UCLA Prospects Emerge at Tourney

There were a number of UCLA prospects -- including two UCLA-committed players -- at the Double Pump Spring Tournament in Denver this last weekend. With it being the first look at prospects this spring, a couple of players jumped out as clear UCLA targets...

The Pump N Run Elite squad won the Double Pump Spring Tournament in Denver, Colorado, last weekend, defeating the Northwest Panthers in the final.

It was truly an amazing run for Pump N Run. They didn't play consistently well at all, losing one of their pool games, and coming from behind in three other games.

In the round-of-16 game, they were down by 23 points. In the semi-final they were down by 13, but their opponents, Wisconsin Swing, only had 5 players and ran out of gas.

The Pump team includes many UCLA prospects, which we've written about below, and is coached by former UCLA coach Jim Harrick.

UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland was at the tournament Saturday, and UCLA assistant Donnie Daniels was there today.

Here is a rundown on the UCLA-related prospects in the tournament and some recruiting scuttlebutt we've heard.

First off, it was rumored that Renardo Sidney, the 6-9 post from Los Angeles Fairfax, would play in this tournament, but he didn't show. There is some talk going around in recruiting circles that Arizona State has made a considerable move for him.

Perhaps UCLA's #1 target coming out of the tournament is Greg Smith, the 6-8 post from Fresno (Calif.) Edison. Greg Hicks' comments: Smith's got the prototype body for an elite, high-major post. Huge hands, very big feet, great shoulders and long arms. He scored through people several different times in the game we saw, as well as showing off a nice left-hand jump hook. Smith has clearly developed from a year ago, becoming far more skilled around the basket, and he's just so strong, probably weighing 230 right now, and cut. In one sequence this weekend, he scored on successive baskets and was fouled both times when he went to the rim with both hands, was hacked badly, but it didn't even change his direction, being so strong and able to power up through it. By the time he's a sophomore in college you could envision him being 250 pounds of muscle and an absolute load inside, since he already is now.

With so few available big men in the west, Smith looks to be a big-time target for UCLA since he is the prototypical Howland big man with his strength and how hard he plays. As we've continually reported, it's really just a matter of whether Smith can get eligible by NCAA standards. If it looks like he will, expect UCLA to be all over him. And from what we've heard, UCLA would be Smith's #1 choice. USC is recruiting him pretty hard, and he also mentioned Fresno State, Memphis and Kansas State.

Also definitely on the list of top UCLA prospects at the tourney is Elijah Johnson, the 6-2 combo guard from Las Vegas (Nev.) Cheyenne. Hicks' comments: Johnson might've had the best showing of any prospect on the first night. Very explosive, reminiscent in some respects of a young Baron Davis.. Not the point guard that Davis was, but a big-time athlete with extremely high upside. We had to leave the tournament early because of our flight back to Los Angeles Sunday, but reports from the final were that Johnson took over the game with his athleticism and intensity, and that was the story in Pump N Run's come-from-behind win in the semi-finals also. Johnson, truly, has mind-blowing athleticism – and not just his ability to get off the ground but his lateral quickness and body control. He is a good defender now, combining his athleticism and intensity, but he has the potential to spectacular. He still has a tendency to not assert himself, even choose not to take his shot when he has an open look, while he has a good outside jumper, but that also could be Johnson trying to mix in well with the all-star line-up on the Pump team, too.

Again, as with Smith, in terms of UCLA, it's a case of Johnson's academics. If there are indications that Johnson will qualify academically, UCLA will have Johnson as one of the few biggest priorities of the 2009 class. Johnson, when in Los Angeles last weekend for a Pump workout, visited UCLA's campus.

