Jordan Brand Classic Practices (Day One)

Jordan Brand Classic Practices (Day One)
Apr 18, 2008, 09:00 am
We’re in New York City for an event that seems to be rivaling the McDonald’s All-American game for high school basketball all-star game supremacy—the Jordan Brand Classic. With a superior location, facilities, format and arguably even roster, the Jordan Brand people have definitely provided us a terrific opportunity to evaluate the best high school seniors in America, in a variety of settings. We got to take in a very competitive 90 minute practice today, still have a scrimmage tomorrow, and the actual game on Saturday. There is also a dunk contest tonight that we’ll be passing on. In addition to the “All-American teams,” they’ve collected the top local players from the New York area for a regional game, as well as a group of 15 and 16 year old International players from Europe, Africa and Australia that are competing here.

Jordan Brand All-Americans



Al-Farouq Aminu F Norcross, GA Wake Forest
Ed Davis PF Richmond, VA North Carolina
Michael Dunigan PF Chicago, IL Oregon
Devin Ebanks SF Oakdale, CT Indiana
Tyreke Evans SG Aston, PA Undecided
Delvon Roe SF Lakewood, OH Michigan State
Samardo Samuels PF Newark, NJ Louisville
Iman Shumpert PG Oak Park, IL Georgia Tech
Kemba Walker PG New York, NY Connecticut
Willie Warren PG North Crowley, TX Oklahoma
Tony Woods PF Rome, GA Wake Forest

Head Coach: Russell Otis, Dominguez High School (Compton, CA)
Assistant Coach: Oliver Antigua, St. Raymond High School (Bronx, NY)
Assistant Coach: Eric Flannery, St. Edward High School (Lakewood, OH)


William Buford W Toledo, OH Ohio State
Demar DeRozan W Compton, CA Southern Cal
Drew Gordon PF San Jose, CA UCLA
JaMychal Green PF Montgomery, AL Alabama
Jrue Holiday G N. Hollywood, CA UCLA
Scotty Hopson G/F Hopkinsville, KY Undecided
Brandon Jennings PG M. of Wilson, VA Arizona
Malcolm Lee PG Riverside, CA UCLA
Greg Monroe PF Harvey, LA Georgetown
B.J. Mullens C C. Winchester, OH Ohio State
Wesley Witherspoon SF Lilburn, GA Undecided

*Head Coach: Ed Azzam, Westchester High School (Los Angeles, CA)
Assistant Coach: Eddie Martin, Norcross High School (Norcross, GA)
Assistant Coach: Steve Turner, Gonzaga High School (Washington, DC)*

*Al-Farouq Aminu and Samardo Samuels were not present for the first day of practices, but will join their teams tomorrow for the scrimmages. Delvon Roe is injured, but present.

The practice started off quickly before getting right into the meat of things. Stretching, a quick shoot-around, hand-eye coordination drills with tennis balls, three on zero and three on two transition drills combined with inserting some basic plays for the all-star game, followed by shooting drills for the smalls, and post-moves for the bigs. The coaches here didn’t waste much time though before rolling the balls out and letting the kids play. They seem to understand why these players are here—to have fun, get some exposure in the world’s largest media market, and (continue to) establish a relationship with the largest sneaker brand in the world that may or may not bear fruit in one to four years when these players are ready to go pro.

Blue Team Recap

Jonathan Givony

We got to see a lot of five on five play in the stronger Blue squad—unofficially called “the West” because of the presence of the three players committed to UCLA, and Brandon Jennings headed to Arizona. We’ll be back at the end of the weekend to provide a full evaluation of all the players seen here based on everything we learned from the three days, but the highlight of day one was probably the matchup at the point guard spot of the Blue squad between Brandon Jennings and Jrue Holiday. The two both downplayed the matchup in the media session immediately following the practice -- (Jennings: “it’s just another day at the office” Holiday: “we’ve been playing against each other since the 6^th grade”) -- but there were clearly some competitive juices flowing once things got going.

