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What I learned from Jordan Brand Classic

4/16/2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Jordan Brand Classic marked the end of the postseason all-star experience. Eight of the top 10 prospects in the ESPNU 100 took the court at Bobcat Arena as last year’s MVP, Anthony Davis, looked on.

Triple crown for Shabazz

Shabazz Muhammad (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) is far and away the best offensive player in the Class of 2012. He knows it and so do the kids he’s played with. In the Jordan Brand Classic, Muhammad went for 20 points (8-of-14 FG) and earned another MVP. This spring, he’s taken home the triple crown of high school awards. He was the best player at the Hoop Summit and captured MVPs at the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic. On the biggest stages, he has been dominant, showing he's the alpha male of the class. His explosion and knack for scoring are duly noted.

Now, the next step is bringing UCLA’s level of play up to his and to do it, he’s going to need help and to expand his game. Between the McDonald’s and Jordan games, he took the most shots (32) and scored the most points (41) of any player who participated in both games this year. He also set the Hoop Summit scoring record with 35. UCLA will need all those points and for him to bring guys like Kyle Anderson (Fairview, N.J./St. Anthony) along with him. However, Muhammad had 1 assist and 11 turnovers in the two all-star games. The next step with his development is becoming the player who can trust his teammates and put his lethal game to use as a part-time creator for the guys around him. He’s beyond proven his point as the best offensive producer in the class.

Poythress makes biggest strides

Lots of guys are capable of cherry-picking and putting up big numbers in all-star games. Trust me, that happens. What’s interesting is when a kid has success and different elements of his game are on display. Take Alex Poythress (Clarksville, Tenn./Northeast) for instance. He parlayed a fine McDonald’s week into another stellar effort in the Jordan Game. Poythress was an efficient 7-of-8 at the Jordan Game and his jumper was noticeably smoother. Although, the biggest improvement in his game was mental, not physical. Poythress finally has the look of a guy who believes in himself. That may sound strange, but I’ve been around him enough and seen him play dozens of times.

The single biggest change in him is that he thinks he belongs and doesn’t mind taking a starring role. My lone concern about him is rebounding. He has to make a concerted effort to get on the glass. While scoring 35 points in both games combined, he grabbed only six rebounds. It’s an area in which he is capable of performing better.

What happened to the shooting?

We knew going into the season the 2012 class was point guard light. We know after the season that there’s another deficiency with the group: shooting. Brace yourself, what you’re about to read is not pretty. Combined, in both the Jordan and McDonald’s games, players shot a dismal 22 percent from behind the arc. That’s atrocious. However, one man saved the day. Rasheed Sulaimon (Houston/Strake Jesuit) shot 7-of-15 in the two games including 3-of-6 over the weekend. He’s the best shooter of the top 25 players. Take Sulaimon’s statistics out of the equation and combined the players from the two games shot … 15 percent! Geesh, that’s awful.

Tarczewski makes history

The only big man to record a double-double in either of the two biggest all-star games was center Kaleb Tarczewski (Claremont, N.H./St. Mark’s). That’s good news for Sean Miller and Arizona’s frontcourt situation. On Saturday, Tarczewski was noticeable because he was aggressive on the glass and dunked everything he got his hands on.

Harrell comes up big at regionals

The best performance Saturday at the Jordan Brand event came in the regional contest. Twenty of the best players from the state of North Carolina competed against each other and the brightest star was power forward Montrezl Harrell (Tarboro, N.C./Hargrave). The Virginia Tech-bound forward wreaked havoc at both ends. A powerful dunker and explosive athlete, Harrell chased shots on the defensive end and announced his presence.

Harrell’s an ESPNU 100 player (No. 89) and early in his high school career he was a triple-double waiting to happen. His Saturday effort was the kind of performance he’s capable of turning in. Had he strung together a few more of those as a junior and senior, he would have been in the main game and he certainly wouldn’t have been out of place.