COLORADO SPRINGS, CO -- The pursuit for five-star wing Justise Winslow has been one of the more popular storylines in the class of 2014. A 6-foot-6 lefty with a well rounded game and top flight athleticism, the Houston native was just one of two rising high school seniors to receive an invite to the U.S. U19 National Team tryouts, a team comprised predominately of rising sophomores in college.
Onlookers would not be able to tell that Winslow is one of the youngest players on the hardwood based in his play. Winslow and fellow prep standout Jahlil Okafor both made the cut from the 24-man roster to the 16-man roster, which will soon be cut to 12 before the team departs for Washington, D.C. and the final leg of preparation before the games overseas.
Since turning up the heat immensely on Winslow earlier this year, Duke has made up serious ground in an ultra competitive recruitment. Winslow unofficially visited Duke for the Blue Devils' thrilling victory over Miami at Cameron Indoor Stadium back in early March. To help the courtship's cause, rising Duke someone Rasheed Sulaimon -- a fellow Houstonian who plays alongside Winslow on the 19U team -- is a close friend of Winslow's.
During the April live evaluation periods, the Duke coaches' watched the high flying Texan like a hawk. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski attended every single one of his games in Hampton, Va during the second session of the Nike EYBL. That recruiting aggression helped the staff receive another unofficial visit from Winslow just weeks ago for the K Academy.
Arizona, which has been on Winslow harder and longer than almost anyone else, is among Winslow's favorite programs. Wildcat head coach Sean Miller has hosted him a handful of times for unofficial visits, the most recent of which took place a few weeks ago. Recruiting pundits across the nation are pegging Duke along with Arizona as the frontrunners to secure commitment from one of the most sought after players in the class of 2014.
Despite the positive hoopla surrounding the Wildcats and Blue Devils, Winslow [private] is keeping things tight to the vest. And, contrary to what some have speculated recently, a college announcement does not appear to be imminent according to Winslow. Meanwhile, teaming up with fellow 2014 superstars Tyus Jones and Okafor at the next level remains a legitimate possibility.
Sunday evening following a defensive-emphasized practice in Colorado, Winslow took time to discuss his experience on the U.S. squad, his summer and the current state of his closely tracked recruitment.
Question: With you being one of the youngest guys here, can you discuss how valuable this experience at the U.S. U19 training camp and squaring off against college kids has been for you? And how has it benefitted your game?
Answer: "It has definitely benefitted my game being one of the younger guys here and playing against older guys, who are stronger, faster. It's definitely helped me speed up my game, and it's something that's really going to help me as I get ready for the next level."
Q: Who are some of the more difficult matchups you have had this week?
A: "Marcus Smart. You know he was a potential lottery pick this year and decided to come back. Guarding him is a great opportunity for me everyday. Other guys like Aaron Gordon, Rasheed [Sulaimon], and guards who are quicker than me are a challenge as well."
Q: It looks like the style of play that this team will utilize will be a fast paced, relentless, full-court trapping style of play. Do you feel like that style is conducive to your game?
A: "Yeah. That's probably best for me being an athletic wing. Getting up and down is something that I think will benefit the team like Coach Donavan was saying. I definitely like that."
Q: I understand that you are rooming with Sulaimon, another Houston guy, and Jahlil Okafor here in Colorado Springs. How was that experience been?
A: "It's been great. Jahlil and I have been friends since 4th or 5th grade playing AAU Nationals against each other. And Rasheed is just from Houston, so I've known both of them for a while now. The three of us having a good time. I think they are going to split us up tonight, but it's been a lot of fun."
Q: Let's switch gears here and talk about your recruitment. You visited Duke pretty recently during the K Academy. What all did you do in Durham that weekend?
A: "Well basically I just hung out with the guys, watched them coached during the K Academy and just got to know some of the coaching staff. We had some open gym runs. You know of course the coaches couldn't watch, but it was fun with all the guys on and off the court."
Q: Did you get some one-on-one time with Coach K? If so, what did you convey to you then in his salespitch?
A: "We sat down and talked a couple of times just face to face, which is good. It's a lot better than talking on the phone. He nailed home some of his recruiting points and it was a good talk."
Q: What were some of those points that Coach K stressed to you?
A: "Just how he looks forward to using me if I come to Duke, just the benefits of the Duke brand and things like that."
Q: Shortly after the Duke visit, you visited Arizona. How was that visit? Can you compare it to the Duke visit?
A: "The visit was short, but it was pretty good. I have a pretty good relationship with those guys, but you know the visits are all pretty much the same right now. Everyone is pretty much equal. I'll probably look to narrow my list down sometime soon, but right now I don't have any leaders or anything like that."
Q: In light of these visits, there's been some speculation that you potentially are getting closer to announcing your college decision. Is there any truth to that? Or do you feel like you have a long ways to go before that point?
