By Aggrey Sam
The end of college hoops and the start of the NBA playoffs usually marks the beginning of the end for most basketball heads. Not for me. AAU basketball is getting into full swing, as the Boo Williams Invitational in VA a couple weekends ago was the spring’s first major event. This past weekend, however, was the first weekend college coaches could watch kids play as part of the NCAA’s spring “live period.”
While there were strong events in Denver and Pittsburgh, since I live down South now, I was in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the Real Deal on the Hill tourney, along with guys like Coach K, Roy Williams, coaches from several other major-college programs, countless smaller schools and a bunch of scouts. I prefer camps to big AAU tournaments because they are less spread out, but with all of the talent that was assembled on the Univ ersity of Arkansas campus, I can’t complain.
I focused on the mostly the 17-and-under bracket, which was won by Team Breakdown out of Florida. Breakdown was led by tourney MVP Kenny Boynton all weekend, although top sophomore guard Brandon Knight took over in the chip with 25 points in an overtime win over surprise finalist Illinois Warriors (the AAU team of pros Dwyane Wade, Julian Wright, Darius Miles and many more in the Chicago area), who were propelled by a strong team effort and stellar play from Illinois commitment D.J. Richardson. Breakdown got to the chip by taking down the New York Gauchos in the tourney semis on a last-second trey by Boynton.
Below is my list of my 20 favorite players from the event. This IS NOT a ranking of who played best, who’s the most talented or even the top prospects, but a combination of all of the above, with their team’s performance taken into consideration. The media guide was kinda incomplete–some inaccurate rosters, no high schools listed–so if you’re really interested in these players, either look it up or ask me in the comments section.
1) Kenny Boynton, 6-2 junior combo guard: The Florida native doesn’t even pretend to be a point anymore, as he uses his quickness to get to the rack and harass offensive players with equal aplomb. With his shooting range, tremendous effort and aforementioned clutch play, it’s obvious that he’s gunning for the top spot in the class this summer.
2) Shawn Williams, 6-7 junior wing: I liked Williams a lot last summer as a spot-up shooter with a high IQ and improving all-around skills, but I like the Texan a lot better now as a determined, versatile wing with excellent toughness. Ironically, the one thing inconsistent about his game was his jumper–but his leadership, rebounding, passing and slashing more than made up for it.
3) D.J. Richardson, 6-3 junior combo guard: Arguably the top player in Illinois for the class of 2009, Richardson’s scoring and playmaking ability augmented a total team effort by his squad. The Illinois commitment is quick, athletic, unselfish with court vision, a solid defender, fearless going to the cup and a pure shooter.
4) Lance Stephenson, 6-6 junior combo guard: Playing with a new team (Raising Champions, coached by his pop; they only had six players), “Born Ready” and Co. struggled early, but rebounded to win the consolation bracket’s title. Stephenson uses his great size for a guard to bully defenders into submission, shoot over them with ease and get into the lane at will.
5) Tony Wroten, 6-4 freshman combo guard: The son of a former NFL lineman, Wroten plays with a football mentality, as he goes right at anybody trying to check him. Although he’s only a ninth-grader, the explosive Seattle native has an incredibly mature game, as he’s a superb finisher at the rack, a polished scorer, improving playmaker and excellent athlete.
6) Roger Franklin, 6-5 junior power forward: This undersized power forward is a blue-collar type who simply gets the job done. A high school teammate of the aforementioned Williams, he prefers powers to finesse, but also possesses perimeter skills.
7) John Henson, 6-10 junior combo forward: While the rail-thin Henson hasn’t gained much bulk since I last saw him play, the early UNC commit is definitely more aggressive and confident. The Kevin Durant comparisons are uncalled for, but his combination of length, athleticism, shooting touch out to three-point range and shot-blocking are intriguing to say the least.
8) Edward Daniel, 6-7 junior power forward: Here’s one kid I hadn’t heard about previously that definitely made a name for himself. The Alabama native used his quickness, outrageous hops (he had about seven dunks in the first game I watched him play), defensive intensity and overall relentlessness to have all of the coaches and scouts in attendance scurrying to check their program books.
9) Ari Stewart, 6-7 junior wing: The smooth scorer from Georgia can shoot it from deep, get to the hole and use his length to finish. While I’d like to see him do more outside of putting points on the boards, he’s definitely a top-notch scoring threat.
10) Doron Lamb, 6-4 sophomore wing: The baby-faced New Yorker is quickly becoming one of the fastest-rising players in his class. A savvy scorer with length, a pure J, a nice handle, solid athleticism and a knowledge of how to finish among the trees, Lamb goes out like a lion.
