by Aggrey Sam

Last weekend, I took a trip back to Louisiana (“back” because I don’t live there anymore–more on that later) to cover a workout/exposure camp on Louisiana Tech’s campus in Ruston. Usually, there’s something positive to say about covering these type of events (AAU tournaments, high school events, etc.) and this was no exception, as I did see a few players who were under the radar, as well as being able to get another look at some established names. However, some of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans made it a less-than-enjoyable experience in general. Let’s get to the players first.

Leron Barnes, 6-5 junior combo forward, North DeSoto (LA): Barnes, a sleeper even in his own state, opened some eyes with his athleticism, strong work around the bucket and developing wing skills.

Markel Brown, 6-4 senior wing, Peabody (LA): This was my first time seeing Brown, a big-time athlete committed to Oklahoma State and while he’d been billed to me as a combo guard, I prefer him as a slashing wing, where he can use his length, quickness, scrappiness near the bucket and outrageous hops to his advantage.

Cedric Jenkins, 6-2 senior combo guard, Riverside (LA): Jenkins (his first name is pronounced “SEE-drick”), who missed most of the summer due to injury, didn’t seem rusty at all, as his sweet stroke from deep was still in effect, but he also displayed effective point-guard skills as a distributor and attacked the rim and finished in the lane well.

Trey Jones, 6-5 sophomore post, Peabody (LA): Just a youngster, Jones still needs to add considerable polish to his game, but his athleticism, solid frame and knowledge of how to operate in the post all bode well for the future.

Kyle McClue, 6-2 senior combo guard, Riverside (LA): McClue showed he was capable of functioning as a solid floor general, but also demonstrated the ability to score–via his sweet J or off the dribble–when necessary.

Craig McFerrin, 6-7 junior post, Woodlawn (LA): A big-bodied post prospect, McFerrin isn’t an elite-level athlete, but is a force on the boards, active in the paint, has a decent arsenal of post moves and a soft touch around the basket.

Michael Qualls, 6-5 sophomore combo forward, Huntington (LA): Qualls still has to figure some things out, but his major-league bounce, determination to attack the basket, fluidity and high motor should make it possible for him to develop into a highly-coveted wing prospect down the line.

Kourtney Roberson, 6-8 post-graduate combo forward, Christian Life (TX): A Texas A&M commit who is headed to prep school in Houston, Roberson is a chiseled, skilled and athletic inside-outside player who can do damage from the wing, in the post, and on the break.

LaQuinton RossLaQuinton Ross, 6-8 junior wing, Murrah (MS): Ross, who I’ve seen play since his freshman year, was definitely the headliner of the event and while he didn’t seem to always give maximum effort (in fairness, he’s a natural perimeter player, but was the tallest kid on his team and thus forced into inside duties), he seems to have found his niche by mixing catch-and-shoot jumpers, smooth drives to the bucket, quick post-ups of smaller players and pull-up jumpers.

A’torri Shine, 6-4 junior wing, Minden (LA): A big wing with tons of athleticism, Shine still needs to polish his outside game, but with his wide-shouldered build and natural scoring tools, he was effective finishing as a slasher and kept the defense honest from the perimeter.

Now, this wasn’t the best event I’ve ever been to, but it certainly wasn’t devoid of talent. Unfortunately, the event’s organizer, who coaches what most basketball observers in Louisiana consider the state’s top AAU team, didn’t have the majority of his top players in attendance. That happens, but for him to tell me virtually all of them had swine flu was a joke. A lot of events like this are strictly to make money (i.e. less top talent because better prospects expect to get in for free), and if that was the case, no big deal. But to invite national media (not just me) to an event and not rep your state to the fullest doesn’t make a lot of sense.

I try to keep it pretty positive on here, but to ignore requests for a list of players, not divulge all the details of the travel arrangements and to finally skip out on paying for a room for a member of the media because of some local feud is not what I’d call exercising the best judgment. The dress code for flights to save some money is fine, I can even deal with the seven-hour layover in Houston and I can understand taking things out of context without having more knowledge of the situation, but all you had to do is address things like a grown man.

Maybe I should keep my mouth shut, being that I got a free trip to watch basketball. After all, I made it out of there intact (I went by Karl Malone’s crib and saw “The Mailman” himself on a bulldozer out front, looking like he was digging a ditch; then, I pulled a crazy all-nighter at a Shreveport casino–no room, and I wasn’t paying for it) and I’m always happy to pub up some kids that don’t get a lot of love. But remember this: I lived in New Orleans for over a year. I know all about you, sweetheart.

