By Aggrey Sam
Last week I wrote about the life skills portion of the NBPA Top 100 Camp at the University of Virginia. While I found that real interesting–and probably more important to the kids in the long run–I know people want to hear about the actual basketball.
Although the camp wasn’t as helter-skelter as others I’ve witnessed, like most summer events, there was a lot of one-on-one play, some good and some bad.
“I’d like to find a way to put more teaching within the games, such as demanding more pick-and-roll offense or a post touch on every possession,” said former NBA player and current ESPN high school hoops analyst Tim McCormick, one of the camp’s founders. “But I’m happy with how hard the kids are playing. They might not know guys like us–someone like me or Purvis [Short, another ex-pro]–but they respect the current players. Look at how they pay attention to Bobby and Chuck (as he points to Chuck Hayes and Bobby Simmons instructing campers in the drills).
“I just hope they take things we talk about and implement them into their games,” McCormick continued. “At the high school level, most of these kids are just bigger, quicker or better athletes. But it gets harder in college and a lot harder in the NBA.”
I also caught up with legendary high school scout Bob Gibbons to get his take on the camp and some of the players who impressed him after the first two days (I left for Chicago on Friday to cover the Reebok Breakout Underclass Camp).
“This camp is different because there are most of the nation’s top big guys here, so it’s not just a guard showcase,” said Gibbons. “At this point in time, with the revision of the camp scene, this has emerged as the best overall camp. Even without the presence of college coaches, there are more people from different media outlets–such as yourself–doing scouting reports here, but the kids don’t feel as pressured to perform so they can focus more on skill development.”
As far as the players, Gibbons said, “I’d say Brandon Jennings is the best player here. Talent-wise, he’s just head and shoulders above the other point guards,” noted Gibbons.
Jennings himself agreed with that assessment. “Having former pros teaching you is real exciting, but to be honest, I’ve had my way with everyone at this camp so far. Nobody here has really been any competition for me,” said the cocky Cali lefty. “I think I’m the king of [high school] point guards right now.”
“I don’t respect West Coast point guards; they’re too Hollywood for me. I’m more of an East Coast, flashy-type point guard,” continued the rising senior at Oak Hill, arguably the most exciting player in the class. “Someone like Jrue Holiday [another top-ranked Cali guard], he’s real smooth, goes to work in the first three quarters–but he’s not a killer yet. Me, I’m a killer.”
“He might be the best overall player in the class,” noted Gibbons. “That said, I’ve also been really impressed by [point guards] Kemba Walker, who just committed to UConn, and Dashan Harris out of Monteverde in Florida.
“Then there’s Tyler Zeller, who established himself as possibly the top center in the class. Kenny Frease out of Ohio has been right there with him,” Gibbons went on to say. “Samardo Samuels looks like the top power forward in the country and a top-three player nationally.” When I asked him about forwards he liked, Gibbons said, “Olu Ashaolu has been physically dominant with his athleticism and Kevin Jones (one of E-I-C Ben Osborne’s favorites) has been playing extremely well, too.”
Being based out of Philly, I had to get his opinion about two kids I see play often.
“I think Maalik Wayns [of Philly’s Roman Catholic] has a chance to be a special player and has to be one of the top two or three point guards in the 2009 class. He plays with a lot of poise and understand roles,” said Gibbons. “Nasir Robinson [from Chester High School] is a really tough kid who just gets the job done.”
I wouldn’t call too many of the players at the camp “sleepers,” as most are big names in their region, if not nationally, but Gibbons commented on a couple of kids who are less high-profile.
“Tony Mitchell from Georgia, to me, is the real surprise of the camp. He’s very smooth and efficient,” said Gibbons. “A Chicago kid, Matt Humphrey, is an excellent shooter. But both of those kids can score in a variety of ways.”
Before I hit you with my favorite players at the camp, I wanted to shout out Dan Wasserman, the Players Association’s Director of Communications, for all his assistance and tireless effort. Also, John “Magic Man” Rinaldi deserves credit for keeping the campers entertained with his tricks while he worked the camp. Rinaldi, who’s from the Philly area and is the 17-year-old son of former NBA player Tom Rinaldi, is nice with the sleight-of-hand–including a ridiculous variation of the “Is this your card?” trick, where he somehow produces a card from his mouth. Guess you gotta see it to believe it. That and seeing ex-Knick Charles Smith serve about seven consecutive campers in one-on-one may have been the highlights of my stay. Good luck at Penn State in the fall, John. And before I forget, good to see my man Sean Singletary down there. The UVA star, who I wrote about for the mag during college hoops season, took his name out of the draft last week to return for his senior year. Get that first-round money–and your degree next spring, Shiz.
