Wow. That was a loooong ( but enjoyable) two days ; 5 hours in the car down to surprisingly pretty N. Augusta , SC, 8 hours of basketball watching, 8 hours of sleep, 8 more hours of basketball, and a 5 hour drive back to Durham. I will hazard a guess that there are really only a handful of people who would consider this a remotely enjoyable and/or valuable use of their time, but, I suppose, that's why we have a blog and that's why you are reading it.
At any rate, the first two days of this year end AAU tournament were packed with big names ( notably one of them was not Jabari Parker, who has a broken foot) and some surprisingly well played and entertaining games. I now present for your perusal and possible edification, a breakdown of those players with Duke and/or UNC interest in next year's class. The class of 2014 will follow later this week.
Class of 2013
- Julius Randle ( Duke/UNC) - As unique a talent as anyone in the high school ranks, this broad shouldered 6'9" specimen of an athlete has said that Coach K has compared his game to that of one LeBron James. Inasmuch as he is a fantastically built power forward sized man who can handle the ball as well as a lot of guards, this is absolutely accurate. Sounds amazing , doesn't it ? And it is. His ability to face defenders up 15 feet from the basket ( his vastly preferred methodology) and take them off the dribble with cross-overs and spin moves makes him nearly unguardable for other bigs. His size, strength and ferocity ( Alex nicknamed him "Tenacious O" ) makes him darn near impossible to guard for smaller players. Now, many in the Duke camp feel that if Duke is going to get only one of Parker or Randle ( which seems likely) they would rather take Julius, as monstrously strong attacking bigs are in shorter supply, particularly at Duke. I myself was in this camp until this weekend ( your brow furrows immediately at my use of the past tense here, having just extolled the virtues of this phenom. Madness, you say? Nonsense? Read on...). Here's why. Put simply, Julius Randle is a 6'9" Austin Rivers without a jump shot. He is a guy that looks to score as a first, second and third option and, while he has a wide variety of dribble-drive moves, he actually scores the ball in a very limited number of ways ( i.e. size + strength + ball handling gets him close enough to the rim to frequently just lay the ball in.). He is, surprisingly, a "below-the -rim" big which actually makes him, along with his lack of shot variety, much more guardable than he should be ( Andrew Wiggins was able to defend him very well, despite giving up 2 inches and 40 pounds). This was frequently evidenced by his continued struggles to put the ball in the basket on his first attempt.( He led the tournament in offensive rebounding which was impressive until you realized that a good percentage of those came off-of his own misses). His ( dare I say it) Hansborough -like single -minded determination to get the ball to and in the basket also makes it easy to draw charges on him and easy for him to get himself in impossible predicaments underneath the basket ( on the plus side of this Julius, like Tyler, gets to the line A LOT). Now, no one would call Julius selfish exactly, so much much as incredibly one-track minded, but he did at times evidence, a strong ( and sometimes vocal) distaste for running the play his coach called, instead choosing to run the play that involved him getting the ball and shooting it. And when things didn't go his team's way, let's just say he didn't exactly hurry to point the finger at himself. He is ultimately, like Austin, a guy who will help your team win games and no one in their right mind wouldn't want a talent like his for their squad. However, like Austin ( and unlike Jabari Parker), Randle simply doesn't use his skills to make anyone around him better; a team guy, but not necessarily a team player. So, Duke and UNC fans, if you should be so fortunate as to get a commitment from Mr. Randle, just remember that swords this sharp often have two edges. Strengths : ball handling ability to get to the rim and draw contact, strength, ferocity Weaknesses : narrow offensive skill set, court awareness, demeanor, aggressive but not always smart defender which results in foul trouble
- Matt Jones ( Duke) - Not a prospect, but a Duke commit, Mr. Jones is the complete package. It is sort of hard to imagine that Scout.com thinks there are 4 shooting guards who are better than he is ( one of which, 3rd ranked Robert Hubbs, has a Duke offer himself), but what do I know ? One of the best 3-point shooters we saw, he has a great handle, great athleticism, and a great little 3 foot floater he can shoot with either hand. Additionally, he always took the toughest defensive assignment and acquitted himself pretty well in every instance. He has a quiet demeanor but a scorer's mentality and is a legit 6'5" and likely still growing. It is my belief that the only reason he isn't more highly touted is that his teammate, Julius Randle, siphons off both attention and touches in large quantities. A fair comparison might be less athletic Gerald Henderson with a better 3-point shot.A future shooting guard tandem of Sulaimon and Jones should have Duke fans ecstatic. Strengths : 3-point shooting/scoring, ballhandling, defense Weaknesses : not a great rebounder given his size and athleticism, needs to develop a mid-range shot
- Semi Ojeleye ( Duke) - Love his name and love his game. He's built like a thicker 6'7" Nate James, with some serious guns for arms. You would peg him for a banger and you wouldn't be wrong, but the kicker with Semi ( pronounced "Shimmy") is that he can really light it up from distance ( he went 7-9 in a game prior to the Peach Jam). He gets low and plays excellent, sound defense and can defend the 3 or the 4. To use a cliche, he is very adept at taking what the defense gives him (which may include making an excellent pass to a teammate) and is very patient about sizing up exactly what that is. Semi has a great first and second bounce off of the floor, and is a solid rebounder in traffic. To top it all off he is lights-out at the free throw line where he goes quite a bit. Strengths : physical presence, basketball iq, 3-point shooting, free throw shooting and the ability to get to the line Weaknesses : average ball handler, not especially quick with the ball, needs a mid-range game
- Nick King (UNC) - A long, lanky scoring machine. Nick is a perimeter oriented forward, but can score in a variety of ways. In fact, he may have been one of the more versatile scorers we saw. He likes to run and he likes to shoot from range and does both well. A very smooth player. Strengths : scoring in all facets Weaknesses : not an especially well-rounded game
- Troy Williams ( UNC) - He is Nick King with more athleticism and no real perimeter game. An attack-the-rim kind of guy, Troy makes up for a lack of offensive versatility with power and sheer athleticism. In many ways a great complementary game to King's Strengths : power, intensity, athleticism, Weaknesses : shooting
- Marcus Lee (Duke) - Duke fans will cringe when I say this, but the first guy that jumped to mind when I watched Marcus Lee play was Casey Sanders. Now, before you completely write him ( or me) off, let me qualify that by saying that this kid does not have anything like Casey's oven-mitt hands or awkwardness on the court. The comparison holds up with regard to body type ( he looks like a high jumper...he is 6'9" with about a 34 inch waist and about a 7'3" wingspan) and the fact that his offensive skill set is limited to essentially put backs. He does, however, get a number of chances at those due to his leaping ability and arm length. For the same reasons, he is also very good shot blocker, though his aggressiveness on that end caused him to foul out of both games we saw him play in. He is very intelligent and very coachable, which I'm sure combined with his height make him attractive to the Duke staff, but he is not a guy that will make much of an impact until his junior or senior year in college. Strengths : length, rebounding, shot-blocking, intelligence Weaknesses: Strength, lacks appreciable offensive skill set
- Allerik Freeman ( Duke) - Didn't see much of Allerik, unfortunately. From what i did see I would describe him, in a word, as solid. Solid physically and solid in most aspects of his game; not spectacular in any regard yet not deficient in any regard. He's like a quicker, taller,Tyler Thornton with a better jump shot and without the leadership prowess.