The Showdown Saturday Recap: Horace Spencer’s big summer continues

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PHILADELPHIA — Horace Spencer’s game lacks a lot at this point in his development, but one thing the 6-foot-8 power forward, ranked No. 73 in the Class of 2015 by Rivals, has in abundance is energy.

In short: there may not be a front court prospect in the class that plays harder each and every time he steps on the court than Spencer does.

A Philly native that spent this past season playing for Findlay Prep out in Las Vegas, Spencer is cut from the same cloth as a guy like Ben Wallace. His broad shoulders and quick leaping ability help him make up for the fact that he is a bit undersized, and he takes pride in his ability to rebound the ball on both ends of the floor and protect the rim defensively.

On Saturday, at Elevate Hoops’ tournament in Philly called The Showdown, Spencer put on a show. Playing on a team that only had six players and didn’t have much in the way of Division I talent, he lit up the Showtime Ballers — who count Dwayne Bacon, Corey Sanders, Jeantal Cylla and Jean Marc Koumadje as members — to the tune of 28 points, controlling the paint on both ends of the floor. While the majority of those buckets came off of effort plays — offensive rebounds, cuts to the rim, picking up loose balls, beating defenders down the floor in transition — he also knocked down three jumpers in the 17-19 foot range and had a handful of nice moves on the block, some he finished and some he didn’t.

In other words, the guy known as a player that brings athleticism and effort to the table showed off a little of skill, proof he is continuing to develop as a player. “Improving my offensive game, like my jump shot and my ballhandling,” Spencer said when asked about what he’s been working on.

MOREAll our content from the 2014 July Live Recruiting Period

That performance came on the heels of a good showing at the NBPA Top 100 camp and an excellent three days at Reebok’s Breakout Classic, which has made Spencer one of the hotter prospects in the class.

Spencer listed offers from Seton Hall, West Virginia, USC, Cincinnati, La Salle, Georgia, Maryland and Oregon State at the beginning of the week, but has reportedly received offers from South Florida and Oklahoma State since then. Expect to see that list grow as well, as Spencer’s best performances of the summer came with faces like Leonard Hamilton and John Thompson III, as well as a large number of high major assistants, in the crowd.

Skal Labissiere finally looks dominant: Skal Labissiere is a top 15 recruit in the Class of 2015, but the slender, 6-foot-11 center missed this high school season with a stress fracture in his back. On Saturday, Skal finally looked like an elite-level big man with a dominating first half performance against the Richmond Squires. He had a huge dunk in traffic, knocked down a couple of jumpers, made quick moves in the post and made a handful of nice passes, include a touch-pass from the high-post for a layup.

Here’s the issue: the Squires didn’t have a single front court player over 6-foot-7. Labissiere’s potential is through the roof. He’s got a massive wingspan and huge hands, he’s got ball skills that many bigs at this level don’t and he’s got a go-to move on the block — a righty jump-hook — that is really effective. I’d feel more confident in his future if he dominated a similar caliber of competition as well.

It’s time to get a look at Grant Riller: The most eye-opening performance on Saturday came from a kid that’s a bit of an afterthought on his own AAU team, the Q6 all-stars. Coaches were lined up to see Kerry Blackshear and Matt Milon, but what they got was Riller showing out during the second half of an upset win over Sports U. In a five minute stretch during the second half, Riller scored on two tough drives through a set defense, split the defenders on a high-ball screen before setting up a teammate for an open three, drilled a deep three from the top of the key and threw down the dunk of the day on hyper-athletic, 6-foot-8 Chris Silva.

Should I mention that Riller is listed at 6-foot-3, a height that apparently takes his (large) half-fro into consideration?

Riller, who calls himself a combo-guard, plays his high school ball at Ocoee HS in Orlando. The only offers that he listed were from Abilene Christian and Kennesaw State, but he said that Virginia Tech, Mercer, Florida-Gulf Coast, College of Charleston, North Florida and FIU have been checking up on him.

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.