Notable college and prep players on display in Las Vegas (cont.)
As for Dream Vision, the player to see was Shabazz Muhammad, a 6-5 lefty guard whom Scout.com ranks as the No. 5 player in the Class of 2012. Muhammad hails from Las Vegas, and I have to say he was rather disappointing and disinterested in the first game I saw him play. During the second game, however, he demonstrated why he is so highly regarded. Still, while Muhammad is a terrific slasher and uses his size effectively posting up smaller guards, it would have been nice to see Muhammad throw a decent pass or two along the way. In that sense he kind of reminds me of Kenny Boynton, who is going into his sophomore year at Florida. I watched Boynton play a lot as a high schooler, and it seemed like every single time he touched the ball he jacked it up. Good players make their teammates better, and I think the very talented Muhammad would do well to heed that.
By the way, Dream Vision has a real sleeper prospect in 6-9 forward Angelo Chol. He is pretty graceful for his size and is excellent at defending the rim. UConn, Georgetown, Kansas and Alabama are all in hot pursuit.
One guy that almost everyone I asked urged me to check out was another big junior, Isaiah Austin, a 7-foot center who lives in Arlington, Texas, but plays for an Arizona-based team called The Magic. I want to be fair here considering that a) I only saw Austin play two games, and b) he has not even started his junior year of high school. But I have to say it was incredibly frustrating watching this kid play. He is obviously gifted and is a very good ball handler for a guy his size. Still, call me old fashioned, but I believe a guy who is seven feet tall should spend more time posting up under the basket than roaming the perimeter behind the three-point line. Austin also plays classic matador defense around the basket.
Maybe I was expecting too much based on his reputation (Scout.com has him ranked second in the junior class), but it looked to me like someone was advising Austin to develop his perimeter game for the NBA level as opposed to playing the game from the inside-out like a seven-footer his age should. From where I was sitting, that looked like really bad advice.
Lots of coaches were on hand to watch Indiana Elite play. The main object of their attention was 6-10 swingman Cody Zeller, younger brother of Tyler (who plays for North Carolina) and Luke (who played for Notre Dame). Zeller, who hails from Washington, Ind., is not as big as his brothers, but he is very skilled, and he can drain threes and drive to the basket, depending on what the defense is giving him. Zeller is a rising senior who is considering a bunch of schools in the Midwest, but Indiana is the one school that really needs him. Zeller has to choose whether he wants to be a significant piece on an established team, or go to Indiana and potentially become the local icon who helps bring IU back to prominence. That could be a very enticing proposition.
There are certain things a player does that are so impressive that even a writer schmo can't help but notice. That happened frequently while I watched Norvel Pelle, a 6-8 jumping jack from Los Angeles. Pelle plays for the Compton Magic and when he wasn't skywalking for ridiculous blocks he was finishing thunderously on the break. He looked to me like a young Amar'e Stoudemire. I had not been alerted about Pelle, and after a few exchanges I asked a prominent head coach who he was. "That's the biggest freak in the class," he said. Seems to me Pelle is better than the No. 55 overall ranking that Scout.com gave him, but we all know the rankings don't mean much anyway.
Late Friday night, I checked out Ohio Basketball Club against D.C. Assault in the Super 64. I had been encouraged to watch OBC to see 6-8 senior forward Chane Behanan. He is an indeed an impressive physical specimen, and I was especially taken during one sequence when I saw him catch a long pass in transition, then quickly gather himself, reverse direction and float in for a slam. It was a great move for someone who is built so thick.
On the next possession, Behanan caught another pass in transition, and this time he deftly passed to a teammate for an open layup. When I told Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News the next day that I was impressed with Behanan, he seemed surprised and told me that the kid only scored six points the whole game. Still, as I said before, I know what I saw.
As for D.C. Assault, the premiere player was supposed to be Quinn Cook, a 6-1 senior point guard from Maryland's famed DeMatha High School. Cook looked strong and efficient enough, but if I didn't know about his reputation, he wouldn't have jumped out at me. Again, I'm not saying that means anything. One game does not an evaluation make.
Another on that team who did stand out for me was Jordan Goodman, a 6-9 rising junior swingman. Goodman originally committed to Georgetown, but when Hoyas assistant coach David Cox left for Rutgers, Goodman switched his commitment to RU as well. Mike Rice is just getting settled in his new job, but the versatile, graceful Goodman is the kind of player who will be a big help in due time.
On my final day in Vegas, I checked out the action at the other major tournament in town, the Fab 48. (What's with these names, by the way? Fab 48? Super 64? To quote my colleague Steve Rushin: Ah, alliteration. Always annoying.) There were two teams I was itching to see. The first was the Drew Gooden Soldiers, who ended up winning the tournament championship the next day. The biggest reason -- literally -- I wanted to watch this team was Brandon Ashley, a 6-9, 225-pound rising junior from Dublin, California. Ashley is ranked No. 5 in the Class of 2012 by Rivals.com and he definitely lived up to that hype. Ashley played hard every possession, defended the rim as well as the perimeter, and best of all, he posted up and finished with authority, despite his rather slender frame. Would like to see Isaiah Austin play up his size like that.
Another intriguing player on the Soldiers was Kyle Wiltjer, a baby-faced, 6-9 forward from Portland who is choosing between Kansas and Gonzaga, among others. Wiltjer is sneaky athletic, and from what I saw he can really stroke it. Rivals.com has him ranked 22nd in the senior class.
The featured performer on Seattle Rotary was, naturally, Tony Wroten, the 6-5 rising senior guard who is the center of yet another tug o' war between Washington and Kentucky. (Here's hoping this one has far less drama than the Terrence Jones soap opera.) Wroten's assets were obvious, but so were his flaws. He is a big, strong kid with incredible raw athleticism. He can get to the basket any time he wants, and on one sequence, when his teammate threw a low pass for an alley-oop, Wroten was still able to catch the ball on his way up and flush it with ease.
And yet, like most high school players, Wroten still has a lot of improving to do. He has no outside shot whatsoever, and he lacks the ability to finish with his right hand, even on a simple, wide-open layup. This might barely merit a mention aside from the fact that Wroten wrote on his Twitter feed over the weekend that if he wasn't ranked No. 1 in his class, then there shouldn't be any rankings. I understand writers and fans like to pay attention to the rankings -- I certainly mentioned them enough in this column -- but when players pay too much attention to them, to me it's a bad portent, IMHO.
Moving forward, my advice to Wroten and all the high school players who competed in Las Vegas and other locales this month, is to go home, get some rest and don't touch a basketball for a week or two, maybe more. Then they should find an empty gym, work on their games and stop worrying what recruiting experts or amateurs like me think. It wouldn't hurt to hit the books as well. The month of July is a lot of fun, but it's almost over now, and I'm sure a lot of players and college coaches around the country are plenty happy about that.
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