Tournament of Champions Recap
PLAYAZ ROLL TO MULTIPLE TITLES
The Tim Thomas Playaz program won not one, but two titles at Bob Gibbons’ prestigious “Be Active North Carolina” Tournament of Champions this past weekend in Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill. The Playaz Gold team took home the title in the National Division, while the Playaz Black – essentially a second team full of Division I prospects – captured the title in the Select Division.
As usual, the field was loaded. Few events on the calendar have the drawing power that this one does, and even though LeBron James and Sebastian Telfair bailed out, there was still far more talent on hand than one person could hope to catch in a single weekend. Nevertheless, we did the best we could.
WHO’S WHO: THE STANDOUTS
Mohamed Abukar, 6-9 PF, Southern California All-Stars, 2003. After flirting with Kansas, Abukar recently committed to Jim Harrick’s Georgia Bulldogs. We caught Abukar three times on Sunday, and during the first two games, quite frankly, I wondered what all the fuss was about. He was clearly a quick leaper, but didn’t seem to have much impact. He began to emerge in the title game, though, in which he looked a lot more active and got his hands on a number of rebounds that he hadn’t seemed to be pulling in earlier. Had several finishes near the rim on which he had to get high in the air to elevate over defenders. Not yet a finished product, but has a lot of potential.
Sean Banks, 6-7 WF, Tim Thomas Playaz-Gold (NJ), 2003. We said a few weeks ago that he outperformed many of his more heralded teammates at the SIT. This weekend, he left little doubt that right now he’s playing the best basketball of anybody on the loaded T5T Playaz team. Banks was marvelous again, displaying the skills of a 2-guard in the body of a small forward. Banks was money when left alone at the arc, and consistently drove the baseline and pulled up in the 8-15 foot range to shoot over smaller defenders. When taller defenders tried to check him, he took them all the way to the rack, usually leaving them about half a step behind with his deceptive quickness. He can get up on the offensive glass, too. Banks is receiving all kinds of attention from heavyweight programs like Maryland, Connecticut, Syracuse, Kansas and the like, and it’s easy to see why. MVP in the national division for the title-winning Playaz Gold team.
Ed Barrios, 5-9 PG, Tim Thomas Playaz-Gold (NJ), 2003. He’s not the glamour player that many of his T5T Playaz teammates are, but he’s a tough kid who leaves everything he’s got on the floor, and his hustle and feistiness complement the raw ability of his teammates. Barrios isn’t the type who can take over a game by himself, but he usually figures out how to get the ball where it needs to go, and if you forget about him on the perimeter, he can make you pay for it. Barrios is the kind of kid who winds up at a school like Hofstra or St. Bonaventure and helps them beat teams chock full of players with superior pedigrees.
Brandon Bass, 6-7 WF/PF, New Orleans Jazz, 2003. One of our favorite players from the weekend. If you were going to pick one word to describe this kid to others, “warrior” would probably be the best you could do. He is mobile, active, strong, has a nose for the ball, and will take it right at you, regardless of your size or reputation. And far more often than not, good things happen when he does. Bass was a monster attacking the basket from the wing and on the offensive glass, and had to be among the event’s leaders in points resulting from sheer hustle and scrapping for loose change around the basket. If your life depended on your team getting one rebound or stick-back, this is one of the guys you’d want going for it. This kid goes all out all the time at both ends of the floor. He could play for our team any day. Some people might get caught up in trying to classify his position, but more than a power forward or a small forward, Bass is a basketball player, pure and simple.
LaKeith Blanks, 6-6 G/F, DC Assault, 2003. Blanks isn’t the household name that teammate Omari Isreal is, but he was the key ingredient for DC Assault during their semifinal run. Blanks turned in several fine performances, the staple of which were his acrobatic fast break finishes above the rim. Very effective on the wings of the fast break. An All-Tournament Selection.
Art Bowers, 6-3 WG/PG, Tim Thomas Playaz-Black (NJ), 2003. While the Playaz Gold team was winning the title in the more prestigious national division, Bowers was leading his teammates to the title in the select division, where he took home MVP honors. There’s really not much to say that we didn’t tell you after the Southern Invitational. Bowers doesn’t get the hype that some other off-guards get because he’s not flashy, but he does all things that you would want a shooting guard to do well. He handles the ball, can penetrate when the opportunity is there, and his jumper from 12-18 feet is as smooth as you’ll find. He can also pull-up from the proper angles and use the glass from 8-12 feet, which is a dying art (no pun intended) in the college game. Needless to say, he’ll make a fine high-major guard for some lucky coach.
Will Bowers, 6-10 C, Baltimore Select, 2003. Bowers is a legit 6-10 with a nice shooting touch and the ability to score around the basket. His hands aren’t the quickest, so sometimes he has trouble coming up with the ball from a crowd, and he could use a little more strength in the upper body. He’ll get high-major attention because of his size and skills, and with a little more time in the weight room and some good, old-fashioned meanness, he could be a good one.
