The lower profile teams, however, were relegated to playing at high schools and middle schools throughout Houston and we didn't them as much. Unfortunately, the number of teams and distance between gyms makes it impossible to see everyone. With that in mind, here's our take on the players we did get a chance to evaluate.
Kevin Love, 6-9 SO C Lake Oswego (Ore.) High. We're considering the idea of no longer writing about Love, because there isn't much more to say. How many different ways can you say he's the best prospect in the west regardless of class? He's not a great athlete – which may keep him from being in the NBA in a few years (along with the proposed 20 year-old age limit) – but he's incredibly skilled. He's added a nice stroke out to the stripe, to go with a very advanced low-post game. He's an outstanding passer – every coach you speak with wants to talk about his outlet passes. That particular aspect of his game isn't surprising since his godfather is Wes Unseld, one of the best outlet passers to ever play in the NBA. In addition to his advanced skill level, Love has all the intangibles you could want in a player – toughness, competitiveness, intensity – he's the whole package. Our favorite play of the weekend was Love catching a pass on a fastbreak at the top of the key, coming to a jump stop and threading the needle with a perfect bounce pass to a teammate cutting off the wing for a lay-up.
Kyle Singler, 6-8 SO SF/PF Medford (Ore.) South Medford. We were impressed with Singler last week in Las Vegas and he was even better in Houston. Singler plays with Love on the Portland Legends team and they're quite a tandem. In fact, we now have Singler as the #2 prospect in the west regardless of class. Love sat out the championship game of the tournament with an injury and Singler put on a show, leading the Legends to an easy victory. We list him at both forward spots because we think he'll be versatile enough to play small forward or power forward in the college. He's got the ball skills to play on the perimeter, but the size, and toughness, to play at the four as well. He can do just about everything you'd want a player to do on the court – shoots it, handles well, very good passer, rebounds in traffic, blocks shots, etc. He will be recruited by just about every top program in the country.
Spencer Hawes, 6-10 JR C Seattle (Wash.) Seattle Prep. Hawes is extremely skilled for a young big man, but his feel for the game is just as impressive as his skill level. He makes great decisions with the ball and doesn't force things, despite being easily the best offensive option on his team. His father and uncle were players and it looks like they've helped with his game – you don't see many young posts with his footwork and understanding of low post play. His outside shot makes him a tough matchup, as he can draw opposing bigs away from the basket. He rebounds with two hands every time and comes down with the ball under his chin and his elbows out. He is easily the most polished of the 2006 West Coast center prospects and he too has his choice of colleges.
Ameer Shamsuddin, 6-0 FR PG Portland (Ore.) Benson. The 2008 West Coast point guard class is starting to look like it could be pretty special. Brandon Jennings and Larry Drew, Jr. have already shown that they're among the elite prospects in the country and Shamsuddin was very impressive in the one game we saw him play. A good-looking kid with a very nice frame, Shamsuddin is long and quick with a young face. He looks to have a good feel, as he made terrific decisions with the ball, advancing it several times with passes in transition. He showed a nice shot as well. We want to see him some more, but he was very intriguing in the one game we saw.
Chase Budinger, 6-7 JR SF Encinitas (Calif.) La Costa Canyon. Budinger shot the ball very well for most of the weekend. The club ball style of play suits him, as he's effective in the open-court and can knock down jump shots when given time and space. We still have some reservations, though, based on what we saw in three high school games this season. In those games, Budinger struggled to get his own shot when closely defended on the perimeter. However, he is one of the top small forwards in the west and he'll play at the high major level.
Phil Nelson, 6-7 JR SF Keizer (Ore.) McNary. Nelson also shot the ball well in Houston, although he struggled to do much off the dribble. He's not quite as bouncy as Budinger, but is better laterally. Nelson has a tendency to lose focus at times and needs to work on his defense. When his shot is on his overall game improves. He seems to be more into the game when he's scoring. He's one of the top small forwards in the west for 2006.
Seth Tarver, 6-5 JR SF Portland (Ore.) Jesuit. Tarver played with the Portland Legends this weekend, after previously playing with the Portland Panthers. He's a great complement to Love and Singler. He's not a real scorer, but he does all the little things well. He's got a great body and he's a good, but not exceptional, athlete. His outside shot is improved from a year ago, but he's a long way from being a shooter. It takes him awhile to get his shot off and his stroke is still funky. But he now makes a decent percentage of shots and is at least somewhat of a threat from 15-18 feet. He's a very good defender and rebounder. With a better shot, he'd be hearing from programs all over the country. As it is, we think he still has a good chance to end up at the high major level.
Ray Hall, 6-10 JR C Denver (Col.) Mullen. Hall was out of shape when we last saw him a month ago and he played poorly. This weekend, he was in better shape and showed flashes of the ability that we've seen from his previously. He's not a real good athlete, but he's got a big body and he's surprisingly nimble. He's always had a great hands and he's a very good passer out of the post. As he tones up, he should become a better rebounder. Hall has high major talent, but he needs to dedicate himself to the game. If he does that, we think he can play in any of the high major conferences.
Drew Viney, 6-5 JR SF Villa Park (Calif.) High. One of the top wings in the west for 2007, Viney is not real well known nationally just yet. He plays for a somewhat low-profile club team and hasn't been seen much by national analysts. He's got one of the best strokes in the west for 2007 and he looks like a baby. He's still growing – not yet mature physically – so it's tough to project just how good he'll end up. He's a fairly good athlete, but he's not yet completely comfortable in his body. He may get more athletic once he matures. He's got a nice feel for the game and plays unselfishly. His intensity level could be a bit higher, as he has a tendency to drift to the perimeter at times. A great-looking prospect, though, and a likely elite, high major with continued development.