The 9:00 a.m. game Thursday in the Las Vegas Fab 48 saw Norman Powell, the 6-2 shooting guard and one of UCLA's top targets, get off to a very slow start. His San Diego All-Stars team was blowing out their opponent, so he got some easy dunks in the second half, which got him on track.
It's always telling what coaches attend the games of which recruits. In that first game of Powell's, there were coaches from UCLA, Arizona and San Diego State, and you'd have to think those are the schools that consider themselves serious players. If anyone else thought they had a decent chance, a coach would have been in attendance at his first game in Las Vegas.
In fact, we've heard from sources that it's between UCLA and Arizona at this point.
Kenyatta Smith, the 6-7 center from La Canada (Calif.) Flintridge, had a good morning game, including a big, game-clinching dunk. As we said, UCLA might not get to Smith, since it has limited scholarships, but the under-sized post is going to be a very good college player.
If you're taking about game clinchers, Jahii Carson, the point guard from Mesa (Ariz.) High, won the game for his Magic team, taking his defender off the dribble with a few seconds left and converting an off-balance lay-in. We're hearing more and more that Arizona is the strong leader for Carson.
It was a who's-who of coaches in attendance at the game between Dream Vision and a pretty loaded east coast AAU team, the New England Playaz. Most of the elite high-major coaches were in the gym to watch Shabazz Muhammad, the 6-5 wing from Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman, who is a top target for UCLA in the class of 2012.
It was another round-up of big-named coaches in the gym for the game between D.C. Assault and Pump N Run Elite. Assault features Quinn Cook, the 6-0 point guard that UCLA is pursuing. It was my first chance to see Cook since last summer and he was impressive. He's not overly quick, but clever and has a very good handle. He has particularly good vision and passing ability, and is a point guard in the truest sense that he looks to set up his teammates first. He enhances that with a very good catch-and-shoot game from the outside.
Pump N Run was over-run. It's a curious thing – there are just too many Pump teams, but if they put all of their best players on one team – or even just two teams – they'd be formidable.
While, of course, you shoudn't get too excited about dunks, Kevin Bailey of Clovis (Calif.) Clovis East, playing for Pump N Run Elite, had one of the most impressive ones we've seen this summer. In sem-transition, he went up and over a 6-8 post player to throw it down with authority. The 6-5 senior wing is an exceptional athlete, and has the chance to be a very good defender, but his inconsistent play so far this July hasn't helped his stock.
There is a little bit of buzz going around about Blake Vedder, a 7-2 center originally from Ohio who played at Impact Basketball Academy in Las Vegas this past season. Vedder is a 2009 graduate (and apparently a good student) who did a fifth year at Impact (and I don't completely understand the academic side of it), mostly because he was, as you might expect, a late bloomer. Reportedly, he entered high school at 6-2 and grew a foot over four years, and 7 inches between his junior and senior year. In Ohio, he averaged 5 points and 5 rebounds as a senior, so he decided he needed another year of development. He is currently qualified to enter college this fall. In seeing him for the first time, the first thing you notice is how agile he is for being 7-2 and only about 220 pounds. He runs and jumps very well, and is a very good athlete. Also impressive is a nice, smooth lefty stroke, and he can hit a face-up jumper with ease. But after you watch him enough, you see that he has shorter arms, and isn't near the shot-blocker he should be – especially in the AAU environment when he's playing against 6-5 post players. He isn't very physical, which is probably because he still is only about 220 pounds, but he also isn't a greatly instinctive rebounder. In other words, he's a project, and the rumor is that he's verbally committed to Rhode Island, but I didn't see a coach from Rhode Island in the gym watching him. There were coaches from Virginia, Northern Arizona and, well, UCLA, checking out Vedder.
Spencer Dinwiddie, the 6-4 point guard from Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft, had an uneventful game playing with Double Pump Elite. Dinwiddie has a chance to be very good, and shows flashes of dominance, but he doesn't seem to know just how good he is – being too unselfish and not aggressive enough offensively a great deal of the time.
The Oakland Soldiers, of course, are loaded, and it was reflected in the packed stands full of college coaches at their games Thursday. Josiah Turner, the 6-2 point guard, had a good game getting into the lane and finding teammates. He has seemingly slimmed down some, which has improved his quickness and enabled him to be a better on-ball defender. Jabari Brown, the 6-5 shooting guard, hit smooth jumpers and threw down dunks, and again showed why he's considered one of the best wings in the west. Junior post Brandon Ashley has continued to get better, bigger physically, especially in his arms and shoulders, and he's very quick and skilled around the basket. The junior small forward, Richard Longrus, comes off the bench for the Soldiers and doesn't get enough playing time for his talent. He might be raw offensively, but he's an exceptional athlete for 6-6, able to guard small, quick wings and also body up against post players.
By 9:45 there were two games of interest for UCLA going on simultaneously at the Fab 48 at Bishop Gorman. On court 1 was Belmont Shore, which has a good deal of talent – particularly 6-8 junior power forward Grant Jerrett. Even though Jerrett barely touched the ball, it's clear that he's an elite prospect. If he catches the ball anywhere within 10 feet of the basket, he's so long that he's a threat to take a step and flush it. He runs exceptionally well, and likes to get out on the break to finish. He shows skills and fluidity in his back-to-the-basket game, and his face-up jumper continues to improve. UCLA coaches have taken in every one of Jerrett's games this summer, and he's obviously a high priority for 2012. Pretty much, whoever between Jerrett or Ashley wanted to jump in the boat first would be acceptable.
On court 2 was Daniel Gomis, the 6-9 post originally from Senegal, who is a freakish athlete. He can run like a two-guard and get off his feet quickly for a second and third jump. He's very raw offensively, and it's still clear he's learning how to play basketball. But his athleticism is something UCLA just doesn't have much of in its frontcourt, and the soft verbal commitment to Oregon State had many college coaches, along with those from UCLA, watching Thursday night.