11) Derrick Favors, 6-9 junior post: Favors displayed an improved skillset–he can push the ball in transition and shoot with more range now–but his calling card will always be his rebounding and shot-blocking talents. Capable of dominating in the post on offense–although he doesn’t always do that consistently–the ATL native’s blend of power and athleticism was often too much for foes.
12) Glenn Bryant, 6-7 junior power forward: Bryant, a Detroit native who played for Florida’s Team Breakdown, is a jaw-dropping athlete who explodes for big-time blocks and dunks. While he’s still not polished away from the basket, the slender Oak Hill forward’s energy compensated for it.
13) Demarcus Cousins, 6-10 junior post: Right now, Cousins is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. Easily capable of dominating anybody he faced, the UAB commit pulled a Jekyll and Hyde–either playing frustrated and/or lazy, or beasting his opponents and hustling all over the place.
14) Durand Scott, 6-4 junior wing: A classic NYC scorer, the Rice swingman’s toughness and savvy enabled him to consistently score. With his range, strong body and tricky handle, Scott posed a problem for anyone checking him.
15) Brandon Knight, 6-3 sophomore combo guard: I’m still not sold on Knight as a true point guard, but when reverted to his high-scoring ways in the chip, he stole the show. On top of his J, mid-range game and tough finishes, he used his length to play great D and was a solid playmaker, as well.
16) Scott Wood, 6-6 junior wing: A pure shooter with size, Wood also displayed good ball skills and a solid all-around game. Unlike a lot of prep shooters who just spot up and wait for the ball, the N.C. State commit was active, fought for rebounds and made things happen when the ball was in his hands.
17) Danny Jennings, 6-8 junior post: The big-bodied Oak Hill post from New Yorker was much improved from when I saw him play this season. Jennings was extremely active, a beast around the basket and played with passion.
18) Drew Barham, 6-5 junior wing: A Memphis native with good grades, Barham was very intriguing as a shooter. In addition, he showed the ability to break down his man off the dribble, knock down the mid-range J and find his teammates for easy scores.
19) Russell Smith, 6-0 junior point guard: Smith, an Archbishop Molloy product (alma mater of Kenny Anderson and Kenny Smith, among others), is an aggressive true point guard who can hit the open jumper. He also showed excellent toughness, ran the show and really strapped up on D.
20) Rodney Hood, 6-5 freshman combo guard: Hood, who I first saw play back in January, is one of my favorite young players on the scene. Really a tall true point guard for his high school team, he made the most out of limited touches by either scoring or finding his teammates for open looks, but never forcing plays.
Here are some of the other players who stood out to me this weekend in Arkansas, in alphabetical order. Again, they aren’t necessarily the best players or prospects, just kids who made an impression on me–think of it like honorable mention. I know it’s a long list, but trust me, I could go on forever if I wrote about every kid I have notes on.
Tevin Baskin, 6-6 junior combo forward: Long and athletic, this Gaucho from Connecticut isn’t quite ready to play on the perimeter, but with his high-energy style, rebounding ability and above-the-rim play, he’s more valuable on the inside anyway.
Mike Bruesewitz, 6-7 junior combo forward: A tough Minnesotan who’s committed to Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin program, this hard-working insider is an athletic face-up power forward, but with his shooting, he could easily become a full-fledged wing one day.
Sampson Carter, 6-7 senior wing: The Memphis native, who’s supposedly headed to prep school in the fall, isn’t a world-class athlete, but he does possess legit perimeter skills, is effective in transition, keeps defenders honest from deep, is a solid finisher and can create his own shot.
Keith Clanton, 6-8 junior combo forward: Clanton’s size and frame screams out post player, but his skill on the perimeter and slashing ability shows he can be an effective wing on the college level.
Drew Crawford, 6-5 junior wing: A lights-out shooter when left open, Crawford is also a solid athlete who plays hard on both ends and rebounds well for his size.
Trae Golden, 6-2 sophomore combo guard: An early Ohio State commit, Golden is a pure scorer who struggled a little when running the point (in fairness, injuries played a part in that), but was able to use his strength, ability to draw contact and range to get buckets.
Trevon Hamlet, 6-7 junior power forward: The New Yorker’s ability to catch and finish on the inside, keep up with the Gauchos’ slew of guards in transition and willingness to attack the boards openedd some eyes.
Charles Hammork, 6-6 senior wing: The biggest sleeper in the N.O., one of a few seniors still playing on the circuit, impressed those in attendance with his length, versatility, athleticism, finishing skills and ability to get to the basket on command.
