This is a list of the top 50 players that I watched play over the course of the July summer camp and tournament circuit. I was lucky enough to attend the Nike All-America camp in Indianapolis, the Las Vegas Big Time tournament and the Best of Summer tourney in Los Angeles.
There were quite a few guys that I didn't get to see because of various reasons and I feel that it would be wrong to rank someone like Lebron James when I never watched him play (he was injured all summer). Some other guys that I didn't see: Brian Butch, David Padgett, Ivan Harris, Kendrick Perkins and Olu Famutimi, to name a few. Here are the fifty best players that I did watch play.
1. Charlie Villanueva, 6-10 WF, Blairstown, NJ-Unstoppable inside thanks to his 240-pound physique and athleticism. His post moves consist of one thing: trying to shatter the backboard glass on rim-rattling dunks. When he gets tired of dunking on his helpless opposition he steps out and shoots threes like a guard. He's also a strong shot blocker that runs the floor very well. Man among boys every time he sets foot on a basketball court.
2. Shannon Brown, 6-3 SG, Maywood, IL-Shannon recently committed to Michigan State and should become a star in East Lansing. Brown is a muscular slasher with a deadly outside shot with NBA range. Mid-range game is equally as potent and handles the ball very well when he penetrates.
3. Trevor Ariza, 6-8 WF, Los Angeles-Long and athletic combo-forward with shot blocking skills and a nice all-around offensive repertoire. Can shoot the three but is more effective taking the ball to the hoop and dunking. Above average rebounder on both sides of the ball. Gets a lot of assists for a forward as well. Needs to add about 15-20 pounds of muscle to get the most out of his game.
4. Luol Deng, 6-8 WF, Blairstown, NJ-No, this is not a typo. Deng and Villanueva actually ARE teammates at Blair High School. I can't imagine having two more versatile big men on the same court in the same uniform than these two. Deng is a small forward in a power forward's body. He can shoot from outside but does so less frequently than Villanueva. Deng can handle the ball exceptionally well for someone his size and has the body to come in and make an immediate impact on the college level.
5. Kris Humphries, 6-8 WF, Minnetonka, MN-Humphries orally committed to play at Duke in college and when he goes, he'll be bringing the most complete all-around game to Durham with him. Imagine Luke Walton with a jump shot. Though he's not as good of a passer as Walton is, he's equally smart on the floor and finds the open man. Humphries has a very mature body and loves to take the ball to the hoop. His intelligence makes up for his lack of game-breaking athleticism.
6. Ndudi Ebi, 6-9 WF, Houston-Ebi is an outstanding rebounder and shot blocker with perimeter skills on offense. The only problem is that even though he weighs a mere 190-pounds, Ebi has the potential to dominate inside with his quickness and post play. Instead, he chooses to hang out around the three-point line and fire away. If he'd mix it up more inside and throw in the occasional outside shot (instead of the other way around), Ebi would be the most dominant player in this class. As it stands, he still has the biggest upside.
7. Brandon Bass, 6-7 PF, Baton Rouge, LA-Monster down low on offense and defense. As a junior in high school, Bass averaged 13 rebounds and eight blocks per game. He can shoot it from 15-18 feet but his strength is on the box where he finishes with the best of them.
8. Mustafa Shakur, 6-4 PG, Wynnewood, PA-When I watched him he was hobbled by a hip pointer for the first two games but then broke out with a dominant 29-point performance in a loss. A natural leader that takes over only when the situation calls for him to do so. Content to let his teammates get involved and an above average playmaker, although not super quick. Can shoot from the outside, especially off the dribble, but he's most effective mixing it up on offense with drives into the lane for pull-ups and then coming off of screens for the three. Playing with other scorers will only elevate his game in college.
9. Chris Paul, 5-11 PG, Clemmons, NC-Will play college ball at Wake Forest and boy are the Demon Deacons getting a gem. This kid is the definition of smooth and he can shoot and score with the best of them while staying calm at the same time. He's a vocal leader who isn't afraid to mix it up on the glass. Playmaking skills are excellent and he is an explosive athlete with good ballhandling skills. He was dominant at the Nike camp and was the first player that I noticed.
10. Jackie Butler, 6-10 C, McComb, MS-The best center that I saw all summer. He plays the way a big man should by staying inside most of the time and scoring on high percentage shots in the lane and hitting the glass on both ends of the court. He is a decent shooter from mid-range when need be. The games I watched him play he was pretty focused and didn't float like his reputation said he would. Dominant rebounder and an NBA-level shot blocker.
11. Jeremy Ingram, 6-3 SG, Kinston, NC-Will join Chris Paul at Wake Forest to form one of the best freshmen backcourts in the nation come 2003-04. Ingram is a very good shooter with a pretty, high arcing shot that doesn't get blocked much. The fact that he's athletic and strong makes it easy for him to penetrate for scores also. He falls in love with the three but you can't blame him when he makes the majority of his attempts.
