by Franklyn Calle / @FrankieC7
Over the weekend, the prestigious NBPA Top 100 Camp celebrated its 20th anniversary. The really cool thing about the Top 100 Camp has to be its match-ups. When you take 100 of America’s top prep players and split them into different teams evenly by positions, some very intriguing match-ups are bound to happen as these highly recruited prospects end up having to guard each other. A second factor that helps is that it’s closed to the public. Thus, the players aren’t worried about trying to look cool in front of their friends and family, and therefore it seems as if they are more focus in this setting and get after it harder, resulting in some very intense competition on the hardwood. Among the very intriguing match-ups that came about at this year’s camp included Kentucky-bound Karl Towns vs. Skal LaBissiere, Isaiah Briscoe vs. Isaiah Whitehead, UNLV-commit Dwayne Morgan vs. UNC-commit Justin Jackson, Josh Perkins vs. Florida-bound Chris Chiozza, Karl Towns vs. Stephen Zimmerman, among others.
And although some match-ups do end up living up to the hype while others don’t, it nonetheless gives us a better sense as to where players stand in comparison to others of the same talent level.
Below are the players that impressed the most and how they did so.
Ja’Quan Newton, 6-2, PG, Neumann-Goretti (PA), 2014: In these types of events where top rated prospects spend the days scrimmaging against each other and trying to impress the media and scouts in attendance, many wonder if it actually helps in “improving” their game since they really aren’t trying to work on their weaknesses and instead focus only on showcasing their strengths. But Newton was one of those that you could tell really got better as the three days went by. He showed a new part of his repertoire as the camp proceeded. The Philadelphia native finished with an up-and-under lay up on a couple of strong moves to the hole, including one to end the third quarter of the championship game. He also showed the ability to split the defense on his way to the rim with a behind-the-back crossover. In general, Newton put on a clinic on how one should attack the basket with his explosive drives (especially in using his body to cup and protect the ball) and repeatedly splitting the defense. He demonstrated that he could go into the lane and finish with a runner shot on a couple of occasions, too. One thing I did notice is that he likes to start his dribble and begin moves to the rim predominantly from the top of the key much more than utilizing the two wing sides. He hit some perimeter shots every now and then as well throughout the three days. If the MVP vote had to be done based on the championship game, Newton would have been the obvious choice after dropping 31 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds. His stock will definitely rise after this past weekend and expect to see him climb up the charts in rankings.
Isaiah Whitehead, 6-4, SG, Lincoln (NY), 2014: Being from Brooklyn myself, I’ve watched Whitehead play since the 7th grade at the Conrad McRea Youth League on Dean Street. He demonstrated high-level potential back then and when the Coney Island native enrolled at famed Lincoln High School the expectations were unfairly high. Being that Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and recently Lance Stephenson (who won four straight city championships) went there, everyone anointed him as the next great guard to come out of CI. Fast-forward to three years later, and Whitehead has gone through his share of ups and downs. After failing to win the city title his first two years, Whitehead finally led Lincoln to a city championship this past season as a junior. It must be something about having won the championship that has elevated Whitehead’s game to another level because he looked as confident as I’ve ever seen him play, particularly the first two days. He was looking to be the aggressor from the moment he got the ball and if he wasn’t in a good position to take a jumper then he was simply taking it strong to the rack. His strongest asset has always been his ability to sink it from three (consistently) and it wasn’t any different this past weekend. He converted three up-and-under lay ups in one game on Friday morning, with the third even having the media sitting in the stands buzzing. Overall, Whitehead impressed by always being on attack-mode, something that folks in New York have previously criticized him for lacking (NYC b-ball fans aren’t always the most supportive community). After the first day of action, he was averaging 15 points per game, tied for leader in the category.
Kelly Oubre, 6-7, SF, Findlay Prep (NV), 2014 (right): Probably the most versatile player out there since he was everywhere on the floor and did a little bit of everything. His very active hands constantly led to flicks, deflections and steals. He was just as active on the glass and in drawing fouls. Oubre continued to prove his prowess from behind the perimeter and even demonstrated that he can handle the ball and bring it up the court. He had a 20-point performance in his 3rd game on Friday night, followed by 18 points and six rebounds on Saturday morning. The energy and hustle was just there in every single game with no hint of running out of gas throughout the three days.
Derrick Jones, 6-6, SF, Archbishop Carroll (PA), 2015: There should have been another category added to his stats sheet just because of the amount of put-back dunks this dude had. I counted at least four of those throughout the camp (& I even missed a game of his while checking out another event close by). In a couple of those put-back dunks he was actually around the perimeter when the shot was taken and simply flew in out of nowhere. He lived above the rim all weekend long and in total had at least seven ferocious dunks throughout the three-day camp. Jones also sank a couple of shots from behind the arc.
Damontrae Jefferson, 5-8, PG, Arlington Country Day (FL), 2014: For a minute it looked like it was Aquille Carr out there. Just like with Carr, it was his handle and explosive moves to the rim that were the most impressive. Fearless in attacking the rim, his speed was enough to create space on his way to the hole.
