LAS VEGAS -- My annual goal is to see every kid who signs with the major Division I college programs. In a perfect world, I'd include half of Division I basketball and toss in all the mid-majors, too. That's the obsessive-compulsive in me coming out.
The truth is, it's a good summer if I've laid eyes on the best 200 high school players in the country at some point between April and the end of July. After arriving in Las Vegas on Friday after several days at the AAU Nationals and Super Showcase in Orlando, I'm getting close to knocking out my hit list.
Here are some nuggets from Friday’s action in Vegas.
No. 10 rising senior Myles Turner keeps improving his stock by displaying his inside-out big man skills.
Showtime for Myles Turner
No. 10 senior center Turner (Bedford, Texas/Euless Trinity) was awesome Friday. He made 2 of 3 from downtown in the first half and went on a shot-blocking tear that left onlookers either shaking their heads or chuckling. He was silly good. Jahlil Okafor (Chicago/Whitney Young) and Cliff Alexander (Chicago/Curie) -- the top two recruits in the Class of 2014 -- are more polished players and more physically ready right now. They’re tested and proven commodities. But two years from now? I think Turner’s upside is greater. We need to keep an eye on him to make sure he continues making the necessary strides.
Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford, Kansas’ Bill Self, SMU’s Larry Brown and Georgetown’s John Thompson III were in the stands. Ford has not missed one of Turner's games this month. Keep in mind that, before the summer, Turner specifically cited the Cowboys as a team that had been with him the longest.
After I had spent the previous three days at the Orlando AAU events, my plane landed in Vegas at 2:15 p.m. on Friday. By 3:15, I was front and center catching the tail end of a game featuring No. 5 senior Mudiay (Arlington, Texas/Prime Prep) and No. 2 junior Malik Newman (Jackson, Miss./Callaway), which didn’t turn out well for them. Mudiay told me he's visiting Kentucky for Midnight Madness, and, when asked which coaches he has seen the most this summer, he started with "Kentucky's staff." He wants to chop his list to five after AAU season is complete. SMU, Baylor, Kansas, Louisville, Texas and NC State were programs he rattled off. Stay tuned.
I didn't get to watch No. 18 senior point guard McLaughlin (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Etiwanda) on Friday, but I ran into him between games. McLaughlin was pretty noncommittal about his visit plans. He does have an official visit tentatively set up with USC for Sept. 7. He indicated that Indiana, Kansas and UConn, the schools on his list most distant from his home, could receive officials. UCLA, San Diego State and Gonzaga are also in the mix. Personally, I get the vibe that this one won't go five rounds of official visits.
I'd like to put this on the record. If I were an assistant coach, the last thing I'd want to have to say about ESPN 100 point guard Riley LaChance (Brookfield, Wis./Brookfield Central) is, "We could have had him." He's that guy who gets passed over and comes back and makes you pay. LaChance isn't just a shooter -- though he is a lights-out shooter -- he's also a playmaker and a tough customer. Marquette is the place he'd like to be, but he knows the Golden Eagles brought in a point guard in 2013 and have another committed in 2015. Timing is everything, and Marquette’s depth at the position doesn't favor an opening. Davidson, Drake and Missouri are on him the hardest -- Davidson and Drake deployed the big guns Friday afternoon -- and Oklahoma State, San Diego and Indiana State have also offered.
When Nothing But Net began warming up Friday, one guy surprised me. I had no idea No. 11 senior Vaughn (Golden Valley, Minn./Findlay Prep) was playing with that team in the Fab 48. It was past 10 p.m. Vegas time, and the lone head coaches in the gym were UNLV's Dave Rice, UCLA's Steve Alford and Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg. UNC had an assistant on hand.
Four-star 2014 shooting guard Nick Babb (Arlington, Texas/James Martin), the younger brother of former Iowa State standout Chris Babb, said Arkansas, SMU and Texas A&M are locks for official visits. Larry Brown and Mike Anderson were both in the building Friday afternoon.
Rising senior point guard Lamonte Bearden is a high-level mid-major prospect.
Here were three players I got to knock off the hit list Friday:
Robert Cartwright (Pasadena, Calif./Flintridge Prep), 2014, PG: The L.A. Rockfish are a real team with a real coach, a system, a plan and regular practices (shocking in the AAU world, I know). So you just knew their leader would be a player, and he certainly is. Cartwright is a vocal point guard who, for my money, is one of the best passers in the 2014 class. The kid has the ball on a string, and, although he changes gears nicely, it's his vision and pocket passes that are of the highest level. I'd say he's an average shooter for the position, but he’s definitely trustworthy to run a team at the high-major level. The fact that he took an elbow from a teammate in practice and has 18 stitches under his right eye only made me like him more.
Andy Enfield buzzed his game, and a slew of assistant coaches recruiting him were there, too. Frankly, it was shocking to see the lack of head-coach presence for a kid of this caliber this late in the calendar. He's a commodity at a position where misses can't happen. Stanford (the perceived leader), Harvard, George Washington, Lehigh, UC-Davis and Princeton like Cartwright, who feels as if he's the first choice at those programs. Others are also involved.
Lamonte Bearden (Germantown, Wis./Germantown), 2014, PG: By the time his game came around, it was 1 a.m. East Coast time and my body hadn’t adjusted to West Coast time, so I was a little woozy. But here it goes. Bearden has a speed gear, has room to improve his body, and can carve up the floor with his vision and passion. His decisions in transition are an area for improvement, and he copped to the weakness in a postgame interview. If you told me he would sign at a high-level mid-major school, I'd say that's perfect. Creighton, USC, Purdue, Belmont and Green Bay (offer) like him. He wants to officially visit USC (which is frantically evaluating as many point guards as it can), Creighton, Oregon State and Buffalo. He already has taken multiple unofficial visits to Green Bay.
Thomas Welsh (Los Angeles/Loyola), 2014, C: I’d seen Welsh before, but it had been more than a year. I can say this with authority because I've been around the country looking for bigs: Welsh has a high-major skill set, obvious size and clear weaknesses, and he should be a lock high-major priority. He has good touch, gets off the floor better than expected and seems to be improving at a good rate. He's not slow changing ends, but he’s also not exactly Tyler Zeller. I've watched so many high-major teams offer mid-major bigs scholarships this month that I can tell you Welsh is better than the vast majority of those players. That's why the lack of traffic at his game was astonishing. According to some coaches recruiting Welsh, California seems like a potential landing spot. He strikes me as a guy who is worth more of a fight for.
Up next: Saturday is pool play at the three major events in Las Vegas (adidas Super 64, Las Vegas Fab 48 and Las Vegas Classic). The plan is to begin the morning at the Super 64, see a few games and knock off a guy I need to do more work on. Senior center Makinde London (Thomson’s Station, Tenn./Summit) is on the docket for noon. Then it'll be time for 2014 center Ben Lammers (San Antonio/Alamo Heights) as I cross guys off the hit list. It’s very possible I'll do some serious driving from Saturday at noon into the night crossing Vegas to see players.