I spent a few days this week in Northeast Ohio. While there, I:
-Listened to some ’90s music I’d too long neglected, including Gentlemen, Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, and the Judgment Night soundtrack; the first because the Whigs are from Ohio (Cinci, but whatever), the second because, well, Roc La Familia and all that; and the third because I haven’t listened to it in a long time, and it’s ridiculous. (Once, not long after I started at SLAM, Boo-Ya Tribe came through the offices we shared with XXL. I don’t think I’ve ever been more frightened in my life.)
-Read Animal Farm. I’d never read it before. It was pretty good.
-Ate at Swenson’s three times in two days. Galley Boy. Fried zucchini. Banana milkshake. What.
-Dozed off in a booth in the University of Akron student union building.
-Sat courtside as Jordan Crawford dunked on LeBron James.
-Did not check email or the internet for nearly 72 hours; this is both extremely refreshing and makes one feel as if one has literally found a stone or boulder large enough to provide shelter from all aspects of the outside world (without, somehow, also crushing the one residing beneath it. Still not sure how that works). Did I miss anything?
So, yeah, Akron and Cleveland, for the 2009 LeBron James Skills Academy and King City Classic, respectively. Here is a chronological summary of events as, ahem, witnessed by me.
Get up dumb early Monday morning. Drive straight from Central Pa to the James A. Rhodes Arena on the downtown campus of the University of Akron in time to catch the first morning session of the Skills Academy, where I see a bunch of the best high school basketball players in America not actually playing basketball. Nike flipped the traditional summer camp script this year, dedicating (at least in theory) the first two days of camp strictly to player drills. Meaning: No games. Meaning: Theoretically good for the kids, who can work on specific skills before they get caught up in trying to impress the college coaches in games. Meaning: Boring for media guys who get up dumb early to drive four hours to Akron.
It’s not bad, though. As one of the NBA scouts I talk to explains, watching these guys in drills is a good chance to see which players pick things up quickly, hustle and execute. Right now, it’s also a chance to see how they react to the presence of the camp’s namesake in the midst of their drills. LeBron jumps into a session with the camp’s wings, running 3-on-3 halfcourt drills. Later, he joins in on some 5-on-5 drills — a not quite full-blown runs, but close enough — running with a lineup that includes the camp’s top junior (and arguably top player, period), Michael Gilchrist.
Across the street in the UA student fitness center (which is dope), Fran Fraschilla is telling the guards how “it’ll take 3-4 weeks” before they really pick up on the stuff they’re working on here.
Early pick for my favorite player at camp: JT Terrell. He’s rocking a serious high-top fade. Actually watching him play as the week goes on, I’ll only like him more.
Worth nothing: The cups lined up by the courtside water cooler are basically thimbles. Not sure if this is an attempt to prevent overhydration, or if somebody f*cked up on their Wal-Mart run. Either way, kids are going through like 10 cups each during breaks in action. This is silly.
Last year, I saw, but didn’t pay much attention to, a rising junior named Harrison Barnes. I’m paying more attention this year, not least because… well, you’ll see soon enough. First impression of arguably the nation’s top senior? He’s long—the sort of long where he almost seems to expand when he plays.
On Monday afternoon, I get my first look at the 20 college kids in attendance. A lot of the college guys at last year’s camp were drafted this year, so it’s worth paying attention. They’re going strictly drills for now, too, at the moment being led by a bald, drill-sergeant looking dude spitting out motivational winners like “I hear you bullsh*tting in the hotel a lot, but I don’t hear you talking out here.”
Dinner, like lunch, is at Swenson’s, though this time I’m joined by Shirley and Jourdan-Ashle Barnes, mom and sister of Harrison. They are having a lot of fun being the mom and sister of maybe the best player in the country this year, and props to Shirley for going with my recommendation of Galley Boy and fried zucchini. Good conversation and grease? You don’t beat that, people.
Back for the Monday night session, I’m happy to see that the drills-only format is being set aside. Scrimmage time! Among those who catch my eye…
-JT Terrell. He’s keeping Brandon Jennings’ throwback haircut alive, and his game is slightly reminiscent of the brash ’09 Lottery pick — he’s not as good, but this point guard plays hard, gets buckets and entertains.
-Rakeem Christmas. A 6-9 junior big man from Philly (though I’m told he’s no relation to Dionte) is raw and a little gangly, but the big-time potential is there. Dude can block some shots. Hopefully the offense will follow in kind.