Ronnie Brewer, 6-5 WG, Panthers Select (MS), 2003. Brewer is a talented and athletic scoring guard who led the Panthers to a quarterfinal berth. Against the Tim Thomas Playaz-Gold, Brewer got the Panthers off to a hot start, nailing 3-pointers on two of the Panthers first four possessions. Brewer is quick and at his best in transition, when he can either spot up at the arc or hesitate and blow by backpedaling defenders to get to the rim. He can create a lot of good opportunities with his combination of quickness and range. He is receiving a lot of interest from SEC and Big 12 schools, and is an excellent prospect for that level.
Brian Butch, 7-0 C, Fox Valley Skillz (WI), 2003. We have a confession to make. We hardly got to see any of Butch. At events loaded with this much talent, there’s no way to get to see every kid that you want to, and Butch was one of those that we kept putting off hoping we’d get a chance later, and we never did. That was our loss, because Butch finished as the second-leading scorer in the 17 and under division with 31.7 points per game. And get this: he did it in three games in a pool that included the Playaz Gold team (Darryl Watkins), Southeast Pump ‘N Run (Jackie Butler) and the Middlesex Magic (Hassan Fofana), so he had exactly zero games against cream puffs or undersized post opponents in which to run up his numbers. He had to earn every point against some of the top post defenders in his class. Everybody knew this kid was one of the better big men in the class, but he may be even better than anybody thought. His stock, which was already very high, continues to skyrocket after this weekend. We got a chance to speak with him briefly after pool play had concluded, and he’s a very down-to-earth, polite, well-spoken kid. In a world filled with egomaniacal star athletes, Butch is a guy who is just plain fun to root for, and a coach’s and fan’s dream.
Jackie Butler, 6-10 C, Southeast Pump ‘N Run (AL), 2003. Butler entered the spring as a consensus top ten player in the class of ’03, and at first glance, you can see why. This kid is big and wide. He’s a dominating rebounder and has the potential to be an excellent post defender. In his match-up with a similarly sized center in Hassan Fofana, he used his strength to force Fofana away from the blocks, and not coincidentally, Fofana had his least productive game of the tournament. Butler did not have the kind of offensive skills we would have expected from a top ten player, and there’s no question that he has work to do on that end of the floor to maximize his potential. But he rebounds and defends the post so well that elite high-major programs will be paying plenty of attention to Butler this spring and summer.
Matt Causey, 5-11 PG, Georgia Stars, 2003. Only got a chance to see him once, and he was very quiet for most of the game. He was solid, if unspectacular, running the show, and was pestered into some poor shooting by Josh Wright of the Long Island Panthers. He eventually got it going in the second half, knocking down three 3-pointers in the span of about five minutes, and a couple of them were from way, way downtown, but by then it was too late. Seemed more comfortable as a spot-up jump shooter than anything else. Has already committed to Georgetown.
Elijah (a/k/a Karron, a/k/a Elliah) Clarke, 6-6 F/G, Worldwide Renegades (GA), 2003. The Renegades seem to be bringing in all kinds of reinforcements at this spring’s events, and Clarke was one of the New Yorkers who joined them for the weekend. We like this kid a lot. He is smooth, springy, moves the ball crisply with the dribble and the pass, and has very good range. He’s not what you would call a pure shooter, but he’s a slasher/scorer who finds ways to put the ball in the basket from the inside and out. He’s looking primarily at Big East schools right now, and would be a good pickup for just about anybody on his list. Played like a top 50 player this weekend.
Boubacar Coly, 6-9 C, Atlanta Celtics-Black, 2003. Coly has excellent athleticism for a 6-9 player, but could accurately be described as a bit raw. He gets after it on the floor, and rebounds, defends and blocks shots with abandon. He does a lot of things well, but unfortunately, putting the ball in the basket isn’t one of them. He’s a fringe high-major player with a lot of upside, and if nothing else, he had the best nickname of anybody this weekend – “Bouby” – we’ll let you figure out how it’s pronounced.
Jemario Davidson, 6-10 PF, Worldwide Renegades (GA), 2003. Davidson is a thin, lanky post player with excellent athleticism. He impressed us two weekends ago at the Southern Invitational, and did so again this weekend. He’s got long arms and good quickness, so he can block shots and throw down some wicked dunks. He’s pretty one-dimensional offensively right now, but if you give him a crease to the basket, he’ll make you pay. He’s being recruited by a bevy of southern high-major schools, and while you won’t find him on many top 100 lists, he’s the kind of player who has the upside to become an impact player at the next level if he finds the right coach and continues to develop.
Ra’Sean Dickey, 6-9 C, South Carolina Ravens (16U), 2004. One of the elite big men in the sophomore class, Dickey was without peer on the low blocks in the 16 and under division this weekend. His drop-step is a thing of beauty. South Carolina’s opponents had to play some zone just to slow him down. Remember this name. He’ll be a McDonald’s candidate in the class of ’04.
Patrick Ewing, Jr., 6-8 PF, Georgia Stars, 2003. Physically, Ewing does not resemble his father in the slightest. He is not as tall as his old man, and is not nearly as wide or strong, so don’t think he’s the second coming of his pop. Ewing is a quick, narrow-shouldered forward who can slither into small spaces for offensive rebounds and follow jams, and is a capable defender provided that he’s not matched up with a hulking center who can overpower him. His defense is ahead of his offense at this stage, but he is developing a nice touch to about 12-15 feet, and his best basketball is ahead of him. Probably not an immediate impact player, but a high-major player who could be a very good one with some added strength and seasoning.