Justin Jackson, 6-8, SF, HCYA (TX), 2014: He has such a smooth-paced game that he makes it look a bit easy at times. He showcased his full repertoire, with some runners, reverse lay ups, corner jumpers, turn-around jumper, a few behind the arc shots, and even an impressive alley-oop dunk. When it was all said and done, he led the camp in scoring with 14 points per game.
Chris Chiozza, 5-11, White Station (TN), 2014: He converted a few assists off behind-the-back passes and showed the ability to thread the needle with his passes through traffic. He is a very good ball handler that uses his quickness to get to the rim or create space between him and his defender for a shot.
Stephen Zimmermann, 7-0, C, Bishop Gorman (NV), 2015: The rising junior was another one that demonstrated his versatility. He showcased a respectable jumper and even hit a beautiful bank-shot over Karl Towns. It looked as if the corner/baseline jumper were his preferable sides to shoot. He plays above the rim and flew in for a couple of ferocious put-back dunks. The Las Vegas native looked great running the floor in transition. He was very active on the defensive end, contesting shots and ultimately blocking a few of them .
Myles Turner, 6-11, C, Trinity (TX), 2014: Just like with Ja’Quan Newton, Turner is another prospect whose stock will rise as a result of this camp. He looked great in the post and even hit a couple of midrange jumpers. But what was most impressive was his play on the defensive end, constantly crashing the boards and rejecting shots. Having averaged 12.4 points and 4.8 rebounds during the camp, Tuner emerged as one of the top big men.
Cheick Diallo, 6-9, PF, Our Savior New American (NY), 2015: Named MVP by his fellow campers, Diallo almost averaged a double-double throughout the camp. With an average of approximately 11 points and 8 rebounds, he was the best big men performer in the camp, by far. He was just as busy contesting shots and did a great job in positioning himself on the block for those boards, while also generally showing great motor on both ends of the floor. In the championship game, Diallo demonstrated his competitive side as he went at it against Karl Towns, where among the highlights were a spectacular put-back dunk and a drive to the rim that saw him get past his defender with a hop step that was followed by a one-handed jam.
Joel Berry, 6-0, PG, Lake Highland (FL), 2014: He led the camp is assists, which should come as no surprise. Although Berry can score in different ways, it is his ability to lead the offense and create shots for others that has made him such a valuable recruit and the part that stood out the most in this camp. He plays at a great tempo, always in control and never overzealous. The UNC-commit has a high basketball-IQ and is always looking to make the right play.
Josh Perkins, 6-2, PG, Huntington Prep (WV), 2014: Just like Berry, it was Perkins’ playmaking abilities that impressed the most. He was able to squeeze in some passes through a traffic-jammed paint with perfection for easy baskets. He’s crafty enough to get off his own shot but prioritized finding high percentage shots for others.
Tyler Ulis, 5-9, PG, Marian Catholic (IL), 2014: Although his final numbers weren’t all that impressive, he made some very good passes inside with great accuracy. Ulis played with great intensity and always looked engaged with his active hands on defense.
Shaqquan Aaron, 6-6, SF, Rainer Beach (WA), 2014: The Louisville-commit looked more like a point-forward out there with his playmaking abilities and impressive passing skills, including a no-look behind-the-back pass that was right on the money. He also showed his prowess from the perimeter.
Reid Travis, 6-7, SF, De La Salle (MN), 2014: : Although he played well during the first two days, it was his tenacious play in the championship game that earned him a spot on this write-up. Hit some three-pointers, jumpers from baseline, a couple of coast-to-coast lay ups and was active on the offensive glass. He finished with 12 points and 4 rebounds in that title game.
Dwayne Morgan, 6-7, PF, St. Francis (MD), 2014: The UNLV-commit was one of the best scorers in attendance. He can score in different ways but looked to be most effective in transition. His explosiveness and strength, along with being able to do work from distance, makes it difficult for defenders to stick to one particular game plan. He looked unstoppable when attacking the rim and eventually came away with the third best scoring average in the camp.
Riley Norris, 6-6, SF, Albertville (AL), 2014: He was making it rain from behind the perimeter in the games that I watched him play and chipped in eight crucial points for his Celtics team in the championship match.
Skal LaBissiere, 6-10, C, Evangelical Christian (TN), 2015: Karl Towns arrived to the NBPA a day-and-a-half late on Friday night. And his first assignment was LaBissiere. The two went at it and despite being a grade lower, the Memphis native showed no fear and made it a very interesting match-up. At the end, LaBissiere finished with 14 points, 1 rebound and 1 assist, while Towns posted 11 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
Robert Johnson, 6-3, SG, Benedictine (VA), 2014: Not sure if he will be a point guard or shooting guard at the next level but he demonstrated the ability to do both at different times during the camp. He was one of those players that came in not as well known as most others but quickly proved he belonged. He demonstrated that he can get to the rim, shoot the ball, and also had a couple of great kicks to the corner to an open man after driving into the lane. All in all, his stock is among those that is expected to rise following this past weekend’s camp.
(Photo credit: Davide DePas)