Summer Work Study Job
Back to basics at the Nike Skills Academies.
by Aggrey Sam
One of the grassroots events I’ve always wanted to see, but never had the opportunity over the last few years was the Nike Skills Academies. This summer it was easy, now that I live in Chicago and the quartet of camps are all at A.T.T.A.C.K. Athletics. It was only open to the media for two days (it was last weekend; sorry for the delay, but I just got back from Los Angeles yesterday–you’ll see why I was out there in the near future–and I’ve been a little tied up with a little something with my day job for you might be aware of that popped off today), but I was able to observe the final day of the Deron Williams and Amar’e Stoudemire camps last Saturday, as well as the first day of the Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce camps on Sunday.
Anyway, as a guy who used to work out high school and college players, I’m always interested in both what drills are used at these types of events, as well as evaluating talent outside either the run-and-gun setting of AAU basketball or the sometimes too-structured systems in the college game. On top of that, with the camp namesakes present, it was cool to see them interacting with the players (Durant was especially involved in the drills and games, while Pierce took a very active role in instructing the campers), especially with NBA scouts (no college coaches, thankfully) in attendance. Two things to note: USA Basketball made it impossible for some of the better high school prospects to participate, and I thought a few of the kids were in the wrong camps, based on their skillsets or positions. Now for the evaluations:
Amar’e Stoudemire Skills Academy
High school prospects
–Marshall Plumlee, 6-11 senior post, Christ (NC): The third of the Plumlee brothers (Mason and Miles are both at Duke), the Indiana native is a big-time athlete, extremely active, a strong finisher, possesses solid ball skills and has the toughness that can only be gained by getting pounded on by older siblings.
–Zach Price, 6-10 senior post, St. Edward (OH): The Louisville commit is still a bit raw offensively, but his tools–great size, motor and explosiveness–are things that can’t be taught, and when coupled with a strong work ethic, excellent mobility, a defensive presence and aggressiveness on the boards, the big southpaw has a tremendous upside.
–Bernard Sullivan, 6-7 senior combo forward, Davidson Day (NC): After impressing at NBPA Camp as a face-up four with wing skills, it was surprising to see Sullivan grouped with the bigs (not an uncommon occurrence, unfortunately; he should have been at the KD camp, refining his perimeter game), but he still used the opportunity to show off his big-time hops, quick and solid footwork, excellent touch and tremendous energy level.
–Enes Kanter, 6-10 freshman post, Kentucky: The much-ballyhooed native of Turkey played some pro ball in his homeland, and it shows, as his patience and savvy in the post, polished post moves, grown-man strength, soft touch out to the mid-range area, and dominant boardwork makes up for not having superior athleticism, although it isn’t too shabby.
–Gary McGhee, 6-10 senior post, Pittsburgh: Coming out of high school–and even earlier in his Pitt career–McGhee didn’t look like much of a prospect, but thanks to continued development, he’s now a solid low-post scorer, a beast on the glass, a tough defender and a hustle guy that doesn’t require touches, all of which has the makings of a second-round pick in 2011 and eventually a solid pro, particularly due to his rugged frame.
–Jared Sullinger, 6-8 freshman post, Ohio State: “Sully” was a dominant force on the high school level and he showed the offensive versatility, basketball IQ, brute strength, agile footwork, shooting range, excellent hands and monster rebounding to continue to excel in college, although his ceiling as a professional could be limited because of his weight and conditioning issues, as it’s unlikely he’ll ever be an explosive athlete.
Deron Williams Skills Academy
High school prospects
–Nick Johnson, 6-3 senior combo guard, Findlay (NV): Dennis Johnson’s nephew shares his late uncle’s knack for simply getting it done, as his effective playmaking, dogged D, ability to run the show, shooting from both deep and mid-range, solid athleticism and poise will allow him to make an impact early in his college career.
–Tyrone Johnson, 6-3 senior combo guard, Plainfield (NJ): A top football prospect as a quarterback before giving up the gridiron game to focus on the hardwood, Johnson’s toughness is certainly a featured aspect of his game, but his size at the guard position, solid court vision, quickness, slashing ability, finishing skills and defensive mindset make him a complete player.
–Trevor Lacey, 6-4 combo guard, Butler (AL): Lacey was regarded as one of the top prospects in his class at an early age and while some observers believe he may have plateaued a bit, his athleticism, size, solid ballhandling, shot-making ability, finishing skills and versatility mean he still has a ways to go, but is pretty damn good right now.
–Demetri McCamey, 6-3 senior point guard, Illinois: The St. Joseph’s product (alma mater of Isiah Thomas and William Gates of “Hoop Dreams” fame; McCamey played alongside Sixers No. 2 pick Evan Turner in high school) used his powerful frame, yo-yo handle, ability to run the show and ability to knock down shots from both deep and off the dribble to dominate opponents at the camp and get into the conversation among observing scouts as a pro (he entered the draft, then pulled out before the deadline) in two years.
–Jacob Pullen, 6-1 senior point guard, Kansas State: One of my subjects in the current issue of the mag, the Proviso East product (home to Shannon Brown, Doc Rivers and Mike Finley, among others) showcased the explosive scoring ability, tricky dribble moves, toughness in the lane and overall tenacity that made foes “fear the beard” so much during the NCAA tourney.