Olu Famutimi, 6-6 WF, Michigan Hurricanes, 2003. Another in the long line of HS stars from Flint, MI. His full first name is Olumuyiwa, so members of the media owe him a sincere thanks for going by “Olu.” Famutimi is an athlete deluxe whose specialties are finishing around the rim and elevating over crowds to get off jumpers in the 8-12 foot range. He was able to knock down shots in that range, but struggled with anything further out in the game we saw. Took several 3-pointers, but made none. He was good, but not great, in the Hurricanes’ surprisingly decisive loss to Belmont Shore. He’ll get after it hard, though, and with his elite athleticism, you can bet that the slew of high-major schools pursuing him will continue to work him hard.
Raymond Felton, 6-1 PG, Beachball Select (SC), 2002. Felton is finishing up his senior year, but was invited to participate to give the local fans something to see, and he didn’t disappoint. The Dean Dome crowds were heavily concentrated around whichever court Felton was playing on at the time, and he drew a bunch of ooohs and aaahs in each game with his trademark flashy passing and ball-on-a-string trickery. He didn’t shoot the ball as well as we’ve seen him shoot it in the past, but he does everything else you would want an elite point guard to do. Being a year ahead of his competition in this tourney, you expected him to stand out, and he did. To no one’s surprise, an All-Tournament selection. He will be an instant upgrade at the point guard spot for UNC next year, and figures to be an early impact player in the ACC.
Zam Frederick, 6-2 WG/PG, South Carolina Ravens (16U), 2004. Frederick was brilliant for much of the weekend, hitting from downtown and penetrating against defenses designed to collapse on teammate Ra’Sean Dickey. Frederick was one of the top scorers at the 16U level, and darned near led Dion Bethea’s Ravens to the title. An All-Tournament selection, and yet another guard to remember from the class of ’04.
Hassan Fofana, 6-10 C, Middlesex Magic, 2003. Fofana looked very good in his match-up with Darryl Watkins on Friday night, consistently finding ways to get Watkins on his back near the hoop. When he caught it in position to make a move, he generally had no problems putting it away. He’s not a super athlete, plays well below the rim for a kid his height, and is better in a controlled tempo rather than a swift back-and-forth pace, but he has surprising agility for a kid that heavy and some very promising offensive skills. We admit to being skeptical going into the weekend, but he answered a lot of our questions. For the right coach in the right setting, he’s going to be a very effective player at the next level.
Taurean Green, 6-0 PG, Florida Hoopsters (16U), 2004. We told you to keep an eye on this guy after the Southern Invitational, and he showed you why this weekend. His confidence, leadership, quickness, vision, and well-timed scoring drives and long-range shots powered the Hoopsters to the 16 and under title, and Green was rewarded as the MVP. He understands the point guard position so well for a player that young. He may not put up mind-blowing scoring totals, but he runs the ship the way it ought to be run, and knows how to get his teammates to respond. We like this kid a lot.
Dion Harris, 6-4 WG, Michigan Hurricanes, 2003. A skilled scoring guard who appears more comfortable attacking the basket than gunning from the outside, but he did hit a couple of 3-pointers on relatively few attempts, so that ability is there. Super-quick off the bounce. He scored an eye-popping 35 points in the Hurricanes’ loss to Belmont Shore, 13 of them coming from the foul line. His forays into the paint seemed to result in either a nifty finish or a trip to the stripe seemingly every time, sometimes both. Made the All-Tournament team ahead of his more heralded teammate, Olu Famutimi. This kid is a big-timer, and Michigan fans should be very excited that Tommy Amaker has already obtained his commitment.
Jason Horton, 6-2 PG, Team Texas Elite, 2004. For now, many people are referring to him as “Daniel Horton’s little brother,” but Jason is making a name in his own right. Horton, one of many impressive guards in the class of ’04, was very good in the action we caught. He gets the ball up and down the floor very quickly, and has the ability to pass from a dead run and drop it in the hands of a fast-moving teammate half-way down the floor. Plays very well at high-speed. He hit a few 3’s for good measure. He will be one of the most sought-after point guards in the country next spring, and given the number of truly outstanding point guards in that class, that’s saying something.
Dwight Howard, 6-9 PF, Atlanta Celtics-Black, 2004. We only caught flashes of Howard on Friday night, and he looked very active and athletic. He was one of the kids we were hoping to focus on first thing Saturday morning, but in the Celtics’ game with the Derek Smith All-Stars, he picked up two fouls within seconds of the opening tip, and rode the pine. Then, he picked up another on the first possession of the second half, and went straight back to the bench. We didn’t get to see as much of him this weekend as we would have liked, but what we saw piqued our interest. Big guys with this kind of bounce in their game are rare, so he’s worth keeping an eye on this summer and next spring.
