LeBron James Skills Academy Day 2 Recap: Huntington Prep tandem enjoys productive Thursday

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LAS VEGAS — While the first day of the LeBron James Skills Academy featured just one round of games for the high school players, Thursday’s schedule called for two rounds to be played during the afternoon. And while there were a couple players who had to miss out on the action due to injury issues, including Malik Newman and Isaiah Briscoe, there wasn’t a lack for enticing individual matchups on the second day.

It can be argued that the biggest matchup was the one between elite 2015 front court prospects Ben Simmons and Ivan Rabb. Both put forth quality performances on the first day of the camp and that would remain the case Thursday night, with it being argued by some that the LSU commit (Simmons) held the upper hand in the first half of their game with Rabb coming back in strong fashion in the second.

While Rabb remains the focus of many of the nation’s top programs, it’s been clear through two days that LSU has itself an outstanding future Tiger in Simmons due to his ability to attack defenses in transition as well as in the paint with a solid variety of moves. However Rabb and Simmons weren’t the only two big men to put forth impressive displays Thursday night, with the Huntington Prep tandem of Thomas Bryant and Ted Kapita working well together in their team’s victory.

MOREAll our content from the 2014 July Live Recruiting Period

Bryant, a five-star 2015 prospect, and Kapita (also 2015) ran the floor well and played aggressively on both ends of the floor in their matchup with 2015 seven-footers Doral Moore and Stephen Zimmerman. The energy Bryant and Kapita played with boosted their entire team, which bounced back from a sluggish start (trailing 9-2) to win a game they led by as many as 24 points.

While Kapita, who wants to study sports management in college, didn’t divulge much when asked which schools are currently the most active in his recruitment, Bryant mentioned three programs.

“The schools that have been most active are Syracuse, Ohio State and Kansas,” Bryant told NBCSports.com.

When asked what he’s looking for in the school that he’ll ultimately choose, Bryant noted his desire to be in a program that will help him expand his game. To that point, Bryant’s working this summer to become an even more effective player in the post.

“I’m just trying to improve my post game,” Bryant noted. “Also, staying in control and not going too fast when I get the ball in the post. Those are the big things I’ve been working on, as well as becoming more consistent with my shot.”

Jayson Taytum, Troy Brown among non-2015 standouts: While the crop of rising seniors tends to receive more attention during the spring/summer months, this is also an important time for the players who won’t be seniors next year. And two who have performed well in Las Vegas are 2016 forward Jayson Tatum and 2017 guard Troy Brown.

Tatum’s considered to be one of the best (if not the best) players in his class, and with his smooth game it’s easy to see why that’s the case. Tatum has displayed the ability to score from just about anywhere on the floor, and among the head coaches watching the game in which he played Thursday night were Jim Crews (Saint Louis), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) and Bill Self (Kansas).

As for Brown, he’s a 2017 prospect from Las Vegas who has already received an offer from Arizona. There’s clearly still plenty of time for Brown to hone his skills, but many have already walked away impressed by what he’s shown himself capable of doing. Brown’s knocked down perimeter shots while also getting to the basket in an efficient manner, not wasting dribbles in the process.

Stanley Johnson, Sam Dekker continue to impress: One day after the high school players had their opportunity to play on the same floor as LeBron James, it was the college players who scrimmaged with the two-time NBA champion. And two of the players who stood out were Arizona’s Stanley Johnson and Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker, with both taking on the challenge of defending James on one end and attacking him on the other.

Johnson has the ability to not only get to the basket but also finish through contact once there, a trait that will fit in well with his college team this winter. As for Dekker he’s been even more aggressive offensively, and one of his goals this summer has been to work towards become a more consistent perimeter shooter.

“I see myself as a good shooter but I didn’t shoot as well as I wanted to,” Dekker said. “I was streaky. I’d go five or six games shooting really well, and then three or four when I couldn’t hit an outside shot consistently. So I want to [improve my] shooting and get stronger so I can bang inside on offense and defense, get boards and finish around the rim.

“The more complete player I can become, the more it will help us out.”