A: "I really can't tell at this point. Like I said, everyone is equal, but when I know I'll know. And I'll try to decide as soon as I know so I can let some of these coaches know and move on to recruit other players. I don't know when I'm going to commit right now. I don't know how close I am. Everyone is equal, but I should probably narrow my list down sometime soon."
Q: Do you have any sort of idea as to which schools you want to officially visit?
A: "No idea."
Q: What does your list of schools look like right now?
A: "Right now it's at Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Houston, Arizona, UCLA, and Stanford."
Q: What does your schedule look like for the rest of the summer?
A: "Hopefully make this team and then Peach Jam, Vegas, Showcase in Orlando, Adidas Nations and Elite 24. Pretty busy."
Q: How often do you talk to Okafor and Tyus Jones about attending the same school? That potential trio at the next level together gets a lot of press as you know. How much merit is there to the rumblings of you three attending the same school?
A: "It's pretty true. Jahlil and Tyus are great friends and they've always talked about going to the same school together. And that's something we have discussed. We talk about it but not too much. We might text each other about it every two weeks saying, 'What schools do you like?' or 'How's recruiting going?' At the end of the day, though, we have to all do what's best for each of us."
Q: Between the three of you, is there anyone who is driving the bus for this push to play together at the next level? Is there one guy that is more gun-ho about the idea?
A: "I would say no. Like I said, no one is really forcing the issue and we'll do what's best for ourselves. If someone wants to visit a certain school, and the other two like that school then yeah we'll try to do it together. But no one is really pushing any schools too hard."
Q: In Hampton, you alluded to the fact that Duke has made up some ground in your recruitment. How much progress has Duke made since your visit in March to the most recent visit to now?
A: "They have definitely made progress because at the time they were a school I hadn't visited. Everyone is equal, but they did make up ground and started recruiting me harder."
Q: Duke will have two high quality wings in Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker next year? How much do you plan on watching them operate and how does that play into your recruitment?
A: "Like I said, it just depends on what my family and I decide to do because you know if I decide to commit in November I won't get much of a chance to watch them. That's some of the pros and cons of committing early. Teams use those wing guys that I can kinda compare myself to. I have to decide if I want to wait it out and do that or not." [/private]
The USA U-19 Basketball Team hopefuls were released today and the list has a Duke flavor to it. On a day when Duke Head Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski was named the coach of Team USA Basketball activity within the program begins.
As most of you know already, rising sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon is one of the kids on the preliminary roster and he is joined by two key Duke prospects.
Those two prospects are Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow. Okafor is the nations consensus top rated prospect. Okafor is a key Blue Devil target and a player the coaches will follow up until his decision.
Winslow is one of the top wing prospects in the country and he too is a vital recruit for the Blue Devils in that they backed off some other big time prospects to go somewhat all in with the Texan native.
The chosen few will begin practice on June 14th and this means they'll be off the AAU circuit for a good while in the case of Okafor and Winslow. The team will face Ivory Coast on June 27th.
Stay tuned to Blue Devil Nation who has followed Team USA Basketball for a decade, for more coverage and updates as they happen.
Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
Bryce Alford, UCLA
Brandon Ashley, Arizona
Robert Carter, Georgia Tech
Damyean Dotson, Oregon
Kris Dunn, Providence
Javan Felix, Texas
Michael Frazier, Florida
Marcus Georges-Hunt, Georgia Tech
Shaq Goodwin, Memphis
Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Jerami Grant, Syracuse
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona Jahlil Okafor, undecided
Rodney Purvis, UConn
James Robinson, Pitt
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke
Devin Thomas, Wake Forest
Mike Tobey, Virginia
Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington Justise Winslow, undecided
I take a look back at the Nike EYBL Session 2 and give my thoughts on prospects and how they may have improved from a season ago. Here is my take on some of the key Duke prospects with some added tidbits -
Justise Winslow - The thing that most impressed me about Justise Winslow was his court vision which makes him a really good passing wing. Winslow plays on a very talented team which is interchangeable at some positions. There are times when he [private] brings the ball up the court which is a testament to his getting better with his overall handle since a season ago. Winslow is a team oriented player who seems well versed in what he can and cannot get away with in that he is in touch with his capabilities. He can take his man off the dribble an moves strong to the rack when he gets his man on his hip or a screen is set. Winslow can also battle inside due to his strength. I can certainly understand why Krzyzewski and the staff prefer him over Theo Pinson. IMO, Winslow has done a better job of harnessing his skill set and it certainly doesn't hurt that he's a high character kid on and off the court, valuing education and showing a wise mind when dealing with media and teammates alike. Duke is in sold shape here and Winslows' brother probably prefers the Blue Devils but he glows when talking of Arizona too, so there is work to be done and this one will likely come down to the wire.
