SUWANEE, Ga. -- The Best of the South is a working man’s event. There aren’t a lot of teams here, so you have to construct a plan to see as many as possible and then double back to watch the guys you need better evaluations on or were intrigued by the first time around.
By the time Friday night rolled around, if you worked it hard, you had a good handle on the event. It’s a mid-major paradise complete with a few potential blowup candidates and a steady diet of possibilities. At an event like this, if you don’t take a few notes in your coaches’ packet, you ain’t working.
Here are some nuggets from Friday’s action at the Best of the South.
ESPN 60 SG Antonio Blakeney had Florida coach Billy Donovan watching him at the Best of the South.
Blakeney’s iron man day ends with a big number
Over the first two days in Suwanee, I watched the Each 1 Teach 1 travel team three times, but it was the one I didn’t watch (in its entirety) where ESPN 60 shooting guard Antonio Blakeney (Orlando/Oak Ridge) did his best work. If the last five minutes were an indication of his game (and they were since he finished with 32 points), then he finally found his range at the Best of the South.
Frankly, I’m not sure how he’s been doing it here. Since many of E1T1’s primary weapons are at the Nike Global Challenge this week, the franchise called up Blakeney from the 16-and-under squad. For two days, he’s been playing with both the 16s and 17s.
“I just work,” Blakeney said. “With the 16s we’ve been winning (big) so I can rest. In the 17s, I just help any way I can.”
On Friday, Florida’s Billy Donovan trailed Blakeney most of the day. He had company, mostly in the form of assistant coaches. Florida, Clemson and Louisville are stalwarts on his list, while Kansas, Texas and Vanderbilt are newbies.
The attraction to Blakeney is that he scores. He drains it from deep, is beginning to score off the drive and he’s always been a good shooter inside the arc. This is a simple game: Prove you can get buckets and they offer you big-time scholarships.
Sheffield enters lock high-major status
Being AAU teammates with a pair of ESPN 60 prospects like center Daniel Giddens (Marietta, Ga./Wheeler) and small forward Jaylen Brown (Alpharetta, Ga./Wheeler) means you can grow into your role over time. Since the spring, 2015 small forward Marcus Sheffield (Alpharetta, Ga./Chattahoochee) has done as much growing as any prospect in the Southeast.
Sheffield is long, gaining strength and is a shot maker. His journey with Game Elite has been fun to watch. His peers, Giddens and Brown, earned praise throughout the season and it’s been deserved. However, Sheffield’s ascension is a story in its own. Physically, he’s less developed than his buddies, and that’s OK. Players with Sheffield’s skill level are the kind of guys you wait on, work early and watch evolve into first-tier high-major targets.
Recently, programs began making firm offers to him. Not “we like you” offers but “we want you and need you” offers. VCU, Clemson, Xavier, North Florida and Samford stepped up. He’s already visited Maryland and VCU.
Rising senior shooting guard Justin Gray plans to visit Harvard, Texas Tech and Stanford.
Who has a good kinesiology department?
Three-star 2014 shooting guard Justin Gray (Tampa, Fla./Berkeley Prep) will look back on the Best of the South with fond memories. His Florida Select team, laced with mid-level prospects, is one of the better squads here. Gray has been its most consistent performer and currently its best prospect.
Pushing 6-foot-5, Gray has ideal wing guard size, plus he’s athletic. What’s happened here is that over the last two days people have seen him enough to get a great feel for his game. Against the Southern Kings, he dominated the fourth quarter with his jump shot, passing and athletic finishes at the rim.
It was an eye-opening effort in front of Harvard coach Tommy Amaker. The Crimson learned about him three weeks ago and have put the press on ever since. Here’s the kicker: Gray, whose brother played at Cornell and is studying to become a doctor, has straight A’s in school and wants to major in kinesiology and become an orthopedic surgeon.
In addition to Harvard, Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith saw Gray and moved quickly. He will visit Harvard, Texas Tech and can you guess a third? Two points if you said Stanford. He’s in the midst of filling out his Stanford application. Oh, and Virginia is also interested.
In this business you don’t run into many 6-5, athletic wanna-be doctors, so you tend to remember the ones with those dreams.
Dancing with this Star
I’m telling you, the big guys have the best personalities. They just do. Noah Dickerson (Atlanta/North Atlanta), a 2015 center with the Georgia Stars, is a great example.
In the seventh grade, Dickerson took up dancing to help his footwork with football. He no longer plays football, but he’s still dancing. He’s done tap, ballet and hip-hop. And it’s seriously helped him. The 6-8, 255-pound Dickerson has very good footwork and you better believe he can move for his size.
The other night, he played against Giddens, a taller and more agile counterpart. “He’s athletic, but I have the footwork,” Dickerson said.
Georgetown sent an assistant to Suwanee this week, and the Hoyas have been recruiting Dickerson harder than anyone. In the “how’d that happen?” department, Dickerson said he’s good friends with Dikembo Mutombo. “His daughter used to go to my school,” Dickerson said. And with that little nugget, John Thompson III becomes the early favorite for this nimble 2015 center.
Tip of the cap
• Eric Hamilton of North Gwinnett was suspended for a good portion of last high school season, but he’s making up for missed time here. Hamilton is a 6-7 combo forward with exceptional bounce, a mid-range jumper and a volleyball player’s approach to blocking shots at the net. Everyone has taken notice and he’ll be graded out as a high-end mid-major prospect.
• C.J. Jackson’s Charlotte Olympic high school team went 30-0 and won the 4-A state title in North Carolina last year. Jackson’s Aim High travel club provided the stage for him to shoot his way into a Division I scholarship. “I’m just trying to get better and get my education paid for,” Jackson said. The fearless guard doesn’t have size, but his shot-making provoked calls from Jacksonville, North Florida, Memphis and a few mid-level programs.
• PSB Select is not the most talented team in this field, but they win games. In fact, one could argue they are like a No. 15 seed in March. They don’t have size but they have shooters. Connor Burchfield, a William & Mary pledge, makes a lot of 3s. Davidson-bound combo guard Jordan Watkins is also an excellent shooter, but it’s been Watkins’ sticky defense that has stood out as much as his crisp perimeter shot.
Up next: Saturday should be fun. I’m heading over to the Elite 32 to watch Clemson and South Carolina 2015 point guard target Jawun Evans. After that, it’s back to Suwanee to finish up the Best of the South and take in a junior college event happening in the same building. I’m slightly more frequent with juco events than Halley’s Comet sightings.