Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Top 10 things from the first half of July
By Dave Telep
The first half of a July on the recruiting trail was more of a sprint than anything else. July 6-14 was a convergence of talent and time zones. From Las Vegas to North Augusta, S.C., to Indianapolis, I felt like I was in a new city daily with waves of players being tossed at me.
If you watched ESPN 100 forward Paul White (Chicago/Whitney Young) at the Peach Jam, you knew something was different. White was playing with passion and at a high level. He’d found the mix between post and perimeter and was putting up numbers.
White was truly playing his best basketball of recent memory. The college coaches knew, and so did the media. It’s times like these when you feel real joy for a kid who’s been working hard on his game.
However, the euphoria wouldn’t last long. White suffered a broken right forearm later in the Peach Jam and will be out 6-8 weeks. Still, before exiting North Augusta, he made his case to those who might have been sitting on the fence on him.
Shooting guard J.P. Macura improved his stock with a strong showing at the adidas Invitational.
2. Quietly elevating their games
Lourawls Nairn (Bel Aire, Kan./Sunrise Christian), PG, 2014: His strong play started at LeBron and carried over into the Peach Jam. He’s too fast to ignore.
Reid Travis (Minneapolis/De La Salle), PF, 2014: Michigan State trailed him hard, as did all the pre-July teams on his list. For Travis, it’s all about playing hard and being smart.
J.P. Macura (Lakeville, Minn./Lakeville North), SG, 2014: I liken his rise to that of Notre Dame’s Pat Connaughton a few summers ago.
Bryant McIntosh (Greensburg, Ind./Greensburg), PG, 2014: He recently decommitted from Indiana State and found himself playing in front of Indiana during one game at the adidas Invitational.
Alex Robinson (Arlington, Texas/Timberview), PG, 2014: He’s a guy who is moving up the point guard list, going from secondary to primary target for some programs.
3. Loudly elevating their games
Angel Delgado (Troy, N.Y./Redemption Christian), PF, 2014: Only Caleb Swanigan outrebounded Delgado at Peach Jam and no one was close to his rebounding level at the LeBron camp.
Cliff Alexander (Chicago/Curie), PF/C, 2014: The headliner from the LeBron camp is in the midst of the most consistent stretch of his grassroots career.
Stephen Zimmerman (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman), C, 2015: We’ll forgive him for bowing out early and not making an appearance on ESPNU in the finals of the adidas Invitational because he’d been playing so well early in the event.
D'Angelo Russell (Louisville, Ky./Montverde Academy), SG, 2014: This guy got buckets at LeBron camp and then went triple-double for Each 1 Teach 1 in the semifinals of the Peach Jam.
Carlton Bragg (Cleveland/Villa Angela-St. Joseph), PF, 2015: I promise, his Saturday night playoff game at adidas was the most dominant 10-minute stretch I saw during the entire first evaluation period.
4. Butler is not done yet
When Brad Stevens bolted Butler for the Boston Celtics, the natural knee-jerk reaction might have been to mail in recruiting for this season. Cue Lee Corso voice: Not so fast, my friends.
New head coach Brandon Miller is on the case and presently stating his case to Butler’s key targets. What I’ve noticed so far this July is that Miller was behind many of the Bulldogs’ top targets. For instance, ESPN 100 small forward Trevon Bluiett (Indianapolis/Park Tudor) said the loss of Stevens hurt but that it could have a positive effect because he was closer with Miller. The point is, Butler has managed to retain its standing and is moving forward. It was a good first two weeks on the job for the nation’s newest head coach.
The irony with Bluiett is that Butler might have to beat out Michigan for his services. Michigan is where LaVall Jordan, a finalist for the Butler job, is on staff. You gotta love July recruiting drama, baby!
5. Bluiett, Johnson add to their games
This job is about learning, listening and looking. As you continually see these players, in particular the rising seniors, you’d better be doing all three because they’re constantly changing.
Take ESPN 100 small forward Stanley Johnson (Fullerton, Calif./Mater Dei), for instance. He rocked the Peach Jam but he made it look fun and easy. He’s gone from perimeter guy to defender to athletic attacker during his three years on the circuit.
Bluiett, meanwhile, went from shooter to all-around player this month. At the Peach, with two of his teammates out, he took over for Spiece Indy heat and had a 41-point game.
When players make these kinds of improvements over the course of their careers it’s because of their commitment to getting better. Whether that’s skill work or conditioning, the results are evident. These guys can enjoy July because they did the work in advance. They are playing with little to no stress and it shows.
No. 2 recruit Cliff Alexander dominated at the LeBron camp.
6. The race for No. 1 in 2014 is ... leaving me wanting more
It seems like the stars aren’t aligning -- or at least they’re not colliding. If this were professional wrestling, it would be time to sign some contracts and lock Alexander, Jahlil Okafor (Chicago/Whitney Young) and Myles Turner (Euless, Texas/Trinity) into a steel-cage match, winner take all.
