It was an exciting opening round of action Friday night at the Jayhawk Invitational in Lawrence, Kan., and several recruiting targets of Head Coach Bill Self and the staff at the University of Kansas took to the hardwood.
Phog.net was on hand, and is here with a breakdown of some of the action.
Perry Ellis - Class of 2012 - Pray and Play Players:
Up against a Dream Vision team that featured three high-level talents in Shabazz Muhammad, Winston Shepard and Robert Upshaw, Ellis found the road to be a tough one to hoe Friday night. Despite clearly being the sole focus of Dream Vision's defensive effort, he still managed to show why he's such a highly regarded prospect in the junior class.
With muscle packing his 6-foot-8 frame, Ellis looks stronger than last summer, and used that strength to great effect - particularly off the drive. Drawing defenders away from the basket and then outmuscling them back into the lane, though he had some trouble finishing he did frequently draw fouls in those situations. He canned a jumper or two, scored on the low block and played hard - but in the end Dream Vision was just too much for him to overcome alone.
If his teammates can start knocking down some shots in Saturday's action it will loosen some of the pressure off of Ellis and allow him to be more effective. As it is, he's swarmed almost as soon as he touches the ball.
Shabazz Muhammad - Class of 2012 - Dream Vision:
What else is there to say about Muhammad at this point? The guy is considered arguably the top player in the class for a reason, and though he didn't turn in a dominating performance Friday night he still showed a little bit of everything. He hit jumpers, attacked the basket for circus finishes, and impacted the game on both ends of the floor with his athleticism. A remarkable rebounder for a guard, he's more comfortable than most perimeter players operating on the low block, and it adds just another element to his already elite skillset.
Winston Shepard - Class of 2012 - Dream Vision
Shepard is one of the more intriguing prospects we've seen in the past two AAU seasons, simply because he doesn't really fit any mold.
He's grown since last year, and now claims to measure 6-foot-8. He's got the athleticism and ball-handling skills - particularly in the open court - to play the wing, but he doesn't have much in the way of a scorer's game or mentality. He does a lot of his damage in that regard in the paint and in transition. His passing instincts are top-notch as well.
That was sort of the book on him Friday night as well. He got open for a thunderous jam early, disappeared offensively for a while (though he was solid defensively matched up with Ellis), and then reappeared in the second half by cleaning the glass on the offensive end and finishing putbacks. He's a lot of fun to watch because he can do so many different things.
As an aside, his mother played college basketball for the University of Texas but was originally signed to play for Kansas. A death in the family caused her to re-evaluate and play closer to home, but Shepard said his mother speaks very highly of KU to this day.
Mitch McGary - Class of 2012 - SYF Players
McGary has long been a highly-ranked guy, but lately the buzz around him has practically been deafening. If every performance he turns in mirrors the one he did in the late game Friday night - a closely contested loss to the Compton Magic - it's not hard to see why.
At 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds, the Wolfeboro (N.H.) Brewster Academy big man is a load in the paint. He's got an outstanding frame without an ounce of excess weight. He runs the floor extremely well, handles the ball capable in transition and shows excellent passing ability.
The real eye-opener for us was just how complete his offensive game appears to be. McGary scored in virtually every way possible. His first bucket was a mid-range jumper, then the southpaw made a nifty move on the low block and swished a feathery hook with his right hand. He followed that with a three-pointer from the corner and a collection of putbacks, moves in the post and alley-oops in transition.
Not really an explosive leaper, McGary makes up for it with his strength and all that skill. If we had one nitpick, it's that he should be a better offensive rebounder at his size. Frequently playing the high post, he was content for stretches of Friday's action to float near the free throw line. On the defensive glass, however, he showed a nose for the ball and strong fundamentals.
Nino Jackson - Class of 2012 - Compton Magic
With Gabe York home sick, Isaiah Austin not making the trip and Tony Parker playing at another event, it was up to Jackson to shoulder the load Friday night for the Magic - and the 6-foot, 170-pound point guard responded in a big, big way.
Though official numbers were not available, Jackson - perhaps the most athletic and exciting perimeter player in the junior class - willed his team to a come from behind victory that went down to the final shot.
We saw Jackson on a couple of occasions last season, and the thing that immediately stood out was his confidence. Lightning quick with the ball in his hands, he was relentlessly aggressive against the SYF Players backcourt, getting to the rim at will and finishing a number of "and 1" opportunities. His handles were outstanding, he dished out somewhere between five and eight assists, he was a terror on the defensive end and he used his freakish athleticism to facilitate what would ultimately be the final momentum swing of the game - effortlessly elevating after a missed shot and slamming home a two-handed putback dunk in between two opposing defenders.
The one negative in his performance was his jumper, which was off target all night long. Jackson looked to be frustrated early and forced several guarded attempts, none of which found the mark.
Still, he more than made up for it with his player in virtually every other aspect of the game.
Other news and notes:
- Local 2013 standout Ishmael Wainwright will take to the court Saturday with Dream Vision, giving them another weapon at their disposal.
- 2012 Iowa prospect Peter Jok - listed on the roster of one of the All Iowa Attack squads in attendance - is actually with their team at the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League event in Dallas this weekend, as reported by Phog.net's Ryan Noel.