UCLA Take at Vegas Day One

We run across many UCLA prospects in day one of the Las Vegas triumvirate of tournaments, including Alex Stepheson and Deon Thompson, who had a big day. Also, there is a truly elite 6-8 sophomore emerging...

It was a good first day in terms of UCLA recruiting at the various tournaments in Las Vegas Friday.

Some of the recruits UCLA is scouting had decisive days – either looking particularly good that it was bound to get UCLA more interested, or not very good.

Here was our itinerary for Friday:

Early in the morning, we went to the game of the Oakland Soliders/Shakur Village to watch rising junior 6-8 post Elijah Holman from Richmond (Calif.) High, and elite rising sophomore post, 6-8 Drew Gordon, from San Jose (Calif.) Bishop Mitty.

Holman looks like a Praying Mantis, with a long, skinny body and long arms. He looks like he's still growing, and a source close to the Soldiers insisted that he'll end up 6-9+. He's still getting control of his body at this point, and might be the kind that never ends up a real, go-to offensive guy, but has a good chance to be a high major defensive post and rebounder.

Drew Gordon. That's the name that should be emblazoned on everyone's psyche who follows west coast basketball recruiting. Gordon is probably among the top four prospects in the west regardless of class (the others would include Spencer Hawes, Kevin Love and Kyle Singler). He's an excellent athlete, with great springs and great lateral movement, and is a monster around the basket, looking to dunk everything and getting off the floor quickly, while also possessing a natural feel for post scoring.

Don't panic, UCLA's Head Coach, Ben Howland was in attendance. It was the second game of the day – the first day of competiton in Vegas – and Howland's presence proves just how big-time Gordon is. In fact, since his breakout performance at the ABCD camp, UCLA has been showing attention to Gordon, as much as they can for a rising sophomore. I'm told that he's a smart kid, who did just okay academically his freshman year in high school, but his parents take academics seriously. His father played at San Diego State and knows the drill, so most close to the situation believe that Gordon will be fine academically down the line.

Next was the game of Toronto Mission, featuring 6-10 post Jamie Vanderbeken, from Belleville (Ont., Canada) Quinte School. After watching Vanderbeken float through the Nike Camp and never post up, I was curious to see if he'd do so here, when facing less elite competition. He did, but not aggressively at all, and he just didn't show aggressiveness or real effectiveness in any part of his game Friday. I would suspect UCLA will continue to scout Vanderbeken, but he'd have to make a considerable comeback after Friday for the Bruins to be on him seriously. In the gym watching was Howland, along with coaches from Oregon State, Cal, Minnesota and Pepperdine, among others.

The Las Vegas Prospects were next, featuring 5-11 senior point guard Marcus Lawrence, from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, and Luke Babbitt, the 6-7 sophomore from Reno Galena. Also, coincidentally, in attendance, again, was Howland. Lawrence played solidly, showing strong handle and ability to run a team. Babbitt had some miscues, but again showed his length and ability for scoring around the basket.

I then caught a bit of the Utah Pump N Run game, with Daniel Deane, the 6-8 senior power forward from Salt Lake City (Utah) Judge Memorial. No UCLA coaches were in attendance, and Deane didn't do much, still tending to float outside on offense to look for face-up jumpers.

On to the Pump N Run #1 game, and somewhat of a disaster. The #1 Pump team got blown out, starting out the game 17-2 and never really recovering, getting out-played and out-worked by a team from St. Louis called Gateway. The Pump team doesn't have good guard play, and lacks the wings that can score, which hurt its post players, who generally played okay. Among those post players was 6-8 Alex Stepheson from Studio City (Calif.) Harvard-Westlake. While his team was getting blown, Stepheson played well, rebounding hard, scoring around the basket, and showing a good move to the basket from the top of the key on one possession.

In attendance was UCLA assistant Ernie Zeigler, along with coaches from Washington, USC, Arizona (newly-minted Wildcat assistant Miles Simon), Connecticut and Georgia Tech.

I then got a glance at EBO, and it's array of talent, which includes Derrick Jasper, the 6-4 point guard from Paso Robles (Calif.) High, who had a few good moments. Jeff Withey, the 6-10 sophomore center from San Diego (Calif.) Horizon, sits on the bench mostly for EBO, a team that's too stocked with talent.

A player also glanced was 6-2 sophomore point guard Ameer Shamsuddin from Portland (Ore.) Benson, playing with ICP, who had him off the ball primarily, which seemed to be mistake, given his point guard skills.

On to Branch West Reebok, and 6-8 senior Deon Thompson from Torrance (Calif.) High. Greg Hicks wrote about Thompson's first game, which was attended by UCLA assistant Kerry Keating. His second game of the day was watched by Howland, with Thompson starting out slow facing some good, long athletes from a Dallas team.

But then Thompson got it going. He scored probably 20 of his team's first 30 point, and probably finished with 30. He did it with great post moves, excellent natural footwork, big, soft hands and a nice touch around the basket. Thompson had a tendency to not crash the boards and take an occasional play off, which is sometimes the case in AAU ball. But you can probably bet that Howland and UCLA will now be watching every one of Thompson's games over the next couple of days.

The Michigan Hurricanes played in the next game, and UCLA target, junior shooting guard Alex Legion from Detroit (Mich.) Country Day, was exceptional, hitting his pretty outside jumper, and showing his great athleticism around the basket. He hit a bit basket with a few minutes remaining in the game to lift the Hurricanes over a very competitive RBC West team, which featured Ray Hall, the 6-9 center from Lakewood (Calif.) Artesia. While UCLA is now probably just monitoring Hall, he did played fairly well, being active on the boards, using his big body to carve out space.

Today the initial plan is to watch the SoCal All Stars with Kevin Love, Chase Budinger, Brandon Jennings and Taylor King (who lost Friday) played against the D-1 Greyhounds, which is O.J. Mayo and Alex Tyus; Thompson and Branch West again; a sophomore point guard from Riverside (Calif.) North, Malcolm Lee with Inland; Darnell Gant of Crenshaw and Jon Reed of Palos Verdes Peninsula with a team called Rising Stars of America; and Belmont Shore, featuring Justin Holiday and Jrue Holiday, among others.

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