LAS VEGAS — The third NCAA basketball evaluation period tipped in force off at 5 o’clock at three major venues Wednesday night, each swarming with college coaches galore.
The Cashman Center (Super 64), Spring Valley High (Big Foot Classic) and Bishop Gorman High (Fab 48) were the gathering points.
My first stop of the period (that wraps Sunday evening at 5) was Bishop Gorman where I watched eight games (split between two adjacent courts in the school’s “main” gymnasium) that were part of the “Fab 48 Tip-Off.”
It was a cool opportunity for me to watch several players that I had not watched and evaluated during the spring or early summer.
More on those young gentlemen will come later.
The first two games that forced me to use my amazing “split vision” technique of evaluation (I jest, of course; it’s enough to create a mild case of whiplash) were Team Texas eventually lost to New Heights of New York, 71-56, on Court 1 while the Las Vegas Prospects held on to knock off San Diego Supreme Court, 60-56, on Court 2.
The Texas squad has a couple of very good jump shooters in Austin Grandstaff and Matt McQuaid and two strong posts in Ted Kapita and Elijah Thomas.
But the New York squad jumped out to an early lead and was never really threatened much at all as left-handed point guard Dupree McBrayer dictated the pace offensively and defensively.
On Court 2 were the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2017 in 6-foot-11 DeAndre Ayton of Supreme Court and one of the best guards in the class in 6-5 Troy Brown of the L.V. Prospects.
Brown had a couple of snazzy passes and an especially sweet “and 1” while Ayton continuing doing so many things that a guy at his size and age (he turned 16 Wednesday) shouldn’t be able to with such verve.
In the end, though Ayton and 6-8 Abdul Shanun didn’t get the kind of support that was afforded Brown by way of the likes of Carter Olsen and Jordan Davis and forward Anthony Townes.
On Court 1 in the next set of games, Southern California-based Belmont Shore led Chicago’s Mac Irvin Fire by six to eight points most of the way, and by 10 with seven or eight minutes remaining.
But the Fire, led by left-handed point guard Jalen Brunson and forward Edward Morrow (who seemed to be dunking with great veracity each time I glanced at the court, overwhelmed the Southern California lads down the stretch to prevail, 79-68.
On Court 2, “Big Red” – better known as the Mater Dei High Monarchs, by way of Santa Ana in Southern California – used its sound defense, half-court offensive execution and some impressive post play by junior-to-be Michael Cage Jr. to pull away in the final five or six minutes and beat Sports U of New Jersey, 68-56.
Another returning starter from the Mater Dei team that was 35-zip and the mythical national high school champion, 6-5 Rex Pflueger, started knocking in jump shots late after making a lot of key plays at both ends of the floor.
Sports U got, at times, some explosive vertical plays from posts Chris Silva and Markis McDuffies.
In the third time slot, Team Philly held off Take Takeover (from the Washington, DC area), 54-46, on Court 1 while kitty corner another squad with players from in and about our nation’s capitol, DC Premier, edged Louisiana Elite, 61-53.
The squad from the great state (or something like it) of Pennsylvania got two very good jump shooting performances from guards Samir Doughty and Devin Liggeons.
DC Premier had too much depth, size and skill – and some very good guards in Jamaal King, Terrell Allen and Jon Davis – for even a player as explosive and gifted as is 6-5 Brandon Sampson, who kept his team as close as best he could via a shower of dunks, jump shots and on-target open-court passes.
He attends Madison Prep Academy in Baton Rouge and – not in the least bit surprisingly – LSU Coach Johnny Jones and two of his assistants were planted in seats at mid court.
And, lasty but certainly not leasty, the Showtown Ballers (from Orlando, FL) topped the Upward Stars (South Carolina), 62-54, on Court 1 while, a few feet away, UM33M (from Memphis) edged the Illinois Stars, 59-57.
The Ballers had some real ballers (I couldn’t resist the temptation), most notably point guard Corey Sanders, shooting guard Dwayne Bacon and 7-2 Jean Marc Christ.
The squad from South Carolina hung as close as 6-6, do-pretty-much-it-all P.J. Dozier could keep it against a big and potent frontcourt and a point guard (Corey Sanders) who penetrated entirely at will during the game.
This was my first opportunity of 2014 to see each of those guys, as it was for 6-10 Skal Labissiere, who sparked the Memphis squad past its Illinois counterpart.
Day 2 of the NCAA’s third basketball evaluation period of the July is in the books.
And I spent it – Thursday – in the massiveness that is the Cashman Center and its seven-court set up that, in essence, made the place quite a kaleidoscope of sorts for the Super 64.
