Las Vegas Thursday Recap: Skal Labissiere, Stephen Zimmerman perform well

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One of the positives of grassroots basketball is the fact that the nation’s top talents tend to have more opportunities to hone their craft against other skilled players, and for the top big men that also means the chance to play against similarly-sized players. While there are some high school and prep leagues that don’t lack for size, more times than not during the high school season a player can find himself double and triple-teamed by smaller teams due to their inability to put a bigger defender on that elite talent.

That’s something 2015 center Skal Labissiere ran into on multiple occasions this past season, with Labissiere noting that the summer provides a greater challenge – and more room in which to operate.

“I like playing during the summer more, because I get more one-on-one matchups,” Labissiere told NBCSports.com, and he also noted that the players he faces during the summer provide a greater challenge. “Because in the league we play in [during the school year] I get double and triple-teamed a lot.”

Labissiere matched up with another top 2015 big man on Thursday in 7-footer Stephen Zimmerman, and both displayed some of the skills that have left coaches across the country impressed. Labissiere was productive in the post offensively, and defensively he displayed the ability to serve as a help-side defender at the rim. Zimmerman displayed greater aggression in the post, at one point using two powerful dribbles to get through Labissiere to the basket, while also displaying the passing ability and shooting range that makes him arguably the most well-rounded big man in the class.

And just as importantly, the moments in which he spent too much time on the perimeter were non-existent. However this is something Zimmerman stated that he continues to work at, and with teammate Ivan Rabb participating in USA Basketball’s U-17 camp this weekend the Las Vegas native has more room to operate on the low block.

“I try to do everything I can on the court to help my team,” Zimmerman told NBC Sports. “I think I need to work on being more aggressive, but I feel like it will come.

“Not being so passive,” Zimmerman added. “I’ll catch the ball at the high post sometimes and instead of attacking I’ll look for the pass. That’s not what my team needs. But I think I’ll get better at it [in time].”

Isaiah Briscoe outplays Jalen Brunson in NJ Playaz win: One of the four games at The 8, which was held at Impact Basketball Academy, matched up the Mac Irvin Fire and Playaz Basketball Club out of New Jersey. And while this particular event draws attention from fans due to the presence of coaches who are also (for the most part) current NBA players, there are also quality individual matchups to consider.

This one featured point guards Jalen Brunson (Fire) and Isaiah Briscoe (Playaz), with Briscoe getting the better of Brunson as he led his team to the win. Briscoe’s an incredibly tough customer who has no issue whatsoever with contact, and he was a very difficult matchup in ball screen situations due to his ability to make reads without being hurried. Brunson was quiet for much of the game, but that won’t do anything to diminish his status as one of the best point guards in the 2015 class.

RELATED: Las Vegas Wednesday Recap

Elijah Cain performs well for NJ Playaz: Briscoe wasn’t the only solid performer for the Playaz in that win, with 2015 wing Elijah Cain also displaying the ability to both attack the basket off the dribble and knock down perimeter shots. Cain’s an interesting case in that he made the decision prior to the start of last season to reclassify back into the 2015 class. And according to Cain, basketball wasn’t the primary reason for his decision to make that move.

“Most people don’t know this, but the decision was made more for my age and maturity and not for basketball,” Cain told NBCSports.com. “I just wanted to mature because I’m young for my class.”

Among the schools Cain mentioned as being most active in his recruitment, Memphis and Delaware were among the programs who were in touch before his solid performance at the Peach Jam with Virginia Tech, Charlotte, USC and Xavier reaching out afterward.

Alterique Gilbert has the makings of a very good point guard: The 8 also provided the opportunity to watch 2016 point guard Alterique Gilbert ply his trade for CP3, with the Los Angeles Clippers floor general serving as one of the coaches. Gilbert can be a handful for the opposition in pick and roll situations, something that played itself out on multiple occasions Thursday. But there are still improvements to be made, especially when it comes to the reads Gilbert makes in those situations. And it helps to have a resource like Paul, who isn’t on the bench solely to make a “celebrity appearance.”

“He’s helped us out throughout July,” Gilbert told NBCSports.com. “He’s very supportive of us and I respect that. A lot of NBA players will make a team but they aren’t really involved with their program, so I like that he’s really hands-on.”

And when it comes to the improvements he’s looking to make in his game, Gilbert isn’t focusing solely on his offensive skill set. There’s also the understanding of the need to improve defensively and as a leader, with Gilbert citing the importance of communication on the defensive end of the floor as something he’s become more mindful of. Gilbert stated that he’s recently received offers by Texas A&M, Memphis, Miami, Maryland and Georgia.

Jarred Vanderbilt another intriguing 2017 prospect: Wednesday provided the opportunity to watch two of the best prospects in the 2017 class in Troy Brown and DeAndre Ayton, and on Thursday 6-foot-8 forward Jarred Vanderbilt took the court for the Houston Hoops. Vanderbilt was solid if not spectacular in his team’s close win over Seattle Rotary Select, using his slender frame to get to the basket on multiple occasions. Given his class there’s plenty of time for him to develop physically in order to better deal with contact when in traffic, and he’s only going to receive more attention from programs as he does.

