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.
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.