Perry Ellis, Michael Qualls perform well on Thursday: Two other players who played well during the college workouts are Kansas forward Perry Ellis and Arkansas guard Michael Qualls, and both will be key figures for their respective teams in 2014-15. Ellis, who posted averages of 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game last season, has shown the ability to score around the basket while also knocking down mid-range jumpers during the first two days of the camp.

With the Jayhawks having to account for the loss of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid (there were other personnel losses as well), there’s room for Ellis to take another step forward as a junior. And he’s shown the skills needed to make sure that happens in Las Vegas.

As for Qualls, the athleticism he’s shown this week comes as no surprise. He’s attacked the basket during the camp scrimmages, at times doing so with bad intentions. The question for Qualls is whether or not he can take another step forward as a perimeter shooter.

After making just six of his 27 three-point attempts as a freshman, Qualls shot 35 percent (42-for-120) from three last season. However according to hoop-math.com Qualls shot just 29.6% on two-point jumpers, so that’s an area where strides can be made ahead of the 2014-15 season.

New Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis: My team will ‘respect the flag and the National Anthem’

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New Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis didn’t exactly get his tenure off on the right foot on Monday evening.

At his introductory press conference, Davis had this to say about the way that he’s going to run his program: “What is Ole Miss Basketball going to look like? It’s going to be relentless, athletic, explosive, a team that’s going to have to play on and on and on to beat. It’s going to be a team that’s going to be unselfish. We’re going to play fast and smart in transition. We’re going to try to get easy baskets. We’re going to try to play with great body language. We’re going to be a respectful team that respects the flag and the National Anthem. All those things from culture is what we’re about. It’s who we’re going to be.”

At Ole Miss, Davis is going to be recruiting young men that, for the most part, are African-American, which is precisely the demographic that has dealt with the institutionalized racism and police brutality that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement and spawned Colin Kaepernick’s initial protest.

When you’re already at a recruiting disadvantage because you’re Ole Miss, giving every other coach in the conference ammo to use against you on the recruiting trail — Do I need to spell that one out for you? — is probably not the best idea.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because we’re talking about how he’s building a program that respects the flag and the National Anthem, right?

The mascot for the school that he’s now coaching is, quite literally, named after confederate soldiers. If he’s such a proud American that he cannot tolerate black men protesting against institutionalized racism within our borders, how can he coach a team named after the soldiers that tried to tear this country apart 150 years ago just because they wanted to be able to own those black men?

If that’s not hypocrisy at its finest, I don’t know what is.

Purdue looking to get engineering students to help with Isaac Haas’ elbow brace

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Purdue University is an engineering school, and if you know anything about engineers, it’s that they like to build and invent stuff.

And so the basketball program is tapping into that. According to the Journal & Courier, those engineers are trying to find a way to make a brace for 7-foot-3 center Isaac Haas that would allow him to play this weekend. Haas, who broke his elbow in a first round win over Cal St.-Fullerton, tried to play with a brace on Sunday against Butler but it was not approved by the NCAA.

The problem, however, is that regardless of the brace that Purdue puts on Haas, he is still going to be asked to play with a broken elbow on his shooting hand. How will he make free throws? How will he score in the post if he can’t shoot right-handed jump-hooks? How can he, you know, play basketball with one arm?

“He has the best brace you can possibly have on that they didn’t approve,” Painter told reporters on Purdue’s campus Monday afternoon. “So if he has the best brace possible and he can’t shoot a right-handed free throw, this brace isn’t going to be better. It’s just going to be one that’s a little bit less [bulky] and it’s going to get approved. He still has a broken elbow.”

“Maybe with some decrease in inflammation. Maybe with some opportunities to rest it without any kind of additional treatment, maybe some natural healing will do it well,” Haas added on Sunday. “One thing is for sure: I’m going to ride with these guys as long as they last. I know they’ll make it all the way.”

If I’m Purdue, I chase the hell out of this. I do everything I can to find a way to get Haas cleared to at least get on the floor, because — as cliche as this is going to sound — the emotional boost that those other three seniors are going to get from seeing the fourth member of their class on the court with a broken elbow in the last games they’ll ever play together will be a benefit.

There is no way that Haas will be a better option than Matt Haarms with this injury.

But getting him on the court, even if just for a few possessions here and there, is something that would be a major boost to the Purdue team.

