On the recruiting trail
Notes from LeBron's Skills Academy and Reebok U
Posted: Thursday July 12, 2007 1:52PM; Updated: Thursday July 12, 2007 3:48PM
I arrived at the University of Akron's Rhodes Arena on Monday morning just in time to hear the best basketball player on the planet deliver a brief lecture to a handful of collegians. "The key is, can you take what you've learned here, go home and make your teammates better," LeBron James said. "It's easy to do that when you've got good players around you. But when you've got a guy who can't break someone down, or can't make a three-pointer, it's still up to you to make that person better. That's what it's all about. That's all I've got to say."
James spoke those words on the final day of the first LeBron James Skills Academy, a summer recruiting event run by Nike. Over the last several years, Nike was locked in a bitter battle with Reebok's Sonny Vaccaro to lure the nation's top high school players to their respective camps. Most of the time, Vaccaro won that battle, but with Vaccaro out of the camp business (at least for now), and with James in it, Nike far outpaced Adidas and Reebok in assembling the top talent for the first week of the summer evaluation period.
From my vantage point, the best part about the Nike event was that it only included 89 players, less than half of the usual number. From the vantage point of those players, however, I imagine the best part was that James was there -- and not just there, but participating with enthusiasm. He played with them, he ate with them, he sat on the bench with them, he talked with them. That goes for the 17 college guys working as counselors as well. Unfortunately, I was only in Akron on the last day and didn't get to see James play, but from what I heard he was all business when he played against the high school campers and college counselors.
I enjoy getting out on the summer recruiting circuit because it gives me a chance to visit with coaches while catching my first glimpses of the next generation of college hoopsters. After spending the day in Akron on Monday, I hopped an early flight to Philadelphia on Tuesday to watch the final-day action at the Rbk U event at Philadelphia University. So for the benefit of my fellow Hoop Thinkers, allow me to flip open my notebook and pass along what I saw and heard:
I got to Akron early on Monday specifically so I could watch the college counselors work out. The group included big-name players such as North Carolina's Tywon Lawson, Villanova's Scottie Reynolds and the Lopez twins from Stanford, but the best of the bunch was Memphis junior guard Chris Douglas-Roberts. CDR, as he is called, looked plenty big out there (he was listed last season at 6-foot-6, 190 pounds, but I'd say he's considerably stronger than that). But what I liked about him most was his ability to get to the rim whenever he wanted. He played like he knew he was the best guy on the floor, which is why Memphis (along with North Carolina) will get much consideration to be the preseason No. 1.
Two other guys who looked good during the counselor workouts was Gonzaga guard Jeremy Pargo and Ohio State forward Othello Hunter. It was also interesting to see Hasheem Thabeet, UConn's 7-3 sophomore center, playing with confidence. Lots of people were disappointed in Thabeet's play last season, but you have to remember this will be just his fifth year of organized basketball. Thabeet has a long way to go before he's an impact scorer, but his moves were more polished than I expected.
One other name you should know: Jason Thompson, a 6-10 rising senior at Rider. I hadn't heard of him either until this week, but while he got pushed around a little bit under the boards, Thompson is a very good athlete who looks like a natural scorer. I also heard he did a respectable job going up against LeBron during a workout the day before.
A few minutes with ... Tom Izzo. The Spartans coach was in Akron largely to watch Delvon Roe, the 6-7 swingman from Lakewood, Ohio, who has committed to Michigan State. (I suggested last week Roe might end up being the best frontcourt player Izzo has ever recruited, and nothing I saw in Akron changed my mind.) Izzo, like all college coaches, was not allowed to talk on the record about high school players, but he told me he expects his team to do a lot more fast-breaking than they have in the last couple of years. "We haven't had enough depth to really run lately, but next year we're going to get back to that," he said. Izzo also said forward Marquis Gray is finally healthy; that he expects incoming freshman Chris Allen to be a scorer ("He's a better athlete than I thought he was," Izzo said.); and that another incoming freshman, point guard Kalin Lucas, is "as fast as anyone I've ever coached."