Jennings started off the practice like a lightning bolt, putting his terrific court vision on display with some full-court one-handed bullet passes placed with pinpoint accuracy, and weaving in and out of traffic with the ball on a string. Jrue Holiday didn’t seem to be get the memo that the players here are preparing for an all-star game, and in his all-business, no-nonsense fashion, quietly began to set the tone for his team by picking up his intensity on the defensive end. His size, strength, wingspan and fundamentally sound defense were a little too much for the smaller Jennings to handle, and the flow of his offense really began to sputter as the tempo of the game slowed down. He looked a little bit frustrated at certain points, either pounding the ball excessively with nowhere to go, or just dishing it out passively and getting out of the way—wanting no business with Holiday, who didn’t seem to show any emotion at all.

The two are almost exact opposites—one a fundamentally sound, old-school no-nonsense throwback, and the other a brash, flashy lightning rod of a character who is seemingly always the center of attention but has more than enough game to back up his mouth. There is no question which one has more upside—Jennings regularly showed off his phenomenal athleticism with a series of 360 and tomahawk dunks—but there is also no question in this writer’s mind which player is going to win more games at the collegiate level. Don’t get us wrong—Holiday has plenty of flaws—his shot was extremely erratic today and his point guard skills unpolished, but he always made up for it with his terrific combination of intensity and basketball IQ.

At the end of the day, both players are going to the exact right programs for their individual styles, and today’s matchup was a fantastic preview of what’s in store for the entire nation next season in the Pac-10. What’s interesting is that at the very end of the practice, when the coaches decided to take score (two quick games to five), Jennings elevated his play significantly and carried his team on his back to victory. He started taking responsibilities and either blowing past the exhausted Holiday or toying with him from mid-range until he found a good shot, also getting his teammates easy baskets. It was here that he provided the highlight of the game, an incredible one-handed lefty slam that came out of absolutely nowhere.

Also of note in day one was the play of two wing players from the Blue team, Scottie Hopson and Wesley Witherspoon. Hopson looks like a terrific athlete with a scoring mentality—showing great elevation on his jumper and a nose for finding a way to the basket. He has excellent size and seems to have a significant amount of upside he has yet to tap into. Improving his ball-handling skills and the consistency of his release point on his jumper (he often shoots it on the way down) are a must, but he’s definitely a player to look out for in the SEC next year, clearly possessing significant NBA potential.

Witherspoon is even more raw, in terms of skills, especially physically, but the versatility and feel for the game were evident for every minute on the floor in the five on five contests we watched. Skinny, but with great size at 6-7 and a terrific wingspan, Witherspoon did a little bit of everything in this contest, finding open players unselfishly with excellent court vision, using his length in the passing lanes, showing nice intensity defensively, and scoring a bit in transition. Still not committed to anyone at this point (his list: “Texas, Memphis, Virginia, Florida, Colorado”), he’ll make a phenomenal late addition when he announces his decision on May 1st. He seems like a late bloomer who was overshadowed to a certain extent on the AAU circuit playing with the likes of Al-Farouq Aminu and Tony Woods, but is definitely a guy to keep an eye on over the next few years. He says he’s been hearing a lot of Steve Smith and Tayshaun Prince comparisons, and we can totally see why.

Regarding some of the other prospects, Demar DeRozan seemed to fade quite a bit when he wasn’t simply finishing plays in transition, showing that same lack of intensity that has many scouts concerned, while Greg Monroe probably played outside a little too much, but definitely looked better and played harder than he had in the previous times we saw him.

B.J. Mullens played absolutely zero defense but was a terrific target down low for his guards to drop passes off to thanks to his excellent hands and finishing ability. He air-balled a mid-range jumper badly in the lone time he stepped outside.

White Team Recap

Joseph Treutlein

Over on the White Team’s side of the gym, you could tell all the players in attendance were really having a good time, with a good deal of laughing and joking around between the drills, led by Devin Ebanks’ fun-loving self. The players practiced some dunks, likely for the dunk contest later that night, every time they had a few free seconds, with Ebanks looking the most impressive with the high-flying acrobatics.