12. Richard McBride, 6-3 SG, Springfield, IL-A former high school teammate of Arizona-bound freshman Andre Iguodala, McBride will play collegiately at Illinois should he get his grades in order. McBride is an explosive scorer that gets it done in every way possible. He shoots the three very well, gets in close to the basket and has a great mid-range game to top it off. Don't expect much in the way of anything else, McBride is a designated scorer and he's very valuable, even if he is somewhat one-dimensional.
13. Travis Outlaw, 6-9 WF, Starkville, MS-Committed to Mississippi State earlier in the summer. This kid is an amazing athlete but he needs to add about 20 pounds to be a dominating power forward in college. His dunks are incredible to see and he has a very well-rounded game. As a junior, Outlaw averaged 18 points, 10 boards, eight blocks and six assists per game. His long arms enable him to challenge almost every shot near the basket.
14. Tack Minor, 5-11 PG, Houston-No one takes over a game like Tack Minor does, that much I became sure of right away after watching him play. Unfortunately, Minor tries to take over the entire time he's on the floor and his playmaking skills suffer for it. Has a reputation as a head case but most likely he's just an ultra-competitive kid who gets frustrated easily. When he takes the ball to the hoop, he is about as aggressive as I've ever seen. His stop-me-if-you-can style of play is impressive but he needs to harness the aggression when he gets to college so his teammates don't strangle him for not passing.
15. Lodrick Stewart, 6-4 SG, Seattle-The left-handed Stewart twin is a better shooter and equally as hyper-athletic as his brother, Rodrick. Very, very quick and very good with the ball in his hands on offense. Rebounding is not a problem for this muscle-bound freakishly athletic kid but playmaking needs work. Very fun to watch.
16. Rodrick Stewart, 6-4 SG, Seattle-The other half of the rich man's version of the Craven twins, Rodrick is everything that Lodrick is but not quite as good of a shooter. Rodrick is an intense competitor who takes pride in not letting his man score. Try to get to the hoop on Rod and you'll find yourself on the ground because layups are against the law in the Stewart household. Again, a freak of an athlete.
17. Andrew Lavender, 5-7 PG, Columbus, OH-I have no idea how he manages to put up such eye-popping point totals for a guy his size but he does it. Lavender is very quick and a tremendous ballhandler and uses the combination of those two assets to light up the scoreboard. Who am I to say that he won't be able to duplicate what he's done in high school on the college level because of his size disadvantage?
18. Gary Forbes, 6-5 WG, Brooklyn, NY-His stock is skyrocketing after a brilliant summer. Forbes was very impressive when I watched him, especially taking the ball to the hoop for scores. He has a number of dunks after driving past his man and into the lane. Add to that an above average outside shot and what you have is a multi-threat scorer. Classic "slasher with a shot"-type player.
19. C.J. Anderson, 6-5 SF, Cincinnati-Another big time slasher/scorer. He doesn't have the same kind of outside shot that Forbes possesses, but it's effective when he uses it. Anderson loves to take his man off the dribble on the wing and then pull up at the elbow of the free throw line for easy mid-range scores.
20. J.R. Giddens, 6-5 SF, Oklahoma City-Similar to both Forbes and Anderson except Giddens is a better pure athlete. He's very smooth with the ball but he jumps out of the gym and dunks with authority. Kansas got a star when they landed a commitment from Giddens.
21. Courtney Sims, 6-10 C, Dedham, MA-Quietly goes out and puts up 15-20 points and 8-10 rebounds per game. Sims is pretty slim but makes up for his lack of bulk with good hands and coordination while running the floor like a wing. Nearly automatic around the basket and doesn't make many mistakes. Quick off of his feet and goes up immediately after grabbing an offensive rebound.
22. Gary Ervin, 5-11 PG, Brooklyn, NY-Great lift on his shot makes up for his sub-six-foot size. Ervin is lightning quick and a solid outside shooter with unlimited range. Not shy about taking over for his team when the time is right. Scoring ability is his greatest asset and because of it, has been one of the top players this summer. Committed then de-committed to Mississippi State and then tried to commit to Arizona before being told he needs to qualify first.
23. Chris Richard, 6-8 PF, Lakeland, FL-Billy Donovan secured a commitment from Richard to play for his Florida Gators in college. A true power forward, Richard is a big and strong kid who plays aggressively under the basket and finishes as well as anyone near the hoop. Good rebounder, too.
24. Longar Longar, 6-10 WF, Rochester, MN-A shot blocker that likes to play on the wing from time to time offensively. Longar is really a poor man's version of Ndudi Ebi but he's still a high-level player. Needs to add bulk once he gets to college but word has it that he'll struggle to qualify as he's still new to this country.
25. Brandon Bell, 5-11 PG, Flint, MI-Charlie Bell's little brother could double as his clone when it comes to appearance and style of play. Even at 5-11, Brandon finds a way to get involved in every facet of the game. He is a lights-out shooter from three-point range and he can break down his man off the dribble as well. A good rebounder for his size and a decent playmaker, too. Played mostly shooting guard in high school but has shown that he's capable of going to the point full-time once in college. Very impressive player and fierce competitor, like his brother was at Michigan State.
