NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. – The first day of the LeBron James Skills Academy – relocated from James’ hometown of Akron, Ohio – didn’t feature an appearance from the NBA’s three-time Most Valuable Player.
That’s because James, less than a month removed from leading the Miami Heat to a championship, was about five miles south in UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center, workout out with other “candidates” for the team that will be heavily favored to bring home gold from the London Olympics.
But the bulk of the best prep players in the country – including a couple who call Canada home – made up a group of about 80 hoopsters in a bit more than 90 minutes of drills in both gymnasiums at Rancho High.
Saturday’s schedule will be made up of workout sessions of an hour and 45 minutes and two hours, with a 75-minute practice set for Sunday morning before games begin at 3 o’clock that afternoon.
I spent most of Friday’s session in the auxiliary gym, where about 40 or so posts (power forwards and center-types, if you prefer) were pushed through drills by instructors that included John Lucas.
Here are some of the players that caught my eye:
*Julius Randle (Plano, TX, Prestonwood): The top prospect in the Class of 2013 (at least, from my perspective) looked every bit the part, moving, shooting, pivoting and handling the ball with so much precision and confidence.
*Diamond Stone (Milwaukee, WI, Dominican): This was my first opportunity to see the fellow that some view as the top prospect in the Class of 2015. I’m not convinced of that, although the 6-foot-8ish (he is nowhere close to being the 6-10 “measured in shoes” he’s listed at on the roster) Stone is a fine prospect. Having seen both Stephen Zimmerman of Las Vegas Bishop Gorman (on numerous occasions) and Stone, I’m confident that the 6-10 Zimmerman – sidelined for July after undergoing minor surgery on his right knee – is the best 2015 big man I’ve seen.
*Devin Williams (Cincinnati Withrow): I left the NBA Players Association Top 100 Camp (Charlottesville, VA) last month believing that Williams might be as good a rebounder as there is in the Class of 2013. I doubt I’ll change my mind based upon what I saw on Friday. He’s the prototype of the “no-nonsense”-type power forward of a bygone era when “power forwards” weren’t as interested in demonstrating all of their “perimeter skills” as so many of them seem intent on doing these days.
*Bobby Portis (Little Rock, AR, Hall): This is the third venue at which I’ve watched him at over the past month or so (I also saw him at the Pangos All-American Camp in Long Beach, CA, as well as the NBA Camp) and each viewing services to push me thinking that he is – barring injury or a lot of voters not seeing him – close to be a “lock” to be a 2013 McDonald’s All-American selection.
*Cliff Alexander (Chicago Curie): I watched him at the Pangos and NBA camps and I came away believing he was likely the top power forward prospect in the Class of 2014. Nothing I saw Friday made me think otherwise.
Frank Burlison is one of the most respected basketball writers and basketball talent evaluators in the world. He’s an original (1978) member of the McDonald’s All-American Selection/Advisory Committee and was inducted into the United States Basketball Writers’ Association Hall of Fame during the 2005 Final Four in St. Louis. You can catch his writing, player evaluations and comments on the sport – on all levels – at www.BurlisonOnBasketball.com and via his Twitter account – FrankieBur. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org