Moving on, as I briefly mentioned before, I no longer live in New Orleans. It’s a great, unique city, and I’ll be back to visit frequently, but to be vague, it’s not the type of place I can live if I’m not doing something I’m passionate about. I’ll definitely miss the food, the music, the culture as a whole and definitely the people. This is by no means a complete list, but shout-out to my main man Taylor Smiley (“it’s like sports”), Toney Blare (keep an eye out for that Honeybee when I get back in town) Shaun Dumas (nothing comes easy), Reggie Frilot (you’ll get out of there eventually), James Parlow (good luck in Uruguay), Stacy Howard (keep being a celebrity), Ryan DeRouselle (time to be a leader), Andrew Novick (I expect to have my feet on the floor at the Georgetown game if y’all get the kid), Will (I’m not gonna lie, I never knew your last name) and all the other people who helped make living in the Big Easy an enjoyable experience. Last but not least, all of the kids I worked with down there: Paul (you’ll be straight), Nick (go get your little brother), Russell (keep up the good work in juco), Justin (time to shine), Devante (all that hard work will pay off), JT (let me know if you need anything), Corey (keep your head in those books), Charles (you have a chance to be a special player), the Pittman brothers (stay focused and act like y’all have some sense), Generra (show what you can do), Gregoryshon (always be yourself), Nick G. (don’t let anybody say you can’t do something), Chris (keep your grades up and good things will happen), Joel (not even close), Stanley (this is the year to establish yourself), Smitty (play with confidence all the time), Chester (things will work out), all the youngsters and anybody else who ever came through the Ministry for a workout.

Damn, that looks like the back page of somebody’s high school yearbook. Anyway, from all the love I’ve shown the city on this site, my longtime faithful readers (all three of y’all) should be able to guess that I relocated to Chicago. It was my destiny since I saw “Hoop Dreams” back in the day. Look out for a lot more focus on the Chi from me in the future. Great city, great hoops. And I live in Obama’s old hood!

I’ve been in the ‘Go for a little over two weeks now, and while I’m still getting settled, I’ve already met a lot of good people in the city’s tight-knit basketball community. From my man Sonny Parker’s workouts to the various leagues around the city, it reminds me a lot of one of my past stops: Philly. Speaking of, on my halfway cross-country trip–I officially left the N.O. at the end of June, was on the road for a solid month and change, then drove a moving truck from my grandmother’s crib in the District to my new spot in Hyde Park–I stopped off in Philly for a day. The first thing I did out there was get a haircut at my old shop at Broad and Susquehanna, but later that night, I went out to Gustine Lake to check out the pro-am action at the Rankin-Anderson League, before heading out the next morning.

The Rankin-Anderson League, run by my main man Dr. Foot, holds a soft spot with me, as that was where I witnessed the comeback of Juanny Wags a few summers back. His failure to make it all the way back notwithstanding, it’s known as the top league in the city and whether it’s at La Salle, Gustine Lake or Drexel (it’s former permanent home), it’s a great spot to check out some high-quality basketball in the summer.

Anyway, that Thursday evening, I missed the first game of the doubleheader (although I caught my man Kyle “Fase” Myrick and incoming Temple freshman Rahlir Jefferson as they were headed out; best of luck to both of y’all at your respective levels this season), but the second game pitted a team with Hakim “Skinny” Warrick and hood star Mike Cuffee against a squad featuring ex-Temple star Mark Tyndale and my man Jamal Nichols, Warrick’s brother. I did more time socializing than paying attention, but just to be back in that atmosphere was a great feeling. After the game, I was told about a tournament going on at Mallery Rec Center, so me and my man Dave Hargrove took the short trip to Johnson Street in Germantown. The gym was flooded, hot as hell but there was great comp on the court, including McDonald’s All-American and incoming Villanova freshman Maalik Wayns, former Pitt star Mike Cook, up-and coming classic Philly big guard DJ Newbill, well-traveled former prep star Desean White, Binghamton guard Malik Alvin, Ball State forward Malik Perry, Loyola-Chicago guard Courtney Stanley and former Roman Catholic standout Brian Wanamaker, among others. I missed seeing two kids I used to work with St. Bonaventure wing Lewis Leonard and the one and only Corey James in the previous game because I was at Gustine, but it was good catching up with them, at least.

This is my favorite time of the year. The AAU and camp circuit is over, so I get a little break. Most importantly, though, the kids I’ve worked with are either starting a new year of high school, going back to college, getting a fresh start at a new school or going to college for the first time. So, despite how I began this post, everything is to the good right now.