By Aggrey Sam
If you ignored the hype of the prospects in attendance, forgot about rows of scouts and college coaches in the stands and disregarded the often sloppy play, the actual basketball that was played at Rbk U. was pretty damn good. The games were competitive, many of the kids made an effort to follow their coach’s instructions and there was very little star treatment being afforded to the bigger names.
“It was real nice for it being the first year,” said Chicago big man Josh Crittle. “There was great competition here.”
“It was cool, just like ABCD but with slight differences,” added Olu Ashaolu (more on him later), a veteran of ABCD. “It’s still the same competitive camp I’ve been going to.”
The championship game proved that, as neither Team Marvin Williams nor Team Shaun Livingston (every squad at the camp was named for a Reebok NBA player) featured a player that I could call a surefire bet to be a McDonald’s All-American next spring. Team Marvin was led by springy forward Olek Czyz, a Nevada kid by way of Poland, who has been blowing up this spring, as well as the two-headed point guard tandem of Jersey’s Jio Fontan (committed to Fordham) and Chicago’s Kevin Dillard. Team Broken Kneecap, I mean Livingston, got to the chip because of the play of Money Earnin’ Mount Vernon’s Kevin Jones, who was ably assisted by another Jersey-Illinois backcourt: Tyshawn Taylor (Fontan’s high school teammate) and Verdell Jones.
Team Livingston pretty much dominated the game from early in the first half to the end, with Jones’ rugged post play and ability to step out and make jumpers leading the charge. Taylor ignited an early surge by going coast to coast for one-handed bang, and PA wing Lamar Patterson’s second-half shooting sealed the deal. For Team Marvin, Fontan battled until the end, played tough D and set up teammates like Czyz for some powerful dunks, but it wasn’t enough as Team Livingston cruised to a 100-81 win.
The all-star game, which followed the chip and was broadcast on local TV, was a little different than at most camps. The teams were divided into the Create and Finish conferences for the camp, so the kids were selected to play in the game based on that.
Team Create was led by Brandon Jennings, who came out looking to destroy whatever was in his path, which happened to be Maalik Wayns, a 2009 kid from Philly committed to Villanova who had an outstanding camp and seems determined to assume Jennings’ throne of best point guard in the nation when BJ heads to Arizona. The mano a mano affair, which only really lasted for the first five minutes or so of the game, was basically a draw, as ‘Lik managed to stay in front of Jennings’ and avoid being embarrassed by his tricky handle.
Jennings then decided to put on a passing exhibition for the remainder of the contest. He was credited with eight dimes, but I counted at least 10, which could have easily been 15 if his teammates were ready for his passes.
“The all-star game was fun, I think I turned it out,” said BJ. “Now I wanna just get ready for Vegas and kill that, too.”
While he said he wasn’t going to “name any names,” as he did when I spoke to him at the NBPA Camp, he did issue a challenge.
“Tell Nike and adidas to get their best team and set it up for August,” added Jennings. “And we’ll kill them.”
Smooth Cali wing Renaldo Woolridge was the main beneficiary of his unselfishness, finishing with 17 points, while big men Quincy Acy and Renardo Sidney had 14 and 12, respectively. Also playing well for the Create squad was a trio of guards, John Wall (five dimes), Kenny Boynton (15 points) and 5-9 Isaiah Thomas (the Washington state native, who’s committed to the in-state Huskies and is prepping at South Kent in Connecticut, had 12 points and six assists).
For Team Finish, guards William Buford (headed to Ohio State) and Elliott Williams finished with efficient 19 and 18-point outings, respectively, with most of their points coming on smooth drives, treys and transition buckets. Olu Ashaolu added 14 in the 143-121 loss.
While the all-star game (and camp itself, to an extent) was the Brandon Jennings show, Ashaolu has to get second billing as the co-star. The Canadian high flyer beasted his way over and through any and every opponent he faced, ending many of his strong drives to the rack with a facial.
“I felt I didn’t get the recognition I deserved at NBPA camp and I didn’t know what I needed to do, so I came to Rbk playing even harder, even though that’s already what I’m known for,” said the 6-7, 230-pound monster. “Off the court, I just chill, but between the lines it’s all business.”
Ashaolu, who had previously committed to attend Rutgers after his senior year, also let me know about his recruiting situation.
“I had been discussing it for a week prior to camp, but right now I’m opening it back up. They’re still my leaders, but it’s the biggest decision of my life. It’s not just about the next 4 years, it’s gonna decide the next 40,” he said.
As for the camp, Ashaolu enjoyed his experience, especially getting the best of Renardo Sidney (arguably the top prospect in the class of 2009), in one of the best games at Rbk U.
“I know a lot of guys, when they play Renardo Sidney, they get intimidated, but to me it was just another game. I think Renardo is a great talent and I just knew I had to bring my A game against him,” said the gracious leaper.
By the way, I also asked him about his brother, Sam Ashaolu, was injured in the tragic shootings at Duquesne University last year.
“He’s doing well. He finished up summer courses at Duquesne,” said Olu. “He’s getting better and better. Now he’s back at home (Brampton, Ontario) with the family.”
Good to hear. This issue hits home with me, as I work with high school and college ballplayers myself. One of the kids I work with, Keith “Simms” Mitchell (a 6-2 wing with a vicious handle), was shot last Sunday night in North Philly. While I’m just thankful he’s alive, he was hit in his leg and the bullet shattered his tibia, already ending what would have been his freshman season at Mercyhurst NorthEast, a junior college in PA. Shout out to Simms, Sam, Herb Pope and any other ballplayers or people in general who’ve been a victim of the senseless violence in these streets.