More McNuggets

It was not on the schedule, and probably for good reason, but Tuesday afternoon after a session with the media, the 2006 McDonald's All-Americans took the floor at Cox Arena for a pair of scrimmages. This was the first time this week for the West and East boys/girls to face each other. What we saw from the four Stanford signees gave us food for thought ahead of tonight's All-American Games.

Boys

After watching the twins battle against each other for much of three practices, it was both entertaining and educational to watch them work against the East squad.  That was the good news.  The bad news is that Robin Lopez and Brook Lopez took turns battling, for the most part, against Greg Oden.  The scene was reminiscent of the last time I watched the twins here on the campus of San Diego State, when they played against Oden during the USA Basketball Men's Youth Development Festival.  Both of the Lopez brothers had difficulty staying out of foul trouble against Oden last June, and Tuesday's scrimmage suggested that more of the same could transpire tonight.  Be prepared for the reality that you may not see a lot of minutes of Brook and/or Robin if Oden draws a load of fouls on them.

That is a problem not just for the Lopez twins and the Stanford fanbase anxious to watch them tonight.  It is the core problem facing the West squad.  It was interesting to see who West head coach Harvey Kitani trotted out for his "starting five" in this scrimmage.  You might look at the West roster, and in an assessment of pure talent put your best five players on the floor.  Brook Lopez would seemingly figure in that equation, certainly ahead of his brother Robin.  Brook is no defensive slouch, while his offensive versatility, skill level and smoothness is well ahead of Robin's.  Both brothers are raw relative to their future capabilities, but Brook is the much more well-rounded of the two.

Instead, this starting five took the floor of Cox Arena yesterday afternoon:

C Robin Lopez
PF Spencer Hawes
SF Kevin Durant
SG Jon Scheyer
PG Sherron Collins

Robin ahead of Brook?  That is counterintuitive, but once the two teams tipped off, it made much more sense.  The primary need for the West from their center position is to defend, as best as humanly possible, Greg Oden.  The West team will look to score from its other positions, but they started Robin Lopez in the scrimmage and may indeed start him tonight.  Robin is the West's best post defender, by a good margin, and he showed Tuesday how he hopes to defend Oden.  Robin did not front the 7'1" center and future NBA #1 draft pick; instead he played him from behind and put a body on him hard the moment Oden caught the ball.  Give the Lawrence North High School as little room as possible to move and keep him from asserting his strength advantage.  Robin did have one sequence where Oden had to receive an entry pass low, giving the Stanford-bound center the chance to close on him before Oden could initiate his move in the low post.  Robin blocked Oden's shot, but in a scene you may see again tonight, Oden grabbed his own offensive rebound and then quickly put the ball in the basket.

Whether or not this is repeated in tonight's game, the coaches frequently employed five-man hockey-style substitutions in Tuesday's scrimmage.  The "second five" for the West squad was a strong group, particularly blessed with size - four players listed 6'8" and over:

C Brook Lopez
PF Darrell Arthur
SF James Keefe
SG Chase Budinger
PG D.J. Augustin

Brook Lopez matched up with Oden several times during the scrimmage, and he had more difficulty (and more fouls) in an effort defending the nation's #1 player.  What was more interesting was how they matched up on the other end of the floor.  Brook employed his offensive shooting range as well as his quickness to beat the 260-pounder.  On one play, Brook took the ball against Oden with his back to the basket in the lane, and then made a quick move across the lane for a four-foot shot at the basket - drawing a foul.  Brook Lopez also took Greg Oden outside, shooting and draining a three-point basket over Oden.

Girls

The first five put on the floor for the West team in the girls scrimmage was also surprising.  We will see if the lineup is repeated tonight or not, but the nation's #1 center Jayne Appel was on the bench.  She subsequently played a lot of minutes, however, and showed that her standout post skills can score even against the super-sized East squad.  The East team boasts five of their 12 players on their roster at 6'3" or taller; in contrast, the West has just two players at that size.  Appel was able to rebound and block shots against the taller East roster, but that was not a big surprise.

What was more interesting was watching Appel's offensive range.  Something I have been following these last several days is Appel's jump shooting.  Though tabbed a center by Scout.com and most recruiting services because of her defensive and offensive prowess in the low post, the 6'4" Stanford-bound star describes herself as a power forward.  In the later stages of her high school career, she developed range to her jump shot in response to opposing teams double- and triple-teaming her in the paint.  Appel shot over 35% from three-point range as a high school senior, attempting an average of more than two from behind the arc per game.  In one AAU game last year, she made five three-pointers in a single game.  She has hit several shots from deep this year, but the closer I look, the more I am skeptical of this as mainstay for her offense at the next level.  If Tuesday's scrimmage was a preview of tonight's All-American Game, Appel has the green light to shoot and will take some shots behind the arc.  Watch for yourself to see how she looks.  She is not unlike Kristen Newlin, in her ability to face the basket as a 'four' on offense while also defending at a high level as a 'five' on defense.  She will make her share of shots from the perimeter, but I don't like the form.  Then again, there are a lot of girls who have poor form shooting from outside.  For the record, Appel had success shooting the ball in Tuesday's scrimmage.

On the theme of shooting, Appel's future Stanford teammate did not have a good day in Tuesday's 50-minute contest between the West and East.  Michelle Harrison had a very poor day shooting the basketball in the scrimmage, in sharp contrast to how she looked the previous three days in practices with the West squad.  Harrison has great form, which should keep her from enduring many cold streaks.  But she looked like she had some nerves in her first battle against the East roster.  That had to be difficult for her to experience.

One of Harrison's assets as a guard is her size advantage she offers in match-ups against players smaller than her at her position.  A 6'2" guard is a rarity in high school or in college.  Against the jumbo East squad, though, Harrison is in a very unfamiliar element.  She has to play some in the post, and she enjoys either no height advantage or sometimes a disadvantage.  Without size on her side, Harrison will make or break her McDonald's All-American Game legacy with her jump shooting.  Critics who say she was a "reach" for the game" will have ammo for their cause if she has a poor shooting night, and Tuesday's scrimmage certainly was poor.  She rushed a couple of her shot, and missed several that she hit all week in practice.  For her sake, you hope the scrimmage was an aberration and not a preview of tonight's game.  That would be truly disappointing.  The player I saw in Tuesday's scrimmage is not the player Harrison is capable of being.


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