Three of these players hail from the class of 2008, headlined by smooth swingman Mookie Jones, deadeye shooter James Southerland, and versatile combo forward Kris Joseph. There is some speculation that Southerland may reclassify to the class of 2009, taking an extra year of prep to ensure that his academics are in order.
The Orange also got a jumpstart on the class of 2010, landing Top 10 supertalent Dion Waiters, a 6-2 combo guard who has been likened to current NBA All-Star Baron Davis. The commitment of Waiters and Jones illustrates that the newly founded Syracuse Elite Camp is paying big dividends, as both players showcased their skills in the Carrier Dome last June.
In addition to attending the SU Elite Camp, Southerland and Jones both took part in the Reebok University camp in Philadelphia, PA in early July. Jones was named to the All-Star team after a very successful week in which he averaged more than 11 ppg and blistered the nets with >60% shooting from the field, all while playing only 18 minutes a game.
Southerland did not fare quite as well as Jones did, but he had several strong games, including a 13-point performance in the opening game of camp. That contest showcased his versatility on the offensive end, as he hit a three pointer, drilled a jumper from the elbow, scored on a putback, threw down an alley-oop, hit a pair of free throws, and made a baby-hook in the lane. It was quite an impressive and efficient display.
Southerland's major weakness at this point is just that - weakness. He's very slightly built and had trouble matching up with bigger and stronger players throughout the week. His offense often suffered as he wore down on the defensive end, as dead legs caused him to rush (and miss) shots. Although he appeared overmatched at times and showed poor shot selection when frustrated, he does look to be a solid long-term prospect, similar to a Preston Shumpert type of player who will blossom later in his career when given ample playing time.
Mookie Jones, on the other hand, appears to be the type of player who can make an immediate impact. He is a smooth, fluid athlete who has great size for the 2 or 3 position in the SU lineup. With his length and anticipatory skills, he could become a defensive demon at the top of the zone.
What struck me first about Jones is how mature and patient his game is; he never seemed to rush or force anything and always took good shots in the flow of the offense. He showed very good court vision and made crisp skip passes to teammates for open three point shots. He understands spacing and ball reversals and he ran the break extremely well and finished around the hoop with ease. In the two games I witnessed, he poured in a total of 24 points on a combined 10-16 shooting (1-2 3pt, 3-4 ft).
He repeatedly punished smaller defenders with mid-range post-ups, positioning himself on the baseline about 9 to 12 feet out, then pivoting, catching, and shooting turn-around jumpers in one fluid (and seemingly effortless) motion. At one point, he hit on three consecutive shots in this manner. He does a great job of keeping his shot release well above his head; at 6-6 he will be very hard to block with his quick, high release.
At this point, I would say Mookie's biggest weakness is his hesitation to take over a game and force his will on the opposition. In both games I witnessed, he had opportunities to take big shots at the end of close games, but instead deferred to teammates. He was unselfish almost to a fault. He is currently considered to be a top-50 level of player, but a more assertive outlook could certainly help improve his standing.
Another weakness that I saw was that he also doesn't seem to want to put the ball on the floor often, choosing instead to put pressure on the opponent with his sharp passing. While this can be a very important skill, wing players must be able to handle the ball to keep defenders honest. He didn't look to create his own shot off the dribble very often.
The most common comparison that I've heard for Mookie is "a young Kerry Kittles", but in my opinion Kittles had much better ball skills and better range at the same stage of development. Regardless, Jones has excellent upside and should be a fixture in the Orange lineup sooner rather than later.Photography by Daniel Langevin.