Omari Isreal, 6-7 PF/WF, DC Assault, 2003. Along with Major Wingate, one of the enigmas of this class. If you catch his “A” game, you’ll see a guy who flies above the rim for some spectacular jams and follows, gets way up for big rebounds, and handles and passes the ball well in the open floor. Unfortunately, he has flashed his “C-” game just as frequently over the past year, and he disappears for long stretches, air mails shots from long range, turns the ball over with over-aggressive passes, and has trouble finishing around the goal. He’s a feast-or-famine player with the talent to be a big-timer, but the inconsistency that drives coaches nuts.
Martin Iti, 6-10 F/C, New York Ravens, 2003. Iti was a last-minute fill-in for Shagari Alleyne, who did not make the trip down with the Ravens, but he was worthy of some attention nevertheless. A strong player at about 6-10, Iti may not have the quickest hands or feet, but he’s got plenty of raw power, and he fears no one on the interior. He’ll rebound and defend as if his life depends on the outcome, and he’ll clean up some garbage around the basket. He’s getting some high-major looks.
Jerell Jamison, 6-5 WG, Topps of SC, 2003. Topps looked overmatched in their pool play loss to DC Assault, but Jamison was one of the bright spots. He did some serious shaking-and-baking to get to short range, and his ability to convert there and at the foul line provided Topps with one of their few sources of offense. Hit one 3-pointer, and will help his cause greatly by doing that sort of thing more consistently.
Brandon Jenkins, 6-4 PG/WG, Michigan Hurricanes, 2003. He didn’t score a whole lot of points, but good things happened when the ball was in his hands. Jenkins is a tall, slender guard who repeatedly broke down Belmont Shore’s quick backcourt off the dribble, and delivered a number of precision passes to teammates in scoring position. He may not be able to take over a game by himself, but he’s the kind of kid who can help make the slashing/scoring teammates and spot-up jump shooters at his side more effective.
Marcel Jones, 6-6 G/F, Southern California All-Stars, 2004. Coming from the powerful Mater Dei HS program, you would expect a touted prospect like Jones to be ready to come out on the national stage at an event like this. He didn’t start for the loaded SoCal team, but he made the most of his opportunities on Sunday. Jones is a smooth operator with very good offensive skills. He came off the bench to stretch defenses in Sunday’s playoffs, stroking a number of jump-shots from deep range. One to watch in the class of ’04.
Mike Jones, 6-6 F/G, Long Island Panthers, 2003. There’s no denying that he’s a big-time athlete, but his touch was off when we saw him Saturday afternoon. He posted a lackluster seven-point showing against the Georgia Stars, and missed a lot of chippies around the basket. In speaking with his coach after the game, we learned that he was suffering from back trouble and had been hampered throughout the weekend. He did have a couple of spectacular plays around the rim, but otherwise was very quiet, and given his reputation, the back trouble was probably the reason why. I wondered why there was such a strong scent of Ben Gay radiating from the Panthers’ bench; now I know. Jones told reporters all weekend that Maryland would be difficult to beat in the race for his signature this November.
Regis Koundjia, 6-7 PF/WF, DC Assault, 2003. A very intriguing prospect. Koundjia is not even close to a finished product, and has some work to do on his skills for the next level. But he’s got eye-popping run/jump ability and when he really starts to figure this game out, the sky’s the limit. LSU took a bit of a gamble in taking a commitment from him so early, but it just might pay off in a big way.
Shaun Livingston, 6-5 PG, Ft. Sooy No Limit (IL), 2004. Of all the highly-touted guards in the class of ’04, this was the one that we were most looking forward to seeing, as he has been lighting it up all spring. He didn’t let us down. He was marvelous in Ft. Sooy’s pool-clinching win over the talented New York Ravens. At first glance, Livingston looks slight and a bit awkward, but when you see what he can do, you get beyond that quickly. At a legit 6-5 (and probably still growing), Livingston has great height for a point guard, and that allows him to see the floor and shoot over smaller defenders. He did both on Saturday night, scoring 21 and running a great show against the Ravens. He’s got legitimate 3-point range, and can zip passes through traffic and put them on the money. He’s right up there with Daniel Gibson as one of the best back-court wizards we’ve seen in the guard-rich class of ’04.
Chris Low, 6-9 PF/WF, Team Texas Elite, 2003. Low isn’t the strongest 6-9 guy you’ll find, but he earns his keep with a soft shooting touch and a never-say-die attitude. He is primarily interested in the Texas-based mid-major schools like SMU and TCU, and he would be a fine addition to a program of that level.
Daon Merrit, 5-11 PG, New York Ravens, 2003. Merrit is just what you’d expect in a New York point guard. Merrit is crafty, made some great looks to set up his teammates, knocked down some 3-pointers, and brought a toughness and composure to the Ravens’ lineup that they simply didn’t have when he wasn’t on the floor. Look for this kid to wind up in the Big East, where he should be a productive player.
Richard McBride, 6-4 WG, Ft. Sooy No Limit (IL), 2003. We tend to be skeptical of scoring guards with limited range, but McBride’s strength and body control enable him to score effectively even when his 3-pointer isn’t falling (which is most of the time). Few guards are strong enough to keep him out of the paint when he builds up a head of steam, and once he’s there, he can pull up and knock down the short-to-medium range jumper with the best of them. He is also strong enough to absorb plenty of contact and still elevate and control himself well enough to finish under duress and in traffic. He’s going to be a high-major player in any event, and is a prototypical Big Ten type of strong off-guard, but if can start hitting that 3-pointer consistently, he will quickly become as good a scoring guard as there is in this class.
