Jordan Brand Classic, Day One

Jordan Brand Classic, Day One
Apr 17, 2009, 12:57 am
We're here in New York City for the third and final major high school all-star event of the spring—the Jordan Brand Classic. Most of the top talents in the 2009 class are represented here, many of whom we saw at the McDonald's All-American game and the Nike Hoop Summit. Fortunately, there are also a couple of new names sprinkled in to keep things interesting for us.

In terms of the top prospects, we find the always interesting John Wall, whom we'll profile later in this article, at the top of the list. Derrick Favors is on the list, but he did not show up for the first day of practices—he'll apparently come in tomorrow, as will Keith Gallon. John Henson is here, as is Xavier Henry, Avery Bradley, Abdul Gaddy, DeMarcus Cousins, Renardo Sidney and Mason Plumlee—all of whom you may be sick of reading about by now. To keep things fresh, we'll take an in-depth look at some of the new faces in attendance—including Jordan Hamilton, Wally Judge, Daniel Orton, Mouphtauo Yarou, Durand Scott, Royce White and MJ's son, Marcus Jordan.

Starting with the black team, we saw a more intense effort level than we've become accustomed to from this high school class in the various All-American events, a welcome change for sure. Taking the lead from guards Avery Bradley and Abdul Gaddy, there was a serious tone for most of the practice, with a pretty high level of play relative to what we've seen in the past.

The practice run on this side of the gym was pretty generic, starting with individual drills featuring post-up moves, dribble drives, and pull-up jumpers. From that they transitioned into some 4-on-5 half court and full court drills, which basically turned into a 5-on-5 intra-squad scrimmage. Next, the coaches installed a very bread-and-butter 4-out 1-in motion offense, while also mixing in some high screen-and-rolls for good measure. From there, they went back to some more intra-squad scrimmaging before calling it a day.

In the individual drills portion of the practice, a few players stood out, though not all for the right reasons. On the positive side, Avery Bradley and Alex Oriakhi quickly made their incredibly high skill levels and feels for the game evident, executing nearly every described move with perfect footwork and coordination, clearly standing out above the pack. Oriakhi's post acumen was on display in the scrimmages as well, as he's clearly a player who understands his strengths and shows a non-stop motor in making full use of them. Oriakhi punished DeMarcus Cousins in the paint frequently today, finishing with both hands, attacking the basket strong, mixing in nifty reverse lay-ups, and showing a post repertoire many NCAA seniors would envy.

Speaking of Cousins, he's one player who didn't look good in the drills portion of the practice, showing a lackluster effort level while seemingly struggling to execute some of the moves as described, not looking very smooth in his motions. Once the scrimmages started, however, Cousins looked like an entirely different player, attacking with his back-to-the-basket, facing up from the perimeter, and slashing in transition, showing great mobility, coordination, and smoothness on his drives. He's clearly a player who plays better relying on his instincts as opposed to executing described moves in drills. As always, though, what we saw here was largely a mixed bag from Cousins, as his motor was on and off for most of the practice and his conditioning was a problem at times. He appeared winded periodically and had a hard time keeping up with the other players running up and down the court. To his credit, he played with much more of a mean streak in the painted area here and was less inclined to settle for perimeter jumpers than we've seen him in the past, hopefully a permanent development.

As mentioned earlier, Abdul Gaddy and Avery Bradley really set the tempo on this side of the gym, both playing very intelligent basketball, and never letting up with their effort levels, something that seemed to rub off on most of the other players. Gaddy has continued to impress us with what he shows on the floor, displaying a mature court sense for his age. This is even more impressive when you consider that he's a year younger than everyone in this class. In terms of seeing the floor, managing tempo, changing speeds, and making decisions with the ball, Gaddy plays well beyond his years.

Avery Bradley was one of the more active players on the floor, especially on the defensive end, where he put his physical tools and fundamentals to work, playing intense perimeter defense in a setting where many players don't even bother. Offensively, Bradley was also impressive, hitting pull-up jumpers and attacking the basket, finishing often and making it look easy with his smooth athleticism.

