Sunday morning, Malik Hairston hopped on a plane with teammate Joe Crawford and headed to Oklahoma City so he could accomplish another one of his goals, participating in the McDonald’s All-American game.
The first day of festivities saw Hairston and his West teammates spend some time going over head coach A.D. Burtschi’s offense before holding an intra-squad scrimmage.
The two traded jump shots, transition dunks and showed off their uncanny knack for hitting the offensive glass. Basically, Hairston was his usual all-around no nonsense self and on a court of stars proved why he is so deserving of his considerable reputation. Hairston punctuated the short practice session with perhaps the play the day when he exploded off the right block on a fast break and threw down a ferocious one handed jam in 6-8, 325 pound behemoth Glen “Big Baby” Davis’s grill.
Hairston was unavailable for anything more than brief pleasantries after the practice session, but expect detailed comments following Monday morning’s practice.
TOP PERFORMANCES FROM THE FIRST PRACTICE
Looking for Sunday’s most impressive performer? Then look no further than the East’s Dwight Howard. Expected by many to be the #1 pick in this summer’s NBA draft, the 6-11 product of Southwest Atlanta Christian put on a dazzling performance. Matched up against the likes of Arkansas bound Al Jefferson and undecided Randolph Morris, Howard displayed some big time scoring tools.
Howard finished short jump hooks with either hand, exploded well above the rim for powerful jams and used his impossibly long arms to eat up rebounds on both ends of the court. He can be rushed at times, but when he takes time to survey what is going on and weigh his options Howard is simply unstoppable.
Too close to separate for the next most impressive performance were two of Howard’s East teammates. 6-8 WF Rudy Gay and 6-5 WG J.R. Smith each put on a display of basketball skill that was only surpassed by their jaw dropping athleticism.
The UConn bound Gay is easily the most improved player in the class of 2004 and many of the assembled throng of NBA scouts were taking obvious notice. A top flight athletic specimen, Gay has built a diverse offensive game. He scores off of turnaround jumpers between 12 and 16 feet, attacks the rim off the dribble, goes to work on the offensive glass and has three point range. Basically, Gay spent his afternoon dismantling the much more highly touted, and NBA bound, Josh Smith on both ends of the court.
J.R. Smith, who is headed to North Carolina, put on a display that simply had to be seen to be appreciated. A powerfully built and explosive wing scorer, Smith tossed in high arching jump shots from as deep as 25 feet and clearly established himself as the early favorite for Monday night’s dunk contest. 360 degree windmill dunks, tip dunks, dunks in traffics and alley oops, Smith’s ability to finish above the rim is just plain absurd. He still doesn’t do a lot off of the dribble, but a nifty two dribble pull up was an encouraging sign.
On the West side of things Duke bound 6-3 WG DeMarcus Nelson had a tremendous scrimmage. He drained jump shots from the perimeter and used his unmatched strength to get to the basket against Joe Crawford on several occasions.
Also impressing was 6-11 C Robert Swift. Expected by many to throw his name into the draft in the near future, Swift is well on the way to helping his draft positioning. He showed surprising bounce and power around the basket and he has added a salty half hook from the baseline to his repertoire. There aren’t many natural back to the basket guys left out there, and Swift is one of the best of them.
D.J. White- The 6-8 BF from Tuscaloosa can’t arrive in Bloomington, IN fast enough. He’s a classic Big 10 power guy who gets after it on the boards, attacks the rim and relentlessly runs the court. Even though he gave up a few inches and several pounds to Randolph Morris, White gave him fits and wouldn’t let the big man accomplish much.
Rajon Rondo- Some questioned whether the slender 6-1 PG from Oak Hill Academy belonged in the Mickey D’s game, but why? Rondo had a sensational senior campaign and he might be the best PG in the class of 2004 not named Shaun Livingston or Sebastian Telfair. His body control in the lane and around the basket truly sets him apart.
Al Jefferson- Another of the rumored to be heading the NBA gang, the 6-9 Jefferson had a very productive day. He struggled with Dwight Howard, but that shouldn’t be held against him as Howard is simply on another level. His body is lean and mean and he is getting off the floor quicker than ever before as a result. He’d be best served by a few years at Arkansas, but has the shooting touch NBA guys like out of a 4 man.
Jordan Farmar- Fans in Westwood have something to be excited about in this future Bruin. There isn’t anything he doesn’t do well from his PG slot and he can be counted on to make the right decision. The 6-2 Farmar has a tremendous personality on the court and will surprise some people with his athleticism.
LaMarcus Aldridge- There are few big men who run the court as effectively as the 6-11 Aldridge does and he used that ability to finish again and again on the break. He’s added a little bit of bulk and wasn’t wasting time jacking shots from the perimeter like he’s been known to do. He’s got all of the tools to be a gifted player but needs to be taught how to use them, here’s hoping he ends up in Austin rather than the NBA draft.