Glenn Miles, 6-4 PG/WG, Southeast Pump ‘N Run (AL), 2004. Miles brought order to Pump ‘N Run after the hectic pace of the game saw them fall behind the Middlesex Magic early. He has excellent size for a point, especially a sophomore point, and scored the way you want a point guard to score – taking the opportunities that were given to him, but preferring to move the ball to his teammates rather than force anything for himself. Good athlete who can finish from short range while hanging effortlessly in the air. Remember this name. It will be near the top of a lot of college coaches’ wish lists at this time next year.
Tasmin Mitchell, 6-6 WF, New Orleans Jazz, 2005. If you’re going to remember one name from this report that you’ve never heard before, this would be a good one. This kid is cut, can get up, is very strong around the basket, and was one of the best “above the rim” finishers we saw all weekend. If you give him the “alley,” he’ll take care of the “oop.” He ran some textbook give-and-go plays with Brandon Bass that would have made any coach proud. Now for the important part: re-check the top of this paragraph and look at his class. That’s not a typo, folks. This kid is a 15-year-old freshman. He was erroneously listed in the program as a junior. When the word of his age started spreading around the floor, the analysts and reporters all flocked to his end of the arena to check him out, and he did not disappoint. He will be among the highest-profile sophomores in the country next year.
Tim Morris, 6-2 WG/PG, Georgia Stars, 2003. Didn’t play as well as we had seen him play at the Boo Williams Invitational last month. Like many of his Georgia Stars teammates, he seemed to have trouble getting into the flow against the Long Island Panthers, and didn’t really start to look comfortable until the deficit had become insurmountable. Also appeared to be slowed a bit by a foot or ankle injury. At every one of these events, there are always a handful of players who are at less than their best for whatever reason, and Morris had the misfortune of falling into that category this weekend. He’s a better player than he showed.
DeMarcus Nelson, 6-3 WG/WF, Belmont Shore (CA), 2004. Remember this name, folks. The class of ’04 is loaded with impressive guards, and this kid was as impressive as any of them this weekend. He bombed for 30+ against the Michigan Hurricanes, and scored them in just about every manner imaginable. He took it right at bigger, stronger players in the paint, got to the foul line, and stepped back to hit from long range as well. Converted on the kind of opportunities around the hoop that only big-time athletes can finish. His handle got him in trouble on occasion, but that’s about the only part of his game that needs improvement. His Saturday morning effort against the Hurricanes was one of the great individual performances of the tournament, and started quite a buzz among the media and analysts present. His mailbox will be full of correspondence from high-major coaches very soon, if it isn’t already.
Jamar Nutter, 6-2 WG, Tim Thomas Playaz-Gold (NJ), 2003. Dubbed “the Shake Master” by Clint Jackson, Nutter lived up to that moniker again this weekend. Used his patented hesitation moves, head-and-shoulder fakes and crossover dribble to slide by opposing defenders, and is strong and athletic enough to absorb contact and finish inside. He was hitting his 3-pointer in the title game against the Southern California All-Stars, and when he’s doing that, forget about it. There’s no way to guard him when he’s surrounded by that much talent. A sure-fire high major prospect and potential impact player in the Big East or ACC.
Travis Outlaw, 6-10 PF/WF, Alabama Ice, 2003. We only got to see him for a half, and frankly, he was frequently out of control and displayed poor shot selection. But his skill level was excellent. He is a freakish athlete who can handle the ball on the wing like few 6-10 kids you’ll ever see, and with that combination of skills, he can create a look at the basket off the dribble just about anytime he wants. Despite his height, he is more of a wing player than a post player, or so he appeared to be on Friday night. He likes the “glamour” work more than the “dirty” work, but that’s fine, since he’s more suited for that kind of duty.
Brent Petway, 6-8 PF/WF, Georgia Stars, 2003. A springy, active forward who specializes in the art of the well-timed put-back. His build is a bit slight, and he might be a bit of a ‘tweener at the next level – lacking the bulk to bang down low, and lacking the perimeter skills to play on the wing. His athleticism is getting him some high-major looks, though, and with some added strength, he could turn into a productive power forward.
Quan Prowell, 6-8 PF, Columbus Blazers (GA), 2003. Prowell is not yet refined enough to be considered a high-major guy, but it’s amazing to me that he has no Division I offers. This kid has some serious hops. He had about four dunks for the Blazers against the powerful Worldwide Renegades on Friday night, but unfortunately it was at the tiny Wilson Rec Center where there were only a handful of people – literally – to see them. The shame is that two of them were squarely in Chris Taft’s face, which tends to make you stand up and take notice. Some mid- and low-major coaches need to get this kid’s phone number, because they’re missing the boat.
