NBA Past, Present and Future?
With D-Day approaching, here’s a few names (or 25) to look out for in future drafts.
by Aggrey Sam
After flying out to DC last Tuesday and stopping by my grandmother’s crib, I made the drive to Charlottesville, Va., for the NBPA Top 100 Camp, which I attended two summers ago and is probably my favorite event of the AAU/camp circuit. This year promised to be the same, as the group assembled at the University of Virginia featured the cream of the crop across the nation in the Classes of 2010 and 2011. Needless to say, I was excited.
The best thing about the camp, however, as corny is it sounds, takes place off the court. Current and retired pros were there in abundance, and the time they put in with the kids was quite admirable. From guys like Mo Evans, Carl Landry, Ryan Bowen, Donyell Marshall, Lindsay Hunter and Mark Blount (the latter two really got into it) among others, helping out some of the nation’s top high school coaches on the sidelines, to former NBA players like Tim McCormick and Purvis Short running the show (with help from Dave Telep of Scout.com, Penny Rogers, Burton Chawla and Dan Wasserman from the NBPA on the media end of things), as well as guys like Charles Smith, Lucious Allen and even The Iceman on the scene, it’s a great experience for the kids. On top of that, the seminars they have for kids (and their parents) are extremely informational, there’s no better place to get skill development than from pros and with the absence of college coaches, there’s less pressure on kids to be selfish on the court.
Anyway, back to the players. The camp had its first-ever all-star game (the campers selected the participants) and dunk contest (VA’s own Justin Coleman won), and while they were entertaining, the games were much more captivating. This is one of the few camps where kids consistently go hard and play D, so it’s a pleasure to observe. The Rockets, coached by my man Steve Turner from Gonzaga in DC and led by phenom Michael Gilchrist (who ended up winning the camp’s Most Promising Prospect award), ended up winning the camp chip, 74-70, over the Hornets, led by the outstanding play of Joe Jackson. As usual, below is a lengthy list evaluations for 25 of the nation’s best ballers who did their thing in the actual games I watched during the camp. By the way, all photos were taken by Davide De Pas. Enjoy.
–Harrison Barnes, 6-7 rising senior wing, Ames (IA): Barnes, who you’ll be hearing a lot more about in a familiar publication very soon, did his usual thing–strong drives and finishes, solid outside shooting–at the camp. A model of consistency, the difference between this and other performances for him was that it was the first event loaded with truly elite players (meaning no breaks) where he had that “No. 1 player in the country” target on his back–and he reacted admirably, by not forcing the action, but still putting his own personal stamp on things.
–Will Barton, 6-6 rising senior wing, Brewster (NH): Barton, a recent Memphis commit, again displayed the all-around game and high motor that has made him one of the nation’s hottest prospects this spring. While his lack of strength was an issue against some of the stronger wings he matched up with, the Baltimore native’s versatility and hard-nosed style–not to mention his fluid dribble game, length, boundless athleticism and defensive intensity–usually prevailed.
–Russell Byrd, 6-7 rising senior wing, Blackhawk Christian (IN): While many players came in with similar or even loftier reputations, Byrd may have been the best shooter at the camp. The Michigan State commit was simply automatic if left open, but showed the ability to make adjustments and hit pull-up jumpers when pressured, finish if able to get all the way to the basket and do the intangibles–including being tough, rebounding and defending–that will satisfy Tom Izzo.
–Rakeem Christmas, 6-10 rising junior post, North Catholic (PA): Christmas, a Philly product (no relation to my man Dionte from Temple, a soon-to-be NBA player, I’m pretty sure) is one of the most highly-touted players in his class nationally, but after residing in the City of Brotherly Love (even though I’ve been gone for over a year now), I’ve developed the local mentality of being hard on the homegrown stars until they are truly dominant. In the past, I saw the youngster’s potential, but at this camp, it started to come together–an absolute monster on the defensive end, a big-time finisher around the rim, skilled both in the post and when facing up on offense–and while he still has room to improve, count me in as a believer from now on.
–Justin Coleman, 6-4 rising senior wing, Henrico County (VA): Coleman, a local product, started to generate some light national buzz this spring, but the camp was his true coming-out party. A big-time athlete with a great motor, he’s still somewhat raw and unpolished as a ballhandler and shooter, but as far as getting to the basket, finishing plays, rebounding, defending and overpowering opponents, Coleman is exactly what you look for in a player.
