Future Jayhawks Wet Feet at Mickey D's

For an elite high school basketball player there probably isn't a greater individual achievement than being named a McDonald's All-American. It's an exclusive club that only admits 24 new members each year and on Sunday three future Kansas Jayhawks got their first taste of the McDonald's experience.<br>

It was just a short practice, but for Mario Chalmers, Micah Downs and Julian Wright it was a glimpse forward to their freshman year at Kansas. Taking the floor for practice with their West teammates, the trio got a chance to feel out each other’s game and to start developing some chemistry that could come in useful next season.

For the most part the Sunday practice session focused on implementing offenses and defenses but there was enough action to allow a few observations.

CHALMERS, DOWNS AND WRIGHT ON SUNDAY

Mario Chalmers - The 6-2 ½ guard from the Great White North still has some work to do on the high school level as he’ll compete in the state basketball tournament when he gets back home to Anchorage, but on Sunday he was all business. Taking the court with a game that is as smooth and effortless as it is confident Chalmers looked about as good as a point guard can in such a controlled environment.

During shooting drills Chalmers drained one jumper after another and showed his quickness coming out of cuts. Where he shone brightest was during full court drills and a brief scrimmage because of his ability to get into the lane and score or create for others on offense and his dangerous hands -- although he will have to be more leery of getting burned by sure and quick handlers on the next level -- on the defensive end. Matched up primarily against Byron Eaton and Monta Ellis, Chalmers hit several short floaters and came up with several steals. He also provided the highlight of the practice when he crossed over Eaton and lofted a lob from the free-throw line to Downs who streaked in from the left wing for a soaring two handed flush.

“I think if you shed yourself of the usual expectations for a point guard and accept him for what he is, a big time scorer and maybe not a playmaker for others first,” said PrepStars.com’s Rob Harrington. “He’s got an argument as the legitimate number one point guard in the country if you evaluate him based on this class.”

Micah Downs - After the practice session Downs admitted that he was very aware of the numerous NBA executives hawking his and the rest of the burger boys every step. However, the 6-8 swingman also made it clear that his priority is preparing for his freshman year at Kansas. As for his on the court performance, the first workout featured both ups and downs.

Perhaps the most notable observation with Downs is that he has added 15 pounds. Some of it is muscle and some of it is natural maturity but the added strength was evident as Downs lowered his shoulder and forced his way into the lane at times. From the perimeter he’s got an effortless jump shot and is almost automatic when he squares himself to the bucket. On a few occasions he rushed to get his shot off resulting in some stray shots and he also suffered from a bit of fumbleitis. On defense he was tested as he was forced to match up with guys like Martell Webster, Eaton and Ellis.

“He’s same smooth athletic scorer that we saw last summer but now he’s stronger,” said Harrington. “To be the star he ultimately can be he still must answer questions about his consistency. I’ve thought all along he was one of the ten most talented players in this class and there is no doubt in my mind he can be that, but it’s tougher to project what he’ll do because he doesn’t always produce the way you’d expect.”

Julian Wright - Not surprisingly the lanky 6-8 forward from Chicago had no troubles fitting in on the first day. His outgoing personality allows him to develop chemistry with others quickly and his versatile game makes sure that he can help out in any situation. Wright showed nice touch on one dribble pull-ups from either elbow but as usual it was his activity all over the court that allowed him to stand out.

Never afraid of using his athleticism and length to his advantage, Wright consistently found his way to the glass for tip-ins and authoritative rebounds. He found himself matched up with point guards like Ellis or Eaton on some trips, roamed the wings with Martell Webster and even traded elbows underneath the bucket with future North Carolina Tar Heel Tyler Hansbrough on a few occasions. He promises to be a lot of fun to watch throughout the week.

“If you watch Julian Wright shoot a basketball or even if you watch him walk five feet you wouldn’t be impressed,” said Harrington. “He’s gawky, his shot is kind of awkward but truthfully if he weren’t so herky jerky and he had a smoother jump shot Kansas fans would be wasting their time contemplating his career at their school. In terms of overall utility no player in the senior class measures higher, but the things he doesn’t have are more noticeable although not necessarily more important.”

OTHER NOTES FROM DAY ONE PRACTICE

Here’s hoping that the coaches, particularly for the East, are happy with the offenses and defenses that they installed on day one. Clearly you have to have some type of system installed and you have to make sure everybody is on the same page, but at the same time this game is about the players involved and letting them display their talents. Once the game starts things are going to break down anyway so it will be interesting to see if the practices over the next couple of days feature more opportunities for the participants to really test each other in a full court setting…Not surprisingly the NBA was well represented during Sunday’s practice session at Indiana University South Bend. In fact, NBA types easily made up more than 50% of the spectators….

Moving on to some quick day one observations, future Duke center Eric Boateng has added some muscle but he still looks to be more advanced on the defensive side of the ball….Perhaps a bit weary from last week’s trip to the Roundball Classic, Byron Eaton looked a bit heavy legged on Sunday. He struggled to find the range on his jumper and was also the victim of several larcenies courtesy of Chalmers….Despite missing much of his senior year due to an ACL injury, Andrew Bynum was pretty impressive. He isn’t necessarily explosive off of the floor, but he does elevate well and the seven footer seems to hang in the air for a while and has noticeably improved his touch from 6-10 feet….Monta Ellis still needs to add overall mass, but there is no doubt that the 6-4 PG/WG has put on some more muscle. Perhaps even more impressive is the speed at which he moves up and down the court and no matter how fast he plays or how quickly he moves he’s always under control and finds a way to launch effective jumpers….

No matter who you cheer for or what style of play you enjoy you simply have to enjoy watching Tyler Hansbrough play. He defines intensity and seems to take a sadistic pleasure in contact around the basket. There is no way to really explain it unless you have watched him play on a regular basis, but dude is intense. Just imagine your stereotypical after-school special on fraternity hazing: You know, the scene where some unwilling pledge is paddled while shouting, “Thank you sir, may I have another.” Now, imagine Hansbrough as that pledge -- but the difference is that he actually means what he’s saying….


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