LeBron James Skills Academy Thursday Recap
Notes on everything BUT LeBron’s two-hour scrimmage.
by Ben Axelrod / @BenAxelrod
It may have taken an hour or so for my first celebrity sighting at the LeBron James Skills Academy on Wednesday—brief cameos by Dwyane Wade and James himself—but Thursday was a completely different story as college coaches were allowed to attend the camp for the first time all week.
As I pulled on to the University of Akron campus, I was met by a familiar face as Ohio State coach Thad Matta and a string of red shirt-wearing assistants headed towards the school’s rec center, where the high school big men were working out in the morning. Not far behind Matta and Co. was Big Ten rival and Purdue coach Matt Painter and Kansas State Frank Martin, who appeared confused as to why the high schoolers had been split up for the morning session.
After getting situated on press row in the upper level of Rhodes Arena, I noticed that the level I was on seemed much fuller than it did on Wednesday. That probably had something to do with the fact that it now contained every major college coach in the country. Right across from me was Coach K, who was chatting it up with UConn’s Jim Calhoun. A few spots over from them was Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, and just around the corner, was Kansas’ Bill Self.
By the end of the day and with the exception of Kentucky’s John Calipari, just about every major college coach was in attendance, from Roy Williams to Rick Pitino to Billy Donovan to Tom Izzo. Each coach was wearing a shirt representing his respective school—except for Coach K, who was wearing a beige button-up short sleeve shirt, and is apparently above needing blue and white to make his presence felt.
As for the morning workouts themselves, Thursday’s session featured significantly less competition than Wednesday morning’s did, with the players going through layup lines and passing drills before they briefly participated in half court scrimmages. The only thing that really stood out to me during these drills was Sam Cassell Jr, who routinely hit contested off-balance jumpers that would have made his pops proud.
As the high school players cleared the court to prepare for their afternoon games, the camp’s college attendees took the floor, with many of their coaches watching from the level above.
Like the high school session, many of the drills ran for the college players were rather rudimentary, with the exception of a 1-on-1 post drill that Jared Sullinger, Trevor Mbakwe, Thomas Robinson, Aaric Murray and Anthony Davis participated in. Robinson, a 6-10 forward from Kansas, looked particularly dominant during the drills, while unlike yesterday, Ohio State’s Sullinger struggled and at one point even slapped the basket in frustration after a series of failed post-ups.
After we conducted interviews, the media was then kicked out of the arena for two hours as LeBron (who was much less visible than he was on Wednesday) appeared to be getting ready for a pick-up game against the college players. This assumption seemed to be confirmed when upon returning from lunch, many of the players could be seen leaving the locker room, visibly tired and with ice packs wrapped around their knees.
The rest of Thursday consisted of the official camp games between the teams that each high school player had been assigned to, which offered the only opportunity to evaluate the players in a 5-on-5 fullcourt situation, with the following players standing out:
- Mitch McGary picked up where he left off on Wednesday, establishing himself as the top player in the Class of 2012 attending the camp, with his strong post play, smooth mid-range game, and above-average passing skills. Earlier in the day, the 6-11 McGary described his game to me as similar to Lamar Odom’s, but with the hustle of Tyler Hansbrough. And while nobody is going to debate the Hansbrough comparison—as his hustle went unmatched throughout the week (on multiple occasions, I witnessed him dive on the floor to get after loose balls, even during 2-on-2 drills)—McGary at times was too eager to try to take the ball coast-to-coast, with the results rarely being successful. On one particular sequence in his first game, McGary grabbed a rebound, raced down court, used an inside-out dribble to get past a defender, but then bricked the lay-up attempt off the backboard, only to have teammate Julius Randle catch the ball for a put-back dunk.
- Speaking of Randle, he appeared to solidify his spot as the top player in the Class of 2013, and was arguably the most impressive player of any age group on Thursday. At 6-9, Randle also likes to handle the ball, but seems to do so in a more controlled fashion than McGary. He was also impressive in the paint, showing a resiliency that allowed him to convert on multiple put-back attempts off of offensive rebounds, and at 243 pounds, he showed the ability to absorb contact and finish his shot, which resulted in some impressive and one dunks. Randle didn’t sell himself short either, as he compared his game to that of LeBron James’ when meeting with the media after the games.
- Although few of Thursday’s games seemed to be about who won or lost, at least one match-up came down to the wire and ended with Class of 2012 point guard Rodney Purvis taking matters into his own hands. Purvis converted on a spinning floater to give his team a one-point lead with less than a minute remaining in the game, and then hit two free throws to seal the game as opponent Wayne Selden playfully jawed at him from the line. Purvis impressed in the night games as well, showing nice range on his jump shot, and the ability to convert at the rim.
- Perhaps no player provided more highlights on Thursday than 6-3 Kendrick Nunn, who may have had the dunk of the week with a one-handed, and one, posterization of Moses Kingsley during the afternoon games. Nunn carried his impressive play into the night games, where he converted on fast break slam, moments before blocking 6-7 Charles Mitchell’s dunk attempt at the other end.
- Other players who impressed throughout Thursday include 2013 swingman Nick King, who shot the ball from the three-point line with more consistency than any other player, 2012 Arizona commit Grant Jerrett, who could be scary good in the post once he adds more muscle to his 6-10, 220-pound frame, class of 2012 forward TJ Warren, who showcased an impressive ability to take his defender off the dribble and finish above the rim 2013 guard, and Anthony Barber, who seemed to take ownership of the point guard position every time he stepped on the floor.
The Skills Academy will come to a close on Friday, as the teams will participate in a tournament to determine the camp champion.