-Adreian Payne. I don’t use the word “rangy” often enough, so I’ll use it to describe this 6-9 kid from Dayton. He takes up some space.
-Malcolm Gilbert. A 6-11 junior rocking knee pads and high socks. He’s kinda awkward and still growing into his body, but you can see it…
-A nice finish on the break by Dayton signee Juwan Staten earns raves from the guys sitting around me, most of whom are affiliated with LeBron’s alma mater, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary. Seems Staten gave St. V hell in the Ohio state title game, keeping his Marshall HS squad in the game pretty much by his lonesome. Watching him here, I can see why they like him. Looks like Dayton did well to keep the local cat in town.
-Once again, I am obliged to mention Taran Buie, the 6-2 guard from Albany who, as I noted last year, is the younger brother of Penn State’s all-Big Ten guard Talor Battle. In March, Buie committed to join his brother next year in Happy Valley. I do what I can.
-Josh Selby. It won’t be the first time I mention this B’more product, who regularly gets it done in traffic.
-A tough, contested runner from College Park, GA product Jelan Kendrick catches my eye. Nice.
Late Monday the high schoolers give way to the grown-ups. The side-by-side courts at the JAR arena are hosting fullcourt runs, with four teams made up of the 20 college kids and the fifth led by our host. The roster: LeBron, his high school teammate Romeo Travis (now playing pro ball in Germany), Cavs’ reserve Tarence Kinsey, and Cleveland draft picks Danny Green and Christian Eyenga — or, as I write in my notebook because I can’t remember his name, “#30.”
I’m not alone. Seated near me is a prominent unofficial member of the extended Nike fam, and he spends pretty much the entire game talking sh*t on Eyenga — though, granted, some of it is deserved. The quick scouting report: Dude is very athletic and entirely raw as a basketball prospect. He follows a wet three-pointer with back-to-back airballs. He alternates made dunks with failed dunks on a pretty even basis. He attempts no offense in between. If he gets the sh*t coached out of him the next few years (most likely back in Europe) he might be a player someday. That said, it was maybe harsh, in the middle of the game, to ask loudly, “Is this the first time he’s played on a wood court?”
Funny, but harsh.
I leave the gym that night thinking this running commentary of Eyenga-hate will be the most memorable part of my evening. I guess I should mention the first of the rotating college teams LeBron and Co. faced. It featured Kansas big man Cole Aldrich, VaTech guard Malcolmn Delaney, Michigan forward DeShawn Sims, Cal guard Patrick Christopher, and a sophomore from Xavier named Jordan Crawford.
I take two notes from this game. They are….
“Crawford dunks on Bron”
…and, a few minutes later,
“Bron’s team wins”
…and, bar a couple people asking about it on Tuesday, I don’t think about it again until I’m driving back home late Wednesday. As mentioned, I was totally (and happily) unplugged during this trip. Not until I got hit with a bunch of calls and texts on Wednesday did I realize there was a, um, controversy of sorts. Since I was sitting three feet from the court — unlike the vast majority of media who have actually commented about this, despite not having been in the building/city/state — when the dunk happened, I guess I should chime in. Here go:
Jordan Crawford dunked on LeBron James. Yes, this really happened! It was a nice dunk — not remotely in the Carter on Weiss category, not even close — but a nice dunk nonetheless. LeBron wasn’t playing anywhere near full-speed, but he was still out there competing, and he got caught by a great play from a talented young college player. No excuses.
I did not see any sign of LeBron asking a Nike rep to get rid of the tapes. He could have, certainly, but if he did, I and everyone (except the now-unavoidable cameraman, of course) missed it.
I know that the amount of misinformation already printed on the topic — the Nike rep is named “Lenny,” “Lynn,” or “Larry,” depending on who you read; LeBron was dunked on by a high school kid, as opposed to a kid who played his senior year of high school ball in 2006; or the fact that they were in the midst of a “two-hour game”, as opposed to a first-to-seven run that finished in about 15 minutes — might make sensible observers doubt the veracity of the charges.
Certainly, I recognize the shortsighted stupidity of whoever thought it would be a good idea to hide the visual evidence of a dunk that was witnessed by multiple media reps. Certainly nobody asked me not to write about the dunk. Certainly it wasn’t hard to predict that a lot more people are now writing about it than actually saw it happen. Certainly somebody blew this.
Sadly, we’ll probably never know the truth. You’ll just have to hold yourself with this.