I’m starting to get a bit groggy so I don’t have the usual energy needed to hack out some witticisms to entertain prior to my rundown on what I watched during a given day.
So, without further adieu, here are the players who impressed me during the approximately 11-hour stretch of hoops I was courtside for Friday.
Get to know these names – I have no doubt that you’ll be seeing some of them again Sunday night when I offer a Top 20 (or so) list of the players that impressed me the most over this five-day evaluation period.
Here you go . . . in an alpha listing:
GUYS I HAD SEEN BEFORE
*Jalen Adams (6-2/2015/Massachusetts Rivals/Ashburnham, MA, Cushing Academy):
Adams, who is committed to the University of Connecticut, was the most compete “traditionally sized” guard I saw Thursday, dropping 25 points with eight rebounds and seven assists in a four-point loss to Virginia’s Team Loaded. In the team’s second game of the day, he scored 30 points in a six-point win over Stackhouse Elite. He’s in the mold of all of the high-caliber guards Connecticut has put on the floor.
*Carlton Bragg (6-9/2015/Ohio Basketball Club/Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph):
He’s a “power forward-type” who also likes to spend a lot of time drifting on the perimeter. At times Thursday it looked like he was “going through the motions”. Although his scoring numbers were decent (including 31 points against the New York Rens squad), his team lost twice. More forceful and consistent play at both ends on his part might have reversed those decisions.
*Jaylen Brown (6-6/2015/Power Springs, GA, Game Elite/East Point, GA, Tri Cities):
There is much about him that reminds me of 2014 McDonald’s All-American and soon-to-be-Arizona freshman forward Stanley Johnson. The physical dimensions are about the same and so is the drive-it-hard and no-nonsense approach both take.
*Miles Bridges (6-7/2016/Michigan Mustangs/Huntington, WV, Prep):
Truth be told – and I always do my best to tell it, at least from my perspective – no junior-to-be has played any better in the spring and summer that this left hander. Be it rebound, handle, pass, drive and finish, or jump shoot – there isn’t much he isn’t terrific at.
*Chase Jeter (6-9/2015/Dream Vision/Las Vegas Bishop Gorman):
His high school teammate (Stephen Zimmerman) played well in this building a couple of weeks ago during the LeBron James Skills Academy and Jeter did the same thing on Saturday. He will make announce his college selection before he starts his senior high school classes next month. One would be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to wager that his selection will be any school but Duke.
*Thon Maker (7-0/2016/Virginia Team Loaded/Martinsville, VA, Carlisle):
He’s still much too thin and doesn’t have much in the way of strength to hold off defenders in the low post. But his skills are unique at his size, including the deep jump shots he launches (and he hit a nice number of those, too).
GUYS I WAS SEEING FOR THE FIRST TIME
*Dang Adel (6-7/2015/Florida Elite/Bradenton, FL, Victory Rock Prep)
It was easy to see why Louisville Coach Rick Pitino took a commitment from him last week. He does a lot of things very well, including. His jump shot’s form looks good, too. He just didn’t him many of them when I watched Thursday.
*Anthony Mathis (6-1/2015/Team Fast/West Linn, OR):
His high school and travel team backcourt (Payton Pritchard) is in Colorado Springs with U.S. Basketball. But that didn’t deter Mathis (who is committed to the University of New Mexico) from continuing the superb jump-shooting exhibition he has been putting on during the spring and summer.
*E.J. Montgomery (6-9/2018/Atlanta Celtics/Atlanta Lincoln Park Academy):
Yeah – the kid is just going to be a ninth-grader! He looked anything but tentative Thursday when I watched him catch a couple of lobs for transition dunks and snatch a bunch of defensive rebounds against Team Loaded of North Carolina.
*Mitch Robinson (6-10/2017/New Orleans Elite/New Orleans Landry-Walker):
His name and uniform number weren’t in the event program so you can imagine the pleasant surprise when, after looking quite impressive in the win over the Michigan Mustangs, he told me he’s just going to be a sophomore next month. He apparently recently moved to New Orleans from Pensacola, FL.
*Cullen Vanleer (6-4/2015/Gateway Basketball Club/Pacific, MO, High):
His ability to break down defenses with his driving, his passing and his jump shot played a big role in his team’s wins over Compton Magic and Team Rose Thursday.
*Justin Wright-Foreman (6-1/2015/New York Rens/Queens, NY, CTEA High):
This left hander has been perhaps my most pleasantly surprising evaluating experience over the first two day. He scored 48 points against the Carlton Bragg- and Maverick Rowan-led Ohio Basketball Club on Thursday afternoon, hitting 14 of 16 from the field (including all five attempts behind the arc) and 15 of 17 free throws. He also had five rebounds and four assists in the 96-94 victory for his team.
