by Franklyn Calle / @FrankieC7
In front of the likes of John Calipari, Roy Williams and a few dozen other high major college coaches, as well as a NBA scouts, 80 of the top American, Canadian, African, Brazilian and French 19-and-under prospects competed last weekend in Washington DC at the 2013 Nike Global Challenge. In the end, while Pan Africa showed up with a very talented starting lineup that almost pulled an upset against USA Midwest, falling short by seven points after leading for 3+ quarters, and Canada proving that it has much more talent coming up the pipeline, it was the USA West Team (4-0), led by Stanley Johnson, Justin Jackson and Kelly Oubre, that took home the title. Below are some of the most impressive performers during the three-day event.
D’Angelo Russell, 6-4, PG/SG, Senior, Montverde Academy (FL), Ohio State: Named co-MVP of the event, Russell coincidentally made his SLAM print debut last week when we featured him in our PUNKS section of SLAM 171, on newsstands now. On Friday night, against the USA Midwest team, Russell put together one of his best performances yet after finishing with a game-high 28 points, shooting 10 for 15 from the floor. He has one of the best pull-up jumpers in the country, and can sink shots with a hand in his face, much due to creating space with the great fadeaway shot he has in his repertoire. Additionally, although being far from the quickest man on the floor, he gets by defenders on his way to the rim since he possesses one of the best change of pace ball-handles. He tends to dribble slow and calm before shifting gears out of the blue and therefore tends to catch defenders off guard. Russell demonstrated that he can impact at the point position with some very impressive crisp passes to open teammates.
Stanley Johnson, 6-6, SF, Senior, Mater Dei (CA), Undecided (right): The other co-MVP, Johnson’s 23 points and 11 rebounds led the USA West team to the championship over the South. All weekend long, he demonstrated how he’s able to use his built frame to his advantage and overpowers opponents. The day before, in the 4pm game against the USA East team, Johnson dropped another double-double with a 22-point and 10-rebound performance, where he demonstrated his prowess from downtown by dropping a few three-pointers.
Reid Travis, 6-8, SF, Senior, De La Salle (MN), Undecided: There wasn’t anyone better in DC at absorbing contact as well as Travis did. In other words, when it comes down to finishing through contact, he is as good as it gets. He must have had more than five conventional three-point plays in the morning game of Day 2, where he would go straight up for the lay up and draw the foul to complete the three-point play at the free throw line. And the stats proved it. On Friday, where he finished with 17 points and five rebounds, he attempted 13 free throws, while the opposing team (Pan-Africa) attempted 14 free throws and the rest of his team attempted 15 charity shots. In the night game of that same day, against USA South, Travis had a handful of points from put-backs, finishing with 28 points and six rebounds.
Grayson Allen, 6-4, Senior, Providence School of Jacksonville (FL), Duke: Headed to Duke next year, Blue Devil fans have a whole lot to be excited about in him. He could have very possibly been the most athletic and explosive player out of the 80 in the gym. He will hands-down be the most explosive player in Durham next fall, which is a trait that Duke fans aren’t really used to seeing in their recruits. While he is predominantly known for his perimeter shooting, it was his leaping abilities and hang time that had the crowd buzzing. Slamming a bunch of through-the-legs dunks during the layup line prior to the game in the second day of action, a picture-perfect up-and-under reverse lay up was among the highlights of the day. He finished with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in that game. He will be a fan favorite among the Cameron Crazies.
Devin Booker, 6-5, SG, Moss Point (MS), Undecided: The son of former NBA player Melvin Booker, the younger Booker is also featured in the current SLAM 171 issue. His matchup against Rashad Vaughn was among the more intense and fun to watch. He demonstrated a very quick first step off the dribble that allows him to slash and beat defenders to the basket. Against Vaughn and the USA Midwest team, he shot 8-for-9 from the floor, including 5-for-6 from behind the arc. He could have very well been trying to make a statement against a shooting guard that’s ranked above him. Vaughn finished with 16 points.
