After a trip to Vegas of the summer to cover USA Basketball’s training camp, I made a quick stop in SoCal for adidas Nations, the annual gathering of a handful of top domestic prep prospects, various international high school-age talent and some of the better college players in the nation. My man Nima Zarrabi already filled you in on the highlights of the affair—including appearances by T-Mac, Kyle Lowry and Arron Afflalo, all of whom balled with the college kids—so I just have some quick evaluations of the players in attendance.
It should be noted that I missed some of the early portion of the camp because of when I arrived from Vegas, so I didn’t get to see much of (or in some cases, any of) everybody who played well. Players I’ve seen already this summer, like Louisville commit Deng Adel, Canadian scorer Dillon Brooks and Latin American prospects Wesley Alves Da Silva, not to mention players I haven’t previously observed, such as breakout performer Jalen Poyser, a point guard from Canada, and some of the better prospects on the African team. For the high school kids, I’ve also opted to focus on players I haven’t seen before in person, so don’t feel like I’m neglecting the likes of Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram and new Duke commit Chase Jeter, among others.
By the way, the non-domestic teams were organized by class (2015 and 2016, with the latter group having some members of the Class of 2017 and even one 2018 prospect, intriguing and talented Floridian EJ Montgomery, who has ball skills that belie his 6-10 height) and the two younger teams made it to last Monday’s nationally televised championship game at Long Beach City College, with Team Lillard prevailing over Team Wall and the heralded Thon Maker taking home official MVP honors, as Drew Ruiz chronicled. Anyway, here’s my take on some of the talent that impressed me the most:
Dwayne Bacon, 6-6 senior wing, Oak Hill (VA)
A native of Florida, Bacon’s solid frame, size for a swingman, athleticism slashing ability and long-range shooting make him a prospect that could thrive in a variety of situations.
Bennie Boatwright, 6-9 senior combo forward, Village Christian (CA)
Committed to USC days after the event, the smooth, versatile and fluid Boatwright has a nice inside-outside game, featuring the range to stretch defenses from beyond the three-point arc, finishing ability on the interior and the ball skills to beat big men off the dribble.
De’Aaron Fox, 6-3 junior combo guard, Cypress Lakes (TX)
A Houston-area product, the slender Fox is a scorer who can play on and off the ball, knock down shots from deep, get to the rim off the bounce, finish explosively in transition and also distribute when necessary.
Kyle Guy, 6-2 junior combo guard, Lawrence Central (IN)
The prototypical Indiana sharpshooter lives up to the stereotype with his outside stroke, but also has some toughness, can run the show and is a good enough ballhandler to make defenders pay for trying to overplay his potent jumper.
Thon Maker, 7-0 junior post, Carlisle (VA)
One of the new wave of high-ceiling Australian players, albeit via South Sudan, Maker showcased his uncanny shooting ability for his size, but didn’t shy away from playing inside, as he was also a factor on the glass, used his length to intimidate foes on the defensive end and was an offensive presence in the paint.
Billy Preston, 6-9 sophomore combo forward, Redondo Union (CA)
Preston, one of the younger players in attendance, has built a solid reputation for himself in Southern California and lived up to the hype, as his advanced skill level for his age and size was evident in his perimeter scoring ability and a frame that allows him to match up with older post players.
Justin Simon, 6-5 senior point guard, Temecula Valley (CA)
An Arizona commitment, Simon is an athletic floor general who looked to attack the basket, get teammates involved, make plays on defense using his length and quickness, with those same attributes serving him well when finishing above the rim in both transition and half-court situations.
Dennis Smith, 6-2 junior point guard, Trinity Christian (NC)
With no disrespect to his teammate Maker, Smith was arguably the most impressive player at the camp, as the slightly-built playmaker’s ridiculous bounce, ball-on-a-string handle, extraordinary court vision, unselfishness nature, efficient offensive game and deep range brought to mind a combination of fellow North Carolina native Chris Paul and the Georgetown version of Allen Iverson.