Brian Randle, 6-8 WF/PF, Ft. Sooy No Limit (IL), 2003. We had our doubts about Randle following his indifferent performance at the Boo Williams Invitational last month, but this weekend, we could see some of the things that have earned him so much attention as a top 50 candidate in the junior class. He is an outstanding defender and his long arms and timing helped him blocked several shots from the weak side when giving help down low. He can also elevate from a crowd when he needs to, and even though he lacks the strength to be a great rebounder down low, he can put the ball on the deck and start the transition game when he gets a defensive rebound, because he handles the ball so well in space. He sees the floor and passes it well, too. He was content to play a supporting role to teammates Livingston and McBride in Saturday night’s pool-clinching win, but in crunch time of a tight game, he began taking over one-on-one and beating helpless wing defenders to the hoop. A lot of the things he does are subtle, so you probably don’t appreciate everything he can do the first time you see him, but the more we see him, the more we like him. A sure fire high-major player who would fit in well with any of a number of Big Ten programs.
Rayshawn Reed, 6-0 PG, Southern California All-Stars, 2003. A slick, waterbug type who has the quickness to beat defenders one-on-one. He could create a shot seemingly at will, although he wasn’t quite strong enough to finish things off among the trees. He did manage to draw a number of fouls and shot a lot of free throws, and helped SoCal pull away from DC Assault with a couple of 3’s in the semifinals. He couldn’t hit from long range in the title game loss to the Playaz Gold, however. Almost but not quite an elite guard, he is a good one, and with some added strength to finish those forays into the paint and a bit more consistency from long range, he could move up a notch.
Terrance Roberts, 6-8 WF/PF, Tim Thomas Playaz-Gold (NJ), 2003. Versatility is Roberts’ watchword. He is a superb player in transition and on the offensive glass. He can handle the ball in traffic extremely well for a kid his size, and is tough to match-up with because he’s so darned quick. If you’re defending him on the baseline, you’d better have help coming from behind you, because it’s very difficult to stay in front of him one-on-one. He showed one crossover move in the title game that absolutely no power forward in the tournament would have had a prayer of stopping. He has the quickness and skill to be a very good combo forward in an up-tempo setting.
Rajon Rondo, 6-1 PG, Derek Smith All-Stars (KY), 2004. Honestly, I hadn’t heard much about this kid before this weekend, and when I went to his game Saturday morning, I was really going to check out some of the kids on the Atlanta Celtics roster. But this kid stood out in a big way. He’s not that big – 6-1 and probably no more than about 170 pounds (if that) – but he routinely challenged the trees in the paint without an ounce of fear. On many occasions, he knew full well that if he tried to take the lane, he’d get knocked on his can, but when he had his man beaten, he’d do it anyway. Has a toughness that belies his size. Great first step, and showed legitimate 3-point range. Perhaps the best ball-hawk we saw in the tournament. He forced numerous turnovers by picking the pockets of opposing guards, and got many a fast break started that way. An All-Tournament selection.
Blake Schilb, 6-6 WF/PF, Ft. Sooy No Limit (IL), 2003. Probably does not possess the athleticism to interest high-major coaches as a combo forward, but he can shoot the ball. His four 3-pointers against the New York Ravens were a big reason that Ft. Sooy escaped pool play and advanced to the playoffs. Well-developed body. This kid can play for somebody at the mid-major level, maybe half a notch higher in the right system and with the right supporting cast.
Shay Shannon, 6-3 WG, Southeast Pump ‘N Run (AL), 2004. Scored 20 points including a whopping six 3-pointers to help Pump ‘N Run stave off the Middlesex Magic Saturday morning. Shannon, who is not nearly as well known as his sophomore teammates Miles and Williams, was one of the more impressive spot-up jump-shooters at this event, and even with all that talent around him, it was his second-half 3-point barrage that buried the Magic.
Will Sheridan, 6-8 PF, Tim Thomas Playaz-Gold (NJ), 2003. Sheridan was his usual solid self this weekend. He’s not flashy or spectacular, but he knows what a kid who is 6-8/240 is expected to do, and he doesn’t attempt to do anything more or anything less. Sheridan was the best rebounding presence on the T5T team during their title run, and when he caught the ball on the blocks, he was usually good for two points or a trip to the foul line (although he struggled from the stripe). He even stepped out and hit a couple of 17 footers. One of the intangibles that doesn’t show up in the box scores is his decision-making. When he rebounds or receives the ball, he is quick with it, yet poised and unhurried. A lot of kids catch the ball, survey the defense, and count to “3-Mississippi” before they make their move. Not Sheridan. Very high basketball IQ, and nice body with excellent strength. Even in the chaotic AAU setting, he makes his team better by his sheer presence on the floor, even when he’s not scoring. In a more team-oriented setting at the collegiate level, he will be even better.
J.R. Smith, 6-5 G/F, Tim Thomas Playaz-Gold (NJ), 2003. As we told you a couple of weeks ago, this is a kid that both Pete Gillen and Al Groh have their eyes on. Smith was off the hook this weekend, putting up 19 points in the title game to lead the champion T5T Playaz team. He scored them in a number of ways ranging from 3-pointers – of which he hit several (three in the title game alone) – to highlight reel dunks. He used head and shoulder fakes to create space at the arc and stick 3’s. He used his super first step to beat opponents to the goal. He has the strength to withstand defensive harassment and finish in the paint. He plays defense. A lot of analysts have not included him on their top 50 or 100 lists, in many cases because they view him as a football prospect first. But Smith did the kinds of things this weekend that top 50 players do, and based on his performances at the SIT and this past weekend, we have little doubt that Smith is a top 50 type of talent if he makes basketball a priority. And he likes Virginia. A lot.
