Sunday, January 6, 2013
Cancer Research Classic: What I learned
By Dave Telep
WHEELING, W.Va. -- Where to begin? For a two-day event, the Cancer Research Classic smashed a ton of talent into a tight window. Between two classes, there were four top-five players on display this weekend, plus a college announcement from the nation’s No. 1 senior center.
There’s not much the CRC was missing. So let’s recap what we learned from the event.
Montverde combines talent and coaching
Take Kevin Boyle, easily one of the three best high school coaches in the country, mix in at least two future pro basketball players, and voilà -- you’ve got the No. 1 team in the country. Montverde Academy (Fla.) efficiently pounded three-time Illinois state champion Chicago Simeon on Saturday night.
Like Montverde’s impressive win, here’s an efficient takeaway of the five best prospects in the game:
His Simeon team might have lost, but No. 2 senior Jabari Parker proved on Saturday he's returning to form after his injury.
No. 2 senior Jabari Parker: It’s amazing what 23 days can do for a kid. Simeon coach Robert Smith said his senior star shed 20 pounds since the gut shot to his pride on national TV on Dec. 13, when he was just returning to the court after missing five months with a fractured foot. Parker’s highlight-reel tip dunk and barrage of 3-pointers in the first half sounded the alarm that the Duke recruit was well on his way back from injury.
No. 9 senior Kasey Hill: He was too quick and elusive for Simeon. When they found the Florida signee in transition, he was already gone.
No. 12 senior Dakari Johnson: He doesn’t go to it enough, but a jump hook sounded the alarm on his skill package.
No. 85 senior Devin Williams: Take a strong kid with a motor who is committed to West Virginia and playing in the state in which he’ll spend the next four years of college, and what do you think will happen? He received a huge ovation, then pasted Simeon in the paint. The kid’s motor didn’t stop, and he’s having a senior send-off that’s playing out better than expected.
No. 13 junior D’Angelo Russell: Once Simeon’s Kendrick Nunn turned his ankle, there wasn’t an athletic matchup for Russell. Russell, a noted scorer, put together a first half that was the most balanced I’d seen him turn in. He’s more than a shooter, and if he bottles up this effort, it’ll serve him well.
Johnson selects -- you guessed it -- Kentucky
If you watched our broadcast on ESPNU, thanks for not turning the tube off even though my voice sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard. Being on hand live for Dakari Johnson’s college announcement was pretty cool. Talk about a humble, fun-loving kid. The No. 1 center in the 2013 class nailed his announcement: classy, concise and uncommon poise for a young kid. With a wall of supporters behind him and a portion of the town of Wheeling, Johnson picked Kentucky over Georgetown and Syracuse.
When he decided to slide up a class from 2014 to 2013, you probably saw the writing on the wall. Moving on to college after three years in high school amounts to a business decision. For Johnson, the choice not to put another year of tread on his tires and get the clock ticking on his college and post-college career pointed to UK’s selection. If you’re that serious about your game and UK has offered, it's a tough act to beat in the recruiting game.
While Johnson made his announcement, John Calipari was probably in an Italian restaurant in Wheeling with a glass of red wine, toasting assistant Orlando Antigua on adding another piece to the finest recruiting class he’s assembled in Lexington.
Okafor? Jones? Jones? Okafor?
The question regarding the top prospect and player in the Class of 2014 is a fun one. Jahlil Okafor (Chicago/Whitney Young) is building his case against his buddy, point guard Tyus Jones (Apple Valley, Minn./Apple Valley).
Okafor is a load. Last month he battled Johnson to a draw at the City of Palms Classic in Florida. And in Wheeling on Saturday, he put it to the five-guard lineup that nationally ranked Neumann-Goretti tossed at him -- as expected.
Battle is oh-so-efficient
There’s a big difference between scoring and knowing how to score. Freshman wing Tyus Battle (Edison, N.J./Gill St. Bernard’s) is skilled in the discipline of shooting.
Rarely do you see a senior, much less a freshman, effortlessly knock down skilled jump shots. I’m talking about one-dribble pull-ups where he uses the glass, deep catch-and-shoots and sly midrange shots. For lack of a more appropriate term, he was beautiful to watch.