Vanderbilt already holds offers from multiple high-major programs, including Baylor, Creighton, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M.

Five-star forward King picks Oregon

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Oregon has nabbed one of the top players in the 2018 class.

Louis King, a top-20 forward, committed to Dana Altman and the Ducks on Thursday via a video on social media.

“It’s been a tough, strenuous process,” King said, “but today makes all of that worth it. I’ve been blessed with great opportunities.”

The 6-foot-8 New Jersey native selected Oregon over other finalists Seton Hall, NC State, Purdue and Kansas.

“I would like to thank each of them for all the time and effort they put into my recruitment,” King said. “I would like to thank my coaches and my teammates that have pushed me and helped get me to this point in my career. My friends for all their love and support, but most of all I would like to thank my family, who has been by my side through it all.”

King is Altman’s second commit in 2018, joining four-star big man Miles Norris, a top-75 recruit in the class. It’s the beginning of what could be an absolutely dynamic class for Oregon, which still has two scholarships remaining.

“Out of all of my schools I felt like it was best for me and my family,” King said to MADE Hoops. “Coach Altman said that I would have the ball in my hands throughout the season. When I get there, it will be an easy adjustment for me with how I handle rock and get my teammates open. Our goal is to win a national championship next year.”

 

Four-star forward Miller Kopp commits to Northwestern

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Northwestern has a second four-star recruit in its 2018 class.

The Wildcats received a commitment from Miller Kopp, a 6-foot-6 forward, on Thursday, he announced via social media.

“I built a really strong relationship with (coach) Chris Collins and I fell in love with the campus,” Kopp told Scout. “I knew it would be a nice campus and have that stuff, but I think me and him are wired the same way. II think that his personality fits mine and I think we complement each other. I’m definitely excited to be able to go to a program on the rise and be able to make some history.”

Kopp picked the Wildcats over offers from Georgetown, Butler, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. The Houston native is ranked in the top-100 of his class by most recruiting services.

He gives Collins and the Wildcats an exceedingly strong 2018 class, which already featured four-star guard Pete Nance of Ohio along with three-star recruits Jordan Lathon and Ryan Young. It represents a major leap forward for Northwestern. It would appear that the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament appearance last March has brought momentum to the recruiting trail.

 

NEXT ONE? Hoops phenom at 13 has college offer, NBA height

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Emoni Bates walks out a front door of Clague Middle School with just inches to spare.

A wide smile tops his 6-foot-7, extra-lean frame. He’s holding a seventh-grade honor society certificate in his right hand. His braces gleam in the afternoon sun.

Meet the best 13-year-old basketball player in America, according to some recruiting services. One of his highlight reels on YouTube has been viewed about 1 million times.

“I don’t really pay attention to it,” Emoni insists in a voice just louder than a whisper, “because if I pay attention to it, it’s just going to get to my head.

“And I don’t want it to get to my head. I just want to play basketball.”

He’s got the pedigree.

Emoni’s father, E.J. Bates, has been around the game most of his life. He picked greens and baled hay as a kid in nearby Milan, Michigan, then developed into a smooth-shooting guard. But he didn’t take school seriously until it was too late. Instead of playing for a basketball power like Kansas and maybe even in the NBA, E.J. wound up going to Kentucky Wesleyan and settling for pro hoops in Switzerland.

E.J. is determined to make sure his son doesn’t make the same mistake. The academics are a sign of that. House rules bar Emoni from picking up a basketball until his homework is done.

Yet E.J. knows when kids are this good this early, distractions roll in like waves. Already, it seems, lots of people want a piece of Emoni. Prep, private and public high school coaches are lining up. Colleges have him on their radar. DePaul took it a step further, offering Emoni a scholarship in late August. Two other much-touted players in the Class of 2022 — Amari Bailey of Illinois and Skyy Clark of California — also have offers from DePaul.

E.J. knows the shoe company bird dogs and other hustlers looking to buy favors are lurking, too. So he and wife Edith, who works for the Red Cross, keep their inner circle very tight.

“I’m his coach to keep the snakes away,” Bates says, sitting on one of Clague’s concrete benches. “We’re not for sale.”

The Bates family has agreed to provide The Associated Press with a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the life of one of the most coveted basketball prospects in the country for at least the next five years. The periodic series will include video, photos, audio and text updates to track his progress.

Will Emoni stay near his current home to attend a public high school? Or will he take his next step at a private school like Detroit Country Day, like Michigan native Chris Webber?

Will he follow the footsteps of Marvin Bagley III and other five-star prospects, reclassifying to finish high school in three years? Bagley did to play college ball at Duke this coming season — and potentially to get a jump on a pro future.

Will E.J. and Emoni emulate the father-son team of LaVar and Lonzo Ball, grabbing headlines while hawking their own brand at every turn?

No one knows.

E.J. says all options are on the table. But he won’t be loud, unlike LaVar Ball in the lead-up to his son Lonzo being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I don’t have to brag about what we’re doing,” E.J. says. “I let other people do all the talking about how good Emoni is because word of mouth is the best advertising there is.”

