Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Top 10 lessons learned in Georgia
By Dave Telep
Last week, the second of July’s three open evaluation periods took me to three events in Georgia, where it was time to do work on players from the Southeast. The Best of the South, Elite 32 and All-American Juco Showcase had my full attention. The juco thing was fun, but I found that high school and grassroots hoops is more my speed.
Of course, that’s not the only thing I learned from my time in the Peach State. Here are my top 10 takeaways from July’s second evaluation period.
ESPN 25 center Juwan Durham is one of the nation's top recruits in the Class of 2016.
1. Durham is not taking this summer lightly
During July, the challenge is seeing as many of the rising seniors enough times so you can feel good about the evaluation and create reasonable expectations for them. However, your head is always on a swivel, pivoting just enough to see the next wave of underclassmen backing up the current crop.
ESPN 25 center Juwan Durham (Tampa, Fla./Tampa Prep) is one of the nation’s top prospects in the 2016 class and is thus two summers away from taking center stage. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take him seriously.
Durham is pushing 6-foot-10 and hails from the same high school that produced former Duke big man Casey Sanders. Durham should eventually be better than Sanders, who disappointed during his stint in Durham.
Length is always a premium item and Durham has it. The motor is also good and the upside is scary. Playing for Team Breakdown 16, Durham dominated his division. By this time next year, he’ll be a hot name.
2. Five noteworthy non-ESPN 100 big men
We told you before the summer began that the search for bigs would be exhaustive and lead to college programs at the highest level taking post players who would ideally flourish a level below. Actually, that happens every year, but this year it’s going to be more pronounced. The pool of rising senior posts is shallow.
However, here are five 2014 big men not ranked in the ESPN 100 who I liked last week:
Mike Gilmore (Jacksonville, Fla./Episcopal), PF, Each 1 Teach 1: Gilmore can stretch a defense. He didn’t quite capture the moment last week, but those in attendance saw the potential.
Phil Cofer (Atlanta/Whitewater), PF, Team Georgia: This guy is already off the board since he’s committed to Tennessee, but he needs to be mentioned in this group. Cofer is one of the best motor guys in the country.
Raasean Davis (Dallas, Ga./Paulding County), PF, Smyrna Stars: He’ll be in Orlando this week for the AAU Nationals, so we’ll scan the crowd to see who shows up to evaluate him. The coaches who are good at their jobs will do the homework and uncover a high-major sleeper.
Isaiah Wilkins (Norcross, Ga./Greater Atlanta Christian), PF, Georgia Stars: He’s a nice player with a face-up game. Ideally, he’s an Atlantic 10-level stretch 4-man, but he’s pulled early offers from SEC and ACC teams.
Jordan Sessions (McDonough, Ga./Eagle’s Landing), PF, Atlanta Celtics: This is a block player with no illusions of anything but banging inside.
3. Junior wings take center stage
I spent three days watching a trio of very good wing players from the Class of 2015. Each has his own signature and all three could wind up being top-25 players.
Jaylen Brown (Alpharetta, Ga./Wheeler), SF, Game Elite: He’ll probably be a small forward in college because of his build. It was his jumper that caught me off guard. Wow.
Marcus Sheffield (Alpharetta, Ga./Chattahoochee), SF, Game Elite: He’ll be one of the easiest guys in the class to recruit because he has grades and skill. Sheffield started out as a shooter, but now he’s a scorer, too. And just wait until he finds the weight room.
Antonio Blakeney (Orlando/Oak Ridge), SG, Each 1 Teach 1: The spring buzz turned out to be justified. He’s light years better than when I saw him in April. Blakeney is a high-level scorer from multiple spots on the floor.
Florida coach Billy Donovan was in town recruiting a number of players, but he had a chance to watch all three of these guys more than once last week. No other SEC coach capable of landing them had that access at the Best of the South. Why do I bring it up? Because the Gators are going to offer more than one of these guys a scholarship, and the head coach put in a week’s worth of breaking them down.
4. Evans is an exciting point guard
Right now, I can’t tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt who is the best point guard in the 2015 class. All I can offer up are candidates. And at the Elite 32, I added one to my list: Jawun Evans (Simpsonville, S.C./Legacy Charter). The South Carolina Raptors Elite are in good hands with this young man.
Evans is a speed guy and driver by trade. He throws beautiful, catchable, on-the-money passes. Clemson is all in and South Carolina isn’t far behind. Pretty soon, somebody else is going to figure this out as well.
5. Emerging out of nowhere
You love when good things happen to deserving players. At the Best of the South, a trio of under-the-radar 2014 players used the platform to cement their standing.
C.J. Jackson (Charlotte/Olympic), SG, Aim High: This sub-6-foot guard shot his way into Division I offers from Winthrop and Mercer. His team won the championship, the stage belonged to him and he earned the free ride to college he’s going to get.
