Kingwood Classic: West Coast, Part One

There's a ton of talent in the Houston this weekend for the Kingwood Classic. Some of the top West Coast players in attendance include Reeves Nelson, Elijah Johnson, Garrett Sim and Jerime Anderson, among other prospects...

The Houston Kingwood Classic is loaded with talent. So much talent, in fact, that's it's impossible to see all the players you want to see. Even limiting myself to the West Coast, there are simply too many teams, and too many venues (spread out across the city), to get a look at everyone. With that in mind, here's my take on the players I saw Friday night and then for most of the day Saturday.

The top West Coast team at the tournament, Pump N Run Elite, got off to a rough start Friday night. The Pump squad was beaten by a good Georgia Stars team. While the Pumps have a terrific backcourt in Jerime Anderson, Jrue Holiday, Larry Drew and Elston Turner, Jr., the frontcourt is still very young. Reeves Nelson, and Travis and David Wear, are each going to be great players in the future, but they're still only in the 10th grade. So the Pumps need the backcourt to play up to their potential. Friday night, the backcourt struggled. Jerime Anderson was the only guard who played well, doing a good job handling the ball and playing solid defense. Larry Drew had a rough night and Jrue Holiday didn't play to his usual stellar standards.

But the Pump team bounced back Saturday and, as of this writing, it is still alive in the hunt for the championship. Jerime Anderson had a couple of very good games today, but the star of the team was Reeves Nelson. A physical and tough small forward, Nelson carried the Pump team during one critical stretch in a tight game this afternoon. Nelson is a very bouncy prospect and he loves to go in and get the tough rebound. His outside shot is solid, but still not a real strength. But what separates Nelson from some other young prospects is his feel for the game. Nelson has very good vision and he's a good passer. Drew has struggled in this tournament, as he's had trouble with turnovers and his game just hasn't been very sharp. After a lackluster game Friday, Jrue Holiday bounced back today. He plays with outstanding energy and he was all over the court at both ends this afternoon. The Wear twins have each struggled with their shots – they look to be rushing things at times against some older, elite athletes – but they've also played with toughness and competed well. A big issue for the Wears is just physical maturity. They're not yet quite strong enough to play inside against some of the older, stronger kids here. But they'll be fine once they catch up physically with some of these kids.

Elijah Johnson, 6-2 SO PG Las Vegas (Nev.) Cheyenne, is one of the top couple West Coast prospects at this event. He had an outstanding game this afternoon, when he put on a show and displayed all the aspects of his considerable talent. He's a great athlete, with explosive hops and quickness. He can blow by defenders at will, but also pull up for a soft, mid-range shot. And when he does get to the rim, he can finish strong against much bigger players. He's the best guard I've seen in the 2009 class – regardless of position – and he's got a chance to be one of the top few guards in the country. He's still very young, and he's got a long way to go until college, but his upside is astronomical.

Malcolm Lee, 6-4 JR PG/SG Riverside (Calif.) North, had a rough day physically. He suffered a scary injury in the morning, when he came down hard after a dunk attempt. He appeared to dislocate his pinky finger, but came back in after short break. Later in the evening, he suffered from severe cramps and was taken to the hospital. In between his physical problems, though, he played very well. He passed the ball extremely well and showed off his usual deadly marksmanship from well beyond the stripe.

Lee's teammate on Inland, Michael Snaer, also had a very nice day. Snaer, 6-4 SO SG Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde, is an unusually poised and skilled young wing. He's got a nice shot with range to the three-point line and he plays defense (not a given in these games). With continued development, Snaer has a chance to be one of the elite wings in the class of 2009.

Garrett Sim, 6-0 JR PG/SG Portland (Ore.) Sunset, is one of the best "unknown" guards in the country. He's not unknown in the west, though, as several West Coast programs have been following him around. Sim has an outstanding feel for the game and that feel is even more obvious in an environment such as this tournament. In a setting where way too many kids are making horrible decisions, turning the ball over and jacking up shots, Sim just plays the game the right way. He's got a lively body and he's a better athlete than some might realize. He's fast becoming one of our favorite players in this class.

Drew Gordon, 6-8 JR C San Jose (Calif.) Archbishop Mitty, is one of the very best athletes among the posts in the west. Gordon is a good shot-blocker and he loves to go backdoor for lob dunks whenever possible. His Oakland Soldier teammates, though, do a very poor job of getting him the ball in the post. He's had a couple nice little jump-hooks in the lane, but he doesn't get nearly as many touches as he should. Gordon's feel for the game is still coming along and he'll make some plays that have you scratching your head at times. He commits way too many silly fouls and needs to learn to play with poise and a better understanding of the game situation. However, Gordon's got a very good frame and considerable upside. He's still got a long way to go before college and he remains one of the elite posts in the west for 2008.

Demar DeRozan, 6-6 JR SF Compton (Calif.) High, has had a good showing in Houston. The elite athlete has generally made good decisions and showed good shot selection. He can sometimes get in trouble when he tries to do too much off the dribble, but his shot has improved considerably in the last year. He's knocked down several jumpers in the games we saw and, for the most part, played very well. With coaching, DeRozan has a chance to be an outstanding defender. His long arms and off-the-charts athleticism could serve him very well at the defensive end of the court.

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