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How top incoming recruits can improve

4/23/2013

Whenever I go to the Nike Hoop Summit, I have mixed emotions. On the one hand, I love international basketball and the way the basketball world has shrunk. On the other hand, it is important to me that American basketball maintains its status as the world's best.

This past weekend I covered the United States junior national select team's loss to the World select team, 112-98 in Portland, Ore. It was the first time in the series that the World has won back-to-back games. And, quite frankly, it was a disappointing loss for the home team.

While the U.S. team didn't have its first true practice until Thursday and the World team assembled Monday, that is not an excuse for the lethargic performance by 10 of our country's best high school players.

The game also was the first time many of the NBA's decision-makers had a chance to watch these guys play in person. For most of them, it was not a resume-builder.

Here are my impressions of the players in the Nike Summit who will play college basketball and some thoughts for their improvement.


Andrew Wiggins, F, Undecided

The 6-foot-8 Canadian, for the most part, played effortlessly in this game after three straight weeks on the road. He was the best athlete on the floor but played very unselfishly, picking his spots to show off his ability. He is considered the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft.

While Wiggins is an overwhelmingly right-handed driver, he rarely had an issue in getting to spots on the floor to create his own shot. His great jumping ability allows him to easily shoot over defenders. In addition, he has great head-on-the-rim and second-jump explosiveness around the basket.

While Wiggins will have little trouble scoring at the college level, his lack of a consistent outside shot is something he should look to iron out immediately. He should use the next year and a half to improve it before leaving for the NBA.


Julius Randle, F, Kentucky Wildcats

I have been watching Randle for a very long time and his strengths and weaknesses were both on display in this game. But it's worth noting that Randle has far more strengths than weaknesses and should be a dominant college player under John Calipari at Kentucky.

At 6-9 and 245 pounds, Randle has the unique combination of size, strength, quickness and power to be an NBA All-Star someday. And it is a rare night when he doesn't bring a high level of intensity. Restricted arc or not, he will try to take an opponent's head off when he flies down the lane.

While Randle has a soft shooting touch in the midrange and handles the ball well in space, I believe he wants to spend a little more time on the perimeter than Coach Cal will like. Ultimately, he should want to be a dominant low-post scorer who can play away from the basket, but only on occasion.

Randle is also a left-hand dominant player, who even when he drives right will spin back to his left hand. While it hasn't mattered at the high school level, it is something that will be exploited by opponents next season. He has a summer to work on that aspect of his game and turn that weakness into a strength.


Jabari Parker, F, Duke Blue Devils

Parker had a solid couple of days in Portland. NBA teams were impressed with his versatility and his ability to shoot. At 6-8, he is an NBA small forward. At Duke, however, he'll play in the mold of Blue Devils combo forwards past such as Grant Hill, Shane Battier and Kyle Singler. He will be a hard matchup for opponents.

Parker has a soft stroke and a quick release, which he'll be able to use as a pick-and-pop forward for Mike Krzyzewski in screen-and-roll situations. He also can handle the ball in transition and get to the rim. And he's big enough to score around the basket with his explosiveness.

At the NBA level, Parker will not be an explosive athlete. If I were him I would spend the offseason in Durham working diligently on improving athleticism and conditioning. It's not an urgency next season, but Parker is looking toward the future.


Dante Exum, G, Undecided

The 6-5 Australian, who played on the victorious World squad, was a revelation to most of the NBA personnel who were in attendance. Blessed with excellent athleticism and skills, he is obviously still in the infancy stage of his basketball development, but his potential is enormous.

Exum will graduate high school in November and his ambition is to enroll at the school he chooses next summer.

He can play either guard position because he is blessed with a multitude of basketball skills. Exum has great first-step quickness and the corner 3-point shot he hit looked smooth.

While Exum needs to add physical maturity and strength, he showed as much long-term potential as any player in the game. I don't think he'll be in college long.


Andrew Harrison, G, Kentucky Wildcats

There is a lot to like about Harrison as a 6-5 point guard, both next season at Kentucky and in the future. He has excellent size, strength and quickness, and especially going to his left, he gets into the paint with ease right now. He has an above-average ability to find his teammates with his passing.

In Saturday's game, all of his strengths were on display. In fact, it is a reason he has all of the physical attributes to find himself as a top-5 pick in next year's draft.

Now, here's the bad news: NBA people thought he had terrible body language Saturday night. And -- don't shoot the messenger -- it led to questions about his attitude (which isn't a new question, by the way). It is something John Calipari will address with him often because, in truth, there will be as much pressure on Harrison as any player in college basketball next season.

Given last season's Wildcats debacle and the legacy of point guards such as John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marcus Teague, Harrison will need the improved maturity to quarterback his talented teammates amid enormous expectations.