Eric Hamilton (Suwanee, Ga./North Gwinnett), SF, Southern Kings: He messed up last season and was suspended for most of the high school campaign. He has things in order now and emerged as one of the elite athletes at the Best of the South. Hamilton might have been the hottest name to come from the B.O.T.S. travel squad. He guards the rim like a volleyball player protects his area at the net. He makes violent, athletic blocks.
Kobe Eubanks (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), SG, Each 1 Teach 1: Yes, his team won the Peach Jam two weeks ago, but at the Best of the South E1T1 was without UNC commit Joel Berry, Ohio State recruit D'Angelo Russell and Duke-bound Grayson Allen, who all went to the Nike Global Challenge. This was Eubanks’ chance to carry the load, and though he didn’t do it alone, he played much better when given more playing time.
6. Complacency has set in
Next winter, the best players in the country will wait for word from the postseason all-star games. Did they make it? Were they snubbed? Some of them will be upset. But the reality is they should be upset with themselves.
Unless you’re Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander or Myles Turner, there’s no margin for error. In my opinion, too many guys have taken their standing for granted this summer. Florida Elite’s coach benched his starting five one game in Georgia because they weren’t focused. All I’m saying is that if that call doesn’t come next winter, players better remember they had their chances to make an impression.
Rising senior shooting guard Justin Gray plans to visit Harvard, Texas Tech and Stanford.
7. Gray’s anatomy
Rising senior shooting guard Justin Gray (Tampa, Fla./Berkeley Prep) of Florida Select is more of a standout off the court than on it. I think in my 17 years covering recruiting, I can remember every kid who told me he wanted to major in kinesiology and become an orthopedic surgeon. That’s because Gray is the only one.
This 6-4 guard earned admirers during the first evaluation period, an by the time he hit the Best of the South during the second live period, Harvard’s Tommy Amaker had carved out two days to watch him. When a guy of Gray’s academic standing pops up in July, it’s a gift for programs like Stanford, Vanderbilt and Northwestern. Now let’s see who capitalizes. Harvard is the team to beat, but Texas Tech’s Tubby Smith snuck in there early last week as well.
8. Man on a mission
One of the fun guys to watch last week was 2014 guard B.J. Taylor (Orlando/Boone). He plays travel ball with M.O.A.N., which is an acronym for Man on a Mission. Well, Taylor is just that -- on a mission.
He’s not big or fast and doesn’t look overly athletic. What he does, in its simplest form, is get buckets. He’s kind of a mid-major version of D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera. You aren’t sure if he’s a point, lead or scoring guard, but every coach I talked to last week admired his grit. Taylor simply puts it in the net. You might say he’s on a mission to score.
9. PSB is like a mid-major spoiler
It’s March, you flip on your TV and there’s some 15-seed taking it to a 2-seed. Chances are, that 15-seed is running a system and burying 3-pointers. Well, on the travel team circuit, meet PSB Select, a team out of Charlotte, N.C.
The best player on the squad is rising senior Jordan Watkins (Charlotte, N.C./Providence Day School), an undersized guard headed to Davidson. Watkins smokes jumpers and doesn’t marry himself to the 3-point line. His running mate, 2014 shooting guard Connor Burchfield (Concord, N.C./Concord), finds that line and wears it out. Burchfield is headed to William & Mary.
We devote a lot of coverage to high-major prospects, but there wasn’t a single high-major player in the championship game of the Best of the South. PSB lost to C.J. Jackson’s Aim High team as shooting, discipline and structure prevailed in yet another event.
Think about this for a second. If the best players in the country are really motivated, why did the Best of the South final resemble the adidas Invitational title game? The week before in Indianapolis, the championship contest from the adidas Invitational -- an event that featured several elite prospects -- was played without a single high-major recruit.
It’s the little guys who are getting it done this July.
10. Juco isn’t my speed
Guys like Brett Swanson, Brad Winton and Jerry Mullens have the juco market cornered. They have a special road map, one that us high school recruiting guys don’t have. There were good players at Winton’s All-American Juco Showcase last weekend in Suwanee, Ga., but for me it was like entering a foreign country. I was only there for two hours, but things were happening quickly around me. Expanding your comfort zone is a good idea and I’d like to hit up another juco event, but these things should be left to the experts.
With that said, I didn’t need Mullens to tell me that the best juco player in the country is Cinmeon Bowers. That’s his rep and he certainly played to it. Bowers is a freight train forward from Milwaukee. Rick Pitino dropped a private plane in town to see him and then jetted out right after his game. Leonard Hamilton was there, too. Roadmap or not, Bowers is a bad boy and everyone knew it.