MDAA Practice Report: Day Three

OKLAHOMA CITY—Shaun Livingston's play again improved, yet was still spotty at times, but DeMarcus Nelson was nothing less than stellar in an abbreviated appearance during the third and final practice today in preparation for the McDonald's All-American Game on Wednesday.

For the third straight day, the West team spent a majority of its practice working on sets, both offensively and defensively, as well as out-of-bounds plays.

Shaun Livingston participated in all sets and plays, but due to a radio interview set up by McDonald's officials, Nelson was some 25 minutes late to practice.

Because of his tardiness, it looked as if it took Nelson a little longer than usual to get loose today, but he still shot the ball extremely well in the drills he participated in.

While Livingston wasn't very active again in some of the team drills, he had another outstanding practice shooting the basketball individually, routinely burying three-pointers and didn't miss a single free throw.

Despite the very regimented practice, there was a 20-minute or so intra-squad scrimmage in which DeMarcus Nelson and Livingston were on opposite teams, guarding each other at times.

Early in the scrimmage, on a pick-and-roll with Marvin Williams Jr. (North Carolina), Livingston missed his first shot over 6-foot-11 Robert Swift (USC), but on the next possession down made a brilliant pass to LaMarcus Aldridge (Texas), who lazily missed a layup, but then scored on his own putback.

Later, after a jumper by Williams, the Tar Heel signee found a cutting Livingston for a layup during a secondary fastbreak situation.

With Nelson guarding him, Livingston dropped a wicked bounce pass to Aaron Afflalo (UCLA) for a quick layup. He then missed a jumper over Nelson, which was corralled and scored by Williams.

Not to be outplayed, Nelson then started heating up, grabbing a rebound over Livingston and scoring on the putback. After a three-pointer by Daniel Gibson (Texas), Nelson scored again, this time on a 15-foot jumper.

Livingston subbed out shortly afterwards, pitting Nelson vs. Gibson, who got burned by the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder on a three-pointer to end the scrimmage.

"That was fun," said Nelson of playing against Livingston. "We're both good players, so it's always going to be competitive once two people go at it like that."

Even with all of the speculation about Livingston possibly jumping to the NBA, not everybody apparently believes the 6-foot-7, 175-pounder is headed there just yet. Although his own NBA stock has risen considerably, J.R. Smith (North Carolina) expects to see Livingston at least twice next year in a Blue Devil uniform for several reasons.

"It's a great program with lots of tradition," said Smith. "Coach K is a great guy and he has a lot of great players coming out of there. He (Livingston) just plays Duke basketball and is one of those guys that will win a lot of games."

NBA bound point guard Sebastian Telfair, however, had a different opinion on Livingston's future.

"I think he can definitely do it (play in the NBA)," said Telfair. "I bet he's going."

But to hear Nelson talk about Livingston and the decision he faces, puts it all in perspective.

"I think he truly wants to go to college, but I think it's just going to have to be a business decision for him," said Nelson. "If he's projected as a top five pick, I mean it's a business and you can't pass that up. I know in his heart he really wants to be at Duke."

Regardless, Livingston wasn't giving definitive answers on his intentions today.

"I don't know," said Livingston about his future. "Seriously, I don't. There's a lot that could happen between now and then."

While others stewed over Livingston, Nelson's performance today in limited time further solidified his reputation as one of the nation's top pure prep scorers.

"I thought I played real good today," said Nelson. "I got in the flow of the game real early and knocked down some shots and got my teammates involved. I hit the glass real good too."

No matter how he plays tomorrow night in the actual game itself, Nelson believes he made a statement with his play this week.

"Coming into this, I think people might have said, ‘Yeah, he's a good player,' but pretty much overlooked me," said Nelson. "Once I got here and really started showing what I can do and kind of standing out in a way, more and more people are focusing on me."

The McDonald's All-American Game is Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Notes:

*- NBA personnel flooded the gym again today. Pretty much the same crew as yesterday with notables Danny Ainge, Larry Bird, Danny Ferry as well as new faces in Kiki Vandeweghe (general manager of Denver Nuggets) and Bernie Bickerstaff (general manager and head coach of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats).

*- Bird seemed to be rather focused on Robert Swift. The big man had another spectacular showing today and will definitely be a mid first-round pick according to one NBA scout. But even though he's alleged to be a lock for the NBA, Swift doesn't sound so sure. "People talking about me going to the NBA is strictly opinion, not the NBA's opinion," said Swift. "I'm going to wait a couple of weeks. I might declare (for the NBA draft), but when it comes down to it I honestly don't know. It just all depends where I'd go and I don't know where that'd be right now."

*- When asked whether Detroit Renaissance's Malik Hairston would go to Kansas or UCLA, Sebastian Telfair said the 6-foot-6, 200-pounder should go to Louisville. He then went on to say, "They (Kansas and UCLA) both like to run up and down. They both throw the ball down the sidelines and like to shoot threes, but I think it's UCLA."

*- On losing to female Candace Parker (Tennessee) in last night's McDonald's slam dunk contest, J.R. Smith had this to say: "She was destined to win. She did some good dunks. I missed mine. She did a good job, especially dunking for a girl is hard period. When she closed her eyes that's what set it off."

*- Smith also chimed in on the recruitment of Hairston and believes he will end up at Kansas. Said Smith: "He'd fit in more there. UCLA already has Arron Afflalo, so you'd have two freshman battling each other and I don't think he wants that. If he goes to Kansas, he'd have a better chance of playing more."

*- Joe Crawford (Kentucky) came alive for the first time all week, hitting a few medium range jumpers and knifing to the hoop for several layups.

*- LaMarcus Aldridge really struggled for the second straight day, missing several shots from within 5 feet early in practice and later took himself out of the West team's intra-squad scrimmage to head to the locker room. Rumor has it that the 7-foot, 235-pounder is battling back problems and might have some sort of stress fracture. Nonetheless, he will still likely declare for the NBA draft, against the wishes of most NBA scouts.

*- Whispers of J.R. Smith and the NBA are still in their infancy, but it has created a buzz, most of which is reflection of the 6-foot-6, 220-pounder's sensational play this week. If promised to be a first-round pick, Smith indicated he would declare. Said Smith: "People say I can go, because I'm one of the most athletic guys out here. I want to go to college and that's what I'm looking at right now. But if the opportunity comes to me, I'll go, but right now I'm going to college. I don't if that (opportunity) is going to come or not, but I hope it does. If it doesn't, it doesn't, because I was still going to college anyway. But if the opportunity comes, it's a big bonus."

*- The struggles of Marvin Williams continued today, but he did have the dunk of the day. After catching the ball near the top of the key vs. Glen "Big Baby" Davis (Louisiana State), he took two hard dribbles to the middle of the lane, rose up body-to-body with the giant and then hammered home a right-handed tomahawk slam over a stunned Davis to a smattering of oohs and ahhs from teammates and NBA scouts alike. Said Williams of his dunk: "It happens. Everybody gets caught slippin."

Front page photo courtesy of Prep Sports Online


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