UCLA-committed Reeves Nelson, the 6-6 junior power forward from Modesto (Calif.) Modesto Christian, had an uneven tournament. If you were a casual onlooker, you might come away thinking he was dominant, since he probably averaged 25 points per game. But it really wasn't the case. Hicks' comments: Nelson isn't quite as explosive as he was a year ago and his rebounding/finishing ability has suffered as a result. He's got the ball skills to eventually be a face-up four at the next level. Much of it also could be that he isn't playing with the intensity we saw from him last summer. He's still a very big load around the basket, but he's gotten in a habit of taking a few too many dribbles, with his head and shoulders down, through the lane, and then casting up a prayer floater. He commonly brings the ball up, handling it far too much and turning it over. These are, perhaps, bad habits he got in playing against the lower-level competition at Modesto, where we're sure Nelson dominates – by just throwing up a ball, going and getting the rebound and finishing it. They are habits he can easily break, but they are worrisome, and don't show well. Nelson's strengths are, obviously, his bulk, which makes him a good rebounder and he's difficult to guard when he's finishing around the basket, even though, at 6-6 to maybe 6-7, he could struggle against height at the next level. Then, he's also a very good passer, always looking for the pretty shovel pass in the lane to a teammate. We're hoping that through the summer events Reeves has a re-awakening of the intensity and hunger he played with last summer, and plays within himself more.

Along with Smith and Johnson, easily the best prospect at the tournament was Abdul Gaddy, the 6-3 point guard from Tacoma (Wash.) Bellarmine Prep. Hicks's comments: Gaddy went up against an out-manned team in the game we saw, but he was still very impressive. Smooth and under control, he's got great size for a point and a diversified game. Gaddy is easily the best guard on the west coast, with very good size, athleticism and feel. He still looks very young, too, in his face, and body, which implies he could have a very large upside. He is verbally committed to Arizona, but you'd think, being so good, that many elite high-majors around the country will at least put in a call to check on that commitment. The Pump team beat his Northwest Panthers in the tourney's final.

Probably after those few guys, the next best prospect from the west is another guy committed elsewhere – Vander Joaquim, the 6-9 center from El Cajon (Calif.) Christian. Hicks's comments: Import from Angola has great body and a high upside. Needs to learn to play without the ball in his hands, but one of the elite post prospects in the west for 2009. Joaquim started out tentatively with the Pump team, but once he got his confidence his potential really came out. He could be 6-10 (it's hard to tell with the fro), and he's athletic, with very good foot speed. He naturally has developed some post moves, and once he gets some coaching it's easy to see he could develop a very good back-to-the-basket game. He also has a good face-up jumper, out to about 15 feet, and he did hit a three in this tournament. Like Gaddy, though, Joaquim is committed to another school – this time San Diego. Yeah, San Diego. So, the thought around the gym this weekend is that San Diego's Billy Grier is going to have his hands full trying to hold onto that commitment when Joaquim gets inundated with attention from elite high majors. Grier, though, has some advantages, having known the kid awhile, which makes Joaquim very comfortable with San Diego. Joaquim also speaks very little English, with his native language being Portuguese, so unless you are a program with a Portuguese-speaking assistant coach it could be difficult to supplant San Diego.

Kendall Williams, the 6-1 combo guard from Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Los Osos, who is verbally committed to UCLA, had some very good moments in this tournament playing for the Pump #1 team. Hicks's comments: Needs to become more of a true one at the next level. Can knock down shots from the stripe and plays with a lot of confidence for a young guard. It will be interesting to see how Williams develops; he'll need to either get a lot bigger physically to play the two at the elite high major level, or need to develop his point guard skills. With his narrow frame, we think it's doubtful he gets big enough to guard high major shooting guards, so he'll have to be a point guard. He's a decent to good passer, and has that outside shot, but his handle will have to improve as well as his overall feel at the point guard position.

A really impressive sophomore guard was Tyler Lamb, the 6-4 shooting guard prospect from Ontario (Calif.) Colony. Hicks' comments: Multi-dimensional guard who will play at a very high level in college. He was the best player for Pump N Run Elite yesterday as they had to rally twice from big deficits. As a casual observer, you might not see that Lamb was quite often the Pumps' best player since he's not necessarily throwing down monster, sky-high dunks or hitting 25-footers. But he's the best natural basketball player on the team, no question. He is the team's best passer, and probably it's only post-feeder. He is the best at getting his teammates the ball in their best position to score. He recognizes mismatches and takes advantage of them. His feel for the game is exceptional. He penetrates, draws and dishes very effectively. And to add to all of this, Lamb has improved his quickness and athleticism in the last year. He is noticeably quicker in his first step when putting the ball on the floor, and has a very good handle for a shooting guard. In fact, he could play some point guard for you in a pinch. His improved quickness, too, have made him into a very good defender, and an even bigger commodity, looking like he could guard a two or a three on the next level. His outside shot is a long one, with a long stroke, but it goes in; he's a good, but not great shooter at this point. With that improved athleticism, he's also capable of getting to the basket with a great deal more explosion than he did previously. He's still not a big high-flyer, but the combination of his improved athleticism and that natural feel – and the fact that he's improved so much, which implies his ceiling is still out there – makes him a very, very promising prospect. We'll have a recruiting update with Lamb coming later.

