V.J. King stars at USA minicamp


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- When you enter the facility for the USA Basketball fall minicamp, it doesn’t take long to realize individual player rankings are meaningless. Here, it’s about team, competing and challenging yourself. Through the first session of practice and workouts, this group of 2015 and 2016 prospects has the right idea.

Nearly 50 underclassmen are here working out, hoping to do well enough to earn a return trip back for the summer U16 and U17 teams. There are no cuts this weekend and no teams picked. That doesn’t mean impressions aren’t being formed for the future.

After the morning workout, here are some quick hitters:

King is elite

As a North Carolina resident, I’ll miss this kid. He moved from Charlotte to Akron, Ohio, where he attends the same high school LeBron James once did. V.J. King (Akron, Ohio/St. Vincent-St. Mary) could easily wind up being the most talented prospect here. He’s got lots of tools to go with size and intelligence on the court. The things he can do and the gracefulness in which he executes them are astonishing. He was the best player I saw in the morning.

Plenty of size at USA camp

There are 15 players at camp that are 6-foot-8 or taller. Almost all of them came to camp in good shape. Elijah Thomas (Rowlett, Texas/Rockwall) is down pounds since July and the result is his game is opening up. Bouncier in the paint and more confident, he had more energy.

Youth movement personified

The youngest player at camp is 2016 point guard Seventh Woods (Columbia, S.C./Hammond School). Two years and seven months separates he and 2015 small forward Malachi Richardson (Hamilton, N.J./Roselle Catholic). Richardson is one of the kids brought here so USA Basketball could get familiar with his game. There are seven kids here -- Richardson is one of them -- that because of birthday are only eligible for the U18 program.

There are six freshmen here. Woods, Harry Giles (Winston Salem, N.C./Wesleyan), Malik Monk (Lepanto, Ark./East Poinsett), Payton Pritchard (West Linn, Ore./West Linn), Benjamin Coupet (Chicago/Simeon) and Eron Gordon (Indianapolis/North Central) are only 14! Giles was outstanding in the morning session. He played like a 17-year-old, finishing in traffic, and was very good in skill work.

Post guys need polishing

One of the areas of emphasis for young bigs shouldn’t be how they can make 3-pointers, but rather their footwork and post-up game. I watched every big man go through elementary drills and was taken aback by the lack of fundamentals that most were lacking. Granted, these are freshmen and sophomores, but it’s never too early to get to work.

Having said that, here were the five guys with the best touch in the pivot:

Diamond Stone (Milwaukee/Dominican)

•Harry Giles

Marcus Derrickson (Bowie, Md./Paul VI)

Henry Ellenson (Rice Lake, Wis./Rice Lake)

•Elijah Thomas

Defensive tone set

Josh Jackson (Detroit/Consortium) looks bigger, taller and stronger since the summer. He’s a tremendous prospect with length and shooting ability. However, it was his defense -- closing out shooters, playing the passing lanes -- that stood out early. On the freshman wing side, Amir Coffey (New Hope, Minn./Hopkins) looks like he could be Jackson’s equal. Their length and approach on defense is hard for guys to deal with.

Sophomore Horace Spencer (Warminster, Pa./Tennett) chased down a would-be layup and pinned it hard against the glass. The effort mirrored his morning body of work. Spencer chases shots and patrols the lane. Offensively he’s raw, but defensively he’s got tools.

Early offers

Shooting guard Eric Davis (Saginaw, Mich./Arthur Hill) loves to score. It’s who he is and what he does. Iowa State was the first to offer him. Michigan State and Michigan are highly interested and NC State came to see him workout. Duke and North Carolina have called on him.

Ellenson holds six major college offers. Georgetown, Minnesota, Iowa State, Marquette, Baylor and Boston College made it known they want him. He’s a 2015 member of the ESPN 25.