Orlando Observations

By Aggrey Sam

In my third consecutive year going to Orlando, I pretty much knew what to expect: a lot of high-level hoops, big-time players trying to prove they’re the cream of the crop, sleepers trying to make a name for themselves, a ton of college coaches, my birthday (looking forward to doing that at home for once) and more meals at Wetzel’s Pretzels during the day and the Ale House at night than I’d care to admit. This year, however, I was unexpectedly joined by SLAM intern Jeremy Bauman, who made the trip on his own dime and showed an advanced knowledge of the grassroots scene for a youngster. (One other unexpected moment came when I saw New Orleans Hornets star David West, who I can’t say I was fond of personally when I lived in the N.O., so involved with his Garner Road–where he finished up high school in North Carolina–AAU team, which he sponsors and was with before and after games throughout the duration of the event. Color me wrong, DWest.)

Jeremy will handle coverage of AAU Nationals, but I’m here to update y’all on the goings-on at the AAU Super Showcase, where familiar names the CP3 All-Stars won the 15-and-under chip, Nike Baltimore Elite (Carmelo Anthony’s team) took the 16s title and Each One Teach One Elite (led by Austin Rivers, whose pop I spoke to earlier in the week) outlasted the Brad Beal-led St. Louis Eagles to win it all in a nationally-televised game Tuesday night.

That last result is significant because Beal and Rivers are two of the nation’s top-10 players, best sharpshooters and definitely the top shooting guards in the country. In addition, because Beal is a Florida commit. Rivers, an Orlando native pledged to the Gators earlier in his career, but later backed out. Some speculation has him eventually choosing Duke, whose coaching staff (minus Coach K, who had some other obligation of some sort) was watching him like a hawk. Anyway, while both of the teams were centered around their respective stars, they each had strong supporting casts, but in the end, Beal didn’t have his best outing, while Rivers stepped up to the plate with a huge game. With no further adieu, here’s my take on 15 of the players who impressed me (for the LAST time, not necessarily the best of the bunch) in Orlando, including the aforementioned pair:

Brad Beal, 6-3 rising senior wing, Chaminade (MO): A Florida commit who has risen to among the top-10 consensus players in the country, this pure shooter had up-and-down outings, but his strength, solid athleticism, all-around game and team-first mentality makes up for the times his usually-wet long-range J isn’t falling.

Henry Brooks, 6-8 rising senior combo forward, Milton (GA): Brooks, a stellar student, is a long, active and athletic slasher with the ability to finish around the basket, make an impact on the glass on both ends of the floor and step out to make jumpers.

Domonique Bull, 6-3 rising junior combo guard, Cushing (MA): One of the next in line for traditional AAU power BABC, Bull’s aggressive driving approach is similar to his surname, as he powers through defenders to get to the rack and finish, but his solid mid-range game, tough D and slick handle shows he has some finesse, as well.

Rodney Cooper, 6-6 rising senior wing, Russell County (AL): An Alabama commit, this smooth lefty is capable of knocking down deep jumpers, pulling up off the bounce, finishing way above the rim, flourishing in transition and locking down his man on the other end of the floor.

Kadeem Jack, 6-8 postgraduate post, South Kent (CT): A product of Harlem’s famed Rice High School, Jack justified his recent hype by running the floor like a madman, blocking shots, finishing with authority, being an active presence on the boards, using his size and quickness to create mismatches and generally wreaking havoc whenever he was on the court.

Roosevelt Jones, 6-3 rising senior wing, O’Fallon (IL): A sleeper nationally, Jones is one of the best players in Illinois and by using the spring and summer AAU circuit as his platform, the Butler commit has proven to be a steal, as his toughness, no-nonsense approach, unselfishness, uncanny post-up game and rebounding, ballhandling and passing ability, defensive versatility and understanding of his limitations (he knows he’s not a shooter) opened a lot of eyes.

Trevor Lacey, 6-3 rising senior combo guard, Butler (AL): After being regarded as one of the nation’s most-highly regarded players in his class a few years back, Lacey’s stock took a slight dip, but in his reincarnation as an excellent second option (to Austin Rivers), his reliable deep J, toughness, ability to slide over to the point, underrated  and rugged inside game (his strength allows him to rebound and finish amongst the tall trees) has him seen in  a whole new light.

Ben McLemore, 6-5 rising senior wing, Eskridge (MO): A St. Louis native who has risen to amongst the players in his class almost out of nowhere this spring and summer, the ultra-athletic slashing swingman backed up the hype by displaying a solid-mid-range game, a decent deep ball, efficient ballhandling ability, good rebounding for a perimeter player and some jaw-dropping athletic plays on both ends of the floor.

Martavious Newby, 6-2 rising junior combo guard, Booker T. Washington (TN): A tough pure scorer with playmking ability, Newby proved he was capable of running the show and distributing the rock, but his forte was putting points on the board–whether from deep with his streaky J, pulling up off the dribble, in transition, powering through contact in the paint or using his tricky ballhandling to get past the opposition–in the fashion of past classic Memphis scorers.

Julius Randle, 6-8 rising sophomore combo forward, Prestonwood Christian (TX): Regarded by many as the top player in his class nationally, Randle is still just a youngster, but his advanced frame, inside-outside scoring game, nice athleticism, touch out to beyond the arc, ability to dominate the boards and solid ballhandling ability will make him a prospect you’ll hear a lot more from in coming years.

Austin RiversAustin Rivers, 6-3 rising senior combo guard, Winter Park (FL): Rivers’ scoring ability–he has almost unlimited range, the ability to get past multiple defenders with his terrific handle and has excellent court vision, to boot–has been written about ad nauseum on this site and plenty of other places, but with added strength, a better understanding of how to involve his teammates and at least a partial commitment to playing D, he’s in the process of taking his game to another level.

James Robinson, 6-2 rising junior combo guard, DeMatha (MD): A productive player for his famed high school program since his freshman year (no small feat), Robinson isn’t flashy, but his ability to play on and off the ball, strong frame, improved outside shooting, rugged approach, lockdown D, consistent standout play and overall toughness have really raised his stock this summer.

Kedorian Sullivan, 6-6 rising senior wing, Southwind (TN): A long and athletic wing, Sullivan might not be a big name nationally, but his high motor, slashing ability, finishing skills, activity on the boards, tough D and ability to excel in transition might change his low-key status as a recruit in the near future.

Craig Sword, 6-2 rising junior combo guard, Carver (AL): With his surname, it’s fitting this kid would be a slasher, but his advanced mid-range game, transition scoring ability, aggressiveness going to the hole, underrated playmaking skills and decent range shows he can be a multi-faceted talent.

Fred Thomas, 6-5 rising junior wing, Jim Hill (MS): A sleeper even in his hometown, Thomas’ deep range, prolific scoring ability (I witnessed a five-minute stretch where he was simply unconscious), length, solid athleticism and nice handle for his size could put him on the national radar over his next couple years of high school ball.

Aggrey Sam covers the Chicago Bulls for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.