As for the rest of those in attendance, John Henson's athleticism was on full display once again, as he pogo-sticked his way around both sides of the court, finishing well at the basket on offense and patrolling the lane on defense. Lamont Jones got off to a rough start forcing some shots, however he persisted with his efforts, hustling frequently and eventually getting into a groove and knocking down a few outside shots. Jordan Hamilton also brought his hustle to this practice, getting out in transition, cutting to the basket, and attacking the offensive glass, looking a little more toned and athletic than we last remember him.

For the White team, there was more emphasis put on transition drills than on working on individual skills—with plenty of 3 on 2, 2 on 1, and 1 on 2 runout situations instilled to get the players ready for the all-star setting they will soon be playing in. Most of the practice was spent on an intersquad scrimmage, which is something we surely weren't going to complain about.

To ensure that things remained competitive for the entire time the players were on the court, the very experienced Stu Vetter of Montrose Christian (Kevin Durant's high school) kept score and informed both sides that the losers of each round of action would be forced to run sprints. If that wasn't enough to get their competitive juices flowing, Vetter threw in an added wrinkle—the five players that won the decisive tie-breaker would be the ones starting in the actual game on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Do you think he has a little bit of experience working with star players this age?

The first 45 minutes of the practice could accurately have been described as “the John Wall show.” He came roaring out of the gates, putting his incredible athleticism on full display in the form of a number of breathtaking dunks and blocks, doing a magnificent job of picking apart the defense with his ridiculous first step and finding players time after time with phenomenal pinpoint passes right underneath the rim for easy baskets.

Considering that this is the first time we've seen Wall play live since last July, we noticed a number of substantial improvements. For one, his ball-handling skills look crisper than they did over the summer, as he went left or right with his typical explosiveness, but also looked very much under control. His court vision appears to have improved substantially—his teammates looked surprised on a number of occasions by the passes he was able to deliver right into their hands-- and he did a much better job running the pick and roll as well.

His attentiveness to playing defense looks better too—he constantly was urging his teammates to “D up!” and he set the tone for them from the very start, coming up with at least a half dozen blocks over the course of the practice. His ability to close out his man never looked more evident than in the 1 on 2 runout drill the players conducted, where Wall was easily able to overcome the substantial initial head-start his matchup had thanks to his blazing speed, often meeting him right at the rim for an emphatic block. His body language and overall maturity level also looked substantially better than it did the last time we saw him—the impression you got from the way he handled himself on the court was very strong this time around. Dave Telep of prepared us for this in advance, noting that Wall has “made incredible strides as a person” in a conversation this past week, telling us that he has “come a long way.”

One part of his game that may not have come very far based on results alone is his jump-shot. We charted Wall making just one of the eight jumpers he attempted today, a mid-range pull-up from about 15 feet. Every other shot he took was a miss, sometimes a brick, and a few of them being wide open looks from 17 or 18 feet. The positive thing to note here is that Wall's shooting mechanics look a lot better than we remember them, as he no longer seems to flail his elbow out. He needs to do a better job getting his legs underneath the ball and add some more arc to his jumper, as well as making sure he releases it consistently every time—but watching him play, you don't feel like his shot is broke, even if he obviously has a lot of room to improve.

Later in the scrimmage, Wall seemed to run out of gas, as he looked very much incapable of fighting through screens or creating his own shot anywhere near as well as he did previously—being very much content deferring to his teammates. He later told us that he was extremely tired after the long flight from Portland (“seven hours it felt like”) and that this was the first time he had picked up a basketball in “three or four days.” With that in mind, it isn't all that surprising that he looked so exhausted, especially when you consider the spotlight he's been under as of late.

We also had a chance to speak with Wall about the report on that he is trying to figure out whether he is eligible for this year's NBA draft. He emphatically dismissed those rumors, saying you can “throw that out,” explaining that he promised his father he will attend college for at least a year, and that he doesn't “want to break that,” promise.