There was an interesting situation with the White Team, as Delvin Roe’s recent knee surgery left him on the sidelines for any competitive action, and Al-Farouq Aminu and Samardo Samuels both were not set to show up until the next day. This left the squad with eight players total, requiring two of the coaches/trainers to suit up for the full-court 5-on-5 scrimmage.

Defense was not at a premium during the scrimmage, but there was still much to be learned, and just a day after announcing his intentions to go play for John Calipari at Memphis, Tyreke Evans was here, taking over the scrimmage. The White Team doesn’t have any real point guards after UConn-bound Kemba Walker, the only player under 6’4 on the team, so Evans was his squad’s de facto point guard, a role he had no problem taking on. Evans was easily the most impressive player on this side of the gym, making multiple excellent plays, and showing great versatility in the ways he could contribute on the offensive end of the floor.

Evans’ style of play seems perfectly suited for Memphis’ dribble drive motion offense, as he has an excellent first step and frequently penetrates the defense with his dribble, looking for either his own shot or one for his teammates. Evans showed nice ability to change gears here with excellent acceleration, along with the ability to finish with both hands, changing hands in the lane, reversing off the glass, and really just showing great creativity at the rim. He dumped the ball off on drive-and-dishes as well, and also hit a three-pointer, with his strange shooting mechanics, where he brings the ball almost completely over his head and fades away on every shot he takes. That’s not to take away from his shot, though, as in the drills and scrimmages, he was one of the best shooters on this side of the gym.

Another standout on this side of the gym was Devin Ebanks, a smooth athlete who gets some nice hangtime and seems poised to be a pure small forward in time. At 6’8 with nice length, he definitely fits the bill physically, though his skills are still coming along, specifically his ball-handling, which is a little high and not as fluid as it needs to be just yet. He had a lot of nice plays today, attacking the basket, pulling up from mid-range, and draining some three-pointers, but he seems to rely on pulling up off his dribble a little too much right now, while his ball-handling and ability to transition quickly from dribble to shot is just not at the level where this type of play can be the bread-and-butter of his offense. This led to some bad misses on moves where he’d try to pull up for a contested fadeaway jumper from a crossover dribble. In regards to his shot, he looked very good when his shot got going, but was inconsistent. His shot has a slight hitch that shouldn’t ever be much of a problem, but he’d help himself to be more consistent holding his follow through, something that could be said for most of the players in attendance.

Iman Shumpert quietly stood out here as well, possessing good mechanics on his shot aside from inconsistent extension, and showed some nice athletic ability in the scrimmage, most notably with a hustle transition block. He also gets points for winning a friendly bet against teammate Kemba Walker, sitting down out of bounds on the sideline and easily swishing a shot on just one try.

One of the most intriguing players on this side of the gym, though, had to be Tony Woods, a 6’11 PF/C heading to Wake Forest, who has excellent size, a very nice frame, and very good athletic ability for his size, to go along with some developing, albeit inconsistent, skills. Woods first stood out in the shooting and post drills, showing one of the best 15-foot jumpers of the big men, with good form and follow through, while also showing some nice post moves, which converted well to the scrimmage setting. He may not have the best hand-eye coordination or reflexes, and his coordination in general looks questionable at times, but when he catches the ball in a scoring position, he will show nice sequences of instinct and footwork, making some incredibly nice players here today, incorporating fakes into back-to-the-basket turnaround jumpers, and even taking his man off the dribble from as far as the three-point line, doing it with a spin move on one occasion. He played strong near the basket as well, consistently going up with power and making some nice dunks, though his conditioning seemed to catch up with him a bit by the end of the scrimmage. It’ll be interesting to see how all his skills translate to a setting with a bit more defense being played, which hopefully we can see when the two teams scrimmage against one another Friday.

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