INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Friday was one of those days that leaves me thinking, "Gee, isn't this I'm-getting-paid-to-watch-and-write-about-basketball gig a pretty good deal?"
A wonderful way to spend a day at the Nike All-America Camp:
Wake up . . . pound a TGIF buffet breakfast . . . lean against a gymnasium wall while watching a couple of hours of the 3-on-3 competition . . . spend two hours watching some of the best college players in the country (the likes of Rudy Gay, Shelden Williams, Daniel Gibson, Taj Gray and Shannon Brown) scrimmage while I'm also shooting the breeze with a bunch of the best guys in the world (NBA scouts and assistant coaches) . . . watch about 2 ½ hours worth of camp games, including a match-up of, arguably, the two quickest (and maybe two best) point guards in the national Class of 2006, Tywon Lawson and Sherron Collins . . . make the annual Nike Camp appearance at PF Changs in downtown Indy (OK, so it's not "authentic" Chinese food but so what?) . . . watch another three or so hours worth of camp games, including one of the best showdowns of July when Kevin Durant makes his camp debut, after wrapping up a week of summer classes earlier, against Spencer Hawes.
Yeah, life was good Friday.
Durant, the 6-foot-9 forward who spent the past two seasons at Oak Hill Academy and apparently plans to attend Montrose Christian in Maryland as a senior, got into town Friday in time to slap on jersey No. 125 for camp team Washington and take the floor for an 8 o'clock game against Iowa and Hawes.
In the end, Hawes' team won by 10 or 12 points but that's not what you care about, is it?
Hawes and Durant are easily the two most skilled big men in the Class of 2006 (notice I didn't write best big men in the Class of 2006; a fellow named Greg Oden is proud possessor of that tag) and both offered up heavy doses of those talents for all to see.
Durant started things off with a nifty turn-around jumper from the left baseline over the right finger tips of Hawes. But the Seattle Prep standout scored just as easily, in one of the few times when he was guarded by Durant, catching a lob thrown over the top of a fronting Durant, then spinning away from traffic and dropping in a left-handed lay-up.
Other observations: Durant is definitely quicker off the dribble on drives and away from the ball (offensively); Hawes is just as fast in transition; Hawes is a better defensive rebounder while Durant gets the edge on the offensive end; they're equally good mid-range shooters while Hawes is more consistent from deep (all the way to the 3-point arc); Hawes has more defined low-post moves; both are underrated passers.
Conservative analysis: Both are among the Top Five prospects in the Class of 2006.
Here's hoping they hook up again Saturday night in one of the camp's two all-star games.
Who got the better of their confrontation Friday afternoon? I wasn't as locked into their game as I was for the Durant-Hawes contest later that night. But it's almost as hard to separate the two point guards as it is to differentiate the two marvelously gifted big men.
Both are 5-10ish but size isn't going to be an issue defensively because both are such determined competitors who can lock into opponents with nice balance and strength while not doing an inordinate amount of reaching.
Both are also primarily penetrate-and-create (for themselves or teammates) players who jump shoot just well enough, and with just enough range, to keep defenders from completely backing off of them.
The only raps I'll offer now is that both are so confident in their ability to play at breakneck speed that they often blow into even the most congested of lanes and find themselves having to improvise to get out of trouble.
Regardless of the nit picking, both are lock McDonald's All-America choices next spring, as are, naturally, Hawes and Durant.
Other Friday morning, afternoon and evening highlights:
*Ryan Thompson (6-4, Lenape High in New Jersey), with one of the most fluid releases I've seen anywhere this week (Atlanta or Indy), was knocking in jumpers with almost laughable frequency during the 3-on-3 competition in the morning.
*Jerryd Bayless (6-3, Phoenix St. Mary's) continues to demonstrate why he's the best all-around guard prospect in the camp and easily second only to O.J. Mayo among guards national Class of 2007. I'm eagerly looking forward to their likely showdown (a la last July) during the Big Time Tournament in Las Vegas.
*Derrick Rose (6-3, Chicago Simeon) isn't too far behind Bayless, though. Let's keep our fingers crossed that camp administrators match Rose against Bayless in an all-star game Saturday evening.
*Jon Scheyer (6-4, Glenbrook North in Illinois) was outstanding in both of his games Friday. He nailed all of his open jumpers and hit a couple under duress, too. The future Duke Blue Devil looked much better than he did at any time during the five days of the USA Basketball Youth Festival in San Diego last month.
*The top shooting performance of Friday night was turned in by Patrick Christopher (6-4, Compton, Calif., Dominguez). The transfer from Mayfair High in Lakewood knocked in at least six 3's (of the deep and even deeper variety), got a couple of emphatic transition dunks and also continued to handle and pass well. He's one of the 10 best two-guard prospects in the Class of 2006.
*There were dozens of spectacular dunks, most of those in transition. But the most impressive bang of the bunch was turned in by Mike Washington, who took a hard dribble to the left to get an angle on Spencer Hawes and then flushed the ball before Hawes could get up his right arm in an attempt to block it. It got a "wow" out of me.
Frank Burlison, elected to the USBWA Hall of Fame in April, is Scout.com's National Basketball Expert and also covers basketball for the Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.frankhoops.com