LAS VEGAS -- There's no better way to spend a day (of basketball) in Las Vegas than checking out leads and evaluating late bloomers. For me, Saturday was one of the best days of the month. Spending time crossing guys off the hit list is a recruiting nerd’s nirvana.
Here are some nuggets from Saturday’s action at the elite AAU events in Las Vegas: the adidas Super 64, the Las Vegas Fab 48 and the Las Vegas Classic.
Post-grad forward Kyle Kuzma is new to the big-time scene but is quickly picking up recruiting interest.
The new kid
My last game of the night was a major league drive from the basketball civilization of the main gyms at the Fab 48. The target: forward Kyle Kuzma, a 6-foot-8 relative neophyte to the scene. About 15 seconds into the game when Kuzma whipped a pass from the perimeter to a teammate, I got the sense the trip was going to be worth it.
The native of Flint, Mich., will be a post-grad this year at Rise Academy in Pennsylvania. As a high school freshman, Kuzma said he was 5-8. When he arrived at Rise, he was 6-5. He's a legit 6-8 now and probably not finished growing. Don't expect him to be a power forward -- this is a 3-man all the way. The stroke is quite accurate and he sees the floor like a guard (duh, he was a guard until the growth spurt). Kuzma, who turned 18 three days ago, said he left Flint to be challenged basketball-wise.
Before the game, I was told Connecticut offered. His list, which isn't much of a set list at all since he's in the process of hitting the scene, is lengthy. Texas A&M, Utah, Penn State, Arizona State, Seton Hall, Rhode Island, Oakland, James Madison, Miami, Missouri, Boston College and SMU are all in the mix. I know how far off the beaten path he played on Saturday night, so let's credit head coaches Herb Sendek (Arizona State) and Larry Krystkowiak (Utah) for making the journey. Assistants from Missouri, Oakland and James Madison were also there.
Francis was showing off
ESPN 100 guard Brandone Francis (Jacksonville, Fla./Arlington Country Day) is a lively personality. Every few weeks he has a game like he did Saturday afternoon at the adidas Super 64 just to make sure you don't forget what he can do.
The Florida commit scored on the blocks, made his jumpers and distributed. He had it working, and that means the whole package. When he's playing well he's usually chirping, and listening to him trash talk in English (which is the Dominican native’s second language) is pretty entertaining.
Expect the Florida Gators to put his talents to use in a variety of ways. His size will afford Billy Donovan the luxury of posting him up. From the post, Francis is a dual threat to score or pass. The game he played on Saturday was indicative of who he is. For a high school kid to jump on mismatches and pick a team apart in a variety of ways is uncommon. Francis isn’t always the most consistent guy, but he does a nice job of reminding you to never forget about him.
Spurs have two big men
Programs searching for 2014 big men should have seen the South Texas Spurs. Center Ben Lammers (San Antonio/Alamo Heights) is a thick area rebounder who can anchor a frontline as a second post player. Meanwhile, power forward David Wacker (Universal City, Texas/Judson) isn't as big but moves better and gives a slightly higher dose of skill.
Colorado and Texas A&M had head coaches in the gym for their final game on Saturday. Lammers is more of a half-court player with serious size and Wacker would be for teams that flash their bigs.
Lammers said Oklahoma and Kansas State are after him. Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory was also there, in addition to the Miami’s Jim Larranaga. "I try not to look at the coaches," Lammers said.
Wacker indicated New Mexico, Boise State and Nebraska are likely to receive official visits. Oklahoma State and Colorado have both offered and were repped by head coaches in the afternoon.
You knew Ray Allen Select would have shooters
One of the most fun teams to watch in Vegas is Ray Allen Select. Their leader is ESPN 100 point guard Riley LaChance (Brookfield, Wis./Brookfield Central), but for the past two days the big gun has been shooting guard Brady Ellingson (Menomonie, Wis./Hamilton).
I saw Ellingson make seven 3s in a game on Friday and watched him load up seven more on Saturday. I've also said the great shooters know what they shot during the season, and when I asked Ellingson his percentage he rattled it off like it was nothing: 51 percent!
Ellingson can shoot and pass, therefore earning him the tag of mid-major plus. Apparently, he's one of the most loyal dudes around because he could have gotten enticed by the big boys. Instead, he's loyal to his list. That means longtime perceived clubhouse leader Oakland, whose head coach Greg Kampe was there on Saturday, is in good shape. Ellingson said Oakland, Albany and UC-Davis have been on him the hardest. However, he insisted he'll take all five official visits. South Dakota State, Brown, Ball State, Northern Colorado, Vermont, Drake and The Citadel are all for him taking more visits.