–Andre Dawkins, 6-5 rising senior wing, Atlantic Shores (VA): I was previously lukewarm on the Duke commit because I had never seen him do anything other than dunk and shoot–albeit at a high level–whenever I saw him play. Maybe it was playing in the home gym of a future ACC rival, but Dawkins performed tremendously, showing off ballhandling and playmaking skills, defensive intensity and versatility in general that I was starting to believe he simply didn’t possess.
–Michael Gilchrist, 6-8 rising junior combo forward, St. Patrick (NJ): Still only 15, this kid was clearly the camp’s top prospect, as referenced earlier. Gilchrist did everything from come out on top in a battle with the nation’s top player in the class ahead of him to playing the point for long stretches and from pushing the rock coast to coast (sometimes scoring, sometimes diming it) after rebounds to returning back from a sprained ankle to lead his team to the camp’s chip.
–Josh Hairston, 6-8 rising senior combo forward, Courtland (VA): Hairston, a Duke commit, probably hung out on the perimeter a little too much, but with the way he shot the ball from the outside, it’s hard to blame him. At the same time, he played extremely hard, ran the floor and finished and rebounded the ball well, but it’s overall skill level that will make him a good fit in Durham.
–Damontre Harris, 6-9 rising senior post, Trinity Christian (NC): Harris may have been the absolutely least-heralded kid in the building, but the rail-thin prospect more than held his own. A very intriguing player, Harris isn’t in the least bit physical, but his length and athleticism allows him to finish plays on offense, be a defensive presence and hit the boards, while his excellent shooting touch (and range) and agility gave defenders fits.
–Joe Jackson, 6-0 rising senior combo guard, White Station (TN): With his recent improvement as a floor general, I was ready to see Jackson continue the trend, but when he told me, on the first day of actual games in camp, he had to “remind the other kids I can still score,” I knew that wouldn’t be the case. Actually, he had stretches where he did a nice job setting teammates up–mostly off the dribble or in transition, but also feeding the post or hitting wings coming off screens–but getting buckets was his M.O., as he got to the rim whenever he chose, hit shots from deep and mid-range and finished creatively (and sometimes with authority) around the basket, as well as playing pesky, in-your-shorts D.
–Jelan Kendrick, 6-6 rising senior wing, Westlake (GA): Kendrick, one of the kids I most eagerly anticipated observing, didn’t disappoint me, as I could see why his savvy decision-making, dynamic ballhandling, court vision, fluidity and ability to both start and finish fast breaks have some billing him as a potential point forward in college. However, while he’s an unselfish and willing passer, I like him better as a scoring swingman, where he can utilize his pull-up J, deceptive athleticism, deep range, pretty floater game, explosive finishing ability, as well as put more emphasis on rebounding, another area in which he excels.
–Doron Lamb, 6-4 rising senior combo guard, Oak Hill (VA): Lamb, an NYC product, hasn’t found the going easy this spring, as players have looked to throw off his usually smooth, rhythmic game with physical play and a more concerted defensive effort. While he’ll never be the fastest or most athletic kid out there, he responded by being craftier, matching the aggressiveness, inserting himself into the role of playmaker, playing tough D, crashing the glass on both ends, finishing on the inside and knocking down both open and contested shots off the dribble and on the catch.
–Tyler Lamb, 6-5 rising senior wing, Mater Dei (CA): The other, West Coast Lamb, a UCLA commit, also did his thing, although it was moreso in his typical, prolific scoring fashion. The Cali kid’s jumper was hitting from all kinds of ranges and angles, he finished strong drives to the cup, helped out on the glass and did a nice job finding open teammates when the D collapsed on him.
–Kendall Marshall, 6-4 rising senior point guard, Bishop O’Connell (VA): Marshall, the MVP of the camp, probably won’t ever be a big-time scorer, but with his leadership ability, unparalled court vision and basketball IQ, he won’t need to be. Fortunately, the big lefty floor general in the Mark Jackson mold is going to North Carolina, where his unselfishness and winning ways (his team went undefeated and won the camp chip) will be rewarded due to the talent around him, and his lack of speed and athleticism hopefully won’t matter, as long as he improves his range, although his floater game and herky-jerky drives should continue to give defenders fits.
–Fab Melo, 7-0 rising senior post, Sagemont (FL): A native of Brazil, Melo (his full name is Fabricio De Melo, but that’s what he goes by) wasn’t eligible to play high school ball this past season because of state transfer rules, but the word got out about the post phenom anyway (a certain writer was tempted to put him in his top 50 players after being sent a video of him working out and hearing the buzz about him from spring events, but journalistic ethics prevailed), so I was very eager to see him play for the first time. With his massive frame, you’d expect him to be strictly a power player–he does have that, as proven by his monstrous dunks, domination of the boards and all-around physical play–but Melo also has nimble feet, runs the floor enthusiastically, has a great touch on his J out to 18 feet and has solid ball skills, especially for his size.