Get it done, engineers.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Winter Storm Toby is ruining West Virginia’s travel plans

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West Virginia already had to deal with one of the tougher travel schedules of anyone in the NCAA tournament.

A team in the eastern timezone, the Mountaineers had to travel all the way out to San Diego for their first weekend games. They played the last game on Sunday night before flying back to Morgantown on Monday morning.

Now they’re on the move again. West Virginia announced Monday that the team will leave a day early for Boston, where No. 5-seed West Virginia takes on top-seeded Villanova in the East Region semifinals at TD Garden on Friday night.

The National Weather Service says the bulk of the wind-driven snow and sleet is expected to hit New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and parts of eastern Pennsylvania before heading off to Massachusetts early Thursday.

Good thing these student-athletes don’t have to worry about missing class or anything.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 Power Rankings

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There are 16 teams left in the NCAA Tournament, which means that it is time for us to re-rank the teams left in the field based on the chances that they can win the NCAA tournament.

So let’s get do it:


This is what the Orange are going to have to do just to get to the national title game, assuming that seeds hold (LOL!): Beat Duke, beat Kansas and beat Villanova. Then, once there, they’re going to have to take down Kentucky, or Gonzaga, or Michigan. The Orange have, without question, the most difficult path of anyone left in the field, and they’re the lowest-rated team on KenPom, which of course means Jim Boeheim is taking this group back to the Final Four.


I think I would have Kansas State higher on this list if there was any kind of certainty about the status of Dean Wade. He’s Kansas State’s leading scorer and he has missed the last three games with an injury. Even if he is playing, I don’t think that I would take Bruce Weber’s Wildcats to beat the Kentucky Wildcats in the Sweet 16, not with the way that Kentucky has been playing of late.


I still don’t quite understand how Florida State did what they did in the first weekend of this tournament. They beat down Missouri in the first round and then erased a 12-point deficit in 10 minutes against the No. 1 seed in their region. Please, someone explain this to me. Until that someone does, I am not a believer. Sorry, ‘Noles.


I’m a believer in Loyola-Chicago. They can really, really defend, and they are balanced enough defensively that you can’t really key in on one guy. Plus, they have God on their side. Sister Jean has apparently sent up enough Hail Marys that Clayton Custer’s last-second jumper against Tennessee was able to, somehow, find its way into the bucket:


I’ve overlooked Clemson all season, and I have not learned my lesson. The Tigers, like Syracuse, have just a brutal path to even get to the national title game. They play Kansas in the Sweet 16 before playing, if seeds hold, Duke then Villanova. Give Brad Brownell’s team credit. They got Clemson someplace that no one in the country thought they could get to back in November. They’re playing with house money now.


Texas A&M’s big men are going to physically impose their will on the Michigan front line on Thursday night … if the ball actually gets to them. The Aggies are on to, what, their fourth point guard on the season with T.J. Starks? And he’s going to have to deal with Zavier Simpson, who has held these guards to these stat-lines the last six games:

  • Jordan Bohannon, Iowa: 11 points, 3-14 FGs, 3 turnovers
  • Glynn Watson, Nebraska: 10 points, 4-12 FGs, 2 turnovers
  • Cassius Winston, Michigan State: 11 points, 3-10 FGs
  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue: 10 points, 4-16 FGs
  • Ahmaad Rorie, Montana: 15 points, 6-17 FGs
  • Rob Gray, Houston: 23 points, 8-22 FGs


I actually think West Virginia, with the way that they are playing, is one of the five best teams left in the tournament. So why do I have them 10th on this list? Because it is not possible to create a team that would be a worse matchup for Press Virginia than Villanova is. Bob Huggins’ defense relies on speeding teams up and forcing them to make mistakes. No one is ever going to speed Jalen Brunson up or force him to make a mistake. It’s just not going to happen. So if West Virginia throws a press at Villanova and that press doesn’t work, the Wildcats are going to get wide-open three after wide-open three. They aren’t Michigan State. They’ll make their threes.


If you’re going to take a flier on a team with good odds to win the national title, Nevada would be my pick. They’re talented, more talented than you realize. They have dudes that — and I mean with with respect — have absolutely no idea the magnitude of the moment they’re playing in. The Martin twins, Jordan Caroline, Josh Hall, Kendell Stephens. Those guys scrap, they’re tough and athletic, they are shot-makers, they can all get hot and put up 20 points in a half.