Bishop Gorman High was the locale for me for the second time in three tries – eh, NCAA basketball evaluation days – Friday.
I saw a flock of Fab 48 pool-play games – not a Flock of Seagulls, the early 1980s British new wave band that I’m sure has played in town a few times in the last decade or so (apparently it is still hacking out a living with those peculiar hair styles and modern renditions of a handful of hits, including “I Ran”).
But I digress.
Let’s get with it:
*On Court 2 at 8:30 in the a.m., it was a confrontation of some of the better backcourt players in Southern California and it was the Big Ballers rallying from a 14-point deficit and knocking off Superior Athletes, 79-76.
Junior-to-be Lonzo Ball made a boatload of plays down the stretch for the Big Ballers, even while mostly being checked by one of the elite perimeter defenders in the West in Jeremy Hemsley, and his sophomore-to-be brother Li’Angelo Ball seemingly hit about five shots down the stretch from the 215 Freeway.
In the Hoops Irony Department: The Ball Brothers and their Chino Hills teammates beat the teams of Superior Athletes standouts Hemsley (Damien, in the Baseline League), Stephen Thompson Jr. (Torrance Bishop Montgomery, in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs) and Kendall Small (Lakewood Mayfair, in the semifinals of the State Division I Southern Regionals) last season.
*DC Premier – which, when the organization was known as DC Assault, won the 17s Invitational last year – picked up two wins Friday to go 3-zip in its pool going into bracket play on Saturday morning.
With its size and depth up front, and its equally deep and skilled backcourt, DC Premier is the favorite to repeat as champion, IMHO.
*Two key players from Jason Smith’s national Prep Academy champion from Brewster Academy, center Jared Reuter (New England Playaz) and Donovan Mitchell (The City) helped their teams to wins in games I watched Friday afternoon.
Reuter, who may be the best passing post player in this tournament, hit the winning free throw in his team’s 63-62 Big Red – better known as Santa Ana (CA) Mater Dei, the program that went 35-zip last season for to win a mythical national championship.
The Monarchs no longer have now-Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson but did have three other 2013-14 starters in Rex Pflueger, La’Vette Parker and Michael Cage Jr.
Reuter had a sterling low-post battle against Cage in the most well played game I watched Friday. It was a real basketball game, not the slop-fest that usually past for such in these events.
And Mitchell, while helping to rally his team past Lakeshow (from Northern California) in double OT (66-60), continued to show the form that is making him one of the more heavily recruited guards from the East.
*The best point guard in the Class of 2015 – Isaiah Briscoe (Roselle Catholic in New Jersey) – helped his New Jersey Playaz team knock off Upward Stars (South Carolina) in the afternoon
But the Playaz hopes of an Invitational Division crown may have taken a big hit when Briscoe suffered an apparent ankle injury in the closing seconds of regulation with Southern California’s Belmont Shore team late Friday night.
Junior-to-be Temple Gibbs hit a desperation 45-footer (give or take) at the buzzer to send things into OT for the New Jersey squad and the Playaz overcame the scoring production of soon-to-be former Bellflower (CA) St. John Bosco players Vance Jackson (33 points) and Tyler Dorsey (29) to win, 90-86.
Winning five playoff games without Briscoe or without him close to 100 percent would be a tough task, indeed.
*Chris Silva (Roselle, NJ, Catholic High) led Sports U to a 3-zip mark in pool play and has been as impressive as any power forward-type as I’ve seen in Las Vegas over the past four nights (including the Earl Watson Elite-fronted showcase contests I watched at Coronado High Tuesday night, 24 hours before the NCAA coaches’ view period began).
No one has climbed higher than Silva for dunks and rebounds in the Bishop Gorman gymnasium since Wednesday evening.
*Makol Maiwen and Horace Spencer had another nice post hookup Friday afternoon but ultimately it was Maiwen and his Utah Prospects teammates who prevailed over Spencer and the rest of the Gym Rats crew, 57-47.
*Another team going 3-0 in pool was 1Nation (from Michigan), which was playing without its best player, Josh Jackson, who was in Colorado Springs for USA Basketball Trials.
But it still has a lot of quality players, including point guard Josh McFolley and forwards Gerald Blackshear and Joshua Davis, as well as another big-jumping forward in Devon Dillard (who played in the spring for Mac Irvin Fire).
My Saturday, Day 4, stop on the final NCAA evaluation week for this month was the Cashman Center, home to the Super 64.
It was fitting, I supposed, that the last complete game I watched was one of the best I saw all week in town.