In case you were wondering what a shooter of his caliber does to keep his shot sharp, the answer is he keeps it simple. Every day he goes to the gym and his father rebounds for him. He doesn't have some souped up trainer or shot doctor. He's old fashioned and it's about getting up shots with pops and doing it religiously.
Rising senior Makinde London is a battle between production and potential.
Who is Makinde London?
When I saw four-star 2014 center Makinde London (Thompson’s Station, Tenn./Summit) back in April, he wasn't matching up with the hype coming out of his recent performances. So on Saturday, I doubled back on him.
A solid throng of mid- and some high-major assistants filtered in to see the center. His body is the reason for the upside. He's a late bloomer where you have to gamble on the upside and size.
You can choose to look at London one of two ways. The first is as a big kid whose production isn’t matching up to the advance billing, but whose potential is intriguing. There was a game in Vegas where apparently he was sensational. Those who saw it are going on potential, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I’d be the first to tell you that he’s come a long way since April.
The second way of looking at him is through the context of production. Through that lens, he has a ways to go. There are flashes, like a post move for a bucket or a blocked shot, but consistency isn’t his calling card. He’s not stringing together performances that would require him to be a top second-tier target for the big schools at this juncture.
In short, he’s shaping up to be a recruit who will require nurturing and time. Given his size and makeup (everyone raves about him as a person), London will have every opportunity to win over more admirers.
Mississippi State's Rick Ray was the lone head coach for him at the game I saw on Saturday. Ray, like a number of coaches recruiting him, might be just as happy when his team loses so word doesn’t get out on him and those who have a lead on him are able to maintain their standing.
• Marquette kept an in-stater home when big combo guard and late bloomer Sandy Cohen (Green Bay, Wis./Seymour) committed to Buzz Williams on Saturday. The ESPN 100 recruit keeps the Playground Warriors pipeline humming along. Last year, three Warriors alums signed with Marquette.
• Rising sophomore guard Rawle Alkins (Middle Village, N.Y./Christ the King) is a physical specimen and his name will be hot among the Northeast programs. He competes and explodes off the floor, and it won't take long for him to be a high-major priority.
• The guy who continues to be hot is 2013 recruit Jamal Aytes. BYU's entire staff watched him early Saturday morning, and Arizona’s Sean Miller and Notre Dame’s Mike Brey snuck in as well. Because Aytes is a rare 2013 recruit still on the board, the chance to get a 6-6 blue-collar forward with a high-major motor is nothing to overlook at this stage.
• The crowd for ESPN 100 power forward Craig Victor (New Orleans/Findlay Prep), who I think is close to being ready to decide, read Arizona's Miller, Oklahoma State's Travis Ford and two assistants from LSU.
• ESPN 60 center Stephen Zimmerman (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) has probably had enough. He should already be in the clubhouse having posted a very good summer. He's out here giving an “A” effort, but the fatigue seems to be setting in. Arizona's Miller was the lone head coach for his early game on Saturday.
• Rising senior point guard Robert Cartwright (Pasadena, Calif./Flintridge Prep) was too intriguing not to see again, so I went back Saturday after watching him on Friday. He’s a high-major point guard. He’s hard on himself out there and allegedly a maniacal worker. He shot it better on Saturday and USC’s Andy Enfield was watching. In my mind, he’s a bona fide top 75 caliber player in this class and a surefire backcourt pillar in a good program.
• File this away in the late bloomer category: LaDamion Keys (Bogalusa, La./Bogalusa), a 6-8 forward in the 2014 class, has the physical tools but the body is in progress. He'll likely sign with a strong mid-level program and have a great run. Louisiana Tech's Dusty May was there on Saturday. Keys listed UTEP, Auburn, LSU and Louisiana Tech.
• I found another motor guy in 6-4 power forward Jaylen Barford (Jackson, Tenn./North Side) of D13 Elite. He’s a bull. If he can shoot, he didn’t show it on Saturday. Regardless, I love him for who he is: an undersized mid-major warrior with a motor.
Up next: Sunday is the final day of the July evaluation period. I’d be lying if I didn’t come clean: I’m fired up for the last day of the period! I miss my kids, wife, dog, bed, office, recliner, gym, breakfast spot, lunch spot, dinner spot -- you name it, I miss it. The plan for Sunday is to shuffle around Vegas but begin with D.C. Assault and the Michigan Hurricanes at the Fab 48.