Anthony Stover, the 6-9 center from La Canada (Calif.) Renaissance, played with the Pump #2 team, which fared well, actually losing to the Pump #1 team in the round of eight. Again, to the casual observer, Stover might not jump out, but to a good scout, the upside is tremendous. Admittedly, Stover has a long ways to go, but with his length and his naturally good feel for the game (He's a great passer in the post) -- to go along with a body that is a long ways away from developing – makes him the prospect with perhaps the most upside on the west coast. He probably averaged about 7 blocks per game in Denver and, while his teammates won't give him the ball, he still showed flashes, with a couple of nice turn-around jump hooks. In that round of eight game, he was a factor in bringing the Pump #2 team to within a couple of points of the Pump #1 team in the second half, blocking a Nelson drive and scoop shot and swatting two other shots on two more successive possessions to give Pump #2 some stops. It's going to be interesting to see what happens between UCLA and Stover since he's a guy that you have to project – and envision what kind of player he's going to be in three years, and perhaps after a redshirt year as a college freshman.

Taylor Honeycutt, the 6-8 junior forward from Sylmar (Calif.) High, had his coming-out party this weekend in Denver playing for Pump #1. He showed that he's a very promising prospect and had the college coaches buzzing about him. The mid-major coaches wanted to believe they could get him, while the high-major coaches wanted to make sure he was a player for them. He is. Perhaps the only question about him is what position he plays in college. He's so tall and narrow, he probably can't guard a four, and he might not have enough lateral quickness to guard a three. But the comparisons were continually made to Austin Daye, and they're apt. Honeycutt is a very similar player, with a good outside jumper and an excellent passing ability, who showed great length and ability to rebound. He probably had the play of the tournament – on an outlet pass, catching it as he nearly going out of bounds at about halfcourt and throwing a bounce pass around his body between two defenders to a streaking teammate for a lay-up. Also very promising is the fact that he looks like a baby and could continue to develop physically. We think high majors will be all over him, and it will be interesting to see, with Honeycutt playing on the Pump team and seeing him so many times over the spring and summer, if UCLA gets involved.

Trevor Williams, the 6-10 post from Denver (Colo.) Lutheran, is someone UCLA has been out to see this past season. He is very impressive-looking physically, looking like a bigger and wider version of UCLA-committed Drew Gordon. He is, though, a project, with good athleticism but a limited feel for the game and skills. Reportedly, Washington State, Purdue, Nebraska and Colorado State have offered. He's someone that UCLA will probably monitor for the summer.

Ben Howland watched the game of Demetrius Walker, the 6-3 junior shooting guard from San Juan Capistrano (Calif.) Serra. If you remember, Walker is the guy who got the ridiculous hype as a high school freshman, being called the next LeBron James and such, and hasn't come close to living up to it – which really isn't the kid's fault. While he has some good attributes – playing with intensity, and an improved outside jumper – we still think he's not a UCLA-level prospect. He's a straight-ahead athlete – meaning he doesn't move laterally well – if at all. When going to the basket he relies on his pure strength, and bulls over smaller opponents, most of the time out of control.

Howland watched the game of Matt Carlino, the 6-1 freshman point guard from Highland (Ariz.) Gilbert. Hicks' comments: Excellent shooter and very skilled overall. Just a fair athlete, but skill level gets your attention. Shot selection and decisions need to improve.

George Matthews, the very promising 6-5 sophomore small forward from Phoenix (Ariz.) St. Mary's, said he's getting early interest from UNLV, Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, Cal and Florida, among others.

An interesting note: Robert Smith, the 5-11 point guard from Perris, who had offers from Cal and USC, and would have been a solid backcourt player for UCLA, verbally committed to Santa Clara and Kerry Keating. The former UCLA assistant coach scored a major coup, stealing a Pac-10 level player for the Broncos.


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