Battle was the best player and prospect on the floor in a game with a teammate going to Northwestern and a talented DeMatha (Md.) opponent. He finished with a crisp 17 points (7-of-12 FG, 3-of-3 on 3s). SMU and Xavier were here to see him. Good luck, fellas. This guy smells every bit like an elite high-major prospect.
Given all the talent in the gym over two days, Battle’s game was the prettiest to watch and laced with more pure perimeter skill than any other player in the gym. And the kid is a freshman!
Jenkins returns to the scene of the breakout
Villanova-bound power forward Kris Jenkins went off for 31 points on Saturday.
Note to Jay Wright: Play your big nonconference games at Wheeling Jesuit.
Last year at this event, Gonzaga (D.C.) power forward Kris Jenkins put up 21 points on Whitney Young in his breakout performance on our air. At that time, plenty of schools were on the fence with him, not sure whether to offer. That game pushed them over the edge in his favor, and he eventually picked Villanova.
Fast-forward 365 days, and Jenkins dropped 31 points against Salesian (Calif.) on Saturday night. Yes, he needs to be in better shape and fights that yearly. The good news is that Villanova employs a staffer whose sole job will be to make that happen. For Wright, adding a competitor who loves to play and can toggle between knocking down jumpers and holding his own as a junkyard scorer in the paint is a good thing.
The best part of Salesian’s Jabari Bird against Gonzaga is that it was on TV. There’s a generation of youngsters watching at home who don’t have the skill or desire to shoot the basketball inside the arc.
Bird, who is Cal-bound, simply created midrange opportunities or played within the structure of coach Bill Mellis’ offense and stroked 15- to 18-foot jumpers. Chicks dig the long ball, and they probably love 3-point shooters, too. But college coaches will take Bird’s game every time.
Three high-major bigs plus junior lead guard Emmanuel Mudiay makes for quite the combination. These guys played hard and put it to Huntington Prep.
Mudiay is a major talent. Getting to the rim isn’t a problem, and with his size he’s an elite prospect. If we can nitpick for a moment, he simply needs to dial down his dimes a tad and pull back on the difficult chances and play it safe. He’s a good passer -- at times an excellent one -- although he does take chances. Getting to the rim? He’s not going to be slowed down one bit.
Ask around, and you’ll hear the same conclusion with sophomore point guard Bryant Crawford (Washington, D.C./Gonzaga): Indiana’s Tom Crean is all over this kid.
“He’s made it abundantly clear he wants the kid,” Gonzaga coach Steve Turner said. “Tom’s in his face; he’s made it clear.”
Georgetown won’t back down, and John Thompson III will throw some haymakers at the local kid. These two are out of the gate early for Crawford.
Cleaning out the notebook
• Jonathan Galloway (Richmond, Calif./Salesian) played his first game of the year following a transfer from Liberty High School. Weber State, San Jose State and Saint Mary’s are keeping tabs on the big man.
• Jenkins’ mom is big into basketball. She’s an assistant with the Ole Miss women’s basketball team. But no, the Rebels never recruited her son, and he’s signed and happy to be attending Villanova.
• Calipari was front and center for Wiggins on Friday night and returned Saturday for Johnson.
• Newly extended UConn coach Kevin Ollie was Saturday’s iron man. In search of future talent, Ollie got there early and stayed for the entire slate of games. Expect Battle to become a significant UConn target over the next two years.
• Montverde guard Miguel Cartagena has Brown and Dartmouth tracking him throughout his senior season.
• Don’t get me wrong; I love the prime matchups in high school ball. However, there’s a part of me that thinks too much isn’t the answer. It seems like instead of getting ramped up for a big game like Prime Prep versus Huntington, it’s like any other game on a long schedule for the teams. Win or lose, there will always be another one. To me, games like this need to be circled on the calendar and tanks emptied once they’re over. I didn’t get the sense of urgency in watching the game play out.
• So far, 10 of ESPN’s top 30 seniors have used our networks as a platform for their collegiate announcements.