May 23, 2006

Top class of 2007 performers at Cactus Classic

The first annual Cactus Classic held at the University of Arizona was loaded with top talent from the West Coast and many of them turned in impressive performances. It was a sign of great things to come for this event.

National Basketball Analyst Jerry Meyer was on hand for the action and ranks the top ten performers in the 2007 class from the tournament. Here are the top ten performers Meyer scouted with a breakdown of each.

10. Isaiah Thomas, Tacoma (Wash.) Curtis Senior
Position: Point guard
Height: 5-foot-8
College choice: Washington
Cactus Classic stats (5 games): 31 pts, 3 reb, 2.8 ast
Not many players score from the perimeter like Isaiah Thomas.

The powerfully built scoring guard is a master at driving back his defender and then hopping or sliding back to gain separation for his jumper. Thomas has the strength and balance to smoothly shoot the ball off difficult dribble moves.

More of a scorer than set up man, Thomas does have room to grow as a distributor of the ball and as a mid-range scorer. He does most of his damage outside the arc.

Not a defensive minded player, Thomas did cause some disruption the past weekend by jumping passing lanes on defensive switches.
Click here for video of Thomas in action

9. Tyrone Shelley, San Diego Crawford
Position: Small forward
Height: 6-foot-6
College choice: Undecided
Cactus Classic stats (4 games): 25.5 pts, 8.6 reb, 3 stl
Tyrone Shelley put up big scoring numbers for his undermanned San Diego Colts squad.

Shelley can score from behind the arc, and he is also able to use his strong body to score by posting up and by grabbing offensive rebounds. He also scores going right off the dribble. He tends to bypass the pull up jumper and force the ball to the rim, but he is able to draw fouls while forcing the issue.

The next step in Shelley's offensive development will be learning how to set up his teammates for scores with the defensive attention that his scoring draws.

Defensively, Shelley has the potential to guard several positions and be a strong rebounder from the wing position.

8. Kamyron Brown, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei
Position: Point guard
Height: 6-foot-2
College choice: Undecided
Cactus Classic stats (6 games): 18.7 pts, 4.8 reb, 3.7 ast, 1 stl
Drew Viney's SoCal Razorbacks' teammate Kamyron Brown is a dynamic defender and penetrator.

Nearly impossible to guard off the dribble with his explosiveness, Brown constantly gets to the rim and draws fouls and makes tough finishes. Prone to over dribble and force the action at times, Brown still creates much more damage for the opposition with his aggressive style of play. He also showed the potential to hit the pull up jumper and pass out of the mid-range during the weekend.

Defensively, Brown is a terror and capable of locking down either the point guard or a wing scorer. He has the motor and foot speed to guard 94-feet and often ignites the fast break with his defensive rebounding ability.
Click here for video of Brown in action

7. Drew Viney, Villa Park (Calif.)
Position: Small forward
Height: 6-foot-7
College choice: Undecided
Cactus Classic stats (6 games): 18.7 pts, 7.2 reb
A top small forward prospect, Drew Viney was nonetheless very effective playing out of position for the SoCal Razorbacks.

Forced to guard on the interior, Viney, a finesse player, craftily used his feet to deny feeds to his man instead of getting physically locked up with his man. As a rebounder, Viney is not explosive off the floor, but his is very long and has tremendously sure hands.

Once he does come up with the ball, he is passes the ball very well up the court or can initiate the fastbreak with the dribble. A very poised and skilled ball handler, Viney is an efficient playmaker. He creates off the dribble for himself and teammates and has a very good shooting touch from both deep and around the basket.

6. Jai Lucas, Houston Bellaire
Position: Point guard
Height: 5-foot-10
College choice: Undecided
Cactus Classic stats (8 games): 17.5 pts, 1.8 reb, 3.2 ast
Jai Lucas was outstanding all weekend in leading the Houston Hoops to the finals of the Cactus Classic.

Offensively, Lucas, who plays almost every minute of every game, controlled the tempo and judiciously fed the post, set up jump shooters and penetrated the lane off the high ball screen. Once in the lane with his penetration, Lucas knocked down nearly every conceivable mid-range type of shot.

At one time reluctant to go left, Lucas made a number of good things happen with penetration to the left when defenders took away his right hand.