Okafor entered the summer ranked No. 1 in the ESPN 100. He was solid at Peach Jam and put up an MVP-type effort for Team USA’s gold-medal-winning U19 World Championship squad in early July. That’s pretty good.
Alexander is ranked No. 2 and backed it up with a great effort at the LeBron camp. Alexander and Okafor are on the same Mac Irvin Fire travel team but didn’t make the final four at the Peach Jam.
Point guard Tyus Jones (Apple Valley, Minn./Apple Valley) entered the summer ranked No. 3 and through no fault of his own probably doesn’t wind up No. 1 because we now have a third entrant into the race: Turner.
Just when things were about to get good, Turner strained his groin at LeBron camp the day before he was going up against Alexander. My gut says Turner might be the best prospect with the biggest ceiling of them all. Ideally, though, you want to see him go out and prove it. Turner will reportedly meet up against Okafor and Alexander at an event in Las Vegas later this month. Two against one isn’t exactly a fair fight, but we’ll stay tuned.
7. Three power forwards on the move
It’s my contention that the thinnest position in the Class of 2014 is the power forward spot. If you count Alexander as a center, we have an uncharacteristically strong five-man contingent at the 5 and it has flip-flopped slots with the 4-men. Frankly, the power forward group is embarrassingly light.
To me, three guys either cemented their status or moved up during the first half of July.
Delgado was a dominant performer at LeBron and then ran into a wall at Peach Jam as his team didn’t have enough firepower to crack elite status. However, I saw a magnificent rebounder whose overall skills are blossoming.
Travis is that guy college coaches love to recruit -- hard playing, no nonsense and no baggage. You know what you’re getting with Travis. He’s not a star, just a four-year starter.
Then there’s Jaylen Johnson (Ypsilanti, Mich./Ypsilanti). Did you know his mother once led the Big Ten in blocked shots at Wisconsin? Johnson shined at LeBron camp and has gone from the B-list to the A-list with limited showing in front of the college coaches.
8. Three feel-good recruits from adidas
Macura was good in the spring. The problem was, it was such a cramped period that if you weren’t in Texas to see him at the adidas VIP Exclusive Run, you might have missed him. Last week at the adidas Invitational, Macura began collecting offers, including one from home-state Minnesota. When you can pass, shoot and are qualified, you’re a commodity.
Speaking of shooting, McIntosh comes to mind, although he’s more of a scorer than simply a shooter. He bumped Zimmerman’s Dream Vision squad from the tournament with 26 points. McIntosh went from decommitting from Indiana State to playing in front of IU’s Tom Crean and Purdue’s Matt Painter.
Finally, there’s the entire Spiece Indy Ice Thompson team. Who? These guys won the adidas championship with nobody taller than 6-foot-6. Prospects like C.J. Coleman, Daeshon Francis and Jordan Garnett punched their mid-major scholarship offers.
9. Giles to go under the knife
Last month, while playing for the U.S. U16 team in Uruguay, forward Harry Giles (Winston-Salem, N.C./Wesleyan Christian) tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus. The No. 1 player in the Class of 2016 and candidate for the title of best prospect in high school basketballl will have surgery to repair the damage on July 24.
Giles attended the Peach Jam to support his CP3 squad and was wearing a brace resembling one an NFL lineman might sport. His surgery is likely to keep him out of action through the spring and maybe next summer. Regardless, Giles continues to be a primary target of Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky.
10. The players know if coaches are early or are sneaking in late
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar has this habit of being real early and staying real late when watching key targets. Give the guy credit, he’s maxing out his face time. And trust me, players notice.
Take Tyus Jones, for example. The question was directed to him: Which head coach did you see the most? “From my point of view, I saw Coach Drew, Coach K, Coach Cal and Coach Self the most because they got to the games early,” Jones said, referring to Baylor’s Scott Drew, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Kentucky’s John Calipari and Kansas’ Bill Self. “I also saw coach Ben Johnson, the assistant from Minnesota, a lot.”
At the Peach Jam, coaches are right on top of the players so it was easy for the kids to see them. It was also easy for coaches to slide in and out of gyms with four games going on at the same time. Some coaches think they’re slick and will get there early, leave for another game and either try to claim presence the entire time or double-dip with two players at a time. Hey, there are different ways to get it done. All I’m saying is that the players notice and they talk. When Krzyzewski was the only coach in the gym a half hour before a game, he got a lot of credit.
As the month moves on and there are major events in Vegas and Orlando running concurrently, programs will be forced to deploy their resources and make tough calls on where to send the head coach versus assistants. This means that on July 28, the final day of the July’s final evaluation period, it’ll be interesting to note the location of the nation’s biggest head coaches. There won’t be a Peach Jam where they can easily slide back and forth between gyms.