There were some exceptional performances in Las Vegas at the Reebok Big Time, the adidas Super 64 and Main Event Tournaments that might not be on the radar of the typical bluegrass fan.
But the recruiting landscape changes so frequently, its often a good idea to stay in touch with other players as they progress, which is why I offer this up. Noted here are some players that caught my attention over the last several days. You may never hear of them associated with Kentucky (then again, you never know) but if their performance over the last several days is any indication, you will be seeing them on television making a difference for some team out there. Here they are in no particular order.
Left off this list, by the way, are players like Deon Thompson, Patrick Christopher, Josh Southern, Derrick Jasper and others that I have covered more extensively over the last few days. Some have some Kentucky ties past or present. Others I mention just because they stood out.
My favorite players
Of course everyone knows him. But you cannot cover a tournament without mentioning him. Is he better than LeBron James or Tracy McGrady as a high schooler? Not sure but he is simply fantastic. Saw him twice, scored over 25 both times. He was particularly deadly from the outside. What an incredible talent. Teammate Bill Walker was his usual stellar self as well.
Like Mayo, you can't see the Big Time tournament without checking out Oden. He has led his team to two Class 4A state titles with a combined 53-4 record and averaged 5 blocks a game last year. You gotta see this guy. Off the court he is as laid back and easy going as it gets. There were some pretty good centers in Vegas, like Kevin Love from Oregon. But Oden is in a class all his own. Only saw him once, but that's all it took. I'd rather not see Kentucky going up against Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA, if you know what I mean?
6-foot-3 2007 guard from Phoenix. I saw him in Houston at the Kingwood Classic. He was awesome once again. Scored 27 in one game - filled it up from everywhere on the floor. He is a phenomenal talent.
The Michigan Hurricanes were absolutely loaded with top players, even though they did not always play together well as a unit. Talent was not an issue with this team. Alex Legion, 6-foot-3 2007 guard is incredible as is teammate Tory Jackson, 6-foot 2007 guard. Tom Herzog has really improved since I last saw him, a 7-footer that is a tremendous shot blocker and surprisingly nimble around the basket offensively. But my favorite player from this team is Darquarvis Tucker, a 6-foot-4 guard that is explosive on the break and as tough defensively as you get. He is a thunderous dunker that loves to bang with the big boys down low.
6-foot-11 center from Bloomington, Mn. UK was in the mix for a time but lost a good one. Steady, consistent and solid in the fundamentals. Aldrich is a winner. Not flashy or spectacular, just darn good. Not Greg Oden or Kevin Love good, but good.
Late addition to Atlanta Celtics roster. Was not even listed on their program. Was the best big man on a great Celtics team. He has six blocked shots against a good team in the game I saw. He has a great turnaround short range jumper but looks like he may be foul prone. Still, a fantastic player. You may recall UK's on again, off again involvement with Brown. Some reports said he was offered by UK. Those reports turned out to be false and it may have been due to academics not being in order. He later submitted his name for the draft. There seems to be a lot of drama involved with Mr. Brown, but if he ever gets it all together, he is going to make some team a heck of a ball player.
6-foot-4 2006 guard that chose Washington over Kentucky. Wow, did we lose a good one. Saw him twice. He scored more than 25 both times. He was unconscious from the outside and the respect that defenders had to give to him on the outside opened opportunities for him to get into the lanes where he was also effective. It is easy to see why Tubby Smith liked Oliver. I watched a game sitting next to Miles Simon of Arizona. Simon was in awe watching Oliver knock down the shots. Romar got a good one.
6-foot-8 forward from 2006 class. This was perhaps the best shooting non-guard I saw in four days. Nelson is outrageous from the outside and as hard-nosed a player as they come. I was told he may have trouble qualifying but if he gets past that some team is going to get an awesome player. Nelson can flat out play basketball.
6-foot-11 from the 2008 class. Uses a short hook shot as a deadly weapon. Is way ahead of the curve for his age but needs developing. He will dominate the high school ranks in the next three years. Will be a top five recruit when all is said and done. UK seems to be tapping the west coast for talent, ala Deon Thompson, Patrick Christopher and Derrick Jasper. The Cats should think about getting in on this young man. According to Greg Hicks of Scout.com. Poling will be the next great big man out of the Pacfic Northwest after Kevin Love.
