By Aggrey Sam
With the postseason all-star games in the rear-view window, the most important time of the year for high school ballplayers—and arguably college coaches—is starting to heat up. Forget the actual season, a strong summer on the AAU circuit and at the sneaker camps can (unfortunately) determine the next 15 or so years of a prep prospect’s life/career.
Maybe that’s an overstatement, but consider this: If Tracy McGrady stayed in the swamps of Florida in the summer of ’96 instead of destroying the comp at ABCD, would he be the top-10 NBA talent, former scoring champ, It Takes 5ive, non-second round, 13 points in 30 seconds T-Mac that we know today? And if Brooklyn high school phenom Lenny Cooke didn’t get cooked by Bron in their ‘01 ABCD showdown, would he be in the League today? Then again, if Lenny hadn’t killed the same camp in 2000, the few of you who know his name wouldn’t know who I’m talking about.
Regardless, although the official start of AAU play is April, when Division I coaches can watch the players live, I don’t really get excited until after the Memorial Day weekend tournaments. The two biggies this year were the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions, held on Tobacco Road in North Carolina, and the Nike Memorial Day Classic in Nashville. While I didn’t see the tourneys firsthand, below are 20 rising seniors and 10 rising juniors who boosted their stock at those events and in spring AAU play in general.
Class of 2008:
Al-Farouq Aminu, 6-8 combo forward, Norcross (Norcross, Ga.): Described by many prep hoops analysts as the top wing in the class of 2008, Aminu’s shot-blocking, rebounding and finishing ability could prove to be too valuable for his college coach to let him play on the perimeter. In time, however, his versatility—he can take the ball coast to coast, knock down treys and find his teammates for easy hoops—could allow him to be a big-time slasher on the pro level.
William Buford, 6-5 wing, Libbey (Toledo, Ohio): The Ohio State commit reminds a lot of folks now former Buckeye Daequan Cook with the way he puts the ball in the bucket. Unlike Cook, he’s not (yet) projected as a potential one-and-done guy, and while he might not be quite the jaw-dropping athlete Cook is, he probably excels more at the other parts of the game.
Ed Davis, 6-9 power forward, Benecdictine (Mechanicsville, Va.): “Easy Ed,” the son of former NBA player Terry Davis, might be the top pure post player in the senior class. He has a wide arsenal of post moves, is an excellent passer, can hit the mid-range J and despite his slender frame, he attacks the boards with ferocity.
Demar DeRozan, 6-5 wing, Compton (Compton, Calif.): The AAU teammate of Lil’ Romeo has always been considered one of the best athletes in the class. Now, he’s also one of the nation’s best shooters (and might be wavering on his spring commitment to USC).
Michael Dunigan, 6-10 center, Farragut (Chicago, Ill.): A fundamentally-sound big man with a mean streak, the Chi native is one of the top prospects in the Midwest. While he has nice post moves, the best parts of his game are his defensive presence and domination of the boards.
Courtney Fortson, 5-11 point guard, Jefferson Davis (Montgomery, Ala.): Originally a member of the class of ’07, Fortson will reportedly do a post-graduate year at prep school. So far, that decision has paid off, as the tenacious floor general has boosted his stock this spring—going from solid mid-major prospect to one of the top point guards in the nation.
Jrue Holiday, 6-4 combo guard, Campbell Hall (North Hollywood, Calif.): Holiday, the top player on the West Coast in 2008, can simply do it all. Strong enough to finish, defend and rebound over bigger players, he can also run an offense, get hot from the outside and get to the basket at will.
Kris Joseph, 6-7 wing, Archbishop Carroll (Washington, D.C.): The brother of Michigan State guard Maurice Joseph, the Montreal transplant is one of the best players in the nation’s capital. A recent Syracuse commit, the unselfish wing is skilled enough to play all three perimeter positions.
DeAndre Liggins, 6-6 wing, Washington (Chicago, Ill.): “The Ticket,” a point forward with uncanny passing skills, has rocketed up the rankings this spring. Always a versatile performer, his newly-improved jumper make him one of the top all-around talents in the class.
Greg Monroe, 6-9 post, Helen Cox (Harvey, La.): Possibly the most talented player in the class, Monroe rebounds, finishes and blocks shots like an elite big man, but handles, passes and shoots the ball like a top-flight wing. The lefty, often compared to Lamar Odom, has done nothing to hurt his lofty status.
Emmanuel Negedu, 6-7 power forward, Brewster (Wolfeboro, N.H.): A beast on the interior who can also step outside to hit jumpers, Negedu might have the best motor in the nation. The sky-scraping athlete is headed to Arizona in ‘08, where he’s sure to finish plenty of pretty dimes with the nation’s top point guard prospect, Brandon Jennings, who reneged on his previous commitment to USC.
Terrelle Pryor, 6-7 combo forward, Jeannette (Jeannette, Pa.): Ranked as the nation’s top football player in his class as a quarterback, Pryor is no slouch on the hardwood, either. A physical, athletic and skilled competitor, the Western Pa. native (home to QBs like Joe Montana and Dan Marino, to name a few) could be special if he focused on hoops exclusively.
