LAS VEGAS — The final week of the July live evaluation period commenced with most of the top players ending up in Las Vegas. With over four events and multiple shoe-company circuits overlapping in final events, it made for some fun competition that we usually don’t see. Here are five takeaways from the week there.
1. Las Vegas is more important than the Peach Jam
This summer drew a ton of praise for Peach Jam since it looks like the summer college recruiting model could be changing. Peach Jam is a wonderful event. One of the most competitive events during the entire year. Las Vegas is better. It’s also more important for recruiting than Peach Jam.
Peach Jam gets so much hype and coverage because it’s grown in mythical proportions as Nike’s top event and championship. But Peach Jam is only a handful of Nike’s top teams playing in one small town. It also competes directly with important events, that are hours away, from Adidas and Under Armour.
Las Vegas has top teams from all shoe company circuits in one city. Which means all of the top college coaching staffs focus almost all of their energy on Vegas. It also means that coaching staffs have to make difficult selections when going to see players they are recruiting. And by the third week of the live period, players are noticing which schools are consistently at their games.
“Last week, the second live period there are so many events, so all the coaches can’t be everywhere. Everyone is in Las Vegas. It means a lot to see the coaches recruiting you at your games because you know they’re in Vegas. It just depends on if they’re going to your game, or someone else’s game,” Class of 2019 prospect Samuell Williamson said.
That quote hits Vegas on the head as an event.
Players are competing for the final time ever on the AAU circuit. The emotion of playing in one last tournament, while fighting for scholarships for one final time in front of college coaches, is a lot to deal with. When you also add in the overall excitement of Las Vegas as a city, the number of prominent NBA players in attendance at all Vegas events, and the hyped cross-shoe-company games and it makes for a tremendous week of basketball if properly planned.
Peach Jam is great. But Las Vegas is the most important week of the July recruiting calendar.
2. Jaden McDaniels is a talented but polarizing prospect
There has already been a lot of talk this July about how there is a glaring lack of star power at the top of the Class of 2019. Some really good players are up there. But when it comes to the NBA talk and traditional “one-and-done” chatter, there won’t be as much with the Class of 2019.
Which is part of the reason why Seattle native Jaden McDaniels has generated so much attention over the last several months. The younger brother of San Diego State forward Jalen McDaniels, Jaden is also a late-blooming forward who brings a lot of intriguing things to the table at 6-foot-10. McDaniels shoots an effortless-looking perimeter jumper. He can guard four or five positions. He’s long, rangy and athletic. Those traits have led to some scouts becoming enamored with McDaniels as he’s received some talk as the best long-term prospect in the class.
But there are others who aren’t so high on McDaniels. While McDaniels has a lot of intriguing tools at his disposal, he doesn’t always play hard, or put up the production, that you would like to see from a five-star talent. McDaniels is also a classic player who is good at a lot of things but not great at any one particular skill — quite yet.
These polarizing viewpoints among scouts also qualify within the college ranks. The west-coast schools are all over McDaniels, but he’s never really ascended into a national-level recruit. Duke and Kentucky haven’t shown serious interest. It means that McDaniels is going to be one of the most fascinating players to watch in this class. Some think he could be the guy while the best schools aren’t even all that interested. Something has to give on this one.
3. The Orlando area has some intriguing talent
The Orlando area isn’t exactly known as a high school basketball hotbed. But with North Carolina freshman Nassir Little hailing from the area, and Orlando having even more high-end talent in the Class of 2019, it is becoming an area to keep an eye on.
Forward C.J. Walker was one of the most interesting players to track in Las Vegas after a strong summer start that included positive play at Pangos and Peach Jam. The 6-foot-7 Walker didn’t disappoint with E1T1 at the Fab 48 as the high-motor Walker piled up points and rebounds while adding blocks and steals. Showing an improved perimeter game, Walker is the type of versatile, positionless player who could rocket up national rankings after his recent play. Arizona just jumped into the mix with a scholarship offer as Walker might become a national recruit. His ability to play up to four spots looks very attractive at the college level.
Kai Jones is another forward who played in the Orlando area having a solid summer. After leading Orlando Christian Prep to a state title last season, the 6-foot-10 Jones earned double-digit high-major scholarship offers as he’s quickly getting a feel for American basketball. A native of the Bahamas, Jones can make plays around the basket using his athleticism as he is quick off of his feet. He eventually plans to transition as a wing forward who is expanding his game to the perimeter.
But because Jones is the biggest guy on his guard-heavy grassroots team, he has to play inside.
“I’m getting more and more comfortable every time I play,” Jones said. “I feel like I’ve expanded my game, and being comfortable with the ball and knowing when to attack and when not to attack. Making the right reads. This is the first chance I’ve gotten to showcase my perimeter game. The more and more I play for this team, I’m getting more comfortable.”
So why does the Orlando connection matter? Last year, Little went from being a back-end five-star player the beginning of July and ascending into a top-five national talent by the end of senior season. Orlando players don’t get the national spotlight of other areas. Their players can be slept on. Will this be the case with Jones and Walker?
Jones and Walker are two of a handful of really good players coming from the Orlando area. It seems as though Florida in general and Orlando has a lot going on when it comes to developing basketball talent as Jones and Walker are two under-the-radar guys to watch.