Theo Pinson - The athletic wing has moments where he seems to lost his focus and that does not always allow for a consistent effort. But when he is on, he's a very talented young man who plays at a high level. Pinson still needs work on his stroke and finishing better on drive. Actually, he would be better served kicking out more often when he finds traffic on drives instead of trying to create a sensational shot. Duke is still recruiting Pinson but it is clear that he is their second choice to Winslow at this time but as we know in recruiting, things can change in a days time.
Tyus Jones - Jones is a flat-out competitor and a cool customer. I have said in the past that he's a silent killer at times and this season he demands the ball even more when the game is on the line. And his Howard Pulley teammates want the ball in his hands for he always seems to come through at crunch time. Pulley seems to always play in close games and they overachieve due to Jones play. I joked with him during an interview that he was "Jack Frost," in that he is so cool in the clutch, almost always coming through. In fact, it would be story worth and draw attention if he flopped when the game is on the line for it is so rare it happens. Jones has a shifty speed which is not jet like but is effective in that he changes speed well. His handle is solid and he can get shots off even when everybody in the gym knows a shot is coming often getting to the line. He's also a deadly three-point threat even when not open and he can find the seams in the defense making him a ridiculous stat stuff with concerns to assists. Jones maintains that he will be a package deal with Jahlil Okafor and Coach K and Izzo among others were at all of his games.
Devin Booker - Duke is still recruiting or staying in touch with Booker despite getting a verbal from Grayson Allen. Booker has good defensive footwork and likes playing on ball defense. He has a nice stroke from the outside or can break you off the dribble. He also hustles non stop or at least he did in my views. He seems well versed in the game of basketball and plays with a quiet, cool confidence.
Elijah Thomas - He is not a super flashy big man, just one who gets the job done, defends well and can throw down dunks with ease. Thomas is still getting use to his frame and he can intimidate opponents. He plays with enthusiasm and confidence and is alight hearted kind of kid off the court, whose Mom plays a huge role in his life. He is a big time prospect in next seasons class that likes Duke a lot but he has other schools who are right there as well. Thomas will draw more and more attention, so strap yourself in for a long recruitment on this one.
Harry Giles - Coach K really, really like this kid and was the first coach in the gym to see him in his opening game. Giles? He's a long, lean, sure-fire talent who is incredibly coordinated for his height and age. Potential. He's oozes in it and he was one of the few kids playing on the 16U teams which drew a bevy of major college coaches, Giles mentioned that he is already tiring of the media process, so stay tuned. He seems a bit shy off the court but not so much so on it. While he can not always be super vocal, he does talk on the court and directs teammates for he understands spacing well at his age. He took it the length of the court for slams, made sweeping hook moves where he kissed the ball off glass and attributes his handle to wanting to be a guard when he was growing up. Ridiculous upside. [/private]
LOS ANGELES – Over the years Texas has mostly been known as a football state. High school football runs rampant in small and big towns all over the state. It’s become a ritual for cities to flock to their local high school games on Friday nights and watch the stars of the future. However, there’s been a change over recent years in Texas. What once was a football state has now brought out some of the top basketball talent in the country. One only needs to look at the team listings for the Nike EYBL and see that the state of Texas alone has four AAU teams in the league, more than any other state.
Next year Duke will sport two players from the state of Texas in sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon and incoming freshman Matt Jones. Duke will hope to continue the Texas pipeline by adding 2014 wing Justise Winslow. Winslow, who attends St. Johns School, a very strict academic institution, has been on Duke’s radar for quite some time now. The 6’6 wing has a chiseled frame that would allow him to step onto a NCAA court right now. Recently he was awarded the Gatorade Boys Basketball Player of the Year for the state of Texas, an honor that was won by Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart last year.
Winslow, who hails from Houston, credits his excellent academics to his brothers, specifically his older brother, Joshua Winslow, who plays defensive back for Dartmouth. Being an excellent student, Winslow says that academics will be a factor in his decision. His brother Joshua is pushing him to [private] choose the best academic school possible when Justise makes his final decision.
In the first session of the EYBL in Los Angeles Winslow’s Houston Hoops team went 4-0 with an average margin of victory of 24.5 points. His team is filled with athletic Division 1 prospects which include future North Carolina Tar Heel Justin Jackson, Khadeem Lattin and Kelly Oubre. On a team filled with talent Winslow still shines through. Winslow ran point-forward for Houston Hoops and looked very natural doing it. Perhaps his best attribute is his passing skills which allow an offense to be run through him. His strong frame allows him to get to the basket and finish through contact. Winslow also has a knack for not taking bad shots, a quality lost on many young basketball talents. In 4 games of the first session Winslow averaged 14.5 points, 4.3 assists, 6.8 rebounds, and 52 percent shooting from the field.
BlueDevilNation caught up with the top priority prospect and discussed his recruiting, his high school, why he likes to read the Wall Street Journal and other topics.
BlueDevilNation: What do you feel like you’ve most improved on over this past year?
