By Farmer Jones / @thefarmerjones
I wish I weren’t in Akron right now.
I realize this is not, on its face, a bold statement. It is 300 degrees here, and even with the best weather Akron is not exactly Malibu or Manhattan or Maui. But most of the time I’m out here, I’m happy. I eat too much Swenson’s and see some guys from the old neighborhood (not my old neighborhood, of course, but someone’s; they’re guys I met a long time ago, and I just like how that sounds) and watch basketball played by very good high school players and very good college players, all of whom have something to prove; and then I sit courtside and watch LeBron James and some of his friends (most of whom I’ve known since they were 15 or 16) run pick-up games until 10 or 11 at night. And here’s the thing: If you have spent the past 10 years watching and writing about basketball, and a decent chunk of that time watching and writing about basketball players from Akron, there are a lot worse ways to spend a few days in early July.
Just no so much this year.
The LeBron James Skills Academy is back at the University of Akron, and for its stated purposes — improving the games of some of the best high school players in the country, and helping the best returning college players maximize their eventual draft stock—it’s doing just fine. But because I’m spoiled, I am disappointed by the reality of LeBron Camp 2K10. This is because:
-College coaches aren’t allowed this year. This isn’t a travesty — if anything, it means more room in the bleachers for guys like me — but “Name the Shade of Roy Williams’ Offseason Tan” is the coolest game on the summer circuit, and now I can’t play. (For the record, I won the pool last year with “russet.” Big upset, as “ochre” was the pre-camp favorite.)
-Videotaping the NBA/college runs is no longer allowed, a fact clearly stated in the media information packet. Actually, this neither disappoints nor surprises me, but it is worth mentioning on the one-year anniversary of Jordan Crawford’s public deflowering. I just liked it better when the video policy wasn’t clearly stated. Chaos is fun.
-A lot of the really, really good kids aren’t here. LeBron Camp the past few years did a pretty good job of replacing the glory days of ABCD Camp as the place to catch future NBA all-stars. Not so this year. This is not to take away from the kids who are here — there are some great ones, a few of whom I’ll mention shortly — but star power is decidedly lacking. Between the adidas Invitational going on in Indianapolis and the U17 World Championships taking place in Germany, the majority of the nation’s top 20 seniors are not in Ohio this week.
-LeBron. LeBronLeBronLeBronLeBronLeBron. The same thing that has made this camp so uniquely cool the past few summers — LeBron coming in with a small army of NBA and high school teammates, friends, family, and hangers-on — is what’s making it suck this year. Last year, I had his son bouncing a ball behind my chair as I sat courtside next to half of his inner circle. This year, I literally can’t get within 100 feet of him because of the free agent media traveling circus tent has been set up in front of the gym. (Spare a thought now for Brian Windhorst and the rest of the LeBron Beat Writers™, a gaggle of whom sat outside — remember, it’s 300 degrees in Akron this week — for literally three hours Tuesday waiting for LeBron & Co. to show up and say… nothing. Those poor, poor men.)
Point being, LeBron Camp this year just isn’t much fun. I know: Wah, f’in wah. I have a good job and I should stop complaining, and I will now.
Also, the wireless service in the gym this week has sucked.
Ok, now I’m really done.
BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: I typed everything above this line at around 5 p.m. Tuesday — BEFORE HE ANNOUNCED THE ESPN SPECIAL — and during the dinner break between afternoon and evening sessions, when the gym was shut to pretty much everyone (including NBA scouts) for two hours. As far as we media dopes knew, LeBron and his boys were going to run while we were gone, and be done by the time we got back.
We should know better than to think we know stuff.
We got back in at 6:30, in time for the 105-minute high school session, which was supposed to be skills & drills, followed by 5-on-5 runs among the preps. Instead, the first 5-on-5 we saw was five high school kids running against Damon Jones, Boobie Gibson, Jawad Williams, Christian Eyenga and LeBron James. This is the sort of stuff that has made this camp great the past four years — a bunch of very good high school kids realizing that, with literally no warning, they are about to run fullcourt against a team led by the guy whose name is on every one of their reversable mesh jerseys.
I’ll get to the run in a minute — easily the highlight of camp so far, allowing as it did for the ballsiest HS campers to show out against a bunch of pros — but the point is that this was the sort of thing that seemed to be missing from this year’s camp: LeBron’s whim determining unexpected moments (like Crawford’s dunk last year) that everybody in the gym will remember (not to mention the millions who weren’t in the gym, who remember it for all the wrong reasons.) It was missing until the pros took the court against the high schoolers, and then, for at least that long, it was back.
Again, this was Tuesday night. Here’s what happened, with a mention for every kid I can squeeze in who enjoyed (or tried to) a moment against LeBron:
-Jabari Brown: LeBron just missed a jumper over you!
-Ricardo Ledo: You just beat LeBron off the dribble — twice! The fact that he appears to be playing at about (guesstimate) 20 percent of full speed should not dampen this memory for you in the least.
-Achraf Yacoubou: You just crossed over Damon Jones. Honestly, you’ve probably already forgotten about this.
-Rakeem Christmas: You just got a piece of LeBron’s layup attempt. You are a shot blocker, so this is legit. The fact that LeBron may not have left the ground on that drive is beside the point.
-Michael Carter-Williams: All 6-5, 175 pounds of you was just called for a loose-ball foul on LeBron. I don’t think there was any contact, though, if only because I can still see your body, and it does not appear to have been vaporized. Extra credit for trying, even half-heartedly, to argue the call. See that big logo you’re standing on at center court? Those are his initials. Yeah. No, it’s fine. Just keep hustling.