Rashad Vaughn, 6-6, SG, Senior, Findlay Prep (NV), Undecided: Picking up from where he left off at the Reebok Classic Breakout the prior weekend, Vaughn exploded for 28 points against Pan-Africa, while shooting over 50% from the floor. And while it was his three-point shooting (9 three-pointers in the all-star game) that earned him the MVP award in Philly, it was his play from inside the arc that had him going this time. Vaughn only hit one perimeter shot in the game against Pan-Africa. It was his midrange jumper and explosiveness to the rim that was on full display instead. Vaughn connected on a beautiful fadeaway bank shot, among other tough looks. In the night game against USA Midwest, he caught a nasty dunk over Alex Owens from the right side baseline. In the last two weeks, Vaughn has demonstrated that he is a great shooter from just about any spot on the floor, inside or out, while also attacking the rim hard. He has a knack for scoring and his production has basically proven and defended his ranking as the top shooting guard in the country.
Theo Pinson, 6-6, SF, Senior, Wesleyan Christian (NC), North Carolina: He is one of the most intriguing players to watch. Pinson was one of the top scorers in DC, mostly by using his athleticism to get to the rim and create space from his defenders. It will be interesting to see what position he plays at the next level and how he is used at UNC since his doesn’t really look to shoot much from around the perimeter to be placed at shooting guard, but at the moment his frame is much on the frail side to probably excel at the small forward spot in a conference like the ACC. But in the right system, he has the game and skills to make an impact. He averaged 21.5 points through his two games in Day 2.
James Blackmon Jr., 6-2, SG, Senior, Marion (IN), Indiana: Simply a natural scorer, he averaged 20 points per game throughout his four games with the USA Midwest team, including posting 27 points and 25 points in two of those games. Against Pan-Africa, Blackmon came within a rebound away from a monster double-double outing after finishing with 27 points and nine rebounds. He was particularly impressive from downtown, where he was a perfect 5-for-5 from the perimeter on Saturday afternoon against the USA East team. In that game, he was the protagonist of a six consecutive possession matchup against JaQuan Newton, where even the coaches joined the crowd in pushing for the isolation one-on-one play. It all started after Blackmon hit a three-pointer over Newton. Newton then came down the floor and hit the Indiana commit with a nasty crossover before going to the hole for a lay up. On the other end of the floor, Blackmon calls for isolation and proceeds to once again hit a three–pointer with Newton playing defense on him. Newton then brings the ball up the floor and once again gets by Blackmon for another lay up. Blackmon returns the favor on the other end with a third-consecutive three-pointer, before Newton brings the ball down the floor and attempts a third-consecutive drive to the hole but this time gets denied by Blackmon.
Tyus Jones, 6-1, PG, Senior, Apple Valley (MN), Undecided: Our newly introduced SLAM High School Diarist for the 2013-2014 season, Jones isn’t going to blow you away with his athleticism or explosiveness because it’s nothing that particularly stands out. But he possesses the great point guard skills and smarts that have placed him atop of his class. Jones’ shot wasn’t falling for him all weekend long and at times you could see some frustration on his face. Yet, he was still, by far, the best passer throughout the three day event, having averaged a tournament-high 7.25 assists per game—many of which Blackmon was the beneficiary of. His best performance came in the night game of Day 2, where he dropped 14 points and 11 assists against the USA South team. He loves putting up floaters and kissing it high off the glass, much like Chris Paul does, whose game he tries to emulate.
Kelly Oubre, 6-6, SF, Senior, Findlay Prep (NV), Undecided: He can do a bit of everything, making him one of the most versatile prospects in the nation. The lefty wing showed that he can score in all types of ways, including putting the ball on the floor and slashing to the rim via the hop-step or spin-move. And if traffic prevented him from getting to the hole then he dished off some nice dimes, including an alley-oop to Stanley Johnson and even threading the needle with a bounce pass through traffic for Justin Jackson, who was cutting backdoor for a lay up. Needless to say, Oubre also sinks it from behind the perimeter, and particularly in Day 2 , he was effective in hitting the short jumper near the baseline.