Dream Vision seemingly had things well in hand, with a 14-point advantage, in the second half against the Atlanta Celtics in the last of the quarterfinals in the 17s division.
But a rash of turnovers and a few ill-advised shots attempts twisted the momentum and, following one of those turnovers, Braxton Blackwell was fouled and hit both free throws with 38 seconds to go in regulation to put the Celtics, 63-62, with 38 seconds to go.
But the advantage didn’t last long as, following a timeout, Arizona-bound Justin Simon and (likely) Duke-bound Chase Jeter hooked up for a lob and dunk to put Dream Vision up by a point.
An Atlanta player bounced the ball off his foot and out of bounds as the Celtics tried to attack quickly and, after Dream Vision inbounded, guard Paris Austin was eventually fouled and converted two free throws with seven seconds remaining.
A 3 attempt to tie the score by junior-to-be guard Kobi Simmons was off with two seconds to go and Dream Vision’s semifinal date with Team Loaded of Virginia was set for 8:40 on Sunday morning.
Bennie Boatwright (a senior-to-be at Village Christian High in Sun Valley, CA), who just joined Dream Vision – along with Simon (Temecula Valley High in Southern California) – for this event led all scorers with 27 points, continuing to look like as good as deep jumper as there has been in the building all five of his attempts from behind the arc.
A few hours earlier he hit three of five on 3s while scoring 11 points in the team’s 61-45 victory over Massachusetts Rivals.
While touted junior-to-be point guard Kobi Simmons was missing 18 of his 24 shots from the floor, the guy who really kept the Atlanta Celtics within striking distance in the second half was 6-10 Abulhakim Ado (from Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, TN).
Ado, who played for the Nike-front Georgia Stars 16s team all spring and into the Peach Jam two weeks ago, might have blocked something close to ten Dream Vision shots, including multiple point-blank attempts by Jeter.
The competition, by way of Team Loaded, could prove even tougher from Dream Vision Sunday morning.
That team is by the player who had been the dominant big – really big – man in the city during the three major events being held.
Thon Maker, from the Class of 2016 and standing something on the north side of seven-foot, helped Team Loaded chew up the Milwaukee Rebels (103-72) and the Indiana-based EG10 squad (79-58) Saturday.
Maker averaged 21.0 points and 9.0 rebounds on Saturday while teammate Curtis Jones (a 2016 guard from Paul VI in Fairfax, VA) scored a game-high 27 against Milwaukee and added 14 against EG10. It borders on the feudal to try to keep him from getting into the lane at will.
The other semifinal on Sunday morning, Florida Elite vs. Indianapolis Elite, could prove to be one of the better games plays during this third and final evaluation period of the month.
The Florida squad was taken to the wire by a surprising team from Quebec City in Canada (Brookwood) in the quarterfinals before prevailing in thrilling fashion by way of a floating jumper by junior-to-be point guard Loren Jackson at the buzzer, 62-60.
Just one of several standouts for Indiana Elite during its Saturday wins over Stackhouse Elite and the Ohio Basketball Club was 6-2 Kyle Guy (Indianapolis Central).
Guy, who belongs high up on anyone’s pecking order of the best guards in the Class of 2016, scored team highs of 16 and 15 points, respectively, over OBC and Stackhouse Elite.
There were three championship options in 17-year-old divisions for me on Sunday’s final day of the NCAA’s basketball evaluation period.
I opted for the Super 64 final between Dream Vision and Indiana Elite.
And, unlike the Big Football Vegas Classic at Spring Valley High (with Chicago Mac Irvin Fired edging Houston Hoops, 74-70) or the Fab 48 finale at Bishop Gorman High (DC Premier eking out a 50-46 victory over Louisiana Dynasty), the championship game at Rancho High didn’t have much in the way of suspense over the course of the 40-minute affair.
Dream Vision jumped out to a 7-0 advantage but the team from Indiana settled down and pretty much dominated things at both ends of the floor the rest of the way.
Tyler Cline – selected the event’s Most Outstanding Player – put on a deep jump shooting display on during the first half, hitting six of seven attempts from behind the arc while scoring 20 points as his team took at 42-31 advantage.
The 6-foot-5 Cline (Carmel, IN, High), who is committed to signing a letter of intent with Purdue in November, slowed down offensively after intermission and finished with a game-high 25 points to go with eight rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Just as importantly, though, was the man-to-man defense Cline played against one of the hottest jump shooters over the week, Bennie Boatwright (Sun Valley, CA, Village Christian).