I’m not as renowned for my opinions as Gibbons, and while I had heard of most of the participants prior to the camp, it was my first live look at many of them. But with no further adieu, here’s an extended run-down of who impressed me down at UVA. For the slow learners, not only did I not see every minute of every game (as much as I would like to, it was physically impossible) and I was only at the camp for two days. This is NOT a ranking, the kids are listed at their current schools, next year’s grade and it’s just 25 players I liked, not necessarily the best at the camp. All the campers were extremely talented, so apologies to any who feel like they got jerked. By the way, the “Spurs” team, led by camp MVP Samardo Samuels, ended up winning the event’s championship. Enjoy, if you made it this far.
Olu Ashaolu, 6-7 senior combo forward, Christian Life (TX): The recent Rutgers commit was one of the best athletes at the camp, and he hammered home that point with his earth-shattering dunks time and time again. The Canadian also showed off his versatility by handling the rock as a point forward on occasion.
Dominic Cheek, 6-6 junior wing, St. Anthony (NJ): Playing with the myriad talented upperclass guards at Bob Hurley Sr.’s Jersey basketball factory, the slim youngster doesn’t always have the chance to show off his own talents during the season. At NBPA, however, Cheek put it all on display, getting to the cup and finishing, hitting from deep and simply looking outright unstoppable at times.
Rotnei Clarke, 6-1 senior combo guard, Verdigris (OK): One of the best pure shooters in the country, Clarke is as close to automatic from 3-point range as they come. While he’s definitely not an elite athlete, he showed his toughness, ballhandling and savvy make him far from a liablility even when he’s not spotting up for a J.
Angel Garcia, 6-11 senior power forward, Central (IN): A skilled face-up big man with legit wing skills, Garcia can push the ball in transition, exploit post players off the dribble and stretch the defense. He’s at his best, however, when he patrols the interior on D, dominates the boards and most of all, when he attacks the rim, as I witnessed on a filthy lefty leaner bang over a couple of defenders, one of the best dunks I saw at the camp.
JaMychal Green, 6-8 senior power forward, St. Jude (AL): A tough customer in the paint, on the block and on the boards, Green is just a beast on the interior. While he’s an athletic big that both blocks shots and finishes with authority, he is also skilled enough to step out and bury the mid-range J.
Jordan Hamilton, 6-7 junior wing, Dorsey (CA): A polished wing with good size, Hamilton is a sniper from behind the arc. With his athleticism and smooth ballhandling ability, the L.A. native is one of the best in his class–and as promised, I have to include that his mother has the nicest smile of all the parents.
Dashan Harris, 6-1 senior point guard, Monteverde (FL): I still don’t know if the Cali transplant can make an outside J, as no one could stay in front of him well enough for me to find out. Quick as hell with the hops to rise over the trees and convert on the inside, the aptly-nicknamed “Dash” looked to drop dimes before getting his own offense going.
Xavier Henry, 6-6 junior wing, Putnam City (OK): One of the top overall prospects in the 2009 class, the comparisons to Kobe are unjustified as of yet, but I can see where they come from. Henry can literally do everything on offense, from running the point, dropping dimes and slashing through the lane, to posting up, knocking down treys from way out and soaring over his foes for high-flying dunks.
Brandon Jennings, 6-1 senior point guard, Oak Hill: Simply put, Jennings was unstoppable when he wanted to be. A human fast break, he had defenders on skates whenever he had the ball in his hands and either used his remarkable court vision to make a breathtaking dish to a teammate, got their faces wet with his much more consistent deep ball, finished at the rim with a creative touch or a high-rising bang.
DeQuan Jones, 6-7 senior wing, Wheeler (GA): With his high motor and athleticism, Jones is the type of player who just needs a competent point guard in order to excel. One of the better finishers at UVA, both in the halfcourt and in transition, he also showed he could knock down the open J.
Kendall Marshall, 6-1 sophomore point guard, O’Connell (VA): Poised and confident beyond his years, Marshall, who started as a freshman in the extremely tough DC Catholic League, almost always seemed to make the right decision. Never the biggest, quickest, strongest or most athletic–although three more years of high school could change some of those things–Marshall used his high basketball IQ to find open teammates and run the show, while proving to be a scoring threat from deep when the D gave him room, as well as a solid penetrator who knew how to finish.
Drew Maynard, 6-6 senior wing, Lake Orion (MI): Active and athletic, Maynard was always making something happen when I saw him play. Possessing a real nose for the ball, he drove to the rack, rebounded and shot the ball with effectiveness.
