Jayhawk Invitational, Day 1
KC Pump N Run v. Nebraska Bison
Christian Kirk, 6'7 PF, 2011 KC Pump N Run
Kirk was easily the most impressive player in what was a fairly one-side affair. Kirk is a very fluid athlete that runs the court well and elevates nicely for a power player. No doubt a sign of the coaching he receives in the Pump N Run program, Kirk shows patience in the post to go along with solid footwork around the hope. Unlike a lot of 6'7 players these days, Kirk knows that his bread is buttered in the post and he rarely strays too far from the comforts of the block. However, when he does step out, his medium-range jumper is smooth, has a consistent release point, and shows good rotation.
While probably not quite a KU-caliber recruit, Kirk is going to be a very productive post player in his collegiate career, wherever he ends up.
Dream Vision v. Pray and Play Players
Perry Ellis, 6'7 PF, 2012 Pray and Play Players
Ellis put on a pretty good show for a packed gym at Haskell tonight, finishing multiple alley-oops and showing nice touch from the perimeter. Ellis finished the night with 25 points, but it was ultimately in a losing effort as Dream Vision held on for an 86-60 win.
Despite Ellis' impressive point total against a frontline that featured Angelo Chol and Winston Sheppard, Ellis rarely challenged that frontline inside. He hunted perimeter shots for most of the game, electing to face-up Winston Sheppard from outside as opposed to attacking him on the blocks. It's unfortunate that he seems to fancy himself as a SF right now, because he displayed nice touch around the rim and was able to score with relative ease on his few post-ups. It should also be noted that Ellis was surprisingly quiet in getting his 25 – both literally and figuratively. Ellis isn't one to demand the ball or be vocal on the court, which is surprising given his stature as the team's best player. He also had the chance to demand touches when Dream Vision was pulling away, but instead seemed somewhat passive throughout most of the game (if not all of it).
Despite the criticisms, though, Ellis displayed a high-level skill-set for a combo forward. He shoots the ball very well from the elbows and displayed good touch one a three from the corner. He's got good control over his body and the ball when playing from the outside in, but he's not yet able to make much use of his ballhandling skills. Despite quite a few chances to isolate Winston Sheppard, Ellis was never able to beat his man off the dribble. Ellis will be a high-major combo-forward and, if his motor ever kicks into high gear, he'll be an excellent one at that.
Winston Sheppard, 6'7 WF, 2012 Dream Vision
Until I get a chance to see Ben McLemore in person, Winston Sheppard takes the title of most athletic player in the tournament. At 6'7, Sheppard has phenomenal length, good speed, and surprising quickness – oh, and he can jump out of the gym. At this point, though, Sheppard's skills haven't quite caught up to his elite athletic talents. He handles the ball well, given his size and length, often showing glimpses of what scouts saw in Julian Wright back in 2004. Sheppard is a willing passer, if almost too willing at times, but he's also constantly looking for the flashy passes rather than the simple ones. Despite his insistence on high-risk jump passes, it's abundantly clear that Sheppard has good vision and very good control over the ball. As he matures, hopefully he'll start to see the simple passes just as well as he sees the flashy ones.
Despite the clear athletic gap between Sheppard and the rest of the players on the floor, he was unable to translate that mismatch into a big stat line. He only finished with 6pts and 4rebs by our count, though it's likely he did have a pretty high number of assists. Sheppard's jump shot is a definite work in progress, which is a major reason for his lack of points. Even though he's not a bad shooter, he doesn't appear confident in taking many jumpers just yet. Regardless, Sheppard is a no-brainer high major prospect at this point, given his size, athleticism, and potential as a wing.
Shabazz Muhammed, 6'5 WF, 2012 Dream Vision
By my eyes, Muhammed was the best prospect in the building all night. He dominated the Players squad with an array of lefty post moves and drives, while finishing with a bevy spectacular dunks (including one off the tip-off that set a clear tone for the game). Muhammed looked plenty comfortable playing on the wing, but he realized early on that his damage was going to be done in the paint and at the foul line. We tallied him with 33pts and at least 6rebs in the winning effort, all while only taking one shot from the perimeter (which he unfortunately missed). The majority of the damage came from Muhammed's devastating lefty hook shot from the low block. Setting up primarily to the left of the hoop, Muhammed perfected the hook over his right shoulder and scored at will against the overmatched Players. What impressed me most, though, was Muhammed's desire to dunk on almost any play within 5 feet of the hoop. Despite getting a few rejected, Muhammed attacked the shot-blockers with reckless abandon and the put himself on the line more than a few times, where his stroke is very good.
Until there is more evidence on Muhammed's long-distance jumper, there's no real way to tell how good it can be. He only took one shot from outside of the paint tonight and didn't take many in warm-ups either. Hopefully someone will be able to force him out to the perimeter before the weekend is over so we can get a good look at his mechanics.
All told, Muhammed is a very advanced 2012 player with very high upside. He's still predominantly left-handed (he virtually showed nothing going to his right tonight), but he was so dominant with his left that there was no need for the right side tonight. It will be fun to watch this young wing develop over the next few years.
