Sam Dekker, Julius Randle

Seven takeaways from the LeBron James Skills Academy

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The first of July’s three live periods ended at 5:00 p.m. Sunday. Each of our writers were at an event last week, and each will be giving you seven takeaways from those events. 

One of the showcase events of the first open weekend in July was the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas. Sure the free agent status of the event’s namesake hung over the proceedings, but the camp was an important one for some of the nation’s best players at both the college and high school levels. There aren’t many camps with both sets of players in attendance going through workouts (during separate sessions), which makes this event unique compared to others held in July.

With college coaches in town to not only check out recruits but also (in some cases) check in on their current players and NBA scouts having the opportunity to watch both sets of players, all involved had the opportunity to improve their standing with those decision-makers. Here are seven thoughts on the action from Las Vegas.

MOREAll our content from the 2014 July Live Recruiting Period

1) Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker is poised to have a big junior season.

Dekker enjoyed a solid sophomore season, posting averages of 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game for a team that was an Aaron Harrison three-pointer away from playing for the national title. That’s served as a catalyst for the 6-foot-9 forward (he’s grown two inches, and is working to be a more physical player), who displayed an improved floor game and more assertiveness in Las Vegas.

Dekker scored from anywhere on the floor during the camp, knocking down perimeter shots at a solid clip, and was also good on the defensive end. From a jump-shooting standpoint it was good to see Dekker knock down those looks consistently, as his three-point percentage dipped more than six percentage points from his freshman (39.1%) to sophomore (32.6%) year. That area will be key for Wisconsin as they look to make another deep run into the NCAA tournament and account for the graduation of Ben Brust.

2) Based upon the talent in Las Vegas, the Big 12 is going to be incredibly fun to watch in 2014-15.

That statement won’t come as a surprise, based upon how competitive the league was last season with Kansas winning the regular season title and Iowa State taking the tournament crown. And while the Jayhawks have won at least a share of the last ten regular season titles, players representing other programs in Las Vegas have no plans of conceding anything in 2014-15. While Kansas’ Perry Ellis put together a very good week at the camp the same can be said of Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield, who also made some waves by stating that the Sooners are going to win the Big 12 this year.

Iowa State’s Georges Niang, having lost 25 pounds since the end of the season, looked more mobile on the court and that’s a good sign given the broken foot that ended his season. Add in the likes of Kansas State’s Marcus Foster (who expects to have more opportunities as a primary ball-handler in 2014-15), Texas’ Isaiah Taylor and West Virginia’s Juwan Staten and there’s a lot of returning talent to like in the Big 12.

3) Arizona’s Stanley Johnson and Kansas’ Kelly Oubre are ready to produce immediately on the offensive end.

Johnson and Oubre were the lone freshmen playing amongst the college players, and their abilities on the offensive end are what stood out. Johnson proved to be a difficult matchup at the camp, especially when it came to his ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim through contact. As for Oubre, he was very good at slashing to the basket and finding solid looks himself. While there’s still work to be done for both players, they have the tools needed to be primary scoring options in their respective systems.

4) Ted Kapita likely did more to help his status within the 2015 class than any other prospect at the camp.

Kapita entered the week rated as a three-star prospect by 247Sports and a four-star according to Rivals. And in the aftermath of his performance in Las Vegas, Kapita is now deemed to be a five-star player by 247Sports. Kapita ran the floor well, was active in the paint on both ends and remained engaged throughout the week. That last bit can be difficult for some young players (as evidenced by the decision to cancel Friday’s night session with fatigue being one reason; there were legitimate injuries to consider as well), especially when taking on-court communication into consideration, but this wasn’t a problem for Kapita. He’s definitely a name to keep an eye on as the month progresses.

5) Ivan Rabb and Cheick Diallo led the way in the post amongst uncommitted big men at the event.

Of course the likes of Bryant, Kapita and Caleb Swanigan were also in attendance, but Rabb and Diallo were both very good at the camp. Rabb’s skill set on the block made him a very tough matchup for most of the players he went up against, and he also showed himself to be an adept shot blocker and rebounder outside of his area. As for Diallo, while there are still strides to be made offensively he played incredibly hard and was a presence in the paint on both ends.

6) The camp provided further evidence to the fact that LSU landed a stud in Ben Simmons. 

Simmons is rated by multiple scouting services as the top player in the Class of 2015, and he did nothing to dispel that notion in Las Vegas. Simmons displayed the ability to score from anywhere on the floor, making him an incredibly difficult matchup throughout the week. He’s a player who at the next level has the skills needed to be a “mismatch” that LSU head coach Johnny Jones can plug into either forward slot, taking smaller defenders into the paint and bigger defenders out onto the perimeter.

7) Jayson Tatum is an incredibly smooth wing, and the race for him will continue to be fierce. 

Tatum’s rated as one of the best players in the 2016 class (and tops in the eyes of some), and the reasons why were on display in Las Vegas. Tatum combined the ability to get to the basket off the dribble with solid perimeter shooting ability, and he isn’t the kind of player who gets out of control on that end of the floor. As his body matures and he gets a little stronger, Tatum should remain one of the top players in his class. Duke, Kansas and Kentucky are among the programs working hard to land Tatum, and the same can be said for a Saint Louis program hoping to keep the elite small forward from leaving his hometown.

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
Jon Lopez/Nike
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

ESPN.com was the first to report White’s commitment.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.