Tyler Smith, 6-2 WG/PG, Baltimore Select, 2002. I was asked a couple of weeks ago why I didn’t include this kid in my Southern Invitational recap, and honestly, it was because he was being rested a lot in the game I saw, so I didn’t have enough of a chance to really look at the kid. But wow, he turned in an impressive performance this weekend. If there’s a quicker guard with the ball in the senior class, I haven’t seen him. Smith had no problems beating opponents off the dribble in the action I saw, and just about the only way people stopped him was by fouling him. Made a living at the free throw line. Hit a couple of 3’s to boot, but it’s when attacking the hoop that he really has defenders at his mercy. He’ll prep at West Nottingham Academy next year, and you can bet that he’ll be playing at a high-major school afterwards.
Lodrick Stewart, 6-5 G/F, Gary Payton All-Stars (WA), 2003. It’s been about a year since the Stewart twins erupted on the national scene, and in the interim, the knock has been that they are sensational athletes whose basketball skills are only slightly above average. For the most part, that would be an accurate way to describe how they looked over the weekend. Lodrick, in particular, tempted us with a few spectacular finishes around the rim, and hit just enough from long-range to make you think that more might be coming. Unfortunately, their performances were of the sort that leave you saying, “you know, if they could just do some of those things more consistently, they’d be really, really good.” They will get plenty of high-major interest, because they have an enormous upside.
Rodrick Stewart, 6-5 G/F, Gary Payton All-Stars (WA), 2003. See the review of Lodrick above. It applies here as well. Rodrick produced well enough to be named to the All-Tournament team, although I actually thought that Lodrick played a better game Friday night. Maybe I had them confused?
Chris Taft, 6-9 F/C, Worldwide Renegades (GA), 2003. Taft, a New Yorker, doesn’t play regularly with the Renegades, but joined them for this one event. Taft has the reputation as one of the top scoring post players in this class, and even though he didn’t get that many touches for the Renegades, he displayed a nice touch and some good turnaround and other back-to-the-basket maneuvers when he got the chance. He didn’t really bring the fire on the boards or at either end that we would have liked to see, but it’s often hard for big guys to blend into the AAU setting, particularly when they are playing with unfamiliar teammates – and particularly with a team like the Renegades, who play a helter-skelter style that does not emphasize the post. Taft was good, but maybe not as good as we would have expected based on his top 20 reputation. We’ll withhold judgment under the circumstances.
Mohammed Tangara, 6-10 F/C, Team Georgia Elite, 2004. Jeez, this guy looks big for a sophomore, and he’s relentless. He defends and rebounds with urgency, and while his offensive game is unpolished, he’ll score some points off of sheer hustle and physical mismatches. This kid has a bright future.
Anthony “P.J.” Tucker, 6-6 PF, NC Gaters, 2003. For the record, let me state that there’s no way Tucker is actually 6-6. He’s much closer to 6-5. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “a 6-5 power forward? He can’t play at the high-major level.” Don’t be so sure. Tucker is the kind of player that defies positional classification. Against bigger guys or smaller guys, he finds a way to get his hands on the ball, and a way to get the ball in the basket. He’s a winner, plain and simple. His chassis may be a bit small, but nobody has a better motor.
Charlie Villanueva, 6-10 WF/PF, Long Island Panthers, 2003. Villanueva didn’t make it down Friday night, but fortunately, we were able to catch him in action on Saturday. It took him a while to get going, but the abuse he dished out on Patrick Ewing, Jr., ought to have been criminal. Villanueva put up 25 against the Georgia Stars, and most of them came when he faced the basket from about 20 feet, and as soon as his teammates cleared out, nobody could stop him one-on-one. You don’t expect a kid 6-10 and as wide as Villanueva to be so quick with a first step, but he got by any and all takers, because he covers so much ground with each effortless stride. A true blue-chipper.
Brandon Wallace, 6-7 WF, Topps of SC, 2003. Wallace put Topps on his back and carried them early against DC Assault, and it without much offensive support from his teammates, it was only DC Assault’s opportunity to game-plan around stopping him that slowed him down. Wallace was hitting from the perimeter early and posted 13 points in the opening ten minutes of the game before he and his teammates ran out of gas playing their third game in under 24 hours. Wallace will receive some love from the home state high-major schools, and will get some other high-major looks from around the southeast.
Jamaul Warren, 6-3 PG/WG, Tim Thomas Playaz-Black (NJ), 2003. It just isn’t fair that the Playaz have guys like Artie Bowers and Jamaul Warren in the backcourt on what is essentially their second team. Warren was a deserving member of the All-Tourney team in the select division, and it was his driving lay-up against the rough-and-tumble Worldwide Renegades that won the semifinal game for the Playaz Black in the closing seconds of overtime. That play typified Warren’s weekend. When the Playaz needed him to drive and dish or take it all the way, he found a way to get it done. Exploits like that have earned him some interest from several Big East and C-USA programs.