Best of the rest (26-50):
26. Jeremy Case, 6-1 CG, McAlester, OK-Great (not good, but great) shooter that can penetrate, too. Committed to Kansas.
27. Vakeaton "Von" Wafer, 6-5 SF, Lisbon, LA-Athletic and smooth wing with good scoring ability.
28. Churchill Odia Ehis, 6-3 PG, Lagos, Nigeria-Perhaps the best combination of a passer/playmaker I saw all summer. Only in America on a temporary visa so it's unclear as to whether or not he'll ever play college ball in the States.
29. Ayinde Ubaka, 6-3 PG, Oakland-Offensive game isn't anything special but his playmaking skills are. This pure point guard will flourish with other scorers around him in college.
30. Kenneth Harris, 6-10 C, Hammond, IN-Impossible to defend when he backs his man down in the post, mostly because he weighs a svelte 351-pounds. Good post moves and agility for a man his size.
31. Major Wingate, 6-11 C, Florence, SC-Shot blocker and rebounder with a good back-to-the-basket game offensively.
32. Sammy Mejia, 6-5 WG, Cornwall on Hudson, NY-Shooter/scorer that has played some point during the summer. Recently committed to DePaul.
33. Renaldo Balkman, 6-7 SF, Bradenton, FL-Athlete that hits the boards hard. Very impressive at Nike, where he always seemed to be making something happen.
34. Derek Raivio, 6-1 PG, Vancouver, WA-Deceptively quick and a super ballhandler (maybe the best of the summer that I saw). Can score from all over, especially outside, but needs 30 pounds minimum (weighs 141 right now) to be most effective at Gonzaga, where he has committed.
35. Reyshawn Terry, 6-7 SF, Winston Salem, NC-The newest Tar Heel is a nice all-around player who impressed at Nike.
36. Devon Evertsen, 6-7 WG, Phoenix-Needs only to add muscle and aggression to become a star. Big time scorer with NBA range on his shot also is an incredible athlete.
37. Omar Wilkes, 6-4 SG, Playa Del Rey, CA-Very smooth and explosive athlete capable of putting up a lot of points in a hurry. Will probably grow a couple more inches as his dad (Jamaal, 6'8) and 14-year-old brother (Jordan, 6'9) are pretty tall.
38. Ronnie Brewer, 6-5 WG, Fayetteville, AR-Another long and ultra-athletic wing that scores in bunches. Needs to add weight in college.
39. Shagari Alleyne, 7-3 C, Manhattan, NY-Awkward because of his size but is actually pretty skilled with the ball. Very slow but he's so tall that it won't matter in a half-court setting. Big upside.
40. Drew Naymick, 6-10 C, North Muskegon, MI-Part-time baseball player just committed to Michigan State for basketball. Thin but has the frame to add muscle. I liked his post moves and lack of hesitation once he got the ball in the post.
41. Scott Cutley, 6-6 PF, Los Angeles-Strong enough to play the four but not quite tall enough. Tall enough to play the three but not quite quick enough. Other than that, this big guy does everything well, albeit quietly as he is overshadowed by guys like Ariza, Hassan Adams and Marcus Johnson on his Westchester HS team.
42. Dashaun Lynch, 6-0 PG, Detroit-Very good quickness with solid handles and penetrating ability. Gets into the lane easily. Can score pretty well from outside, also.
43. Dion Dacons, 6-6 SF, Mouth of Wilson, VA-Played very well at Nike and showcased his athleticism and scoring ability. Strength is his defense, however.
44. Lamont Hamilton, 6-9 PF, Milford, CT-Strong inside presence that doesn't bother floating out on the perimeter. Good rebounder.
45. Marquise Kately, 6-6 SF, Winchendon, MA-Originally from the Bay Area, Kately will attend prep school in Massachusetts before moving on to Cal for college. Kately is a very smooth athlete that is a score-first-type player.
46. Torre Johnson, 6-7 WF, Milwaukee-If he ever gets a consistent shot, he'll be an outstanding all-around player. Solid rebounder with a good 15-feet-and-in offensive game.
47. Brian Randle, 6-8 PF, Peoria, IL-Randle was injured for most of the summer but when he did play in Las Vegas, he made it known why he was recruited to play at Illinois. Good inside player and a big time prospect.
48. Adam Morrison, 6-6 SF, Spokane, WA-The Gonzaga commit grew up admiring Larry Bird and now patterns his game after the Celtics legend. His shot has a very high release and it's most effective from mid-range. Also like Bird, he's a very good all-around player offensively.
49. Ekene Ibekwe, 6-9 WF, Carson, CA-After a good ABCD camp, he was woefully disappointing in Vegas and at the Best of Summer, most likely due to fatigue. There is no denying his upside and his potential but what's disturbing is his apparent lack of interest and tendency to float at times. Ugly shot needs work but he's a tremendous athlete otherwise. He's a great college coach away from superstardom…down the road, of course.
50. Chris Taft, 6-9 C, Brooklyn, NY-Needs a lot of work offensively but he has the size to make an impact on the next level. Post moves looked very raw in Vegas and he even managed to airball a few two-foot turnarounds against considerably smaller competition.
A similar rundown of the best from the 2004 class will follow in the very near future.
E-mail Ben Hansen at AZPointGuardU@yahoo.com