1. Trevor Ariza, 6-8 F ‘03-Pump ‘n Run (CA)-Through three games, Ariza has averaged 24.7 points, 8.0 rebs, 3.7 asts and 2.0 stls on 28-52 shooting. Even though the impressive Pump team blew a 52-30 halftime lead against Donyell Marshall RAP to lose 86-83, Ariza was dominant for the third straight outing. His athleticism, length and rebounding ability make him one of 2003's top 10 prospects in the view of this writer. Ariza is considering UCLA, Florida, USC, UNLV and Maryland.
2. Sebastian Telfair, 6-0 PG ‘04-Juice All-Stars (NY)-He has an aura about him that no one else here in Vegas possesses. He's the star and he knows it. Oh, and he plays like it, too. He is more than deserving of the acclaim he receives. It's just too bad the kid (like most NYC point guards) can't shoot. He was 5-17 from the field this morning (2-9 on threes) but he has good form. His problem is that he tends to rush his shot. He will never have a problem with getting shots because he can create space for himself as well as anyone not named Allen Iverson. Telfair is averaging double digit assists and only two turnovers per game.
3. Jackie Butler, 6-10 C ‘03-Southeast Pump ‘n Run (SEC country)-Butler is a monster in the post. He rebounds with tenacity and can finish near the hoop offensively. He stepped out a little this afternoon and even knocked down a three in the game's latter stages. He's not the shot-blocker that he probably will become with good coaching in college (if he goes, of course), but he is an intimidating presence in the paint defensively. Had an impressive game today when he scored 18 points on 8-13 shooting to go along with 15 boards. Mississippi State and Ole Miss have made sure Butler saw them and those two are probably his top two.
4. Brandon Bell, 5-11 PG ‘03-Michigan Mustangs-From last year to this year, perhaps no player has raised his stock as much as former Michigan State star Charlie Bell's younger brother. Brandon Bell had his coming out party with a tremendous Nike camp two weeks ago and has taken his game to a higher level here in Las Vegas this week. In his first game this morning, Bell scored 32 points and pulled down six rebounds. He has improved his shot and range dramatically from last year and today he was 12-22 overall; 4-9 from downtown. Pittsburgh, Marquette, Florida State, Miami and Butler are Bell's top five at this point.
5. Mustafa Shakur, 6-4 PG ‘03-Hunting Park Warriors (PA)-He played for about 15 minutes this afternoon at around 70% of full strength thanks to a nagging hip pointer injury. He makes his team run much more smoothly when he is on the floor. He scored eight points on six shots, including two threes. Also added three assists and only one turnover. It's too bad he's not at full strength here because a couple of ignorant parents of kids on other teams have called him "Tin Man" and "weak" when he can't play the entire game. People on the east coast have seen Shakur play enough to be comfortable with his No. 1 point guard ranking in the class of 2003. The West Coasters out here, however, are "skeptical" to say the least.
1. Jesse Holley, 6-3 SG ‘04-Newark Rams (NJ)-Attention: write down this name and memorize it. Jesse Holley is a star-in-the-making and almost certainly one of the top prospects from the loaded class of 2004. Holley matched up against Brandon Bell this morning and played him to a draw, scoring 26 points on 8-14 field goals (3-4 from downtown). It was his penetration and fade away mid-range jumper that earned most of his points as he got into the lane at will for most of the game. A gifted athlete with defensive awareness that most kids his age lack.
2. Jermaine Bell, 6-10 PF ‘03-Donyell Marshall RAP (NY)-A skinnier, better shooting version of former UCLA star forward Jerome Moiso. Bell has a great touch on a pretty left-handed jumper with range out to 18 feet. Around the rim he's almost automatic if he doesn't have a body on him. He's also a dangerous shot blocker with serious rebounding ability. If he puts on 25 pounds in the next year or two, he could wind up in the NBA long before many projected.
3. Rajon Rondo, 6-1 PG ‘04-Derek Smith All-Stars (KY)-Very impressive floor general with lights-out shooting skills from all over the court, especially behind the arc. Rondo had several prominent college coaches on hand to watch him play and they had to be impressed with his completely unflappable style of play. Pressuring him is simply pointless because, if anything, Rondo grows more calm and steady under duress and that's when he finds the wide open teammate streaking to the hoop for an easy bucket. The Bibby-esque "Ice Man" personality enables him to take and make clutch shots at crucial points during games. He had 28 points against highly touted DeMarcus Nelson on Monday night in a winning effort.
4. Dashaun Lynch, 6-0 PG ‘03-Team Detroit (MI)-Lynch is lightning quick with good ballhandling ability. Getting into the lane is easy for this little guy with big time range on his jumper. On Monday afternoon, Lynch scored 12 points before halftime against a much better Pump ‘n Run (CA) team featuring guards Omar Wilkes and Bryce Taylor. For the game, Lynch scored 23 points, including a number of three-pointers.
5. Kirk Walters, 6-10 C ‘03-Michigan Mustangs-Having a breakout performance in Vegas this week. Already Walters has grabbed the attention of Arizona's Lute Olson, Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Michigan's Tommy Amaker, among others. After watching him today, I can honestly say that this guy is a legitimate Hidden Gem from up north in Grand Rapids. Against Newark this morning, Walters scored eight points (on 4-5 FGs), grabbed ten rebounds and blocked five shots in just over 20 minutes of action. He is very solid on the glass, particularly on the offensive end. He has explosive leaping ability and was a state high jump champion in Michigan. Amazing considering he is six-foot-ten! He had one dunk today where his eyes were level with the rim. Expect the phone to start ringing like crazy, Kirk. Before coming to Vegas, his top five consisted of Central and Western Michigan, Bowling Green, Marquette and Kent State. "Just a bunch of MAC teams, really," Walters said, as if he had no idea why anyone from a publication representing an elite college basketball program would want to talk to him. "I haven't had any calls from Arizona," Walters said. "but I know that they have a great coach and have been one of the best teams in the country for the last ten years or so."
6. Dru Joyce, 5-10 PG ‘03-Northeast Ohio Shooting Stars-Joyce runs the point for the most popular high school team in America: St. Vincent/St. Mary's in Akron, Ohio. Also known as Lebron James' team. With "King" James sidelined for the tournament with a healing broken arm, Joyce was able to showcase himself these past couple of days. Monday night he came out smoking, making his first six shots for 14 points in just over nine minutes of the first half. He played less than two minutes in the second half as his team wound up winning by 36 points. He's pretty small but he's very quick and has range out beyond NBA range.
7. Mike Williams, 6-8 PF ‘04-Southeast Pump ‘n Run-Williams joins teammate Jackie Butler to form a monstrous frontline. Opposing teams have little chance of competing on the boards when those two are on the court at the same time, which they generally are. Williams was one of three SE Pump big men to dominate Arizona recruit Ekene Ibekwe on Day One in Las Vegas, holding the top 50 prospect to just four points on 2-14 shooting and no rebounds. On Tuesday, Williams played sparingly in a lopsided win b