Dominic Artis, the 5-11 point guard who plays for the Oakland Soldiers, is going to commit to UCLA, sources are telling us. As Artis told us Friday, he will announce his decision the first week of August. And it's a harmonic convergence-type of situations – where UCLA is about to get a commitment from a prospect who is emerging as one of the best at his position in the country. UCLA coaches are definitely making him a priority in terms of being front and center at his games, with Head Coach Ben Howland and assistant Phil Mathews, who has been the lead in recruiting Artis (and the other Soldiers). If you want to draw some conclusions, they aren't as prominent at the games of other point guards.
They are continuing to watch Javan Felix, the 5-11 point guard who plays for New Orleans Elite. Felix told reporters Saturday that he intends to unofficially visit UCLA in August, but that might be too late since UCLA could have the verbal commitment from Artis.
Particularly interesting was the attendance of Shabazz Muhammad, the #1 prospect in the country and UCLA's prime target, at the game of the Soldiers. It's ironic that Muhammad, who is playing in the Adidas Super 64, went to vhis own high school, Bishop Gorman, which is the home of the competing tournanment, the Fab 48. The word that got around was that Muhammad was there to "check out his potential future teammates." Artis, after the game was standing near Muhammad, and when asked about his relationship, he said, "Shabazz? Yeah, we're friends." Muhammad's father, Ron Holmes, the former USC player, watched Kyle Anderson, the 6-7 point forward on the New Jersey Playaz, play, and we've heard that Anderson and Muhammad are friends and talking about playing together in college. Howland and Mathews were strictly in attendance for every minute of Anderson's games, and it's clear that he's become a high priority for UCLA.
Probably the other player that has emerged as a top priority for the Bruins is William Goodwin, the 6-7 power forward who plays on the Atlanta Celtics with UCLA-committed guard, Jordan Adams. Howland, Mathews and the third UCLA coach allowed "out," Korey McCray were in attendance watching the Celtics. Of course, you have to point out that McCray is the former coach of the Celtics.
At this point, it's not difficult to see the players UCLA is hoping will make up their recruiting class – Adams, Muhammad, Artis, Anderson and Goodwin.
If Artis falters, though, Felix is looking like a very viable option at point guard. He had a fantastic day Saturday, putting up 35 points in one game. We saw Felix for the first time in Indianapolis at the Adidas Invitational at the beginning of July and were really impressed. We asked a couple of national scouts about him, and the consensus was that he was a mid-major that would go higher because of the lack of point guards in the class. Having only seen him at one tournament we didn't necessarily want to second guess that assessment, but it didn't jibe with our opinion. Felix, from what we've seen of the point guard group nationally for 2012, is one of the best in the country. He possesses a few things that make him very tough to play against – being very strong on the ball, with a very good handle, and being able to combine a scorer's mentality compatibly with also a distributor's approach. He doesn't try to emphasize either, but let's the game decide. On Saturday, it decided to give Felix some scoring opportunities, and he took advantage of them. Not only does he have a good outside shot, he's a bit uncanny at getting into the lane and scoring on floaters. From what we've heard, the national scouts, really through no fault of their own because they hadn't seen Felix since he took his game to the next level, will be moving him up the national rankings. Reportedly he said Saturday UCLA and Texas are leading for him.
It's a great thing, then, that the point guard that is pretty certainly going to commit to UCLA in early August, Artis, also had a particularly great day. We weren't at the Soldiers' first game, but were told he scored 25 points and hit 7 threes. In the Soldiers' second game, against a talented Belmont Shore team, he was one of the key players down the stretch that secured the win. He took some ill-advised quick three-pointers in the beginning of the game, probably thinking he could continue his hot hand from the morning. But then, when his team needed it, he showed a flash of some very impressive defense and the nearly unstoppable ability to take his defender off the dribble and get into the lane. In fact, he probably should have been more selfish and do it more often. Belmont Shore had no one who could stay with Artis, and Artis started to exploit it in the second half, but, like a good point guard, he got his teammates involved, too (probably too much, in fact, when he simply could have gone to the basket with every possession). On the last possession of the game, with Belmont Shore down by 2 with 15 seconds remaining, the Belmont Shore junior point guard Ikenna Iroegbu, brought the ball up the court, and Artis got right up in him and forced Iroegbu to carry it, and the ref called it. It's clear that when Artis decides to make defense a priority he's a force.
Brandon Ashley, the 6-8 power forward for the Soldiers, who UCLA has as a top priority, showed why he's considered such an elite prospect. His quickness around the basket is what makes him so effective, while his skills continue to improve. He's taking the occasional three-pointer, and the stroke looks good. What was very impressive about Ashley is the heart and effort he shows in every outing. On Saturday he twisted his ankle badly, but refused to come out of the game. When the Soldiers' coach finally took him out, on the sideline he took about a minute, walked it off and then told his coach that he was ready to return, which he did. After the game he had a slight limp, and it was amazing that the kid, in a meaningless AAU game, showed so much competitiveness.
