COLORADO SPRINGS – Some of the very best prospects in the national classes of 2018 and ’17 were among the 48 players on hand Saturday for the start of the two-day “mini-camp” being hosted by USA Basketball.
And, oh yes: There were 11 were darn good seniors doing their thing, as well.
There were a lot chronological – if not always physical – mismatches with those players often matching up with the freshmen and sophomores who were two or three years young across the board.
But they often went head-to-head (especially in drills), so it was a good opportunity to see four of the half-dozen or best “power forward/centers” in the class in the same setting: Henry Ellenson (Rice Lake, WI, HS), Chase Jeter (Las Vegas Bishop Gorman), Caleb Swanigan (Ft. Wayne, IN, Homestead) and Stephen Zimmerman (L.V. Bishop Gorman).
In my humble opinion, each of the four is about as close to “lock” status as exists to be members of the 2015 McDonald’s All-American team.
And at least four 2015 MDAAs will come from the seven 2015 perimeter players in attendance: Jaylen Brown (Marietta, GA, Wheeler), Jalen Brunson (Lincolnshire, IL, Stevenson), Luke Kennard (Franklin, OH, HS), Charles Matthews (Chicago Saint Rita), Allonzo Trier (Henderson, NV, Findlay Prep), Jimmy Whitt (Columbia, MO, Hickman) and D.J. Williams (Chicago Simeon).
This event is a nice opportunity to get my first looks at some of those players from the ’18 and ’17 classes.
They didn’t disappoint, either.
Among the freshmen, centers Austin Wiley (6-foot-10/Hoover, AL, Spain Park) and Nazreon Reid (6-8/Roselle, NJ, Catholic), along with forwards Marvin Bagley (6-9/Tempe, AZ, Corona del Sol) and Brandon Johns (6-7/Lansing, MI, East), and left-handed point guard Marquis Brown (6-2/Chicago Simeon) each more than lived up to the hyperbole that followed them into Colorado Springs.
And 6-8 forward Michael Porter Jr. (Columbia, MO, Father Tolton), 6-10 center Wendell Carter Jr. (Fairburn, FA, Pace Academy) and 6-2 point guard Matthew Coleman (Norfolk, VA, M.F. Maury) didn’t need a lot of on-court time during the two Saturday workout sessions to show why they are among the best prospects here at their respective positions – regardless of class.
Over time, Porter could prove to have been the best prospect – period – in town this weekend.
His fluidity of motion makes it appears that he is handling, passing, shooting and rebounding so easily that some might suggest that he isn’t playing hard or with much emotion.
To that I’d reply “nonsense”.
If there are five better prospects than Porter in the sophomore class, than the Class of 2017 is primed to be considered of the best produced over the past couple of decades or so.
Among the guys who would lend credence to any suggestion that 2017 has an extraordinary number of prospects with “star potential” are Jarred Vanderbilt (6-8/Houston Victory Prep), D.J. Harvey (6-5/Hyattsville, MD, DeMatha), Tugs Bowen (6-7/Saginaw, MI, Hill) and Troy Brown (6-5/Las Vegas Centennial).
Each showed considerable improvement since the last time I saw them in action – Vanderbilt so much so that, from my point of view, he now presents the strongest threat to challenge 6-10 DeAndre Ayton (from the Bahamas by way of San Diego Balboa prep) as the No. 1 prospect in the class.
The four threads that bound tightly each of the four sessions of the high school “mini-camp” that was hosted USA Basketball over the weekend were Henry Ellenson (Rice Lake, WI, High), Chase Jeter (Las Vegas Bishop Gorman), Caleb Swanigan (Ft. Wayne, IN, Homestead) and Stephen Zimmerman (Bishop Gorman).
Each of the four seniors was dominant throughout, both in the drills and scrimmages, and their respective energy and enthusiasm seemed to not only put their games in a high-octane mode but also seemed to motivate and push their younger counterparts from the Classes of 2018 and ’17.
Without question their performances just put a tighter squeeze on the vice-grip each has on invitations to play in the 2015 McDonald’s All-American and Nike Hoop Summit games.
It was probably only appropriate that one of those four post players, Zimmerman, put his final stamp on things late in the final session Sunday evening throwing down over the top of 2017 standout Ira Lee in transition for what was likely the most impressive slam of the week.
Don’t think that the 6-foot-8 Lee spent both days serving as a sort of “dunking punching bag”, however.
Lee (Chatsworth, CA, Sierra Canyon) doled out plenty of punishment of his own in that regard.
He caught – not blocked but literally caught the ball in the left and right hands, respectively, of 6-10 freshman E.J. Montgomery (Montverde, FL, Academy) and 6-5 sophomore Troy Brown (Las Vegas Centennial) as each was preparing to bring the figurative house down via their own Big Bang Theories.
Lee came to Colorado Springs as, in some circles, one of the most underrated prospects in the Class of 2017 – he isn’t even listed among the most recent ESPN.com Top 25 ratings for the class.
But the relative injustice shouldn’t be the case much longer after a two-day performance that was only equaled or surpassed by two or three or four other players in the class at the camp: Jarred Vanderbilt (Houston Victory Prep), Michael Porter Jr. (Columbia, MO, Father Tolton) and, perhaps, Wendell Carter Jr. (Fairburn, GA, Pace Academy) and Austin Wiley (Hoover, AL, Spain Park).
Like Lee, Vanderbilt and Porter are listed at 6-8, with Carter and Wiley at 6-10.
But the Class of 2018 was also represented at the USA Olympic Training Center with some gifted big guys, as well.
Tallest among all of the 48 players in attendance was 7-1 (without shoes) Connor Vanover of Little Rock, AR, Baptist who seemed to gain more confidence and effectiveness every 10 minutes or so over the weekend.
He’s something well beyond “thin” at a listed 180 pounds.
Sixty or 70 pounds from now Vanover is going to be commanding a whole lot of double teams and disrupting opposing offenses with his shot-altering potential being backed up by the now oh-so-lean and oh-so-lengthy youngster.
And the West was represented by 2018 members in 6-9 Marvin Bagley Jr. (Tempe, AZ, Corona del Sol) and 6-8 Jordan Brown (Roseville, CA, Woodcreek).
Bagley has some of the same skills with the ball in his hands as do two other tall left handers at the camp, Vanderbilt and E.J. Montgomery (Montverde, FL, Academy), the latter of whom is also a member of the Class of 2018 and rivals Bagley as the most skilled “big” in the class.
Brown isn’t nearly as far along in his development, at least offensively, as is Bagley but that is understandable: He’s only been playing on an “organized” platform for a little more than two years.
And the West was also repped by two of the better guards in the Class of 2017 in Troy Brown Jr. (Las Vegas Centennial) and Jaylen Hands (Chula Vista, CA, Mater Dei).
Only the left-handed Matthew Coleman (Norfolk, VA, Maury) was perhaps more impressive as a “point guard-type” over the weekend in the class.
Coleman, though, was certainly the fastest player in the camp while in possession of a ball in his hands.
The best “backcourt scorer” in the class and in the camp, though, was 6-2 Jalek Felton (Mullins, SC, High), the nephew of NBA guard Raymond Felton.
The best freshman guard in the camp was 6-2 Marquis Brown, a lefty who doesn’t turn 15 years old until two days after Christmas and is projected to be only the second ninth-grader – following Jabari Parker – to play varsity for that program.