JW: I think really just being a leader out there. Someone who my teammates can respect. Also my shooting and ball handling, reading pick and rolls and things like that.
BDN: What do you feel you still need to improve on?
JW: Well everything. You never can be satisfied, but, you know, especially my shooting and ball handling.
BDN: I don’t believe I’ve seen one yet but have you made a final list?
JW: No, not a final list. I’m down to 10 right now.
BDN: Who are those final 10?
JW: North Carolina, Duke, Florida, Kansas, Texas A&M, Baylor, University of Houston, Arizona, UCLA, and Stanford.
BDN: Do you have a timeframe for when you’d like to make your decision?
JW: I’m going to narrow it down pretty soon, probably going into June. Hopefully I can sign and be committed by November.
BDN: So the early period then.
JW: Yea, hopefully.
BDN: You had a few in-home visits recently. Take me through the Arizona one if you could.
JW: Well they were my first one. It was Thursday at noon. They came over and it went pretty well. Coach Miller thinks I’m the key to him getting to his first Final Four. But, you know, over the years I’ve built a good relationship with Coach Miller so it was really a comfortable visit.
BDN: You also had one with Duke as well. Could you take me through that visit?
JW: You know, Coach K, I had an unofficial visit with them this past spring also. Coach K thinks I can come in and step in and be that elite wing that they’ll be missing in the next couple of years with probably Jabari leaving and Hood leaving also. They just think I can come in and have an instant impact. And just the Duke brand and education.
BDN: What’s your relationship like with Coach K?
JW: Great. He was the USA basketball coach and I made the USA 17U team so I got to meet him there and talk to him there. He’s a great guy.
BDN: Speaking about your USA experience. Do you think that has translated over to your high school and AAU playing?
JW: I think with the USA experience, you know, no one’s really playing selfishly so it kind of helps you identify your role on whatever team you’re playing with. I think that’s something I carried into school and into AAU just to know my role and try to play to the best of my abilities.
BDN: Have the Duke coaches compared you to anyone by any chance?
JW: Well they compared me to Gerald Henderson and Grant Hill, things like that. But they also say that I’m special and unique in my own way.
BDN: You ran a lot of point for Houston Hoops, does that differ from your role in high school?
JW: Ah not really. I would just say in school ball I have the ball in my hand a lot and I run the floor. But out here, I do whatever the coach wants me to do and it goes back to just knowing my role and playing my role.
BDN: Are you taking any official visits soon?
JW: Official? No. I think I’m going to try and take an unofficial to UCLA soon because I haven’t been out there with Coach Alford there. So that’s something I’m looking to do.
BDN: Have you spoken with Coach Alford recently?
JW: Yea I had an in-home with him.
BDN: How do you like him?
JW: Oh he’s cool. He’s young, energetic. I like his style of play.
BDN: Other than a school championship next year, what are your personal goals?
JW: To win the Gatorade Player of the Year again for Texas.
BDN: You won it this year. Congratulations.
JW: Thank you. You know, to make those McDonald’s All-American game and the Jordan Brand game.
BDN: Did you get a chance to watch those games this year?
JW: I watched the McDonald’s game but I didn’t get a chance to watch the Jordan Brand game. You know that’s just one of my goals since growing up.
BDN: Oh absolutely. I wanted to ask you about your fantastic competitive drive. Where does that come from? Was it natural or did you learn it over the years?
JW: I think that just, being the youngest in my family, never winning, I just tried so hard to win. I used to get, not picked on, but, my older siblings would bug me and pick on me a little bit. Toughen me up. So I think that’s really what makes me a tough competitor.
BDN: You have an older brother at Dartmouth, correct?
JW: Yes sir.
BDN: What’s his influence on you like?
JW: He’s a great influence on me. He wants me to be the best player, but, in this recruiting process he wants me to go to the best academic school possible.
BDN: Well he’s at a great school. I saw you recently tweeted a picture of you reading the Wall Street Journal. Do you read that often?
JW: (laughs) Kinda, not really. But I think it’s good to be up to date with the current events, with the things going on in Boston and Korea. It’s good to know about those things.
BDN: Do you have a favorite subject in school at all?
JW: Math and physics.
BDN: You also said you recently saw the movie 42 (Jackie Robinson Story). How was that?
JW: Oh it was great. In school ball I actually wear 42 kind of for that reason. So that’s just a big role model in my life because he did so much for baseball and for other sports.
BDN: Oh I had no idea. You go to a fantastic academic school in St. Johns. How did that decision come about?
JW: Just, you know, my siblings, my brother, the one at Dartmouth went there. He was a big role model in my life. Going back to the academic thing he just wants me to go to the best academic school possible. So going there provided me with a chance because if basketball doesn’t work out..
BDN: You’d have something to fall back on..
JW: Exactly. Exactly.
BDN: Thanks a lot for your time. Good luck the rest of the weekend.