As one of the schools that is most actively recruiting Wall informed us, he is still not eligible for college at this point. Wall stated that he will take the SAT on “May 4th” and then the ACT as well, and that he is on course to graduate on “May 28th.” He said he took an “extra math class and extra science…just in case.”

Wall said that the NBA draft discussion and whether or not he's even eligible is something that “just popped up…the other day” and that he hasn't had a chance to talk to his mother about it yet. He says that he discussed the matter with his AAU coach (Brian Clifton, who we quoted yesterday) but that they “decided we're just going to throw it out the way…we're not going to look into it.”

When pressed and asked whether the lure of being the #1 overall pick would not be enough to sway him, Wall smiled and said “I don't think so. It's tough. I'm going to just say no because I haven't talked to my parents and my coach yet, but as of right now, its no.”

You can watch the full interview we conducted right here:

Other than John Wall, there were a couple of other standouts on the White team. Minnesota commit Royce White really came out strong today, looking like he had a real chip on his shoulder, making shots from the perimeter, coming up with a couple of steals, crashing the offensive glass hard, and overall looking very impressive with his size and athleticism as a legit 6-7 small forward. He needs to improve his ball-handling skills, but he looks like quite a find for Tubby Smith from the little we saw today.

Wally Judge had an up and down day, but there probably aren't many prospects in this class who share his potential. Judge is a superb athlete who can really finish around the rim, but also shows some emerging skills facing the basket with his jump-shot and raw ball-handling ability. He tends to fall in love with his perimeter skills a little too much at times, but is clearly an extremely talented player.

Kentucky commit Daniel Orton showed an NBA body, great hands and the ability to finish around the rack as well as step out and make 15-foot jump-shots. He was very fun to watch today in his battles with Villanova commit Mouphtauo Yarou, a raw big man with outstanding potential and an excellent motor. He also showed some emerging back to the basket skills, as well as the ability to face up and knock down a soft jumper. We have a feeling that we'll be talking about both of these players quite a bit in the next few years.

Tomorrow we'll get a chance to take a first look at the International roster (see below), which is supposedly loaded from what our contacts in Europe tell us. There will also be an organized scrimmage scheduled between the White and Black “national” teams in the afternoon.

White Jerseys (Home Team)

# Name Pos. Hgt. Wgt. Year Club/Team Country
7 Luka Rupnik G 6-0 157 1993 Geoplin Slovan Slovenia
8 Aleksandar Cvetkovic G 6-0 146 1993 Red Star Serbia
9 Kerem Hotic F 6-5 207 1993 Fenerbahce Ulker Turkey
10 Tauras Jogela G/F 6-6 185 1993 BS Sabonis Lithuania
11 Daniel Gomis F/C 6-9 182 1991 SEEDS Academy Senegal
12 Ismaila Douda C 6-9 250 1993 Choice Academy/Miami, FL Nigeria
13 Marco Lagana G/F 6-2 155 1993 Pall Regiana Italy
15 Aleksandr Zhigulin F/C 6-8 200 1993 TSM Kazakhstan
Coach: Herman Harried (Lake Clifton High School/Baltimore, MD)

Black Jerseys (Away Team)

# Name Pos. Hgt. Wgt. Year Club/Team Country
7 Ojo Olaiya Adeolu G 6-1 192 1991 Zaria Cardinals Nigeria
8 Raul Togni Neto G 6-1 175 1992 Minas Tenis Clube Brazil
9 Ran Sui G 6-4 191 1992 Shandong Gold China
10 Nenad Miljenovic G/F 6-5 159 1993 FMP Serbia
11 Martin Kriz F 6-6 198 1993 BK Synthesia Pardubice Czech Republic
13 Andrey Loginov F/C 6-8 196 1993 CSKA Russia
14 Ignas Ramasauskas C 6-10 198 1993 BS Saule Lithuania
15 Richard Peters C 6-10 230 1993 Sagemont/Weston, FL Canada

Coach: Raphael Chillious (Nike Elite Youth Basketball)

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