Wesley Washington, 6-3 WG/PG, Belmont Shore (CA), 2003. One of the better penetrating guards at the event. Scored 24 against the Michigan Hurricanes Saturday morning, and nearly half that total came from the free throw line, which should give you an idea of how he operates. He didn’t show great range, but he got to the rim so consistently he didn’t have to. Playing for the powerful Mater Dei HS program has gotten him a lot of attention, and he lived up to the hype, earning All-Tournament honors. He’s a legitimate top 50 prospect.
Darryl Watkins, 6-11 C, Tim Thomas Playaz-Gold (NJ), 2003. A big, strong player with good shot-blocking abilities. Aside from a few wicked follow-up jams, though, he did little at the offensive end, even when receiving the ball at point-blank range. He has a lot of tools, but hasn’t quite put it all together yet, and we’d like to see him play with a bit more ferocity. Still, you don’t see many guys with his combination of height, strength and athleticism in the college game, so he will have no shortage of suitors.
Marquis Webb, 6-3 WG, Tim Thomas Playaz-Gold (NJ), 2003. Webb, a wing athlete from Donald Hand’s old high school whom we talked about in our SIT recap, displayed many of the same traits that he did two weekends ago in Charlottesville. He’s a high-major athlete who is still developing his skills. He stepped things up a couple of times this weekend, putting up some solid performances in Sunday’s playoff games. Webb continues to impress with his explosiveness around the rim and his nose for the ball. His jump shot, while not yet a thing of beauty, looked more effective this weekend than it did two weekends ago at the SIT. Currently, Webb has the look of a Big East or ACC complementary player, or of an impact player in the A-10. He’s got a lot of upside, though, and some refinement in skills would push him up at least half a notch on that scale.
Dane Williams, 6-8 PF, Columbus Blazers (GA), 2003. Along with Quan Prowell, one of the very active frontcourt players who gave the Worldwide Renegades fits before the overmatched Blazers finally bowed out. Williams is a 4.0+ GPA student who is considering exclusively Ivy League schools, and if you’re a fan of an Ivy League team, you may want to drop your coach a line and make sure they know about this kid, because he’s probably not in their normal geographic target area. He’s a bright kid with a good understanding of the game, and some impressive run/jump ability to match.
Marcus Williams, 6-3 WG/PG, Southern California All-Stars, 2003. A smooth left-hander with range. He engaged in a fun duel with Jason Horton in the quarterfinals, and hit the game-winning mid-range pull-up jumper with :03 remaining. He provided the long-distance threat for SoCal, hitting three 3-pointers in their semifinal win against DC Assault, and duplicated that performance in the title game. Williams looks to be one of the top combo guards on the west coast and a sure-fire high-major prospect who should draw plenty of interest from just about any Pac-10 school he may be interested in.
Mike Williams, 6-8 PF, Southeast Pump ‘N Run (AL), 2004. Marcus was very good, but might not even have been the most impressive Williams at this tournament. Mike might be better. He has sensational body control, and was by far the best interior scorer in a game that featured heralded junior big men Jackie Butler and Hassan Fofana. His athleticism and soft touch within ten feet of the hoop solidified his status as one of the top big guys to watch in the class of ’04.
Major Wingate, 6-11 C, Beachball Select (SC), 2003. Still looks like one of the most enigmatic players in the class. For a stretch of about 15 minutes against the Gary Payton All-Stars on Friday night, Wingate was unstoppable. He owned the offensive boards, put back a couple of follow-up jams, and used his strength and quickness to draw fouls from opposing defenders seemingly at will. Other than that one stretch, though, his intensity seemed to wane throughout the event. Remarkably, he was a non-factor in most of the action we saw. He is so big, strong and quick that he could be a phenomenal player, but it’s a matter of will, and right now his will is the biggest question mark.
Josh Wright, 6-0 PG, Long Island Panthers, 2004. This is a kid we didn’t know much about before Saturday afternoon, but he was arguably the most effective player for the Panthers in their emphatic victory over the talented Georgia Stars, and he absolutely destroyed junior guard and Georgetown commitment Matt Causey off the dribble. He had 17 first-half points in that game, most of them coming on drives to the hoop where he left Causey or anybody else trying to guard him in his wake. He also fed Mike Jones and Charlie Villanueva on a number of occasions and stuck back-to-back 3’s at one point. The knock on this kid has been inconsistency, and maybe we just caught him on a really “up” afternoon. Regardless of what any analyst tells you, this kid has a great deal of native ability, and we’ll be keeping an eye on him next spring.
WHO’S THAT PEEPING TOM?
This event was not certified by the NCAA, so Division I and II coaches were not permitted to observe the action. That didn’t stop Duke assistant coach Chris Collins from hanging around the Wilson Rec Center and peeking through the windows, though. Hey Chris, naughty, naughty.
OUR FINAL AWARD
And now the award you’ve all been waiting for: the player with the coolest name in the tournament. And this year’s winner . . .
. . . Sky Bone, a 5-11 PG for Southeast Pump ‘N Run.
That's it, folks.