Tom Konchalski is a 6'6" sexagenarian who can walk into a basketball gym from South Side of Chicago to Harlem and South Florida to Maine and be enthusiastically greeted by coaches at all levels, anxious players, and grateful parents. Modest, focused, loyal, industrious, pious, honest, and generous, Mr. Konchalski embodies all of the qualities that his heroes, Mother Theresa and C.S. Lewis, championed.
For the better part of five decades, the Queens, NY native has analyzed recruits, coached players, and advised coaches, parents, Athletic Directors, and players. A devout Catholic, Mr. Konchalski has prayed on the behalf of everyone from the '69 Mets to Coach Jack Curran, his high school gym teacher and future Basketball Hall of Fame inductee who passed away last month at the age of 82.
A consummate workaholic, Mr. Konchalski travels via public transportation and the generosity of his legions of friends to observe recruits on an almost daily basis with the ferocity of a hungry lion eying cheetahs. His omnipresent yellow legal pads and Bic Cristal pens have been the tools of choice to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of everyone from LeBron James as a freshman to seniors looking to catch on at a Division-III college. In a world of three-minute YouTube highlight videos misconstrued as scouting tapes and fly-by-night internet recruiting charlatans looking to broker players, Mr. Konchalski is refreshingly anachronistic.
Three days ago, a pair of his friends, Bernard King, who invited Mr. Konchalski to join him on his official trip to the University of Tennessee, and Rick Pitino, who worked closely with Mr. Konchalski as a counselor at the Five Star Basketball Camps, were announced as inductees to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Author John Feinstein '78 once wrote that Konchalski, the publisher and editor of the HSBI Report, was "the last honest man in the gym," but the statement doesn't quite convey all that he has done for this game and the people involved in it at all levels.
Recently, Mr. Konchalski, a friend and mentor, gave his assessment of the 2013 Duke commitments and some Blue Devil recruits.
Jabari Parker: Well, obviously he has a great combination of size, skills, athleticism, and savvy. To proclaim him the best player since LeBron as Sports Illustrated did last year is that it raises the one question about him that I have which is whether or not he can be an assassin. LeBron was an assassin. Kobe was an assassin. I think he was better as a junior than Kobe was. I saw Kobe a lot. Kobe was always an assassin. Obviously, he has great skill, size, and athleticism. He's productive and has a very mature understanding of the game. He's also got very good character and he's coachable. He's thinking about staying two or three years. It would be a wonderful thing if he did. It would be a breath of fresh air. It would be a tremendous thing for college basketball if he did. I would say the closest player to him at Duke would be Grant Hill because they're forwards, they're both big forwards. Eventually, he's going to be a three-man. He's a hybrid forward right now. He's closer to being a three-men offensively than he is being a three-man defensively. He's just a forward right now, a hybrid forward, that's got to tighten his body.
I'll tell you what he did. Between his freshman and sophomore year, he really tightened his body. He lowered his percentage of body fat. He became much more athletic and much more explosive. He's got to continue to streamline his body, maybe see a nutritionist, and get on an exercise regimen. I guess the closest comparison would be Grant Hill although Grant Hill was a different physical type, but overall, Grant Hill is the closest comparison in terms of Duke players.
The one reservation I have about Jabari...here's a guy who has an obviously high basketball IQ. When he's in shape, he has good athletic ability. He had improved his athletic ability towards the end of his sophomore year and towards the beginning of his junior year and he has skill. The one reservation that I had was whether he had a killer's instinct. I didn't know if he's an assassin. He's developed more of a disposition to take over games and to be assertive in the last year. Now, that's something that I think runs contrary to his nature. He's got to overcome his off-the-court temperament. He's got to be bipolar or sort of a schizophrenic to be a good basketball player. You have to be a lot meaner on the court than you are off, but I think he's making strides in terms of his aggressiveness and assertiveness and willingness to take over games, not to defer to other teammates and whatever..to be the go-to guy..and that's what he's got to do because I think Kobe always had it and LeBron always had it, but, for the most part, it's something that you're born with..that kind of toughness and aggressiveness and wanting to really take over games. Crush the opponent and when they're down to sort of put your foot on the neck and that sort of thing. And I think he's made strides in that regard. I hope he gives serious thought when he goes there not to be an automatic one-and-done. Not that it may not happen, but he should have an open mind in that respect.
Semi Ojeleye: Semi Ojeleye..his win or strength is his versatility. He can defend multiple positions. Now, I think he's going to be even more valuable to them on the defensive end of the court. He's an inside-outside player who I really liked. He plays a lot much more for result rather than effect. He's not a guy who goes out there to showcase his different skill sets. He'll step out and hit the three, he'll handle the ball, he'll play a little bit on the perimeter, and he can go inside and bang a little bit too and generate some points inside. He's really..I'll tell you what he does..he plays quick. I really think he's going to be a terrific Duke player because I think it's more likely that he's going to be a three or four year player. He'll really stay around and help them on the defensive end and he can guard the four-man, he can guard the three-man, even at times be able to guard a two. I really think he's a major recruit for them. I hadn't really paid attention to him at the Boo Williams, but you had mentioned him and I didn't really remember him, but when I saw him down at the Peach Jam, I really, really liked him.
