Beach’s Bits: Vegas Vittles, Part 1

LAS VEGAS - Running the Las Vegas recruiting gauntlet can test the mettle of even the most battle tested recruitniks. Navigating the interconnected arterials crisscrossing the Vegas grid involves careful planning and precise timing. But if you do it right it’s all worth it, because at its best, there’s no other prep basketball showcase like it.

On this stage, scholarships are won and careers are made. It’s the pinnacle of the AAU circuit, but also the most physically draining. As the last major event until Fall, fatigue has set in and injuries mount. But this year was a comeback of sorts for the Northwest after enduring a rough five-year stretch. Dawgman.com’s Kim Grinolds and I endured searing 115 degree temperatures in search of the region’s top players, and we weren’t disappointed.

The Northwest has always generated great guards, and that hasn’t changed: By and large the region’s top players reside in the backcourt, and there’s a lot of them. The good news for programs like Washington, Washington State, Gonzaga, and Seattle U is that they’re probably not going to have to look outside state borders for guards the next couple of years if they play their cards right. Unfortunately, it takes post players to make it to the championship rounds on Sunday in Vegas, so it wasn’t surprising to see most of the Northwest teams eliminated the day before. There were a few standouts still playing the full weekend, however. Aplus, Rotary 16’s and ECBA were all still alive as of Sunday morning.

NWXpress struggled despite strong performances from its stars: Fledgling Nike sponsored NWXpress struggled during its EYBL debut despite boasting the talents of Rainier Beach star Dejounte Murray, who has bounced between his AAU teammates and Jamaal Crawford’s Pro Am this July. The UW commit is a skinny, superbly talented combo guard who plays with an effortless grace, but was unfortunately felled by a wrist injury that kept him out of his final AAU game.

Murray’s absence in July created a window of opportunity for rising 2015 small forward Matisse Thybulle of Eastside Catholic. Thybulle’s athleticism immediately stands out. He’s incredibly bouncy, elevating easily for eye-popping, two-handed tip dunks and grabbing rebounds far beyond the reach of taller opponents. He boasts lean, muscular arms, a 6-foot-11 wingspan, and quick feet, which make him a defensive menace both on and off the ball. Offensively, he’s on the raw side but getting better. His improving handle has helped him more effectively attack the paint, and he shows good instincts racing up the floor in transition. His jumper is average and will need to improve before he emerges as a legitimate offensive threat at the college level. His potential is what has coaching enamored with him however, and he has elite defensive upside.

Thybulle cited several scholarship offers when we spoke with him, including Washington, Gonzaga, Oregon, Washington State and Arizona State. Most insiders believe it’s a two horse race between the Huskies and cross-state Zags. He is scheduling visits and indicated he will likely make his decision in August or September.

Another 2015 Eastside Catholic player gaining attention was 6-foot-3 combo guard Mandrell Worthy. At times on Friday, Worthy was the best player on the floor for NWXpress. He’s a quality athlete with few obvious flaws in his game, displaying exceptional maturity as a floor leader. He’s a smooth penetrator and finisher with a pretty three point stroke when he decides to stay outside, and has a bright college future with the potential for making an immediate impact. Worthy’s college interest has been relatively quiet so far with an offer holding an offer from Montana State, but he should see his interest level increase after a productive July.

Another NWXpress player who has played himself into high major scholarship opportunities is 6-foot-9 power forward Drew Eubanks. A touted pitching prospect, the lanky forward from Troutdale, Ore. has played basketball just two years, and though his lack of experience is obvious, his athleticism and size demand attention. He’s mobile, runs the floor well, and is a powerful finisher in the lane. His college development is going to require patience, but could pay off handsomely for a program willing to make the time investment. Eubanks listed offers from Washington State, San Diego and Portland.


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