PITTBURGH, Pa. — There was only one live period in the spring this year, making last weekend all the more important for college coaches and the recruits that want to play for them. Here are seven takeaways from a weekend at the Hoop Group’s Pittsburgh Jam Fest:
1. Athleticism gets you noticed, but it only gets you so far: Seventh Woods (No. 5 in Rivals’ Class of 2016) and Derrick Jones (No. 25 in Rivals’ Class of 2015) are two of the most explosive athletes that you’ll ever see at the high school level. Jones’ exploits in layup lines drew bigger crowds than any game this weekend. And Woods? Well, he’s this guy.
The problem comes when a player relies strictly on his athletic ability to get by. That works at a younger age against lesser competition, but as the competition gets better, simply running past or jumping over defenders isn’t as simple. That’s part of what frustrated people watching Woods and Jones this weekend. Woods is naturally a scoring guard. He’s at his best when he’s trying to beat people off the dribble, attacking the rim, drawing fouls. He needs to be aggressive to be effective, and he spent much of the weekend trying to prove that he’s a point guard by … playing passive? He settled for jumpers and opted to distribute the ball around the perimeter instead of trying to break down defenses, which wouldn’t have been a terrible thing if he didn’t turn the ball over so much or struggle with his perimeter shot.
I get it. He’s just a sophomore. It’s a learning process, and he’s still learning how to play a different role. He’s still got a ways to go.
As far as Jones is concerned, he’s a defensive playmaker and a threat on the offensive glass that hasn’t gotten much better offensively. He still needs to improve his handle. He still needs to add weight and strength. He’s still a liability as a jump shooter. His ceiling will land him at a marquee program, but he’s got a long way to go before he’s an impact player at the high-major level.
2. MJ Walker was the best prospect at Pitt Jam Fest: Want to know what kind of physical specimen Walker is? He’s still a freshman in high school (Class of 2017) and hasn’t played football since 2011, yet when word spread that he would be suiting up with his Jonesboro HS (Ga.) team next season, Clemson and Miami offered him scholarships sight unseen.
That’s not all. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard led his high school basketball team to the Georgia 4A state title this past season. His strength and athleticism are despite his age, and his game is more well-rounded that you would expect from a player that only completed his freshman season. He can handle the ball, he can attack the basket, he’s got range on his jumper, he’s willing to get after it defensively. And high majors are only now starting to take notice. Auburn is the only school that’s offered him, but Ohio State and Iowa State are starting to show serious interest.
Walker told NBCSports.com his goal for the summer is to get an invite to the U-16 Team USA event this summer.
3. New Heights’ Mike Nzei and Dupree McBrayer were the two best Class of 2014 players at the event: McBrayer was lights out over the course of the first two days. The 6-foot-3 lefty combo-guard showed off a knack for being able to get into the paint and knocked down perimeter jumpers more consistently than he has in the past, but he’s primarily a scorer that can spend too much time dominating the ball and strongly favors going left. McBrayer holds a number of low- to mid-major offers in the Class of 2014, but he told NBCSports.com that he’s going to prep school. He wants to go high-major, and even claimed an offer from Seton Hall.
“What I need to do is put on some strength and strength my right hand,” he said.
Nzei is an interesting prospect in that he’s an active and athletic 6-foot-8 forward that showed off a nice perimeter touch this weekend. He holds offers from Iowa and St. Joseph’s, among others.
4. Pitt is doing everything they can to keep Moustapha Heron’s commitment: Heron was arguably the MVP of the New Heights team that won the 17u title, which certainly made Pitt fans that were in attendance giddy. Heron, the No. 19 player in the Class of 2016, committed to the Panthers last fall. But there’s a catch: Heron was recruited by Barry ‘Slice’ Rohrssen, and Slice has since taken a job at Kentucky. Pitt had an assistant tailing him all weekend and came full staff on Sunday. “Family-wise, we had a real close tie to [Slice],” Heron told NBCSports.com. “Right now, we’re just working on building a good relationship with Coach Dixon.”
Heron is a powerful, 6-foot-5 guard that butters his bread attacking the rim off the dribble. He’ll need to develop his handle and his perimeter stroke for the next level.
5. Dewan Huell or Juwan Durham?: Team Breakdown’s 16s has the best kind of problem: two top 50 recruits in their front court. Juwan Durham is the more highly-regarded of the pair — he’s a bit taller and longer and more athletic — but Huell’s more physical and more aggressive around the rim. He outplayed another top 25 forward, Justin Jackson of Findlay Prep, on Sunday morning.
6. Keep an eye on Danjel Puriefoy: Tevin Mack was the best scorer in Pittsburgh this weekend — we wrote about him here — but Puriefoy might have been the best wing at the event. He’s 6-foot-7, powerful and athletic, making him tough to keep out of the paint, but he’s got a knack for being able to create offense for his teammates. He needs to add some range on his shot, but he reminded me a bit of Pitt’s Lamar Patterson, the senior season version.
7. Mike Watkins will be a player for Penn State: Watkins is still learning how to be a basketball player and not just an athlete, but his athleticism and effort level on the glass and the defensive end will make him a capable Big Ten post presence for four years. He’s currently ranked 123rd in the Class of 2015.