Matt Jones: Matt Jones has a very unorthodox shot. He's a bit streaky as a three-point shooter. He's long and lean, he's got to get a little bit stronger. He's a big guard who I think has growth potential as he gets stronger and shoots the ball. You know, he doesn't have good rotation on his shot. He has an awkward shot, but it puts the ball in the basket. For the most part, it's been effective for him. He's another guy who's going to be a three or four year player with them. Hopefully, Jabari will stay for more than one year and if you get a Jabari, you've got to take him, but you've got to build the program more around guys that are going to be there three or four years. You've got to have balance.
Jahlil Okafor: Jahlil is a guy who has terrific skill for a big guy and another guy who is a very intelligent person like Jabari. And, you know, he's not an explosive athlete, you know he's not a bad athlete and he runs okay. Obviously, I think he can really streamline his body and, when he gets to college, people are going to get him into the weight room. He's going to do an awful lot of work. His percentage of body fat with drop dramatically, but he has terrific hands and really good skills for a post player. You know that he can step out, shoot the elbow jumper, he's a good passer, he can pass out of the post, and he's not quick-reacting to the ball, he's not quick moving laterally to the ball in the lane around the basket. That's what I think he's got to work on- his body and also his lateral movement. But just in terms of overall, he has a big strong frame, he has a superior basketball IQ for a big man. Usually big, young guys don't understand the game as well as he does. He's very intelligent and, you know, another nice guy who can be, you know, because of his size, he can be down the road, you know, I'm not saying he's more skilled than Jabari Parker, but because he's 6'10", 260 or 270 or whatever he is, I think he can be an even greater influence on the game than Jabari Parker. I would say he's about 6'10", they list him at 6'11". I think he's a legitimate 6'10" when I stand next to him. He's a major weapon both on the high-post and the low-box. He can be a major, major factor in college. On the defensive end, I don't think he's as much of a shot-blocker. He impacts the game through intelligent positioning.
Quickness is comprised of two components. It has a physical and an extra-physical component. The physical component is just how naturally quick you are. The extra-physical component is, first of all, mental preparation and correct technique. You could be quicker just by being mentally prepared and alert. And the other part using correct technique, but I think he's a guy, I think any big guy, ought to live with a jump rope. Both those guys, in particular, should live with jump ropes. They both have the kind of bodies where they can put on weight and where, if they're not careful, but I think both of them should live with it as their daily routine for both of those guys. They're both guys who are extremely intelligent and have very good skill and they both, I think, can be really dominating players at the college level if they stay around long enough and possibly dominating players at the level beyond that. I think at the college level, Okafor is a center. He's a center because he's a force. If a college coach can fill the middle of his lineup with a point guard, a leader, someone who's going to run the team and with a quality post-man like that, well, then that's the team. Everyone wants that one position down...Fives want to be fours, fours want to be threes, threes want to be twos, twos want to be ones, and ones probably want to coach the team. But if you look at even a great team, they're teams that have dominating big men and great guards. The wings fill in around those players, but that's what you need. You need someone that's going to run the team and organize the floor, hopefully contain the point guard at the other end of the court. Hopefully contain the ball at the other end of the court. Stop dribble penetration from their point guard and you need a big guy in the post. You need to be able to score easy baskets. And even the thing is, even as 3 point arc-oriented as most teams are and as many college teams are, and how Duke has become increasingly, still, the more post-offense presence you have, forget about even on the defensive end, the more open 3's that show up. Most 3-point shots are shot off of inside-out action or relocation. Things like that. Just in terms of the half-court, the more you can draw the defense in, the more you can open up the spot-up outside shooters. In the past, Duke sometimes has become too reliant on that and not as much of an interior offensive presence. Both of those guys are going to be terrific players.
Trey Lyles: Trey Lyles is a 6'9" kid with good skill, good body, and the guy who has a real good feel for the game. He has a high court
IQ. Usually that's a term that's more applied to perimeter players. When you talk about guards..especially point guards...in terms of high court IQ, but he plays for result rather than effect and he's very efficient. You know he can score. He doesn't need to have the ball on the floor in order to score, although he can put the ball on the floor some from the high post. But the main thing is that he's very efficient. He does an awful lot offensively without the dribble. And he's a guy who, you know, can score. Can score from the high post and down in the low box. When he went to Basketball Canada when they had their camp at the end of the summer and they had Steve Nash, who's the Jerry Colangelo of operations of Basketball Canada right now, they had all of their guys...Jamaal Magloire came in to work with the big guys and everyone was there and they had all very good young players. Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Myck Kabongo, then they had Andrew Wiggins, and Tyler Ennis, and Trey Lyles. Trey Lyles, from what my brother told me, is as impressive as any player that they had in their program. They are really, really high on him. When they played down in South America in FIBA Tournament, you know, he had a very good tournament. When he came back, people in Basketball Canada are as high on him as they are on Andrew Wiggins. He doesn't have quite the athleticism that Andrew Wiggins has, but what really, I think, makes him different is his understanding of the game and his efficiency for a big guy. Usually, big young guys aren't as..well, they don't have the feel for the game that he does and they don't play with the degree of efficiency with which he plays.
