Cactus Classic: West Wrap-Up

The Second Annual Cactus Classic gave us a chance to see some of the top players in the west, including guys like Michael Snaer, Jordan Hamilton, Jereymy Tyler, Greg Smith, Peyton Siva and others.....

The Cactus Classic wrapped up Sunday and, for those of you care about such things, the New York Gauchos won the tournament. Of course, the Gauchos have no West Coast players, so I don't have much to say about them (but they are talented and played very hard all weekend).

Once again, Jim Storey and his staff did a great job of putting on a first class event. The Classic is easily my favorite event of the year. The field is manageable with only 32 teams, but there is a high level of talent. The hospitality, organization and facilities are all outstanding. I'd recommend this tournament to any high level AAU teams looking for a good event in May.

Several of the better teams were knocked out before Sunday's action, so I'll just give an overall recap on some of the notable players in attendance.

Jeremy Tyler, 6-9 FR C San Diego (Calif.) High. There's been a buzz about Tyler over the last year, but this tournament was the first time I saw him really step up and show the potential for greatness. He's clearly got all the physical stuff – great frame, length, very good feet, huge hands, moves very well, etc. – and his skills are very advanced for a freshman. The question now is this: does he have the intangibles? Does he have the work ethic, competitiveness, toughness and desire to be great? If he does, then you're talking about a player that has a chance to be a lottery pick someday.

Jrue Holiday, 6-3 JR SG/PG North Hollywood (Calif.) Campbell Hall. There's nothing new to report on Holiday. He had, by his standards, an average tournament. But Holiday's got pretty high standards. The interesting thing to watch on Holiday will be how quickly he can clean up his game. He's got the physical attributes, and the skill level, to be a top five pick in the draft someday. But he's also got a number of things that need to be polished up in terms of his game. He gambles way too much on defense. He picks up silly fouls when he's overly aggressive. Instead of just guarding his man, he'll attack him and try to take the ball away. He'll get careless turnovers when he tries to split three defenders with the dribble. He'll also drive the lane and throw up a bad shot, just because he knows he'll likely get the rebound. His shot is inconsistent because he doesn't shoot it the same way every time. Sometimes, he'll shoot a jumpshot. But more often, he'll shoot a set shot. When he gets in a college program, and some of these bad habits get ironed out, Holiday has a chance to be dominating.

Demar DeRozan, 6-6 JR SF Compton (Calif.) High. A year ago, DeRozan pretty much played the game for dunks. The only thing he really wanted to do was get a spectacular dunk. Today, he's a much more complete player. His shot has improved significantly. He's got deeper range and he's also better in the mid-range. His handle is better as well, although that's still an area he needs to work on. He's been a freakish athlete since the 8th grade and that hasn't changed. Where he still needs to improve is in the area of defense and rebounding. There's no reason he shouldn't be exceptional at both of those things. DeRozan seems to be maturing as a player and his focus is much better than it was. If he continues to develop, he's got a chance to be an All-Conference player early in his college career.

Anthony Marshall, 6-1 SO SG Las Vegas (Nev.) Mojave. Marshall is one of my favorite players in the class of 2009. He plays the game the right way, with intensity, purpose and focus. He's got a very solid skill set and he's an above average athlete. He's an excellent defender and rebounds well for his size. He's a bit on the small side for a two-guard at the elite level, but I think he'll be one of those guys that coaches will want even if he isn't the ideal size. This kid has all the signs of being a winner.

Elijah Johnson, 6-2 SO PG Las Vegas (Nev.) Cheyenne. Johnson plays for a Houston Hoops team that clearly has no idea how to best utilize his talents. Johnson is the best guard on the team, yet he handles the ball probably less than half the time. Fellas – this one ain't too hard. Get the ball in Elijah's hands and let him run your team. Johnson has the body and explosive athleticism that will remind some observers of a young Baron Davis. He's a good, not great, shooter and his handle is above average. When I first saw him a year ago, I was struck by his vision and passing ability. Unfortunately, on the Hoops team, Johnson doesn't have a chance to put those attributes to good use. He's still got some areas that need to be polished up – mostly in terms of decision-making – but his upside is as good as any guard's in the country.

Michael Snaer, 6-4 SO SG Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde. Snaer has an understated game, but he's an elite prospect. He doesn't always make a lot of highlight plays, and he actually passes the ball (rather than jack it up at every opportunity), so he hasn't received a lot of national hype yet. But, trust me, he will be getting a ton of hype next year when everyone figures out how good this kid is going to be. He's got a great frame and he's an above average athlete. His shot is very good to 20-21 feet, but he's not just a shooter. He can finish with strength at the rim and also make plays for others off the dribble. One of his best attributes is his feel for the game. For a talented young kid, Snaer does a great job of letting the game come to him. He doesn't hunt shots and he actually understands concepts like spacing and shot selection. With continued development, Snaer has a chance to be one of the prospects in the country for 2009.

Jordan Hamilton, 6-6 SO SF Los Angeles (Calif.) Dorsey. Hamilton has developed a big rep because of his ability to score. And there's no question that he's one of the better shooters in the class. He's got a very soft touch, whether he's shooting from 10 or 22 feet. He puts the ball on the floor fairly well and he doesn't need much room to get his shot off. Now Hamilton has to show that he's in the game for the right reasons. It's not enough to just be a scorer if you want to be one of the best prospects in the country. I don't care if you score 50 a game -- you have to show that you know how to play the game. Getting teammates involved, taking good shots and playing defense are all part of the equation. So far, Hamilton hasn't shown that he understands that part of the game. He's a poor rebounder for his size. For a 6-6 kid, with his level of athleticism, it's simply unacceptable to not rebound. And defensively, he's got a long way to go. He doesn't run back consistently in transition or give much of an effort in locking down his man. If he can improve in these areas of weakness, then Hamilton will have a chance to be one of the top players in the class.

Peyton Siva, 5-11 SO PG Seattle (Wash.) Franklin. Siva is a very intriguing young guard. He's not really a true one, as he doesn't do a great job of distributing the ball or making his teammates better. However, he's an excellent shooter and he's a terrific athlete. While he's not real tall, he does have some length to him and he's got a strong body. Like a lot of young players with his ability, Siva would rather shoot it than pass it. But if he wants to take his game to the next level, he needs to learn to make other players better. He's certainly capable of making plays for others, as I've seen him do it at times in the past. It just needs to become more of a focus for him. If he can develop more of a complete, all-around game, then Siva might end up one of the best guards in the class of 2009.

Brendan Lavender, 6-4 JR SG Mesa (Ariz.) Mountain View. Lavender struggled a bit at this event, but I think that's partly due to the nature of AAU ball. My suspicion is that Lavender will show better in a real game. He doesn't have the big-time athleticism or individual play-making ability that shows well in these type of games. Lavender is a guy who knows how to play the game, but would probably do better in a system. He's got a pretty good stroke to the stripe and, overall, solid ball skills. Playing for the Arizona Magic, Lavender was out of position, as he had to play point guard. He's not a point and he really needs to have someone setting him up. Lavender isn't an elite prospect, but he is better than he showed this weekend and he should be fine once he's playing in a real game with talented players around him.

Greg Smith, 6-7 SO C/PF Fresno (Calif.) Edison. Smith is still somewhat raw, and he's not much of a scorer at this point, but he's a very exciting young prospect. He's got a great body, with length, huge feet and big hands. He made one catch in transition that was exceptional and showed his very impressive agility/coordination. Smith has a young face and it wouldn't be surprising if he's still growing. Once he grows into his body, and gets some more reps in the post, Smith has a chance to be an elite, high major prospect.

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