–Iman Shumpert, 6-5 junior point guard, Georgia Tech: The last of three Windy City floor generals at the camp, Shumpert’s excellent size, off-ball skills, big-time athleticism, ability to mix it up inside, solid handle, good court vision, creative finishes and potential on the defensive end should put to rest the criticisms about the Yellow Jackets’ backcourt.
–Nolan Smith, 6-3 senior combo guard, Duke: I’m cheating a little bit here by adding a fourth player, but I couldn’t part with any of the aforementioned trio from the ‘Go, and the member of the reigning national champs may have been the best player (not prospect; see if you can figure out who that was) in attendance, as his polished floor general skills, improved consistency on his jumper, sneaky athleticism, ball-hawking D and tremendous knowledge of the game made him shine and seem like a potentially solid pro.
Kevin Durant Skills Academy
High school prospects
–Mychael Henry, 6-6 senior wing, Orr (IL): The Illinois commit went from a sleeper local prospect to perhaps a top national recruit, by virtue of a huge high school season in the Chi, which he backed up here by showing off his potent shooting stroke from deep (love his high release), strong frame, big-time athleticism and improving attacking game off the dribble.
–Rodney Hood, 6-7 senior wing, Meridian (MS): Capable of playing all three perimeter spots, the lefty’s smooth handle, accurate J, nice athleticism, aggressiveness off the dribble, court vision, playmaking ability, excellent length and overall versatility makes the kid I first witnessed as a freshman the complete package I thought he’d become one day.
–Levi Randolph, 6-5 senior combo guard, Bob Jones (AL): The Alabama commit should have been at the DWill camp (he’s a combo because of his size and versatility, but truly has the instincts of a floor general) but his advanced skill level on the wing, underrated J, mid-range game, precise footwork and tough slashing ability were all evident.
–Harrison Barnes, 6-8 freshman wing, North Carolina: Look, I’ll cop to questioning how truly special SLAM’s Diary keeper really was (listen, it was a down class), but after seeing how his incredibly fluid game, pure J, smooth athleticism, polished ballhandling, overall versatility, excellent size for both wing spots and knowledge of the game translated against some of the best of his peers, I’ll go with my man (a director of college scouting for a pro team who was present at the camp and witnessed the youngster ice KD in one of the camp pickup games to hit the game-winner) and admit he’s “the real f-ing deal.”
–Alec Burks, 6-6 sophomore wing, Colorado: I watched Burks back in the day and thought he’d be a steal for somebody and seeing his silky-smooth handle, mid-range J, deep range, great length and versatility on the perimeter all give defenders fits, it’s easy to see why he absolutely killed the Big 12 as a freshman.
–Kevin Jones, 6-8 junior combo forward, West Virginia: The “Money Earnin’” native has been a solid (if overshadowed) performer so far in his college career, but he looks ready to take the next step, as he combines his junkyard-dog inside ways and strong frame with surprising perimeter skills, decent range and accuracy on his J, solid ball skills and an increased ability to play on the wing, all of which bodes well for both a monster upcoming season and his pro prospects.
Paul Pierce Skills Academy
High school prospects
–Kentavious Caldwell, 6-4 senior wing, Greenville (GA): A versatile perimeter threat, Caldwell displayed the ability to score from behind the arc, off the dribble (either pulling up or getting all the way to the bucket) and at the rim with his solid handle and terrific bounce.
–Myles Davis, 6-2 senior combo guard, St. Peter’s Prep (NJ): Husky with the jazz legend’s name, Davis should have been in the DWill camp, but made the best of his surroundings by battling taller (but not stronger) players on the wing and in the mid-post, showing off an aggressive slashing game and crafty toughness when finishing at the rim.
–Terry Whisnant, 6-4 senior wing, Cherryville (NC): Somewhat of a sleeper prospect, the lean Florida State commit showcased great range on his J, explosiveness in getting to the bucket, some herky-jerky dribble moves, a nice mid-range game and finishing ability with his length.
–William Buford, 6-5 junior wing, Ohio State: Buford, expected to take over the Buckeyes’ star mantle with the departure of Evan Turner, has nice size, length and athleticism, but developing a tighter handle, better fundamentals and more efficient moves would be to his benefit if he indeed chooses to leave Columbus for the NBA after the upcoming season.
–Travis Leslie, 6-5 junior wing, Georgia: Known as just a freak athlete, Leslie is making the transition into a complete ballplayer, and while his handle, footwork and J all need some work, his attention to detail, motor, ability to grasp concepts and “it” factor all make him a likely beneficiary of what the camp had to offer (I see him working hard on what he’s learned when he goes back to UGA), as well as a possible sleeper next year.
–Klay Thompson, 6-6 junior wing, Washington State: One of the best shooters in the college game, Thompson displayed surprising athleticism to go with his length and size on the wing, efficient (if not flashy) handle and high IQ, but could stand to be a better finisher and continue to round out his all-around game, although he’s likely to have a Jason Kapono/Kyle Korver-type niche (I could see some Roger Mason in him, if he gets better off the dribble) on the next level.