Recruiting stock rising for Haanif Cheatham

Haanif Cheatham’s remedy for a bad shooting night is quite simple. “Any time I have an off shooting day, I get in the gym soon as I can and I get up about 500 shots,” Cheatham said Sunday afternoon. “I shoot until my arm falls off.”

Off shooting nights are a bit rare for Cheatham (6-5-1/2, 180, Fort Lauderdale, FL Pembroke Pines Charter), who has his sights set on a Florida Class 6A state championship. He’s averaging 26.5 points, 10.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game for Pembroke Pines Charter School, which advanced to the Region 3/6A semifinals with a 76-59 win over South Fork Thursday night.

The win advanced Pembroke Pines to a Tuesday night showdown with Boynton Beach. Cheatham knows what’s at stake.

“Two wins this week and we’re going to Lakeland,” Cheatham said. “We’ve never made it to Lakeland before. This is a big thing for us. We’re just going to play our hearts out and try to do something nobody has done before from our school.”

Winning a state championship is the first leg of a long term plan for Cheatham. He will play AAU ball this summer for Nike Team Florida. Last year’s national runners-up in the 16-and-under division, Nike Team Florida is considered one of the favorites to bring home a national championship this summer with a roster that includes Cheatham, Chance McSpadden (6-4, 180, Winter Haven, FL), UCF commitment Chad Brown (6-8, 210, Deltona, FL) and Florida commitments (2016) Johnny Mooney (6-10, 220, Altamonte Springs, FL Lake Brantley) and (2015) Kevarrius Hayes (6-9, 195, Live Oak, FL Suwannee).

And then there is the ultimate goal.

“I really want to play for a national champion in college,” Cheatham said. “After that, who knows, but I want to win one in college.”

There will be no shortage of scholarship offers. Cheatham is a lefty who plays mostly on the wing but he fills in at the point and has been known to take reps in the post as well.

It’s that versatility that has already attracted offers from Pittsburgh, Georgia, Alabama, Miami, Vanderbilt and UCF. Lately he is getting plenty of recruiting attention from Florida, Florida State, Kansas, Baylor and Villanova.

Cheatham does not have a Florida offer yet, but he’s talking regularly to assistant coach Matt McCall and is looking forward to meeting Billy Donovan in person when he visits the UF campus on March 8 when the Gators face Kentucky at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

Nike Team Florida coach Tom Topping believes Cheatham’s recruiting stock will go off the charts this spring. Topping was the AAU coach for Nick Calathes, Chandler Parsons and Walter Hodge along with current Gators Scottie Wilbekin and Will Yeguete.

“He’s still growing and he’s still figuring a lot of things out,” Topping said. “Right now, his biggest strength is he can play anywhere. I’d say he’s got a lot of Calathes and Chandler in his game in that he has a very high basketball IQ, scores in a lot of different ways, rebounds, makes the smart pass and leads the break.

“I wouldn’t call him a super athlete but he’s deceptively fast, has good acceleration and he’s able to beat people off the dribble. He’s very serious about the game and he wants to get better every day he practices. He’s never satisfied and always believes he can get better. He’s really similar to Nick in so many ways. I expect he will have a lot more offers after this spring.”

Topping is irked a bit that ESPN doesn’t have Cheatham ranked in its 2015 top 60.

“That’s ridiculous,” Topping said. “Did they see him when we got to the finals at the 16-and-under national last year? I have no idea what they’re looking for but for him to not be in there is crazy.”

Asked to offer up some self-analysis, Cheatham offered the following:

OFFENSE: “I’m not afraid to take a shot if we need it, but if someone is open and has a better shot, he’s going to get the ball. A guy with a two-foot shot has a lot better chance to score than me if I’m away from the basket. If I’m open, I’m confident that I’m going to knock down the shot. I would classify me more as a slasher than a shooter. I can beat people off the dribble and get to the rim. I’ve worked hard to be a good finisher at the rim. If you get to the rim, you’ve got to finish.

“I would say I play with a lot of aggression and a lot of confidence. I’m just as good with getting a rebound or an assist as I am with scoring. You’ve got to have a total game. You can’t be one-dimensional.”

DEFENSE: “You know, I really like playing defense. One of the best things you can do is lock your guy down. That’s the best feeling to get when a guy looks at you and he knows he can’t do anything to score on you.”

SIZE: “I’ve grown. I’m 6-5-1/2 and I think I’ll grow some more. I’d really like to get to 6-7. That would be a perfect height to play on the wing or play the point in college.”

BEYOND BASKETBALL: “Someday it all ends and you want to be ready for that day. I want to major in pre-law and go to law school. That’s my plan B for life after basketball. I can’t decide whether I want to get into sports law or criminal law but that’s what I want to do.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.