LeBron James Skills Academy Recap
Evaluating the talent pool in Vegas.
by DeMarco Williams / @demarcowill
These summer camps and showcases are partially meant to serve as platforms for NBA scouts, college recruiters and sports journalists to see the best talents in one place. The funny thing is that there’s generally so much going on, so much talent on display, that you can’t possibly watch it all. You might be focused on the action at one court, but hear ooohs and aaahs from another. You turn to that court and miss a crazy alley-oop back on the original one. It’s frustrating. It’s fun. It’s summer ball.
The LeBron James Skills Academy, held this year at Las Vegas’ Rancho High School instead of Akron to coincide with the namesake’s Olympic training, is no different. In fact, by having 20 of the top college players in the same gym as the 90-plus premier cats in high school, the likelihood of neck sprains from all the court watching doubles. But if you know anything about SLAM, it’s that we’ll sacrifice injury for a good story every time. So, without further delay, here are the guys who forced us to pull out the Bengay at the July 6-9 camp…
- Players like Trey Burke (Michigan) and Tim Frazier (Penn State) looked at ease out there, but we expected as much from the Big Ten studs. I didn’t know a whole lot about Tony Mitchell (North Texas) before the Vegas trip, but after it, his super athleticism will never be forgotten. Lehigh’s CJ McCollum is being mentioned in ’13 mock lotteries, and with the consistency he displayed with the rock, we totally see why. Arkansas’ BJ Young was erratic at times, but his nonstop motor and playful nature were hard to overlook.
- If Michael Snaer has anything to do about it, the Florida State Seminoles are going to have much to cheer about,. The 6-5 guard clogged lanes, swiped balls and contested shots like few others. That’s not to say NBA hopefuls like 6-11 Mason Plumlee (Duke) and 6-8 Eric Ferguson (Georgia Southern) didn’t make their presence known. Both were extremely active down low, and Ferguson especially, commanded respect from drivers in the lane and scouts on the sideline.
- Phil “Flip” Pressey (Missouri) is supposed to be 6 feet in sneaks. Ummm, he’s probably closer to 5-10½. But man, does the homie have big-time court vision. Easily the top playmaker of the Academy, Flip got the ball to the right man with perfect bounce passes and JKidd-like no-looks. Even when unsuspecting teammates fumbled the rock out of bounds, the busted plays somehow still looked sweet.
- All of that said, “PG of the Camp” honors have to go to Murray State star Isaiah Canaan. The 6-1 future pro had a decent J, solid D and an overall on-court cool that simply couldn’t be matched. “I’m just trying to touch up every aspect of my game,” the laid-back Canaan revealed after one of his winning workouts. “Coming out of a mid major, you gotta do a lil’ extra. I’m just playing hard and trying to compete against whoever is out there.” Mission accomplished, Isaiah.
- The list of mentors on the high school side read like a proverbial who’s who of the game. Former NBA head coach John Lucas, ex-Arizona Wildcats star Miles Simon, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas and Boston Celtics assistant coach Kevin Eastman dropped knowledge from every inch of the gym. And seeing ESPN broadcaster Fran Fraschilla out there orchestrate drills was like watching pint-sized poetry in motion.
- Honestly, not really sure how much listening Julius Randle, consensus top two player of the ’13 class, was doing out there. The 6-10 forward out of Plano, TX, seemed bored with the whole thing. Team up a few buckets? The prep superstar simply found an open man on the perimeter. Team down a couple in crunch time? He’d make slight work of a defender with a quick post-up. Pretty routine stuff. Still, pretty damn impressive.
- Randle wasn’t the only kid making moves though. Semi Ojeleye (Ottawa, KS), D’Angelo Russell (Louisville), Jermaine Lawrence (Springfield Gardens, NY) and Tyler Roberson (Union, NJ) had equally nice flows to their games, never looking flustered and picking good times to attack. Still, the offensive stud of the weekend had to be Chris Walker (Bonifay, FL). Like some sort of sick mix between Perry Jones III and the second coming of KG, Walker had moments where even his teammates were left awestruck. “I’ve gotten better with my face-up game,” Walker said after one of his highlight-stuffed sessions. “I’ve been in the weight room, doing push-ups. I’ve gotten stronger. It’s going to help me with my game. I’ve just been grindin’.”
- And while it’s true that these camps often just put additional spotlight on fussed-over recruits like Chris Walker, it’s also a fact that they can be good ways for underrated talents to step from the shadows. Over the three-day spectacle, it’s safe to say always-hustling players like Zach Lavine (Bothel, WA), Nigel Williams-Goss (Henderson, NV) and Austin Colbert (Lakeville, CT) left impressions. With Colbert in particular, the medium buzz he’s been getting should be nearing a roar after his high-wire act. Another player who left his stamp in the desert was goggles-rocking Devin Williams (Cincinnati). “I just want to move up in the rankings,” told Williams. “Really, just being here at the LeBron [Skills Academy] and going to all these camps means a lot. I’m from Ohio. I’m just tryin’ to represent.”