Jon Hood, 6-6 junior wing: This was my first look as the highly-touted Hood, who impressed me as a shooter with size, solid ball skills and good athleticism.
Pe’Shon Howard, 6-2 sophomore combo guard: An Ohio native who preps at Oak Hill (another Team Breakdown import), Howard is at his best as an off-the-ball shooter, although his quickness, D and ability to run the point have all improved.
Richard Howell, 6-7 junior power forward: When Howell was described to me as a wing, I wasn’t in love with his game, but looking at him as a strong, versatile and skilled face-up power forward, he’s growing on me more and more.
Joe Jackson, 5-10 sophomore combo guard: The diminutive Memphis native is an absurd scorer who’s lightning quick, shoots from way out or mid-range, finishes at the bucket and jumps out of the gym with the best of them, despite his small stature.
Anthony Johnson, 6-3 sophomore wing: A scorer with all the tools from Chicago (he’s Marcus Jordan’s high school teammate), the much-touted Johnson can handle the rock, get to the bucket and shoot it from deep.
Karron Johnson, 6-7 junior power forward: A monster athlete with a college-ready frame, Johnson was forced into basically playing center for the undermanned Raising Champions squad–which was a good thing, since he was a dominant force inside and didn’t dabble in floating on the perimeter too much, as he has in the past.
Eldridge Moore, 6-5 sophomore wing: The New Orleans native has a slim frame, but played a strong game during the tourney, showing off deceptive athleticism, finishing strong at the rim and using his length and quickness to be effective on the perimeter on both ends.
Julian Royal, 6-8 freshman combo forward: I didn’t see much of Royal, as he played in the 15-and-under bracket, but it was hard to miss a kid with his size with good footwork, ability to run the floot, legit three-point range and a nice touch down low.
Guillaume Sabour-Pina, 6-8 junior post: Another member of the championship-winning Breakdown squad, this inside force swatted shots, snatched boards and completed plays with power, as well as displaying a surprising touch from deep.
Terrence Shannon, 6-6 junior power forward: Although he was slowed by an injury, nobody outworked this warrior all weekend long, as he battled on the boards, played physical in the paint and finished strong at the rim time and again.
Peyton Siva, 5-11 junior combo guard: Siva, one of Seattle’s finest, is a lightning-quick, outrageously athletic scoring point guard who has a penchant for making exciting plays, but he gains props from me for making a concerted effort to be more of a floor general.
Darius Smith, 6-2 junior point guard: One of my favorite players in the class, Arkansas guard Patrick Beverley’s former high school teammate (at Marshall HS in Chicago, where “Hoop Dreams” star Arthur Agee went; Beverley was in attendance to support Smith on the final day) is a lock-down defender who can run the show, rebound well for a guard use his smooth moves to hit tough shots in traffic.
Josh Smith, 6-9 sophomore center: With his massive frame (about 280 pounds), Smith is a problem for any high school post, but his nimble feet, excellent hands and soft touch make him damn near impossible to guard on the block.
Brandon Spearman, 6-3 sophomore wing: A do-it-all type from the Chi, Spearman might not put up big numbers, but he’s all over the court every time he plays–from making steals and grabbing boards to finishing tough shots and driving and dishing.
Jontavious Sutton, 6-8 junior power forward: An athletic post player who thrives in transition, Sutton is a big-time finisher who can also be a presence on D and on the glass.
Pat Swilling, 6-3 sophomore combo guard: The son of the former Saints linebacker had an up and down tourney, but was impressive with his ability to shoot it from deep and finish in traffic.
Jordan Swing, 6-6 junior power forward: Another sleeper, Swing isn’t the tallest post player, but makes up for it with his effort, athleticism and energy.
Ray Taylor, 5-6 junior point guard: If he was an even six-feet, he’d be a high-major prospect, but even at his height, Boynton’s high school teammate uses his astounding quickness, pesky D and ability to knock down open jumpers to frustrate foes.
Deshaun Thomas, 6-7 sophomore combo forward: Not the straight wing many of made him out to be, Thomas is a long athlete with a good frame who can shoot the trey, push the rock in transition and finish on the inside.
Mfon Udofia, 6-2 junior point guard: A pure floor general with good size, a physical nature and pride on the defensive end, the Georgian also looks to score when he feels he can take advantage of a matchup.
Julian Washburn, 6-8 sophomore combo forward: Another teammate of the aforementioned Williams and Franklin at Duncanville High, the son of former N.C. State star Chris Washburn is a versatile, athletic, inside-out forward who already has a good feel for the game.
Cameron Wright, 6-5 sophomore wing: Future Buckeye is a good shooter with range, good ball skills and a high basketball IQ.