Boatwright hit a couple of shots (including a 3) in that 7-zip start but, while shadowed by Cline, finished just five of 15 from the field (including two of eight behind the arc) for 12 points.
Indiana Elite, which beat Florida Elite in a semifinal earlier Sunday morning at the Cashman Center, also got double-figure scoring from Koch Bar (15 points and 13 rebounds), Kyle Guy (16) and Chandler White (19).
If not for the admirable performances by Chase Jeter (the senior-to-be at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman who finished with 24 points, 17 rebounds and three blocked shots), Dream Vision might have been staring a 30-point bang-out in the face.
Jeter’s teammates combined to hit just 14 of 59 shots from the field.
Here are my choices (alpha listings) as players I saw over the week. It was based upon how well each played when I watched them, not the caliber of college or NBA players I believe they could end up being.
TOP 25 SENIORS
Jalen Adams (6-2/Massachusetts Rivals/Ashburnham, MA, Cushing Academy)
Terrell Allen (6-2/DC Premier/Hyattsville, MD, DeMatha)
Bennie Boatwright (6-8/Dream Vision/Sun Valley, CA, Village Christian)
Carlton Bragg (6-9/Ohio Basketball Club/Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph)
Isaiah Briscoe (6-3/New Jersey Playaz/Roselle, NJ, Catholic)
Jaylen Brown (6-6/Game Elite/Marietta, GA, Wheeler)
Jalen Brunson (6-1/Mac Irvin Fire/Lincolnshire, IL, Stevenson)
LeRoy Butts (6-7/DC Premier/Upper Marlboro, MD, Clinton Christian)
Tyler Cline (6-5/Indiana Elite/Carmel, IN, High)
P.J. Dozier (6-6/Upward Stars/Columbia, SC, Spring Valley)
Adon Gilder (6-2/Dallas Mustangs/Dallas Madison)
Jesse Hunt (6-6/Lakeshow 17 Elite/San Anselmo, CA, Drake)
Brandon Ingram (6-8/Stackhouse Elite/Kinston, NC, High)
Chase Jeter (6-9/Dream Vision/Las Vegas Bishop Gorman)
Skal Labissiere (6-10/M33M/Memphis Evangelical Christian)
Jake Lindsey(6-5/Utah Basketball Club/Salt Lake City Olympus)
Donovan Mitchell (6-3/The City/Wolfeboro, NH, Brewster Academy)
Isaiah Moss (6-5/Mac Irvin Fire/Chicago Simeon)
Rex Pflueger (6-5/Big Red/Santa Ana, CA, Mater Dei)
Terrence Phillips (6-0/Atlanta Xpress/Mount of Wilson, VA, Oak Hill Academy)
Danjel Purifoy (6-7/Atlanta Xpress/Chatham, VA, Hargrave Military)
Kerwin Roach (6-3/Houston Rockstarz/Houston Northshore)
Brandon Sampson (6-5/Louisiana Elite/Baton Rouge, LA, Madison Prep)
Chris Silva (6-8/Sports U/Roselle, NJ, High)
Justin Wright-Foreman (6-3/New York Rens/Queens, NY, Construction)
TOP 15 UNDERCLASSMEN
Abdulhakim Abo (2016/6-10/Atlanta Celtics/Chattanooga, TN, Hamilton Heights Christian)
DeAndre Ayton (2017/6-11/Supreme Court/San Diego Balboa City)
Lonzo Ball (2016/6-5/Big Ballers/Chino Hills, CA, High)
Koch Bar (2016/6-10/Indiana Elite/Orlando, FL, West Oaks Academy)
Miles Bridges (2016/6-7/Michigan Mustangs/Huntington, WV, Prep)
De’Ron Davis (2016/6-9/Colorado Hawks/Aurora, CA, Overland)
Kyle Guy (2016/6-2/Indiana Elite/Indianapolis Lawrence Central)
Nikita Kasongo (2016/6-5/Brookwood Elite/Quebec City Champlain)
Ira Lee (2017/6-8/Oakland Soldiers/Chatsworth, CA, Sierra Canyon)
Loren Jackson (2016/5-6/Florida Elite/Orlando, FL, Victory Prep Christian Academy)
Vance Jackson (2016/6-8/Belmont Shore/Bellflower, CA, St. John Bosco)
David Jenkins (2016/6-3/Avery Bradley/NW Panthers/Tacoma, WA)
Thon Maker (2016/7-0/Team Loaded, VA/Martinsville, VA, Carlisle)
Kobi Simmons (2016/6-3/Atlanta Celtics/Alpharetta, GA, St. Francis)
Jared Vanderbilt (2017/6-8/Houston Hoops/Houston Victory Prep Academy)