LAS VEGAS — It goes without saying that the namesake of the LeBron James Skills Academy is the center of attention in the basketball world these days. With James being a free agent, the question of where he’ll play his basketball next season has dominated conversation with some seeing his decision as the first major domino to fall in NBA free agency.
While some would use that status as a reason to remain sequestered away from the public that hasn’t been the case for James, who was present at both sessions of his camp on Wednesday. And for the high school players in attendance, that meant the opportunity to play either with or against James during the evening session. With four games being played concurrently James hopped from one court to the next, taking the opportunity to also help the prospects with some of the finer points of the game.
One of the players who had the opportunity to defend James was 2015 guard Malik Beasley, who sought out the challenge of defending the four-time NBA MVP. And while becoming even better equipped to deal with a player of that level of physicality is something Beasley is looking to do this summer, it isn’t his only focus.
“It is, because I want to get ready for the next level,” Beasley told NBCSports.com. “Also ball-handling, so I can play some point guard [in addition to] the two.”
When asked which schools have been recruiting him the hardest the 6-foot-4 guard played things close to the vest, noting that while he knows the answers it’s something he’ll talk about more towards the end of July. But with the skill set it’s easy to see while many high major programs, including Georgia, Cincinnati, Maryland and Auburn have offered the versatile guard. Beasley was one of the better performers of the first day when it came to the high school players, as he was able to score in a variety of ways while also defending well.
Ivan Rabb, Henry Ellenson lead front court prospects: Two of the best prospects in the Class of 2015 faced off during the night session, but it didn’t come to fruition until the second half. Rabb controlled the paint on both ends of the floor in the first half, blocking shots around the basket on one end and scoring consistently on the other. And while Ellenson didn’t block as many shots at Rabb in the first half, he proved to be the best big man on the court during his time on the floor.
That ultimately led to the two five-star prospects being pitted against each other in the second half, and they played to a virtual standstill. This all occurred on a court being observed by coaches from Duke, Georgetown, Marquette, North Carolina and UCLA (each head coach was in attendance) among many high-major programs.
Sam Dekker, Kelly Oubre among college standouts: One aspect of the camp that proves beneficial is the presence of college players, with those who have performed well at other Nike skills camps receiving an invite to Las Vegas. Like the high school players there was an adjustment period as the players became better acquainted with each other. But the length of time needed to make that adjustment was understandably shorter for the college players.
Two college players who performed well were Wisconsin rising junior Sam Dekker and Kansas incoming freshman Kelly Oubre. Dekker’s coming off of a very good sophomore campaign for the Badgers, and the interesting thing about him is that he’s grown. Listed at 6-foot-7 by Wisconsin, Dekker is listed as being 6-foot-9 this week. Skill-wise he knocked down perimeter shots at a consistent rate while also getting to the basket off the dribble. As for Oubre, the left-hander was aggressive offensively and he was a proficient jump shooter as well.
Other players who performed well Wednesday were guards Anthony Brown (Stanford), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Terry Rozier (Louisville) and Delon Wright (Utah), with forwards Vincent Hunter (UTEP), Jordan Mickey (LSU) and Aaron White (Iowa) among the front court standouts. And VCU’s Treveon Graham deserves mention as well, as he made the plays required of being a good teammate while also displaying the shooting ability that has made him one of the Atlantic 10’s best players.
25-pound weight loss helps Georges Niang expand his game: Earlier this summer it was reported that Iowa State rising junior forward Georges Niang, whose season ended due to a broken foot suffered in the Cyclones’ NCAA tournament win over North Carolina Central, dropped some 25 pounds since the end of the season. The result: a more versatile player who’s better equipped to play on the perimeter on both ends of the floor. And being at a camp that features more perimeter players than prototypical big men has helped Niang as he works to become an even better player in 2014-15.
“I feel that [now I can] guard smaller guys and keep them in front of me,” Niang said. “I noticed I couldn’t do that last year when I was heavier, so [the weight loss] helps. Also, getting up and down the court is a lot easier. I rarely feel tired now, so I feel like where my stamina is I can keep going and pushing guys to another level.”