Delvon Roe, 6-8 combo forward, St. Edward (Lakewood, Ohio): A hard-nosed and athletic southpaw, the future Michigan State Spartan fits the Tom Izzo mold of interior beasts. On top of that, he’s a skilled slasher that can keep defenses honest with his J.
Mike Rosario, 6-2 shooting guard, St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.): A product of Bob Hurley’s basketball factory, the sharpshooter can score in bunches and within the offense. Committed to Rutgers, he’ll play a major role in any potential turnaround of the in-state program.
Iman Shumpert, 6-4 combo guard Oak Park-River Forest (Oak Park, Ill.): Maybe the fastest-rising prospect this spring, the smooth Shumpert is a dead-eye shooter who can also run the point. A smart player with a mature game, Shumpert is the type of scorer that can hurt defenses in a variety of ways.
Kemba Walker, 6-1 point guard, Rice (New York, N.Y.): The gritty NYC product has made a smooth transformation from a defensive-oriented role player to a top-notch prospect targeted by several high-major schools. Walker is equally talented at dishing the rock to teammates as he is penetrating to the hole and creating his own shot.
Ty Walker, 7-0 center, New Hanover (Wilmington, N.C.): The lean shot-blocker forms a devastating one-two punch in the post with teammate Ed Davis on the Boo Williams AAU team. Committed to Wake Forest, Walker possesses an intriguing skill set, such as the ability to step out and hit jumpers.
Willie Warren, 6-4 shooting guard, North Crowley (Fort Worth, Tex.): A power guard with tremendous athleticism, Warren finishes well at the rack, but can also light it up from deep. Oh yeah, watch this.
Elliott Williams, 6-4 point guard, St. George’s (Memphis, Tenn.): An efficient scorer with great size for his position, Williams is also an excellent distributor. His length and basketball IQ only enhance his value at the next level.
Tyler Zeller, 7-2 center, Washington (Washington, Ind.): Agile and skilled for his size, the little brother of Notre Dame big man Luke Zeller runs the floor and finishes with abandon and has range on his jumper. His Indiana Elite AAU team, also featuring the aforementioned Liggins and Negedu, has unsurprisingly been dominating in events this spring.
Class of 2009:
Isaiah Armwood, 6-9 power forward, Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.): A monster athlete with Stretch Armstrong arms and great toughness, despite his skinny frame.
Kenny Boynton, 6-2 shooting guard, Ely (Pompano Beach, Fla.): An almost unstoppable scorer from the perimeter or driving to the hole.
Dominic Cheek, 6-6 wing, St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.): The next star at St. Anthony has great size, ball skills and is one of top shooters in his class.
Xavier Henry, 6-6 wing, Putnam City (Oklahoma City, Okla.): With his size, handle, athleticism and automatic J, he could be the best player in the class when it’s all said and done.
Karron Johnson, 6-7 combo forward, Mt. Zion (Raleigh, N.C.): Athletic and powerful, but skilled enough to play both inside and outside.
David Loubeau, 6-9 power forward, Westlake Prep (Tampa, Fla.): Aggressive and skilled big man with good skills in the post.
Reeves Nelson, 6-7 power forward, Modesto Christian (Modesto, Calif.): The bouncy, undersized power player is very athletic, built like an ox and has a surprisingly soft touch from the outside.
Deshawn Painter, 6-9 post, Booker T. Washington (Norfolk, Va.): A long, athletic defensive presence who needs to add strength, but has loads of potential.
Donte Taylor, 6-9 post, National Christian (Fort Washington, Md.): A developing inside force who is starting to make noise on the national scene.
Terrell Vinson, 6-7 combo forward, Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.): Armwood’s teammate is still making the transition to the wing, but his strength and skill level
Real quick, I wanted to comment on two recent rules changes by the NCAA that affect high school basketball players. One, a rule that will ban college coaches from text messaging recruits, could be good or bad, depending on your point of view. As someone who works with high school ballplayers, I know that constant texts can get a bit overwhelming. On the other hand, some kids don’t like to be called, so it can be a good way for coaches and players to get to know each other without having to talk too much.
The other rule tackles the controversial issue of prep school. With more and more kids reclassifying (repeating a grade) or playing a year or more at prep schools, the NCAA wants to crack down on “diploma mills” that basically give kids grades to improve their academic standing and meet qualifying standards to play college ball. Basically, players will only be allowed to re-take one class after they finish their four years of high school. Why is it a big deal? Top prospects who mess up academically will either have to transfer to prep school early in their high school career or attend junior college, a much less popular choice in recent years. Personally, I think college coaches will “suggest” that their top recruits make the move to prep schools the college prefers, as early as their freshman year in high school.
On a sad note, top Florida prospect Dante Anderson passed away in a car accident on May 19. Anderson, who led Eastside HS in Gainesville to a state championship this past season, was considered one of the nation’s top rising senior shooting guards. Condolences go out to his family and friends.