Tyus Jones: He's a point guard, combination guard, a high scorer. He can handle the ball, control the tempo, he plays at different
speeds. He's very good. He has a very good tempo to his game. He has a very good sense of ball security with his game. He shoots the ball extremely well.
Kevon Looney: He has size. He was 6'7", 6'8" when I saw him in Chicago. He can play on the
perimeter and in the low-post, he can defend. He's probably a better low-post defender than he is a perimeter defender right now. Well, certain players he can defend on the perimeter. He's got a nice stroke, he sees the floor well, he's a good passer. I really think he can be an elite level player. Now, I've only seen him once. I can't think of any more skilled power wing players in the class of 2014. In terms of position, assuming he grows, I think he's more of a perimeter player..because I think at that size with his skill set, it makes him more valuable.
Theo Pinson: Pinson is a big kid with a lot of quickness. He's got good skill level, he can shoot the ball, he handles the ball well, he uses his great athleticism to defend multiple positions. I don't think he's a knock-down shooter, but he's pretty good.
Justice Winslow: He's a lefty from Houston Hoops. He's an intense competitor. He's versatile. His versatility is one of his greatest strengths. He's strong enough and athletic enough to post and score inside. He can rebound. I don't think he's much of a three-point threat right now, but he has a good mid-range game. He's a pretty good passer. He's a kid that's very strong, great body, and he really uses his strength to post-up in match-ups against others. He's really a very difficult matchup because of his versatility and his range. He's also very skilled with the ball. He can get to the basket. He's a very difficult matchup because of his strength, his quickness, and his ability to get the ball to the basket. He really plays hard. He's a very intense competitor.
Malachi Richardson: People talk about him being a second guard, but I don't really think that he quite is now. He can shoot the three and he's a very good three-point shooter, but he's, you know, a big wing who's probably more of a 3/2 than a 2/3 right now. He's a guy who has a great touch, who has a lot of athletic ability, and has a good body. You know he's grown an inch since his freshman year at Trenton Catholic Academy and he's got a lot of potential. If he wants to be a two guard, he's got to be a little better playing off of the dribble, a little better playing with the ball, and he's got to work awfully hard at guarding a two guard because, right now, his better defensive nature is as a three man. What he is right now is a skilled wing with good size and a lot of athleticism..and at an early age, in terms of only being a sophomore, so he has an awful lot of potential.
Isaiah Briscoe: Well, I mean, he played terrific against St. Anthony's and didn't play like a sophomore. He was very assertive, he was very aggressive, looking to take the ball to the basket, and really forced the issue. Here's a guy who has size, can shoot the ball, he has aggressiveness, he is not intimidated at all. The one thing here, I think, about him is that he's got to be very careful about his body. It's going to be very imperative for him to get on a good diet and to stay in as good a condition as he possibly can because he has the kind of body type where he can put weight on. He's a decent athlete, but he's not a great athlete. He's not a tapered athlete. He's not someone that when you look at him you think "athlete". When you look at him, you see someone who is a scorer and a guy who scores primarily on his aggressiveness, which is based on his temperament. He has a scorer's temperament. He doesn't defer to anyone. He's ready to play against the best teams in the country right now. He won't be intimidated. He won't back down.
He's about 6'3". I don't think he's really a lead guard. I think he's a combination guard right now, but he can handle the ball. You know what they try to do. They try to take anyone who can dribble the ball three times without kicking it into the seventh row, they try to call him a point guard or a lead guard. That's not it at all because, first of all, not only do you have skill with the ball, but it's more of an attitude. It's more of a temperament, it's more of a disposition to try to make other people better, and really, you know, a real good leader. A real point guard or a real lead guard is someone who thinks, he probably thinks pass before he thinks shot and I think that's not the case with Isaiah. You know, he's a guy who can handle the ball and will make plays for some other people, but his first instinct is to look to score himself. Almost by definition, there are more piano carriers than there are piano players, so I mean, anyone that can score like him, you don't want to take that away from them. You don't want to domesticate him too much and it's easier to find someone to set the table than to find someone that will put the ball in the basket. Coach Taylor is probably going to give him the opportunity to display with the ball in his hands next year, but I don't think there are many synthetic point guards or lead guards. I think it's more something that you're born with. Leadership and temperament are what makes a true point guard. [/private]
It's difficult to make any hard and fast judgments about players based on a game like the Elite 24, because it is a glorified pickup game, there is little defense played, and the guys are all just playing loosey-goosey and enjoying it as an end-of-summer outdoor event on the courts of Venice Beach, California. I mean, the final score was 164-138, OK? Nevertheless, there are always things to learn about guys any time you watch them, especially when playing against other elite-level players. Here's what I saw on Saturday.