A POTENTIAL STAR IS BORN

Emoni James-Wayne Bates was born Jan. 28, 2004, at the University of Michigan hospital. He was on the light side — 6 pounds, 7 ounces — and a little long at 21 inches. Just over a year later, Emoni slept with his head cradled in his left arm and his right wrapped around a black and red basketball. A cherished photo was made.

“He would always sleep with the ball,” his father recalls, holding a framed picture in his Ypsilanti, Michigan, home. “If the ball wasn’t around, he would cry about the ball. Even to this day, he has a mini-ball he keeps with him, which is crazy to me.”

There were more hints. During a second visit to the doctor, E.J., who is 6-foot-4, and Edith, 5-9, asked how tall their son might grow.

“He was off the charts,” E.J. laughs, “so they couldn’t tell us.”

Emoni has shot up 7 inches in the last two years. He’s tall enough right now to play shooting guard at any level. He handles the ball like a point guard and launches 3-pointers like a savvy veteran. He can create his own shot like a wing or drive the lane and dish off to a teammate like another rail-thin former prodigy, Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant.

But adding weight and muscle is an ongoing challenge. He weighs just 155 pounds — not heavy or strong enough to play a dominating inside game that would complement his fluid perimeter skills.

“We try to stuff him full of food at night and hope it sticks,” E.J. sighs.

TEEN CELEBRITY

The Adidas Invitational in Fishers, Indiana, attracts some of the Midwest’s top seventh-grade AAU teams. Inside Best Choice Fieldhouse, talk centers on whether the Bates Fundamentals squad starring Emoni and coached by E.J. can live up to the hype.

“They’ve been hearing a lot about him,” says Bernetta Kelly, watching her son’s Peoria Area Elite team take its shot.

Bates Fundamentals wins 95-44 and Kelly understands why. She approaches Emoni and asks for a photo with her son and his team.

“I’ve seen the best players from Pittsburgh to Vegas the last four years, and he’s been the best in his class,” Peoria coach Zach Martin says. “I told the guys, ‘There are not many times you will be able to say you played an NBA player, but you just did.'”

After another lopsided victory in the two-day tournament won easily by Bates Fundamentals, Emoni walks off the court. A younger competitor darts out of his team’s pregame layup line to slap his hand. Moments later, the excitement follows Emoni out the door.

“Hey, that’s him,” a young boy entering the facility says to teammates.

How does a 10-year-old from Fort Wayne, Indiana, know who Bates is?

“YouTube,” he says.

Duh.

The highlight reel posted last summer had nearly 1 million views before Emoni walked into the doors at Clague for the first time as an eighth-grader. Several other videos have racked up 500,000-plus views in less than one year.

By the spring of 2018, the suspense about where he plans to attend high school may be its own mini-drama. Then a few years later: Which college?

E.J. and Edith hardly need reminding that’s still a long way off. As good as the recruiting services have become at projecting stars, it’s easy to forget the object of all that attention is still just 13. At times, the recruiting experts simply miss.

“It’s always a crap shoot,” E.J. says. “You don’t know what life will deal you. You never know what can happen with injuries, the loss of motivation or pressure getting to be too much.”

Yet fans of two college basketball powers with the inside track can already start thinking about the fall of 2021, when Bates can officially sign a scholarship offer. In quiet moments, Emoni sometimes does, too.

Asked about his favorite programs, the soft-spoken kid doesn’t hesitate to name the early front-runners.

“Michigan State and Kentucky,” Emoni says.

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Follow the series: https://www.apnews.com/tag/TheKid

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Follow Larry Lage at http://twitter.com/larrylage

NCAA punishes Pacific men’s basketball for violations

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STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) — The men’s basketball team at Pacific has been punished by the NCAA for academic and recruiting violations under former coach Ron Verlin.

The NCAA said Wednesday that Verlin failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance when he violated academic misconduct and recruiting rules to get prospects eligible. He also failed to monitor his coaches and violated NCAA ethics rules when he encouraged others to give false information during the investigation.

The baseball program was also cited because former coach Ed Sprague impermissibly provided an athletic training student with a $16,000 scholarship to help with the housing costs of two baseball student-athletes, including her brother.

Penalties for the school include two years of probation, recruiting and scholarship reductions, a $5,000 fine and a vacation of all games in which ineligible athletes participated.

Memphis lands commitment from 2018 center Connor Vanover

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Memphis picked up its first commitment in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night as unique center prospect Connor Vanover announced his decision on Twitter.

At 7-foot-2, Vanover brings elite size to the interior for the Tigers and he’s also skilled enough that he was a 43 percent three-point shooter during his stint playing with Pro Skills in the Nike EYBL this spring. Although Vanover needs to add strength and athleticism to adapt to the college level, he simply has size that you can’t teach. Pair that size with an intriguing perimeter jumper and it’ll be interesting to see how head coach Tubby Smith is able to develop Vanover the next few years.

A three-star prospect according to Rivals, Vanover averaged 9.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game during the spring. Originally from Arkansas, Vanover is spending his senior season of high school ball at prep school powerhouse Findlay Prep.