-Wayne Blackshear: Your defense semi-forced LeBron into airballing a three-pointer. (As soon as this happened Tuesday night, I tried to make #wayneblackshear a trending Twitter topic. No one bit. All you LeBron haters on my Twitter feed are fwackin’ LAZY.
-Dominique Pointer: Ah, you’re that dude. Somebody had to be that dude, and you’re him. You’re that dude who’s like, “F*ck have I got to lose? I can play. I’ma go at him.” And so you did. You drained a three in LeBron’s eye. Next trip down, he tried to take you baseline, and you got some help, but he didn’t score. Next time after that, you got a poke-away, and you broke fullcourt, all alone, for the open dunk. It wasn’t going to be on LeBron — not this year — but still, they were gonna talk about you.
You ganked the dunk.
Regardless, I’m talking about you, Dominique Pointer. No reason to come out and play shy against these guys. Way to attack. Way not to be afraid. The fact that you hit another three a minute later over Jamario? We already forgot that. But we remember you.
-Jamal Branch: You just pulled up and hit the game-winner that knocked LeBron’s team off the court! Great shot! Wait—why is your team leaving? Oh, our bad. It’s LeBron’s court. No, it’s literally LeBron’s court. Still, nice shot.
(For the record, yes, LeBron hogs the court as long as he wants here, but there is reason behind the greed: Opposing teams were rotated in at the end of every game, and as far as I can tell, each and every one of the 70-plus able-bodied campers had a chance to play against LeBron’s team. Which, you know, is the point.)
-Tyrone Johnson: You have just shown off nice handles and an exceptionally confident J. Propers.
That’s who I noticed during the LeBron Runs. But like I said, pretty much all the kids got on the court, and I’d bet money that all of them were still talking about it when they drifted off to sleep.
Here’s some other stuff I noticed the first two days of camp, during those rare moments when Shelley Smith wasn’t very politely asking me to identify obscure college players like Kyle Singler.
-During Monday’s college scrimmages, Singler and teammate Nolan Smith were the only guys playing shirtless. Christian Laettner and Brian Davis would be proud…
-Then, Tuesday, Singler and Smith ended up guarding each other during a halfcourt 5-on-5 drill. I don’t know if they have their rings yet, but if I were them I’d totally be wearing them during games, risk of disfiguring eye injuries to opponents be damned.
-Vernon Macklin is a beast. We knew this about him coming out of high school four years ago (if I remember correctly, Ben Osborne was a big fan), but I’d kind of forgotten about him since he’s been down at Florida, and I don’t think I was the only one. Big man is all over the rim, and maybe the most talked-about collegian here. Looking forward to seeing him get his shot in the League in 2011.
-Speaking of the Gators, this Chandler Parsons kid is pretty good. He’s also, it must be said, pretty.
-I am obliged to mention Penn State senior-to-be Talor Battle. He’s the smallest of the 20 college campers here, and comes from the least accomplished program. Having spent the past three years seeing him in person, I know he can score. Good to see him here, surrounded by talent and focusing on running a team and distributing,
-If I had to pick a favorite drill to watch, the one where they go fullcourt 3-on-2, then immediately back 2-on-1 (with the shooter at one end being the solo defender at the other) would probably be it. I can’t recall if this drill has a name; if you’ve played organized basketball more recently than I have (which would not be hard), feel free to let me know.
-An update for Cavs fans: Your guy Eyenga looks a lot like he did last summer — silly athletic, but still not convincing as a basketball player. But he seems to have gotten at least a little closer to that goal.
-Chris Paul, still getting back into shape after (I think?) knee surgery, looked a little tentative but still occasionally very CP3-like Monday night when he jumped into the runs with LeBron and Co. I remain convinced that Chris and Bron will find a way to play together at some point in their careers.
Oh, and the high schoolers? They actually spent most of the time playing against each other, not LeBron. Among the others who stood out:
-Kentavious Caldwell is a willowy 6-6 wing from Georgia. Yeah, I said “willowy.” He catches my eye with a nice contested finish on the break.
-With all the dudes in Indy and Germany (and I really hope those kids in Hamburg are able to soak up some World Cup atmosphere…), one of the few semi-marquee names out here is LaQuinton Ross from Mississippi. I’m getting glimpses of why: He’s a rangy 6-8, and he gets up and down the floor really nicely.
-Visually compelling matchup of camp goes to the pairing of DaJuan Coleman and Deng Leek. Coleman, from Syracuse, is listed at 6-9, 280, but it looks like they might be shorting him 15 pounds. Leek, a native of Sudan (as you might’ve guessed) now playing prep school in North Carolina, is listed at 6-10, 220. Needless to say, Coleman (who moves pretty well for his size) does most of the banging when they’re matched up.
-Another Jamal Branch shout-out. The kid from Humble showing poise with a nice step-back J over a big man. I just like how dude carries himself. Nice job, Texas A&M.
-A quick plug for Jahii Carson of Arizona, who a trusted eye has asked me to keep tabs on. Carson is wearing #1, and I think he’s the smallest dude in camp. Big game, though — handles and hops.
-And the dude who’s writing this year’s Slam Basketball Diary is… not here. I’m bummed that he’s either in Indy or Germany — I know which, I’m just not telling yet. You’ll find out soon. We think he’ll be a good one.
*P.S. Camp continues today (Wednesday), and then the high schoolers head up to Cleveland for the King City Classic on Thursday and Friday. Our man Rodger Bohn will have that covered.