First, the "Marques Johnson" team had a huge advantage. Why? Coaching. Head coach for the squad was Duke's own Kyrie Irving. While Kyrie spent more time on his phone texting than he did strategizing, it was good to see him out there and it was obvious how much respect he has from the guys. At halftime, he spent almost the entire time talking with uncommitted Pennsylvania forward Rondae Jefferson, but he also hung out with Julius Randle too, and they seemed to have an easy rapport as well.
OK to the game. Starting with the kids Duke is known to be recruiting heavily:
Might as well start with Julius Randle. First of all [private], he has a pro body right now. He's been downgraded in some circles for having short arms, as that supposedly makes it harder for him to finish against length. His arms didn't look short to me, especially when he was taking over the game in the second half, scoring five consecutive hoops en route to his game-high 27 on 13 of 14 shooting. He also has a very good handle for a guy his size, and likes to utilize it. When he does so and gets into the lane, he's so big that the defense just sort of parts for him because they know they're not going to stop that freight train. In real games, of course, guys will step in and try to take a charge, and he's going to have to adjust to that. But seeing his game and his body, I don't think he'd have any trouble playing some 5 in college if his team needed him to, though PF will obviously be his primary position.
Justise Winslow also has a very solid body and is much more athletic than I anticipated. He led his team with 21 points and scored them in a variety of ways. He drove to the hoop, he pulled up for short jumpers, he got put-back dunks, and he got out on the break (though everyone did in this game!) for some throw-downs as well. One thing I really liked was Winslow D-ing up one-on-one against stud guard Aaron Harrison and forcing Harrison to retreat after attempting to drive, and then to take a very difficult three-pointer instead. Justise took on that challenge, even in a game like this, and won it.
Marcus Lee out of California is a real string bean. He's 6'9" or so, but there's no meat on the bones at all. He has excellent hops and blocks shots very well, including a big one Saturday against Kuran Iverson right at the rim and another on Austin Nichols as well. But Marcus didn't display any offensive game at all, scoring only one point in a game in which his team scored 138. He looks like he'll be better defensively in college than Casey Sanders was, but his body type and his lack of offensive game reminds me of Sanders, including when he airballed a free throw.
When you watch Tyus Jones play, you can tell the Minnesota point guard is an outstanding player. No. Better than that. He's a special player. But he didn't have his best game on Saturday. His handle wasn't as crisp as it usually is, and he never really fully got into the flow of the action. One thing I did note is that when he and Andrew Harrison went one-on-one on a couple of occasions, Tyus seemed to have a hard time staying in front of Harrison when he went to the hoop, but at the other end Harrison bodied up on Jones and made him take tougher shots on his drives. But I wouldn't be concerned about Jones at all, especially given the setting. The kid is a flat-out stud ballplayer, and Duke would be very fortunate to get him.
Austin Nichols, 6'8" out of Memphis, impressed me with his athleticism and his body. This kid is not skinny at all. He's not rocked up to the degree of a Wayne Selden or Justise Winslow, but he has some mass to him, and he's going to gain more weight this year. He can jump too, though, and he runs the floor very well. He has good hands and finishes well. He didn't shoot many outside jumpers in this game -- not many of the kids did -- so I couldn't evaluate that, but what I did see of his game, I liked.
Other quick takes:
I thought the best player on the floor was 6'7" Aaron Gordon out of San Jose. This dude has it all. His handle is very smooth, he's got a strong body, he can shoot it, and he jumps out of the gym. If there was a gym. He wowed the crowd with a series of spectacular dunks midway through this game, and scored his 25 points in a variety of ways. The whole crowd was talking about him all day.
Carolina signee Nate Britt has a real good handle, but his lefty shot is awkward. And he shoots too much, or at least did in this game.
I really like the Harrison brothers out of Texas. Andrew is the point guard, and he has a very smooth handle and gets to the rim at will. He reminded me a little of Will Avery, but maybe even a little quicker. Both brothers are highly athletic but seemed to have kind of a strange affect out there, like they weren't that engaged. Well, Aaron was engaged enough to score 25 points on 11 of 14 shooting, so I guess he was paying enough attention to do that. Really, though, these twins are killer ballplayers.
Uncommiteds Jabari Bird out of California and Kuran Iverson are both long, athletic, and active, and they both jump very well. While he's a couple of inches shorter, Iverson, with his body type and his style, reminds a little of Kevin Garnett. A little. [/private]