of the first schools to contact him. He knows of Miller being forthright, a characteristic his former players such as Gordon and Johnson came to respect by the time they left.
With how Cherry has grown up from last year to now indicates he is preparing himself appropriately for the demands of major college basketball and the expectations that will be placed on him as a high-level talent.
“I talk to them (Miller and assistant Joe Pastnernack) all of the time … we text and call a lot,” Cherry said. “We’ve developed a great relationship.
“I see what they did with guys like Aaron Gordon and Stanley Johnson. To see those guys go to Arizona and succeed the way they did, that’s what I want for myself.”
Cherry, a big physical wing (at 210 pounds and growing) who can defend at all five positions, said he will likely visit McKale Center in the coming months. He mentioned he will remain open-minded with the recruiting process until his senior season gets underway in more than a year.
“My commitment is not until my senior year,” he said. “Arizona is definitely up there. It was my favorite school since I was a kid. They’re definitely up there.”
Kansas recently offered him a scholarship. Others who are high on his list include Florida State, Cal, Texas A&M, Nevada, Gonzaga and Colorado State. A four-star recruit, as rated by Scout.com, Cherry will receive more scholarship offers from top-flight programs throughout the upcoming season.
He fits the mold of a Johnson or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson with his athleticism, size and strength to defend a point guard in one sequence and then a post player in another.
“I’m trying to guard every position like LeBron (James), one through five,” Cherry said. “I’m in the gym every day working on my quickness twice a day.
“I think I need to also put on more weight because people at the highest level are at 250 at my position. I’m in the weight room all the time working with the strength coach at my high school.”
One of the highlights from Wednesday’s game was Cherry snagging a loose ball and driving the ball up the court, weeding through defenders into the lane before unleashing the pass on time to a teammate for a layup. In addition to his improving ball-handling skills, Cherry also has a wide shooting range with a good release on the ball.
“A lot of my game I pattern after Kevin Durant and Aaron Gordon so I watch them play as much as I can,” Cherry said. “They can bring the ball up the floor despite them being tall. I work on my handle a lot and pounding it up the court. I make sure nobody can take it from me.”
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.