Tony Mitchell, 6-7 senior wing, Swainsboro (GA): An athletic wing who runs the floor to get buckets on the break, Mitchell also showed he could hit consistently from the mid-range when contested and from deep when left open. Add his work on the boards, ability to get to the cup and finish and a solid effort on D, and you’ve got quite a complete ballplayer.
Frank Otis, 6-6 senior combo forward, McClymonds (CA): The Yay Area resident attends the Oaktown alma mater of Bill Russell and with hard work and toughness on the inside, his game has an old-school feel that the old Celtic would appreciate. A monster on the boards for his size, Otis plays physical D, and blends his athleticism, wing skills and power game to give defenders work.
Mason and Miles Plumlee, 6-10 junior and senior combo forwards, Christ (NC): Originally from Indiana, the very talented brothers were a revelation to me. While they both need to add strength, neither shied away from contact and along with their aggressiveness, showed extraordinary versatility, as they mixed the ball skills and shooting of wing players with the rebounding and determination of big men.
Phil Pressey, 5-9 sophomore point guard, Cushing (MA): One of the youngest players at UVA in terms of his age, the son of ex-Milwaukee Buck Paul Pressey (the first point forward; “Old School,” Ben?) balled like a vet. Diminutive in stature, Pressey got to the rack for dishes to teammates or shoot floaters in the lane, while also keeping the D honest with his J.
Mike Rosario, 6-2 senior combo guard, St. Anthony (NJ): One of my favorite players in the 2008 class off his sharpshooting for his high school squad, Rosario impressed me with his ability to run the point at NBPA. Headed to Rutgers for college, the Jersey kid also got to the hole and finished with athleticism, distributed the rock and played in-your-shirt defense.
Zack Rosen, 6-0 senior point guard, St. Benedict’s (NJ): Camp teammates (I’m looking at you, DeQuan) of the quick floor general should be trying to follow Rosen to whatever school he decides to attend–if they can get in; Rosen is one of the better student-athletes you’ll find and could end up as a star at one the better academic D1 programs–as all he did was make them better. While he got into the lane with ease, hit outside shots and played rugged D, Rosen truly excelled at setting the table.
Samardo Samuels, 6-9 senior power forward, St. Benedict’s (NJ): The future Louisville Cardinal is almost too talented, as he showed on one sequence, where he hit an 18-footer, pinned a shot on D, pushed the rock and dished it, then got it back for a reverse flush. After saying all that, the widebody, a Mike Redd lookalike, was at his best when he focused on scoring in the post and dominating the glass, two things no one could stop him from doing.
Assane Sene, 7-0 junior (?) center, South Kent (CT): A native of Senegal who only arrived in the U.S. recently, Sene is still a work in progress, but is already a high-major target, due to his shot-blocking and athleticism. While I’m not is confusing him Greg Oden just yet, the big fella is a major deterrent on the defensive end, runs the floor, has decent hands and with his rapidly-improving footwork, has the look of an emerging force in the post.
Clarence Trent, 6-7 senior combo forward, Gig Harbor (WA): Another kid I didn’t know much about before the camp, the ultra-athletic Trent (he was the winner of the unofficial dunk contest on the first day) made people pay serious attention to him with his game. Strong in the paint and explosive in transition, Trent also brought out a solid mid-range game, as well as an emphasis on hitting the boards.
Kemba Walker, 6-0 senior point guard, Rice (NY): The Big Apple product and recent UConn commit is a leader and the definition of a true point guard. An outstanding defender that thinks pass-first on offense, Walker can also score when necessary.
Elliott Williams, 6-4 senior combo guard, St. George’s (TN): Smooth and dangerous, the long and bouncy Williams, who is reportedly down to Duke and UNC for college choices, has the entire package. A tough defender that hits the boards on both ends, he handles and passes like a point, finishes strong at the rim, has plenty of range and can hit from deep.
Cashmere Wright, 6-1 senior point guard, Urban Christian (GA): The jet-quick Savannah native got into the lane at will and spoon-fed his teammates for easy buckets. Athletic and defensive-minded, the Clemson commit is a bundle of energy on the court–unlike his laid-back parents, who I ate dinner with one night and are two of the nicest folks you could ever meet.
Tyler Zeller, 7-1 senior center, Washington (IN): Almost always the first player down the court, the skilled big man can score from anywhere on the floor with his range and ability to handle the rock. And despite his skinny frame, he’s a major presence on the boards and on D.