Oh, and they had the good juju with Mariah Musselman becoming a March superstar.


On the one hand, I think that there may be some sneaky upside to losing Isaac Haas to the season with that fractured elbow. Matt Haarms is definitely a better defender, particularly in ball-screen actions, and since there is so little tape on the Boilermakers playing without Haas, Matt Painter will have the element of surprise on his side. On the other hand, Purdue just lost a guy that averages 14.7 points and anchors their offense in the post. They are suddenly much more one-dimensional with games coming up against teams (Texas Tech, potentially Villanova) that don’t necessarily have the size to handle Haas inside.


The Red Raiders look exactly how I thought they would look in this tournament. They are a nightmare to try and score on, and they have a dude in Keenan Evans. He’s been one of the best players in the tournament to date, and is averaging 16.5 points … in the second half of games. He’s their closer, and their defense is good enough that you’ll never be able to pull away from them.


I would have Kansas higher on this list — I love Devonte’ Graham, I think they are dangerous given how well they shot the ball, I think that Udoka Azubuike is criminally-underrated — but the idea of Svi Mykhailiuk or LaGerald Vick being forced to deal with either Marvin Bagley III or Wendell Carter in the paint is the kind of thing that will give Bill Self an ulcer.


I don’t really know what to make of this group. They didn’t look all that good against either Montana or Houston, but they advanced on the strength of a defense that seems positively anti-Beileinian. You have to figure their inability to score is going to be figured out by Beilein, but that defense is always going to be there.


I know that the Zags have not been super-impressive through the first weekend of games, but think about this: They just got back a good Ohio State team in the second round of the tournament in a game where their two-best big men and their two fourth-year guards combined for 34 points. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Killian Tillie, Johnathan Williams III — they are not going to play that poorly again. But if Rui Hachimura and Zach Norvell stay hot, watch out.


The Wildcats are playing their best basketball of the season. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander looks like an all-american while Kevin Knox has been a more consistent scoring threat on the wing. They’re rebounding the ball, they’re defending, they’ve seemingly figured out rotations.

Oh, and they are not going to have to face a top six-seed before the Final Four and a top two-seed before the national title game. Remember when John Calipari was complaining about how difficult their path was? Hahahaha …


For my money, the winner of the Duke-Villanova Final Four game — assuming that game happens in San Antonio, and it has to happen, you owe it to us, Basketball Gods — will be the team that ends up winning the national title this season. Duke’s front line is just overpowering, and Villanova’s ability to rain threes is a game-changer. Think about it like this: Against Alabama, a team that more or less matched up with the Wildcats perfectly on paper, Villanova won by 23 points despite the fact that Jalen Brunson was just OK because Donte DiVincenzo went bonkers at the end of the first half and Mikal Bridges caught fire early in the first half. They are scary.


I’ve said, even since Duke made the switch to play the 2-3 zone full-time, that they are the best team in college basketball. I picked them to win it all at the start of the tournament. Of course I’m going to have them right here, at the top of the rankings, heading into the Sweet 16.

This is why: Duke’s front line is impossible to matchup with because they are just so big, but their opponents cannot take advantage of going small at the other end because of that Duke zone. Back when Duke played man, teams like Boston College and St. John’s were able to exploit Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter in ball-screens with smaller, quicker players. Now? In the zone? Carter doesn’t leave the charge circle and all Bagley has to do is be long, athletic and active. He can do that. So good luck with their big men.

Trae Young to declare for the NBA Draft

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Oklahoma’s freshman sensation Trae Young announced on Tuesday morning that he will be entering the NBA Draft.

This decision comes as no surprise, as Young played his way into the lottery with some sterling early season performances. But as his production dropped off in Big 12 play, a debate started waging over whether or not he will ever live up to the hype he had at the start of the year.

A projected top ten pick that could sneak into the top five, Young will likely be in the mix with Collin Sexton and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the first point guard taken in this draft. I would take Young at the top of that list, and if I was a team drafting in the top five, I would seriously consider him at that level. His ability to pass, to read the game and to exploit the space that will be available to him at the NBA level will allow him to be a more effective player at that level.