Angelo Chol, 6'8 PF, 2011 Dream Vision
Another lefty, Chol was an intimidating presence in the middle for Dream Vision tonight. With him in the game, Pray and Play almost universally refused to attack the rim. With Chol on the bench, Pray and Play got to the rim and scored with relative ease.
Long and lean, Chol shows great shot-blocking instincts and a set of ridiculously long arms. We tallied him with 15pts, 5rebs, and 2 blocks, but even that doesn't quite show just how active Chol is on both ends of the floor. Where I am somewhat critical of Ellis' lack of aggression and motor, Chol plays hard on every play. He goes after rebounds and blocks with his great length and surprisingly good timing. Even more impressive? Chol showed an ability to be effective while saddled with foul trouble. He altered shots by standing tall and using good body control to avoid fouls – something that's not all too common in AAU play.
Offensively, Chol shows a developing post game that features a fundamentally sound jump hook over his right shoulder and a nice turnaround shot over his left. He has soft touch around the hoop and looks comfortable with a bit of time to setup his man on the block. He even attempted one excellent spin move that won him a trip to the foul line – again, where he shows very soft touch and good mechanics. While Chol didn't take many jumpers (one or two, if any at all) in the game, he showed good form and touch out to about 15ft in his warm-ups.
With a good motor and excellent length, Chol is a top-shelf big man prospect in the 2011 class. Once he begins to develop his ability going right and his frame starts to fill out more (though he's not skinny now, he's got the shoulders to add some good weight), Chol should be a welcome addition to any high-major frontcourt.
NE Players v. St. Louis Eagles
Brad Beal, 6'3 SG, 2011 St. Louis Eagles (committed to Florida)
Though obviously we were disappointed that Beal's new running mate Ben McLemore wasn't in town for their first game, Beal was more than ready to put on a show by himself. While there seems to be some questions about his athleticism, a nasty tip-dunk seemed to put a few particular questioners in their place. Beal, while not outrageously athletic, is incredibly smooth all over the floor. He's fluid going in either direction (left or right) with a quality crossover and also gets off the floor easily for dunks and jumpers. Speaking of jumpers, have I mentioned yet how good Beal's is? If there's a better, more pure shooter in the country I'd sure love to see him, because Brad Beal's shot is just plain wet. It doesn't matter where he pulls up on the floor, his shot looks perfect. There is no wasted motion and his release is the definition of consistency.
Unfortunately for Beal, he did struggle a bit with the physical defense from the Players. While Beal is, as said earlier, a gifted athlete, he's not overly quick and struggled at times to create much separation from his defender off of the ball. At the end of the day, though, Beal showed plenty of ability to get his shot off against the hounding defense and his off-ball play is certainly something that can be improved with time and experience. It should also be noted that when his team needed him to make a run, he stepped up and delivered a handful of daggers in leading them to a 68-58 win.
There's no doubt that Florida's Billy Donovan got one of the elite members of the class of 2011.
Kaleb Tarczewski, 7'0 C, 2012 NE Players
The biggest player in attendance, Tarczewski was most impressive due to his athleticism and body control. For a 16 yr old at that size, Tarczewski moves fluidly from block to block and endline to endline. He looks very comfortable in his own skin (which can't always be said for young ones that big) and is already starting to fill out his excellent frame.
At this point, though, Tarczewski is still a raw post player. He scored 14, picked up 7 boards, and added in about 5 blocks, which is a tribute to how active he is on the floor.
Tarczewski was aggressive on defense and on the boards, showing a real verve for swatting shots. As most young posts do, he got in foul trouble relatively early and was hindered by the foul trouble through most of the game. The inside moves Tarczewski has are rudimentary at best, as he didn't really attack the defender on any of his post-up situations. Hopefully we'll see more post-up situations for him as the tournament progresses.
What Tarczewski does have, though, is an excellent stroke from the foul stripe. In fact, I'd wager that the majority of his 14 came from the line. For a legit 7'0 center, it's pretty impressive to see him shoot those shots with such ease and confidence.
All in all, it's really hard not to like the potential of this young big man. He's a legit 7'0 (and if not, it's really close) with long arms and excellent athletic ability.
Alex Murphy, 6'7 WF, 2012 NE Players
The last of tonight's player rundown is the skilled wing Alex Murphy. Coming into the event, Murphy was being billed as the next version of Kyle Singler, but I came away with a different view. Murphy's athleticism appears much better than Singler's, as Murphy elevates easily for power jams and moves fluidly and quickly around the perimeter – with and without the ball. Where Singler was very much a post presence with his good size (6'9), Murphy is more of the natural perimeter player.
Despite the hype and the obvious talent level, Murphy struggled to get into the flow of this one. His shot was off early from distance, and it appeared that Murphy was asked to stay out of foul trouble as best as possible (NE Players arrived with only 7 players). In fact, Murphy only took 1 shot in the second half by our tally. Despite the seemingly passive play, Murphy ran his team well and kept them in the game (they did lead until almost midway through the 2nd half). Brad Beal's shooting and the lack scoring from Murphy's teammates ultimately doomed them.
Hopefully tomorrow will see Murphy get more in the flow and start hitting his outside shot.