Elite Players at Cactus Classic

The first annual Arizona Cactus Classic was held this past weekEnd and there was a lot of talent on hand at the University of Arizona. James Harden, Larry Drew, Luke Babbitt and Jrue Holiday were among the top players in attendance...

The inaugural Arizona Cactus Classic was held this past weekend at the University of Arizona and we were very impressed with the event. Tournament Director Jim Storey and his staff did an outstanding job putting together a very good field of teams. The event was easily one of the best ones we've been to in many years. The tournament was well-run, while the facilities and hospitality were terrific. The AAU coaches we spoke to were all in agreement that the Cactus Classic was one of the best events they've attended.

With a field of 32 teams, and all of the games played at two locations on campus, we had the opportunity to see most of the teams several times. In part one of our report, here are our thoughts on some of the top players we saw over the weekend.

James Harden, 6-5 JR SG/SF Lakewood (Calif.) Artesia. Harden was named the MVP of the tournament and he was an easy choice. He's such a well-rounded player that it's difficult to focus on any one part of his game. He does everything well. He's got a great stroke with range beyond the stripe. He's really improved his handle over the last year and he can get to the rim, take contact and finish against size. He's surprisingly explosive off the floor. He had numerous dunks over the weekend that caught us by surprise. He's a solid defender and good rebounder. His feel for the game, though, is probably his best attribute. You just don't see him making many mistakes and he plays the game a step ahead of everyone else on the court. He's a great competitor and he plays the game the right way. There is no nonsense or wasted energy with his game – he's all about winning. Harden has developed into one of the elite prospects in the country and he should draw serious consideration for the McDonald's game next spring. UCLA is recruiting him, but haven't offered yet.

Austin Daye, 6-9 JR SF/PF Irvine (Calif.) Woodbridge. Daye showed both his positives and negatives over the course of the weekend. The negatives on Daye are that he's sometimes a bit soft, lacking intensity and not real interested in defense. The main positive is that he's a big-time scorer. Daye makes scoring look easy at times. He's got a soft stroke to about 22 feet and he's also got a very nice mid-range game. He's not yet close to mature physically and it'll be interesting to see how his body changes in the next couple years. He's a pretty good athlete, but not real quick or explosive yet as he hasn't grown into his body. He shows signs of being a good shot blocker when he puts his mind to it. He's very long and he's got good timing for contesting shots. Daye has an extremely high upside and he could end up one of the best players in his class if he can develop a more complete game. He committed to Gonzaga a couple of weeks ago.

Jamelle Horne, 6-6 JR SF San Diego (Calif.) High. Horne didn't appear to be at full-strength, as he wasn't as explosive or as active as he was in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. As a result, his shot was inconsistent. He had some games where he was knocking down jumpers, but he just didn't look right over the course of the weekend. When healthy and right, Horne is one of the elite prospects in the west for 2007. Committed to Arizona.

Isaiah Thomas, 5-7 JR PG Tacoma (Wash.) Curtis. Thomas had an outstanding weekend shooting the ball. He's got a great stroke, with excellent range. He's definitely a shoot-first point guard, but he did have several nice passes off of penetration to open teammates. His size might be an issue at the next level, but we believe he picked a great spot in Washington. The way the Huskies play, Thomas should have opportunities for open shots and there's no question he can knock down jumpers when given the chance. His decision-making still needs to improve, but his scoring ability will give him a chance to get on the floor early for the Huskies.

Larry Drew, 5-11 SO PG Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft. Drew shot the ball well all weekend and also did a great job of running Pump N Run. Drew has very good vision and he's become really good at running the pick and roll. He makes great decisions in terms of shooting, driving or passing when he's coming off a pick. He has good, not great, quickness and his body is still about the same as it was a year ago. We keep thinking he'll grow into his long arms, but he hasn't yet. The two areas where Drew needs to improve are his defense and taking care of the ball. He had several turnovers that were due to carelessness -- he sometimes just makes lazy passes. At the defensive end, he can sometimes have trouble with quicker guards. Part of that is just due to inattention – he's not always working as hard at that end as he could be. But, overall, Drew had a very good weekend and he's clearly one of the elite point guards in the west for 2008 and a target for UCLA in that class.

Jrue Holiday, 6-2 SO SG/PG North Hollywood (Calif.) Campbell Hall. The best West Coast prospect we saw at the event, Holiday is simply at a different level than most of the other players in 2008. Holiday can get his own shot whenever he wants, but he does a good job of finding open teammates. He's explosive with the ball and he's an excellent finisher when he gets to the rim. He's got a nice, compact stroke and he drilled threes all weekend. But it is not just his talent or athleticism that makes Holiday such a special prospect. He plays the game with great energy at both ends of the court. His defensive technique still needs to improve, but he has the makings of an outstanding defender. He's exceptionally quick laterally, but he also has the size and strength to defend players inside. He will be able to defend a one or two in college and he might end up a lockdown defender someday. We will be very surprised if Holiday isn't among the top ten players in the country by the time he graduates high school. One of UCLA's must-gets for 2008.

Luke Babbitt, 6-7 SO PF Reno (Nev.) Galena. Babbitt has such a solid, all-around game that you forget he's only a sophomore. He plays inside and on the perimeter at both ends of the court. He's not an exceptional athlete, but he finds a way to finish inside against bigger players and he holds his own rebounding. His feel for the game is one of his best attributes. He's an underrated passer and he consistently makes good decisions. Babbitt is currently our top-rated power forward in the west for 2008 and he should be recruited at the elite, high major level. UCLA is on him.

Jerime Anderson, 6-2 SO PG Anaheim (Calif.) Canyon. Anderson had a solid weekend in which he generally made good decisions and ran his Double Pump team well. His feel for the position is as good as any 2008 PG we've seen. He plays within himself and doesn't force shots. He's a good defender now and he has a chance to be excellent in the future. His length, lateral quickness and anticipation give him opportunities for steals and deflections. He's not super quick with the ball, but he's quick enough and elevates well when he gets to the rim. He's got the size and strength to finish inside against bigger players. He's a good shooter and he is developing a nice mid-range game. He's an elite, high major prospect. UCLA currently leads for him.

Malcolm Lee, 6-3 SO PG Riverside (Calif.) North. The 2008 class is loaded with quality guards and Lee is among the best in the group. He's got a good stroke with deep range (although his shot selection can be iffy at times). Physically, he's got a great combination of quickness and length. He looks like he's still maturing and he could get bigger. He sees the court well and he's willing to give the ball up. He's not quite as pure a point guard as Drew or Anderson, but he has a significant upside. When the rough edges get polished out, Lee could be as good as any guard in the west not named Jrue Holiday. UCLA is recruiting him.


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