MDAA Practice Report: Day One

Both Shaun Livingston and DeMarcus Nelson are in Oklahoma City preparing for the 2004 McDonald's All-American Game. On Sunday the West squad had their first official practice and <i>TheDevilsDen.com</I> was in attendance to speak with both future Blue Devils about a number of issues including the NBA Rumors that continue to plague Livingston. Apparently there is some good news for Duke.

OKLAHOMA CITY-- While Duke played its way into the Final Four, two future Blue Devil teammates began the first of three practices today at Oklahoma City University in preparation for Wednesday's McDonald's All-American Game.

Shaun Livingston and DeMarcus Nelson are on the West team, which spent most of its practice on shooting drills, but also had an intra-squad scrimmage for nearly 50 minutes. The East team features eight players 6-foot-8 or taller, including NBA lottery pick Dwight Howard, and NBA-bound point guard Sebastian Telfair.

But Livingston, who is often mentioned in the same breath as Telfair, never looked to be entirely comfortable during the scrimmage. The 6-foot-7, 175-pound played tentatively and by choice, spent a lot of time riding the pine.

"There were already a lot of ball-handlers out here," said Livingston. "I've just got to adjust to that."

Besides playing on a team loaded with backcourt players, Livingston said other issues affected his play as well.

"My feet hurt," said Livingston. "These new Iverson's (Reebok shoes) were killing me. I feel like I got a whole bunch of blisters on my feet."

Yet the good news for Blue Devil fans is that rumors involving Livingston and the NBA that have swirled in recent months appear to be untrue.

"I'm not talking to the NBA," said Livingston. "There's a lot of people talking about me and the NBA, but I'm not. There's a difference. I'm not talking to NBA teams."

When asked further about the NBA rumors, the Peoria Central High School standout reiterated such talk is purely speculation.

"They're not calling yet," said Livingston. "They may be calling my grandfather. I don't know. All I know is I'm not talking to them."

Nelson, however, had a tremendous day. He battled Detroit Renaissance's Joe Crawford and for the most part outplayed the Kentucky-bound 6-foot-4, 210-pounder.

"I thought I played well with him," said Nelson. "Our outside games are a little bit similar. We're big, strong guards that use our strength to get by people."

Early in the scrimmage, Nelson was fouled going to the basket and shot one free throw for two points, which he made. A few plays later, the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder connected on a 10-foot jumper, followed by a deep three-pointer.

Later, after having his shot blocked by Crawford, Nelson stole the ball from his counterpart and went the length of the court for an uncontested layup.

Offering a glimpse of his extraordinary passing ability, Livingston later threw an alley-oop to Nelson, who nearly threw down what would have been a highlight reel dunk. Still, in that split second and for the first time all practice, Livingston looked like his usual self.

"Towards the end, you started to see him come to play," said Nelson. "He threw some of his passes like he always does. That's Shaun, you know, he's going to get the basket and dish it off."

Besides LaMarcus Aldridge (Texas), Nelson was by far the West's top player today. His defense against Crawford was fundamentally sound, excluding three-point in which he got burned on a drive to the basket, and shot the ball extremely well from beyond the arch.

Despite his stellar play, Nelson insists today was nothing but another first practice.

"There's nothing to prove," said Nelson. "Everybody's just playing on pride. No one wants to come out here and get dogged or like bad in front of anybody."

Notes:

*- Countless NBA personnel were in attendance during the practice, including Larry Bird of the Indiana Pacers, who is the team's President of Basketball Operation.

*- Howard was impressive as usual, blocking shots to start the fastbreak, ran the court well and finished strong inside. He is definitely the game's most NBA-ready player, but Arkansas signee Al Jefferson's ability to score down low definitely turned some heads.

*- Telfair put on an absolute clinic at times today, routinely knocking down three-pointers, breaking down the defense and finding open teammates. Just in case the 6-foot, 165-pounder wasn't a top 20 pick before today, one NBA scout believes he is now a lock for the top 15.

*- Perhaps just as impressive was potentially NBA-bound 7-foot, 235-pound Aldridge of the undersized West team, which only has four players taller than 6-foot-8. He absolutely dominated his team's first 30-minutes scrimmage, dunking at least four times. Said Aldridge on his performance today: "I didn't play too good. I didn't get a chance to show my face up game."

*- Marvin Williams Jr. (North Carolina) was rather quiet during the West team's scrimmage. The 6-foot-9, 220-pounder had lots of trouble scoring on 6-foot-8, 325-pound Glen "Big Baby" Davis (Louisiana State) and that likely cooled his chances of jumping straight to the NBA.

*- Rudy Gay (Connecticut) definitely made some noise during the East team's scrimmage. He made a couple of 15-foot jumpers, rebounded with passion on the offensive boards and might even have a three-point shot. The 6-foot-9, 215-pounder badly outplayed Josh Smith (Indiana) and whispers of the NBA are now beginning to be attached to his name.

*- After a slow start, 6-foot-6, 220-pound J.R. Smith (North Carolina) was absolutely stunning during the East team's scrimmage. But perhaps more impressively was the repertoire of dunks he was working on after practice in preparation for tomorrow's McDonald's slam-dunk contest. Don't want to give too much away, but he was sizing up the free throw line. Said Smith: "I've got a few tricks up my sleeve. It's going to be crazy, but it won't be that way to start off."


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