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BDN Premium – Under Armour Elite 24 Recap

Julius Randle throws down a dunk – BDN Photo

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]

Big Time PG Prospect Tyus Jones talks hoops with BDN

Few positions in sports are able to control the tempo of a game like a point guard can. For some, speed is the key, while others like to slow the game down completely. Players such as Tyus Jones have the ability to change the pace back and forth, constantly keeping the defender on his toes. Jones has a feel for the game that is far beyond his years.

For Jones the attention he receives is nothing new. His local university, Minnesota, has been recruiting him since the eighth grade, and he has built a great relationship with Tubby Smith and his staff.

The Apple Valley product won a Gold medal this summer with the U17 Team USA squad in Lithuania. He had the chance to share the experience with close friends Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor.

Jones gave BDN a few minutes to discuss his summer and his recruitment, among other topics.

BlueDevilNation: Take me over your summer and how you think it went.

Tyus Jones: I think the summer’s gone very well so far. I enjoyed [private] myself this summer. I had a blast this summer and traveling and everything like that and I think I played well. I think I improved. I don’t think I have any choice but to improve. You know, with the level of competition being as high as it is. So, you know, I enjoyed myself.

BDN: Do you feel you there is a difference in your role in AAU and high school?

TJ: You know, my AAU role, I think the games are different. Minnesota high school ball doesn’t have a shot clock so there’s not as many shots. Some teams will more slow it down and things like that but I think I still have a similar role. I got to score, but at the same time distribute the ball and get my teammates involved. So I think, my AAU team and high school team, I play a similar role.

BDN: You obviously had a great opportunity this summer to travel to the Canary Islands and Lithuania. How do you think that experience changed you?

TJ: It was great, it was great. You know the experience was unbelievable to go to a different country and see what their culture is like and how they do things over there. You know even the game of basketball over there, the fans, and just everything is different. So it was a great learning experience. But, you know, we had fun and played well over there.

BDN: Was there one major difference in the culture that you noticed?

TJ: All of their stuff is more compact. You know, the rooms are real small, restaurants and stores are all real small. You sit real close together. So everything was just compact.

BDN: Compared to here where most things are more open and spread out.

TJ: Yeah, exactly. We were able to walk everywhere there.

BDN: You also had a chance to watch the Team USA Men’s team when you got back. Can you go over that experience?

TJ: That was just crazy. To be in the room of the world’s best of the best right now. It didn’t even feel real. It was a great experience. We were very thankful that they gave us the opportunity to do that, and it was great to see even at that level how focused and intense those guys are.

BDN: What, if anything, did you notice about the players’ interaction with each other? Coaches?

TJ: One of the main things you notice is how much respect the players have for Coach K and the assistants. A lot of times you might think NBA players are on top, so they might not want to hear what coaches had to say, but they were tuned in, respectful and listened to anything they had to say. They were still learning the game, which is good to see.

BDN: Can you go over who’s recruiting you right now?

TJ: University of Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan State, Baylor, Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas.

BDN: Regarding Duke, obviously Coach K coaches the national team. Is that something that players either talk about to each other or take into heavy consideration?

TJ: I think everything goes into consideration. I think you look at every aspect of it, whether it be big or little. So it’s definitely something you look at and it could vary from player to player how big of an aspect that is from a college standpoint. But yeah, you definitely notice it.

BDN: Does it make any difference to you that he wasn’t able to be there to recruit in July?

TJ: No, I talked to him a little bit right before they left and I was still in contact with their assistant coaches. Obviously he had a much more important (laughs) job so you can’t really hold that against a coach or anything.

BDN: Tell me about the local school, Minnesota, that’s been recruiting you for awhile.

TJ: Oh I’ve got a good relationship with Tubby Smith and his staff. They’ve been recruiting me for awhile since I was an eighth grader, so we’ve gotten close since I’ve known them. They had a good run at the end of the year last year which is good to see.

BDN: Do you have any upcoming visits that are planned?

TJ: As of now I don’t have any officially planned out. I’m going to try and do some in the fall, I’m not sure to where.

BDN: Try and make a Midnight Madness event?

TJ: Yeah, I think so. I’m not sure to where though, but yeah I’m going to try and make some.

BDN: Reading a previous interview with you, I read that you said you wanted to become more vocal during the summer. Do you feel like you accomplished that?

TJ: I did, I did. It’s just something I think a point guard has to have, along with coaches think a point guard has to have. You have to be able to communicate. Communication on a team is key and the point guard being the leader out there on the floor, it starts with them. I tried to focus on that and I think my vocal leadership improved.

BDN: Thanks a lot for your time.

TJ: No problem, thank you. [/private]

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Elite 24 Coverage of Duke Prospects on BDN Premium

Team BDN is in place in California where we are covering the Elite 24 for Premium members.  Get all the latest updates from today’s practice and Saturday’s game by joining today!  Several key Duke prospects are playing in the prestigious event, including Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Julius Randle, Marcus Lee and Austin Nichols, so you do not want to miss the action!  Join BDN Premium today and discuss the latest happenings with fellow members on the BDN Premium Message Board.