Defensively, he controlled the ball on top and was only beat in the post by bigger opponents on a couple occasions.
Click here for video of Lucas in action

5. Jamelle Horne, San Diego (Calif.)
Position: Small forward
Height: 6-foot-7
College choice: Arizona
Cactus Classic stats (5 games): 18 pts, 7 reb
Jamelle Horne has added some muscle to his athletic and prototypical small forward frame and is playing with a quality blend of finesse and physical ball.

He seemed to constantly be in every play on the court, whether it was disrupting the action with his defense, blocking out and rebound on the boards, scoring and passing in transition or knocking down jumpers from behind the arc.

Horne even displayed a nice post up game where he scored with a reliable jump hook. And defensively, he has the strength and athleticism to guard a post up player and also the foot speed to guard on the perimeter.

Whether in a fast paced full court game or a slower half court type of game, Horne has the tools to impact the game on both ends of the court.

4. Craig Brackins, Lancaster (Calif.) Brewster Academy
Position: Power forward
Height: 6-foot-9
College choice: Undecided
Cactus Classic stats (7 games): 10.5 pts, 4.5 reb, 1.3 blk
Speaking of potential NBA players, Craig Brackins needs to be in the discussion.

With his long arms and high shoulders at a good 6-foot-9, Brackins scored in the post with nifty foot work and both left handed and right handed jump hooks. He also has a nice shooting touch out to the three-point line and handles the ball and passes it with poise.

On the defensive end, Brackins was one of the top shot blockers at the event and proved to be very difficult to score over. One of his better defensive plays of the weekend was when he missed a three-pointer from the corner and then sprinted to the other end and other side of the court to block a shot in transition.

Not afraid of contact and willing to mix it up inside, Brackins does get pushed around at times and needs to get stronger and learn to play with a lower center of gravity. But the fact is that as good as Brackins is now, his best ball lies ahead of him.

3. Austin Daye Irvine (Calif.) Woodbridge
Position: Small forward
Height: 6-foot-9
College choice: Undecided
Cactus Classic stats (8 games): 14.1 pts, 5.1 reb, 1.7 ast
Austin Daye definitely needs to get stronger and become more physically aggressive, but the 6-foot-9 wing player is a unique talent with a super skill set and a lights out shooting stroke.

Daye comfortably shoots over defenders from the wing and also has a nice shot fake to set up his dribble penetration. Not yet explosive enough to go right by his man, he shoots the ball very well off spin moves to either shoulder when cut off on the dribble. And perhaps his best trait is the way he finds the open man when defenders help on his drives.

Not always strong enough to come up with the fifty/fifty ball, Daye does have a knack for offensive rebounding. As he adds a post up game and gains the strength to compliment his length on defense, Daye has the chance to develop into a Tayshaun Prince-type player.

2. Steven Gray, Port Hadlock (Wash.) Bainbridge
Position: Shooting guard
Height: 6-foot-3
College choice: Gonzaga
Cactus Classic stats (4 games): 23.5 pts, 2.8 reb, 2.3 ast, 1.5 stl
A shooting guard with nice size, Steven Gray has a highly refined skill package and a top notch feel for the game. Not overly athletic, he is very adept at using screens and getting his shot off quickly. He also uses an array of fakes and change of speed moves to get his shot off the dribble.

Not a guy that is going to get to the rim a whole lot, Gray does shoot the mid-range shot very well and passes extremely well off the dribble. He knows how to feed the post and sees the diagonal pass very well.

Defensively, he guards wing scorers well and does a good job on the defensive boards.

1. James Harden, Rancho Dominguez (Calif.) Artesia
Position: Shooting guard
Height: 6-foot-5
College choice: Undecided
Cactus Classic stats (8 games): 18.1 pts, 4 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl
The beauty of James Harden's game is how he impacts the game in so many different ways. It is easy to notice how he scores at all three levels on the court, but the ease and the efficiency in which he scores stands out to the trained eye.

His unselfishness sticks out with the way he will pass up a decent look and make the quick swing pass to the corner for an even better look for a grateful teammate. Defensively, he is the guy coming over from the weakside to take a charge, and the one chasing down the tough rebound.

As a lefty, Harden has a quick first step, and he loves to crossover to his right and then angle back left right into the defense.

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