6-foot-9 center from Santa Margarita, a UCLA commit. Bruins scored with this young man. He has the whole package Kevin Love and Greg Oden are bigger and better but Keefe is not too far below in the talent department. Gets the job done inside and can step out and nail an 18-footer with ease. Plays for a California Division Championship Santa Margarita school that brought its whole team to Vegas. When you see them walk out on the floor they look more like they are heading to Mrs. Cleavers kitchen for milk and cookies with the Beaver, but they won every game they played through 5:00 Sunday, and Keefe was the primary reason.
The Southern California All Stars
Like the Michigan Hurricanes, they have so many talented players its almost embarrassing. And they lost two games, go figure. Chase Budinger may have been my overall favorite player at the tournament. He is not as good as a OJ Mayo but is really fun to watch and it's no disgrace to be one notch below a Mayo. He is the best outside shooter I have seen in a long time but loves to go to the hole. He brought the crowd to its feet with several alley oop thunder dunks. A cagey defensive player, creates steals while defending fast breaks and is a solid rebounder. He is comfortable in transition or in the half court. A very smart player whose worst trait appears to me to be that he looks so bored while he is doing it all. He is one superstar in the making. Teammate Kevin Love was the best rebounder in Vegas this week, bar none. He had more rebounds than Oden. A 6-foot-9, 270 lb beast. It is hard to believe he is as young as he is. He has great post moves and played as aggressively as anyone in the tournament. Is top 5-10 in his class. If Mayo wasn't in his class Kevin would have a legit shot at being the top prospect in his class. Love has said he is open to playing ball in the east. Duke and North Carolina have been recruiting him. Where is Kentucky? Other than Oden, Love was the best big man I saw in Vegas.
Shades of Stacey Augmon with a better shot. This 2007 6-foot-7 player has the entire package, speed, strength, grace and power. Extremely tough defensively, he has an uncanny ability to take the ball to the basket in the middle of the tall trees and finish a play. Great rounder. Great all around skills. Mentions UK and UK has checked him out before. Worth keeping an eye on.
May be the best power forward in Vegas but comes with what many would consider baggage. Reportedly he is 19 years old and attending prep school next year. His coach said he did not believe Davon would ever play college basketball, which would be a shame, because this youngster can play out play the power game, ala Kenny Walker.
Players on the Rise
Plays with Josh Southern and Larry Wright, two players mentioned in UK recruiting circles. As far as guards go, I thought Chase Simon was a much better prospect than Larry Wright, based on the two games I saw them play. Chase is a 6-foot-4 combo guard from Detroit Community. He is a silky smooth shooter and reminded me of Adrian Dantley to the degree that this young man knows how to get in the paint and draw fouls.
A 6-foot-11 center from the 2008 class from Alabama. Raw and in need of a lot of development but unbelievable potential. You will be hearing his name down the line.
6-foot-3 2006 guard I had never heard of playing for a R.E.A.C.H team that no one I asked had heard of. He was the best player on a Cinderella team that everyone expected to blow out of the gym but no one could seem to beat. Fun team to watch. Garrett probably made a name for himself. I know a lot of coaches were taking notice.
5-foot-8 2007 guard, teammate of Deon Thompson, from San Diego. He was an absolute bullet on the floor with big time hops which helps as he penetrates the lane and distributes he ball, mostly to Deon. I loved watching this young man on the floor.
6-foot-10 2007 center from Houston. Big time hops, big shot blocker. Alters many more shots than he blocks. Quite the presence in the paint. Big dunker as you may imagine. Needs some work on his passing and tends to shuffle feet when double and triple teamed, but tons of potential.
6-foot-3 2006 guard from Houston, teammate of DeAndre Jordan. Incredible first step to the basket. Tough defense. Saw him in Kingwood Tournament earlier in the year. This young man has improved.
6-foot-5 2006 wing from Illinois. Has the whole package. A smart player, will be an asset to any team. Already has a strong reputation as one of the premier players in Illinois. Looked great in the game I saw. If he keeps playing this well he will probably move from three stars to four stars in the Scout rankings.
6-foot-7 2007 SF, teammate to Perry Stevenson. An incredible athlete with serious hang time. Ferocious on defense and loves mixing it up with the big boys on the inside. One of those refuse to lose kind of guys every coach loves.
Improved a great deal since I saw him in Houston. His dad mentioned Kentucky still but his official list does not include Kentucky. His dad said he has grown 1-2 inches and is over 6-foot-9 now. Alex is a real presence in the paint.