–Stacey Poole, 6-4 rising senior wing, Jackson (FL): Poole, the son of the former Florida Gators star by the same name, had underwhelmed me in the past, but changed my opinion of his game with with his excellent and remarkably consistent play. A straight slasher, he got to the basket and used his athleticism and relentless nature to efficiently finish plays at the rim time and again both in the halfcourt and on the break, helped out on the boards, played solid D and kept the defense honest from the outside.
–Casey Prather, 6-6 rising senior wing Northside (TN): I hadn’t seen Prather play in person since last summer, so it was nice to see the well-built swingman’s relentlessly athletic game–he’s a big-time finisher, crashes the boards like a big man and makes all kinds of plays on D–didn’t leave him. However, he’s also become a lot more skilled off the dribble, a much more confident and capable shooter and has taken a more savvy approach as a ballplayer.
–Trevor Releford, 5-11 rising senior point guard, Bishop Miege (KS): Releford, whose game really impressed me the first time I saw him at the last event I attended, maintained his strong level of play here. A true floor general with savvy and toughness, he’s almost impossible to contain off the dribble, a very unselfish and willing passer, keeps defenders honest from deep, is an absolute pest on D and has the creativity and moxie to get into the lane and make things happen, despite his lack of size.
–Jereme Richmond, 6-7 rising senior wing, Waukegan (IL): When it comes to determining the player at this camp whose games currently most resembles a pro, the llinois commit, might take the cake. An extremely long, extremely athletic, extremely polished wing, Richmond is the epitome of smooth, is big enough to do damage in the paint on both ends of the floor, has a beautiful stroke from both mid-range and deep and is skilled enough to handle the rock and get to the bucket in both the halfcourt and transition.
–Josh Selby, 6-3 rising senior combo guard, Lake Clifton (MD): Selby, a well-traveled Baltimore native, blended his electrifying athleticism and advanced scoring ability at a high level. The Tennessee commit (a perfect fit for his game, if there ever was one) also was solid at running the show, crashed the boards from the perimeter and put in significant effort on D, but his high-flying finishes and blow-by drives to the cup were his trademarks, as he led the camp in scoring.
–Lenzelle Smith, 6-4 rising senior combo guard, Zion-Benton (IL): Smith, an Ohio State commit, has earned a reputation as a jack of all trades through his versatility, toughness and will to win. Here, he’s displayed the ability to be a pure floor general, as the stocky Chicago-area prospect has set up his teammates impressively–feeding the post, in transition and on the wing–and unselfishly, but hasn’t dominated the ball, as he’s still managed to show off his slashing game, exploit mismatches in the post and contribute on the boards.
–Evan Smotrycz, 6-9 rising senior combo forward, New Hampton (NH): Smotrycz, a Michigan commit, is a kid I’ve heard a lot about from my sources in New England, so I was eager to see him play. I wasn’t disappointed, as he proved to be a very fluid, smooth inside-outside player, who handled the ball, shot it well from the outside and was an effective playmaker, as well as showing nice finishing ability, some moves down low and the willingness to mix it up in the paint, despite his thin frame.
–Markel Starks, 6-2 rising senior point guard, Georgetown Prep (MD): Starks, a Georgetown commit (with his school’s name and proximity to DC, go figure), alternated between being a true point and a scorer here. While his usually-reliable J wasn’t always on target, he got into the paint at will with his tight handle and generally kept his teammates happy with his solid decision-making.
–Dion Waiters, 6-3 rising senior combo guard, Life Center (NJ): The South Philly native has always been known for his scoring ability, but in the past, he’s been considered somewhat of a loose cannon. Well, the stocky Syracuse commit still gets buckets from deep, above the rim and everywhere in between, but he also displayed the ability to run the show and defend at a high level.
–Patric Young, 6-8 rising senior post, Paxon (FL): The Florida commit, who came out of nowehere to get on the map at last summer’s Reebok All-American Camp, showed he’s worthy of the attention he’s received as of late. Nicknamed “Dwight Howard” by the other campers, I can’t say
he’s all the way polished yet, but his aggressiveness, power, athleticism and high-energy play more often than not lead to big-time finishes, dismissive rejections and powerful rebounds on both ends