LeBron: Day One Report

LAS VEGAS — Saturday marked the first day of the annual LeBron James Skills Academy, and while games won't begin until Sunday the workout and scrimmage sessions featured intriguing head to head matchups.

Fewer than 100 players receive invitations to the Nike-sponsored event. Most of them perform under the Nike/EYBL umbrella, but others outside that network also are attending.

The event's namesake and two-time champion spoke to the campers on Friday night, further leveraging the event's credibility in the minds of the participants.

Saturday's skills portion organized players by approximate position, and among those groups the big guys easily commanded the starring role. The senior and underclasses are loaded with strong, very aggressive big guys, and the drills encouraged clutching, mauling and bullying in a fashion not typically observed on a basketball court. Most everyone answered the bell, and some took a ten-count after getting poked or stabbed at one point or another.

One guy you always can depend on to stir the pot is Angel Delgado. He's not the most talented guy here but consistently succeeds against bigger, more skilled opponents. His rugged, confrontational style and ardent rebounding make him a difficult guy to evaluate. To wit, how will his max-effort style translate to college, where the competitive level is much more ferocious than in high school? That question can't be answered until later, but he'll always be effective to some extent. Adding a more dynamic offensive package is his next step.

Cliff Alexander has trimmed some of his unnecessary weight from the spring — he was slightly chunky back in April — and his play has improved accordingly. He's another very physical insider and enjoys hammering dunks and foes to the ground. Alexander isn't a dirty player but also doesn't shy away from intimidating tactics, and along with good hands and skill he remains a national elite.

Interestingly, the rising junior big men demonstrated more polish than many of their elders. Ivan Rabb tends to shine more on defense than offense — as most young big men do — but he utilized an impressive up-and-under move on several occasions to score on Saturday. His improved footwork will make him a constant threat to Stephen Zimmerman (our No. 1 junior, and not attending) and others for the top spot in the Class of 2015.

Scoring buckets also comes naturally to Diamond Stone. The junior center has a jump hook and shooting stroke that's accurate (if not textbook) to 17 feet. He also utilizes his height to snag offensive rebounds for buckets and to block shots on the other end of the floor. Most importantly in this setting, both he and Rabb responded positively to physical challenges issued by players a class ahead of them.

And then there's rising sophomore Thon Maker, who doesn't have much strength and weighs more than 128 pounds less (322 to 194) than the same-height Elbert Robinson. But Maker nevertheless scrapped and caused numerous problems inside due to his quickness and length. He fought for position and usually lost, but the effort showcased outstanding defensive potential. He simply needs to put on weight.

But Goodluck Okonoboh was the most impressive shotblocker on Saturday. He challenges everything and has become such a menace that he's exacting a mental effect on opposing teams, particularly guards who like to attack off the dribble. Okonoboh blocks shots straight up but is even better as a helpside blocker, recognizing mismatches and positioning himself to react quickly.


The perimeter players didn't get after it as did their taller counterparts, and ideally they'll step it up on the next couple days. Nevertheless, a few prospects did stand out and warrant mention here.

No one can dispute Malik Newman's ability. The junior guard has been sensational for months and doesn't appear to be on the decline. He didn't fully assert himself during Saturday's scrimmage but scores so diversely and effortlessly that even a quiet day speaks to his talent. He lofted in a couple gorgeous mid-range jump shots and also knocked in at least one three.

Also quiet, yet also effective, was Rashad Vaughn. He didn't shoot well during drills and frankly doesn't possess a classical release — he doesn't appear to finish his shot off his index finger, which typically causes inconsistency — but is a true gamer. He buried one deep three almost casually and also used his strong shoulders to penetrate the lane and finish via a spin move.

Point guard play, however, was largely ineffective. Too many guys either blended into the scenery or else exercised liberal shot selection rather than involve their teammates. The campers received a scolding following the day's workout about selfish play, and the floor generals were the most frequent culprits. There were exceptions, of course, but let's hope those prospects match the effort expended by the big guys on Saturday.


Don't expect any dramatic recruiting updates from Myles Turner anytime soon. The now-elite big man has adopted a closed approach to his recruitment, and his list — now cut from approximately 60 to 25 — obviously includes many schools that won't receive visits.

But while considering a 25-school list narrowed in any meaningful way seems silly, it actually makes sense. New schools are jumping in all the time and the Turner family want to manage the process cohesively, so a methodical approach may serve Myles well.

That said, he did cite three critical factors in his eventual college choice:

"First is player development, because that's obviously big for the NBA," he said. "I'm also concerned about academics and am very interested in psychology. The other thing is I want a close family relationship at the school."

Time will tell exactly how much each factor weighs into the decision, and he said by late summer he hopes to make another cut and to schedule official trips.

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