Funny side note to all this: Before the game starts, LeBron is getting stretched out on the floor a few feet from me. We bullsh*t for a minute—he asks me who I like in camp; I tell him who our next Diary writer is, and he mentions having talked to Coach K the other day about the very same kid—and then he focuses on getting loose for the game. Not long after, a trailing crew of family and friends come in, LeBron’s sons among them. Watching him surrounded by familiar faces, playing with his kids like any dad would, I’m thinking how even the most relentless haters would have a hard time not liking the dude if they saw him in this setting.
Later, while the games goes on, the James boys play with some other kids right behind where I’m sitting. At one point, one of the other kids asks Bron’s oldest, “What’s your name?”
“LeBron James,” LeBron James Jr. says.
The other kid laughs. “What’s your name?”
Jr. pauses before answering again. “L-E-B-R-O-N J-A-M-E-S.”
This is funny.
You know what else is funny? While the rest of us get angry or excited or sport wood over DunkGate ’09, LeBron is hanging out in Idaho with all the richest white people in the Western World. Seriously — it’s just Bron and a bunch of pale 50-year-old millionaires, chilling in Sun Valley.
I love this game.
Tuesday morning college drills. Some thoughts:
-Kyle Singler does everything pretty well. Hustles, too. He’s just not really great at anything, is he?
-I really like Patrick Christopher. If he could learn to play the point — which I don’t put past him — I could see him at the next level.
-Greivis Vasquez always seems to be looking for the sick pass. He just doesn’t always find it.
-DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris both look really good this week. No doubt Michigan fans would like to see them look really good a little more consistently. Having seen their squad on both side of 20-point spreads against my Nittany Lions last year, I can vouch for the inconsistency.
-Listed at 6-10 and 217, VCU junior Larry Sanders has plenty of room for both improvement and extra weight. But he’s one of those long, active dudes who you could seeing figuring it out. And yes, I just said that.
Later Tuesday, the high school kids are back to playing games, which is great. Thoughts:
-JT Terrell doing it again, hitting a baseline runner and then a spot-up three on back-to-back possessions. He’s going to Wake. They’re going to like him.
-You’ll read a lot about how Harrison Barnes’ game is really smooth, but here’s the thing: Harrison Barnes’ game is really smooth.
-Chicago’s Mike Shaw doing good things from the wing.
-Go end to end and finish with a two-handed dunk, and you get your name in the paper. Nice work, Trey Ziegler of Michigan.
-Michael Gilchrist hasn’t made as noisy an impact as he did last year, or at so many other events, but get that dude in the open court with the ball in his hands and he does pretty much anything he wants.
-Hit back-to-back threes with a hand in your eye — especially when you’re listed at 5-6 — and you get your name in the paper. Well played, Ahmad Starks of the Chi.
The college guys are back running Tuesday night, with a little bit of help from… Craig Ehlo? One of the returning coach/instructors from last year, Ehlo briefly jumped into one of the fullcourt runs with the 20-somethings. Thankfully for his sake, it doesn’t last long.
-There’s Patrick Christopher again, with back-to-back threes. Did I mention there are a lot of NBA scouts here this week? Somebody’s gotta find a position for this dude by next June.
-Jordan Crawford makes a couple of plays, but since LeBron’s not on the court, nobody cares. Shame.
-Dayton wing Chris Wright likes the baseline. Corner jumpers? Driving up-and-under finishes? Check and check. Then there’s the defensive rebound, fullcourt dribble and two-handed finish. Nice work.
-Tulsa 7-footer Jerome Jordan matches up with VCU’s Sanders, which is fun to watch: Two raw, long-ass dudes testing each other. Either could have a future in the L with a little more polish.
The semi/pro run picks up again Tuesday night, with a distinctly Akron/Cleveland flavor: Bron’s running with former high school teammates Romeo Travis, Dru Joyce (also pro balling in Europe), Brandon Weems and Maverick Carter, along with his pro teammates Green, Eyenga, Kinsey, Darnell Jackson and Mo Williams. The other guy on the floor for a stretch is Jakarr Sampson, a 6-6 junior-to-be at St. Vincent-St. Mary. He gets stuffed a couple times by Eyenga, and he laughs after both of them. Mostly, he looks very comfortable on the floor. This kid’s gonna be alright.
Also worth noting: Darnell Jackson’s nickname appears to be “Block.”