While UCLA would love to get Ashley, we're hearing that Arizona and Oregon are leading, along with Kentucky. But there is a slight sliver of light. Arizona, who is thought to be the leader, could get a commitment from Kaleb Tarczewski, a top 10 national post, to go along with Grant Jerrett, a top-30 national prospect, and that could make Arizona fall out for Ashley. Tarczewski is supposedly going to announce a decision in August, and it could come before Ashley makes his decision, even though Ashley is thought to be going public sometime in August, too. UCLA could become a contender for Ashley if, indeed, Arizona falls out.
Robert Upshaw, the 6-11 center who plays for Dream Vision, has looked a bit out of it in this tournament. While he still remains a post player with some tremendous upside, the word is getting out that Upshaw might have some issues. In Indianapolis, he sat out because of an injured pinky, while other players are playing through nicks all of July. Then, this week it's clear he's not engaged. Upshaw needs to realize that, when you're doing this in front of college coaches, the word gets out and it can sour programs on you.
A player, though, whose stock continues to improve with college coaches is Tyrone Wallace, the 6-4 guard who plays for Double Pump Elite. We've always thought that Wallace doesn't even realize how good he is and doesn't assert himself enough. He actually did assert himself Saturday in a game against Dream Vision, taking defenders off the dribble and getting into the lane to finish. He is one of those guys that has a great touch on floaters in the lane and he showed it. Wallace has said he intends to wait until spring to decide, and much of that, we've heard, has to do with wanting to see if there is going to be a UCLA scholarship offer for him by then. It will be interesting to see, once the other programs recruiting him put pressure on him to sign an NLI in November, if he sticks to it.
Zena Edosomwan, the 6-7 power forward who plays for Belmont Shore, held up fairly well against the long and springy athletes on the Soldiers. Edosomwan doesn't have the hops to compete with Aaron Gordon, the 6-7 junior power forward who was flying over everyone in their match-up to throw down putbacks. But Edosomwan had some moments, with a couple of nice moves and a few strong rebounds.
Xavier Johnson, the 6-6 forward for Dream Vision, has also had a good tournament so far. He was hurt the first half of July and looked out of sorts, but has shown much better in Vegas. Instead of forcing threes, he's taken them when he has a look and is in rhythm, and he's knocked them down. And then he's been very effective driving to the basket, and posting up smaller defenders, which is his game. It's taken him a while to get in sync playing with Muhammad on Dream Vision, but he now has, and it's clear to see the type of prospect he is regardless.
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, the 6-3 lead guard for Indiana Elite, had a bit of a frustrating day playing against the Atlanta Celtics, but showed why he's considered an elite prospect, being able to over-power smaller defenders to get into the lane. Howland, Mathews and McCray were at his game, of course, when Indiana Elite played the Celtics, and Smith-Rivera kept glancing over at Howland.
Goodwin and Adams both played well Saturday. Goodwin is raw, but uses his athleticism and aggressiveness to be effective . As he develops more basketball skills, like footwork around the basket, he has a chance to be scary good. He's about 6-7 to 6-8 and probably 230 right now, and you could easily see him at 250 in college, able to guard any post while also being too athletic for opposing post players to defend. Adams has that old school game, which includes a good sense and passing ability to go along with that feathery shot. Perhaps the best sign for his future is that he's lost about 15 pounds since his high school season and is starting to get dedicated about getting in shape. Again, he's very young for his age, so he has a lot of physical development in front of him. Like we've said, what will be key for Adams is getting in good shape to improve his quickness, which will, first and foremost, enhance his defensive ability.
Kyle Anderson, of course, is very effective in AAU ball, being very skilled offensively. He plays on the ball for the Playaz, and is most effective with the ball in his hand, creating. He uses various little moves, hesitation and stutters, to get an angle and then get past his defender, and then he's so skilled he can pull up and softly hit the mid-range or cleverly take it to the basket. His offense isn't the question; the issue has been whom will Anderson guard on the next level. While you wouldn't say Anderson is a quick-twitch kind of guy, in Vegas he's shown enough quickness to be able to stay with some college small forwards. He'd also be able to guard most fours. So, in other words, while defense will probably never be a strength, he does have the tools to be an adequate defender. There's enough defensive potential there to keep him on the floor to take advantage of his unique offensive skill set.
We'll have more about the other players UCLA is watching in Vegas, particularly the younger prospects, in more stories to come.