Justin Jackson, 6-7, SF, Senior, HCYA (TX), North Carolina: He proved to have one of the best midrange games in the nation during the three days, hitting short jumpers from all sides. I’m convinced he is one of the best at hitting the short jumper, and he proved it during the weekend, hitting shots 5 feet, 10 feet, and 15 feet away from rim constantly. He is a very efficient shooter, having shot over 50% in all four of his games, including shooting 80% from the floor in two of them. He has a very smooth approach to the game, never seems fazed by the defense and thus never overzealous and forcing plays. Jackson loves using the pump fake in the paint and doesn’t attempt a shot until he knows he should, getting defenders off the ground multiple times. He also showed the ability to hit the floater on a couple of possessions. He finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds in the championship game, which helped USA West claim the title.
Top International Players
Abdul Malik Abu, 6-8 PF, Senior, Kimball Union (MA), Undecided: He was the most consistent player on the Pan-Africa team, by far. After dropping 22 points in his first game, I watched him on Day 2 against the USA Midwest team, where he finished with 16 points and six rebounds, showcasing a little bit of everything, ranging from a turn-around jumper and a smooth up-and-under lay up to a spectacular in-and-out one-handed crossover on his way to the hole for a lay up and a couple of timely blocks. On Saturday, he once again had a good performance with 20 points and eight rebounds, this time demonstrating a fadeaway jumper, a couple of midrange jumpers from the left wing, and once again a couple of blocks.
Michael Nzei, 6-7 , PF, Senior, Our Savior New American (NY), Undecided: He played above the rim all weekend long and showed that he can get off the ground in a hurry… and very high up there. His best performance came in on Day 2 against USA Midwest, where he put up 13 points and six rebounds. I counted four different occasions in that game where a teammate attempted a shot and Nzei came flying in from outside the paint for put-back dunks or tip-ins, including one in which he hammered it down with two hands over a defender.
Cheick Diallo, 6-8, PF, Junior, Our Savior New America (NY), Undecided: Continuing his breakout summer after winning the MVP at the NBPA Top 100 camp last month, he continued to demonstrate great moves on the post and great hands around the basket. Coming into the last day of competition, this is what Diallo’s numbers looked like in the points and rebounds categories: 10 & 8, 15 & 8, 11 & 14. He runs the floor well and knows how to position himself in the lane. He was also a force defensively. It’s scary to think that Diallo’s game is still in the early development stages and therefore the upside is tremendously high.
Montaque Gill-Ceasar, 6-5, SG, Junior, Huntington Prep (WV), Undecided: He is already drawing comparisons to Andrew Wiggins. And while we are not going to go that far yet, after all, he is a good three to four inches shorter and his athleticism not quite at Wiggins’ level, he did demonstrate that he indeed will be the next Canadian to carry the Huntington Prep program. In Day 3, his best performance of 18 points and 11 rebounds sold me on any doubts I had. One category where he might be ahead of Wiggins in is shooting, or at least it looked that way on Saturday when he was sinking it from all angles. While shooting 50% from the floor, Caeser-Gill hit a couple of three pointers, converted a smooth floater, a lightning-quick spin-move on his way to the rim, as well as a couple of short jumpers from about 15 feet away.
Chris Egi, 6-9, C, Junior, St. Andrews College (Ontario), Undecided: Joining D’Angelo Russell at Montverde this fall, Egi finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds on two different occasions, Day 1 and Day 3. He demonstrated that he could hit the midrange jumper consistently. His strength and athleticism are the biggest factors of his double-digit rebound statistics. He showed how his soft touch in the paint is among his biggest assets, leading to him sinking a couple of hook shots. Possessing a great feel for the game and instincts, his ceiling is very high.