Skill-wise, my advice to him is to improve his outside shot, or else opponents will play off him in order to defend his drive. I've also noticed he has a tendency to favor driving to his left with more force and power and tends to settle for his floater game when driving right. Like players at every level, he has the time to keep improving.


Aaron Harrison, G, Kentucky Wildcats

While the Harrison twins are nearly identical in size and skill, Aaron has always been thought of as more of a scorer than Andrew. Unfortunately, he did not get to show that scoring ability Saturday night as he played only 12 minutes and went 0-for-3 from the floor.

There's not much more to say right now.


Kasey Hill, G, Florida Gators

Hill is a gamebreaker who plays at only one speed right now: fast. While that is an excellent attribute to have for a point guard and one Billy Donovan will put to good use, he was out of control at times in the game.

Hill threw some soft, lazy passes in the half court that were intercepted, and he didn't have the look of someone controlling the USA offense. His basketball IQ will improve under Donovan and he'll have the opportunity to learn from a veteran point guard in senior Scottie Wilbekin.

If I were Hill this summer in Gainesville, my two projects would be working to solidify my outside shooting so opponents don't go under ball screens, and learning to utilize my left hand in finishing around the basket. Hill has a lot of physical ability to build upon, but attacking weaknesses in the offseason is critical.


Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, F, Arizona Wildcats

I'm not sure the U.S. team would have lost if it had been able to put five Hollis-Jeffersons on the floor. Not surprisingly for a Philadelphia-area player, the 6-6 small forward plays with great passion and competitiveness. In fact, he gets that playing hard is a "skill."

Hollis-Jefferson is a solid on-ball defender and a good rebounder. Offensively, he is always around the basketball, especially on the glass and is excellent at slashing to the rim. Because he's not big enough to dominate inside, it is time for him to hone that left-handed shooting stroke this summer.

Sean Miller has a lot of combinations on his front line, but with freshman Grant Jerrett and his soft touch already leaving for the NBA draft, Hollis-Jefferson's improved shooting should add one more level of versatility to his repertoire.


Karl Towns Jr.., C, Kentucky Wildcats (Verbal for Class of 2014)

Towns Jr., a 17-year-old 6-11 center, already has international experience as a member of Dominican Republic national team last summer. His relationship with its coach, John Calipari, is a major reason why he is already committed to Kentucky as a high school junior.

Towns, playing on the World team, had some impressive moments in the game.

For a big man, he has a solid shooting stroke and can also handle the ball. He posts up well, although he'll be even more effective inside once he matures and gets stronger. There is a lot of room for improvement even though he is already one of the best players in the Class of 2014.


Aaron Gordon, F, Arizona Wildcats

I enjoy watching Gordon play because he always plays the game with ferocity. And, while he is unfairly compared at times to Blake Griffin, he has that type of athleticism for a high school player. He will instantly have an impact on Arizona next season.

Right now, at 6-8, Gordon is a college power forward who wants to be an NBA small forward. I sense that Coach Sean Miller will utilize him in much the same way that he used Derrick Williams. He will isolate Gordon away from the basket versus bigger, slower defenders and post him versus smaller defenders. It worked for Williams.

If Gordon wants to play away from the basket in the NBA, his perimeter defense will need to be a lot better than it was Saturday when the World's players took him off the dribble. In addition, he will need to improve his outside shooting stroke and develop some elusiveness off the dribble. That work, however, must begin right way.


Joel Embiid, C, Kansas Jayhawks

The 7-foot Embiid, who hails from Cameroon, was very impressive in the Jordan Brand game a week ago in Brooklyn, and although he played only 16 minutes in the win over the U.S., he contributed 7 points and 7 rebounds.

Here is all you need to know about Embiid: He has played organized basketball for only 18 months. He will be a contributor for Bill Self as a Jayhawks freshman and is already a potential top-5 pick in the NBA draft as a sophomore.


Demetrius Jackson, G, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The 6-1 point guard will eventually develop into a very good player for Mike Brey and the Irish, but he was overmatched against German point guard Dennis Schroeder in the game. I was particularly disappointed with his effort defensively, as he gave up on a number of opportunities to keep Schroeder out of the lane. That will change next season once preseason practice begins.

On the bright side, Jackson is very quick and explosive and will be a terrific complement to Eric Adkins and Jerian Grant in the Irish backcourt.


Bobby Portis, F, Arkansas Razorbacks

Portis saw limited minutes in the game, but is an athletic and mobile power forward with limited shooting range. From what I saw in practice, the 6-8 forward looks like he'll fit in well in coach Mike Anderson's system.


Noah Vonleh, F, Indiana Hoosiers

Vonleh also saw limited playing time in the game but reminded me of former Tar Heel Harrison Barnes in the practices. While he has a similar size (6-8) and body type, he doesn't yet have Barnes' type of skill level. He does have a lot of physical gifts to work with and has a bright future at Indiana.