Mouhamed Thiam, 6-8 wing, Senegal
A smooth scoring swingman with three-point range and the ability to finish at the basket, Thiam, a product of Dakar, was the go-to guy for Team Europe, which was made up of the squad from Canarias Basketball Academy.
Bourama Sidibe, 6-10 post, Mali
While Sidibe still needs to add strength to his spindly frame, the Bamako native is able to affect the game with his length and athleticism on both ends, functioning as a major shot-blocking presence, making an impact on the glass and scoring mostly on putbacks, in transition and off of lob passes.
If there was one complaint to be made about the event, it’s that all of the games, including the college-counselor sessions, were basically going on simultaneously. That said, in addition to the younger prospects, quite a bit of the college action was also observed and here are another 10 of the players who stood out:
Jabari Bird, 6-6 sophomore shooting guard, Cal
Bird, who had an up-and-down debut campaign after being a highly touted local recruit, now appears completely healthy and has added some bulk, as well as displaying an improved ability to create off the dribble, making him better prepared to utilize his athleticism and outside shooting.
Montrezl Harrell, 6-8 junior power forward, Louisville
After somewhat surprisingly returning to school for his junior year, the early indications are that Harrell will only enhance his draft stock, as his remarkable motor, dominant rebounding prowess and explosive finishing ability were on full display.
Stanley Johnson, 6-7 freshman small forward, Arizona
One of the more highly anticipated freshmen in the nation, Johnson had memorable matchups with both Afflalo and fellow newcomer Kelly Oubre of Kansas in which his powerful game, high IQ, versatility and bristly competitiveness all came to the forefront.
Jordan Mathews, 6-4 sophomore shooting guard, Cal
A son of a longtime college coach, Mathews combines a great understanding of the game with a feistiness and aggressive driving ability that should translate into him pairing with Bird to form a nice perimeter combo under new coach Cuonzo Martin.
EC Matthews, 6-5 sophomore point guard, Rhode Island
The Detroit native went somewhat under the national radar as a freshman in the Atlantic 10, but NBA personnel is well aware of Matthews’ game, as his pro-ready size for the position, playmaking ability and athleticism stood out amongst his more high-profile peers.
Jordan Mickey, 6-9 sophomore power forward, LSU
Mickey, who considered declaring for the NBA Draft in the spring, had one of the better freshman campaigns that went unheralded last season and if his performance in California was any sign of what’s to come, he might not be back for another year, as he showed off both his well-established shot-blocking ability and a skilled low-post game.
Austin Nichols, 6-9 sophomore power forward, Memphis
The Memphis native took a back seat on a senior-laden squad as a freshman, but might be in store for a prominent role, something Nichols showed he’s capable of handling, as he mostly eschewed his finesse, skilled inside-outside game to do the dirty work inside, displaying an ability to get on the offensive boards and battle with an improved physique and overall toughness.
Kelly Oubre, 6-7 freshman small forward, Kansas
The well-traveled Oubre (the southpaw is originally New Orleans, was displaced to the Houston area in his childhood by Hurricane Katrina and finished up high school at Findlay Prep outside Vegas) will be one of the more exciting freshmen to watch this winter, as evidenced by his explosive athleticism, deep range and an improved frame and handle, which allows him to get to the rim and compete on the glass easier.
Terran Petteway, 6-6 junior shooting guard, Nebraska
Petteway didn’t get a lot of hype for his solid all-around season in helping the Cornhuskers become known for something other than football, but the versatile wing, who takes on his fair share of inside duties during the college season, was solid as both an outside shooter and creator with the ball in his hands.
Norman Powell, 6-4 senior shooting guard, UCLA
Already known for his crazy athleticism and lockdown defense, the powerfully built Powell showed that his offensive skill level has also gone up a notch, as he handled the ball, knocked down shots and showed a greater degree of assertiveness, all of which should be put to good use as the elder statesman in a featured role with the departures of Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Zach LaVine and the Wear twins.