Wednesday morning, everything shifts to Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center in downtown Cleveland, where we’re officially attending the King City Classic. It’s all the same kids who were in Akron, of course, but for NCAA certification purposes (there were no college coaches allowed in Akron), it’s a different event. Today, the college coaches are out en masse. I was gonna list them by name, but put it like this: Every college coach you’ve ever heard of — including, yes, Isiah Thomas — is in the building.
Regarding the college coaches, just one observation: Roy Williams’ offseason tan is absurd.
To the courts:
-Harrison Barnes does it at both ends.
-Tennessee commit Josh Selby shines on three straight possessions: Leading and dishing nicely on the break, finishing another break with a one-handed flush, wetting a three in a halfcourt set. Like I said.
-Juwan Staten is still playing well.
-Selby, again and again — a drive and pull-up from 17 feet, and a lovely skip pass on the break to set up a teammate for an easy two. Nice work by Bruce Pearl on this one.
-Jared Sullinger—who I probably haven’t written enough about, but who at 6-9, 260-something, is probably the best pure big in the building—backs down his man for a put-back of his own missed bunny. Selby, walking back upcourt, breaks it down. “Damn. He’s a big boy, though.” The Columbus product is staying home for college. He’s gonna kill my boys in 2010-11.
-Another Baltimore product, 6-7 CJ Fair, is making his points here. In short order, he sinks a contested three, then gets back in transition to cleanly block Barnes at the basket.
-Barnes is having a great morning, finishing the first half of his team’s first game by breaking down three defenders for a two-handed dunk, popping up for a dead-on three, and hustling back on D to break up a 3-on-2 break. Late in the game, he draws an “Oh!” from the spectators with a strong one-handed follow dunk, a play that’s sandwiched in between almost identical transition alleys to Selby, who finishes both with reverse two-handed oops. These two are running things, and their team wins by about 30.
-I have to say it: Alex Kirk is a 6-9 big from Los Alamos, NM. His game is sub-atomic.
-Gilchrist continues to have a very strong but comparatively quiet week, with occasional exceptions like this one: defensive rebound, fullcourt dribble, two-handed finish. Man among boys, and he’s still only a junior.
-New York state banger Tobias Harris likes contact. In a short span, he finishes a pair of and-ones — one at the rim, the other a baseline runner.
-Ooh, Crandall Head. Yes, he’s Luther’s little brother. Yes, he’s going to Illinois (along with like 17 other kids at camp, seemingly — Bruce Weber is hustling). And yes, he just threw a spinning no-look pass on the break to set up an easy layup.
-Skinny Texas big Tobi Oyedeji (an A&M signee) posts back-to-back rejections. He’s long and real aggressive. Get this kid on some serious calories and watch out.
-Oh, my goodness, Justin Anderson. Play of the week right here: A defensive rebound in traffic. End-to-end dribble. A one-handed rise and finish all over the 6-8 Oyedeji, who got greedy looking for another block. Hell of a play. Did I mention that Anderson, a wing from Maryland, is 6-4? And he’s going to be a sophomore?
-Dion Waiters makes his case to be Ben Osborne’s new favorite player: The sturdy 6-3 guard from Philly loves to post up lighter guards, especially on the baseline. City game right there.
-It happens every year: A guy who doesn’t do anything noteworthy while I’m actually watching him ends up having a great camp. This year, that guy seems to be Marquis Teague, Jeff’s little brother and a really aggressive 6-2 guard from Indy.
Lunch at some spot in downtown Cleveland, chosen because it’s got patio seating and the weather is perfect. I’m sitting at a table in the middle of the patio. At the three tables directly around me are: Ben Howland, Bob Huggins, and Louisville assistant Walter McCarty. Gotta love summer basketball.
Back at the gym…
-Jersey boy Myck Kabongo hits back-to-back threes from the corner.
-Selby. Barnes. Barnes. Selby.
-Did I mention I love JT Terrell? I think I did, but let me mention it again. I love JT Terrell. On consecutive possessions, he rises over two bigger players for a put-back, then wets a three. A minute later, he stops and pops from mid-range. Plus, again, he’s rocking the fade.
-Cameron Clark of Sherman, TX earns a mention with some work in the second half of a close game: A nasty one-handed follow dunk, and, later, a tough baseline jumper.
-Barnes. Selby. Repeat.
And then I have to leave, meaning I miss the camp’s final Thursday morning sessions; expect Rodger Bohn to pick up where I left off with a follow-up post soon.