CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - The campers have their jerseys, teams have been assigned and the games are under way at the NBA Players Association camp on the campus of the University of Virginia.
First impression is the best impression
If Philadelphia point guard Maalik Wayns needed his official coming out party on a national level, he had it on Wednesday morning. The 5-foot-11 class of 2009 floor general from Roman Catholic High School played like a couple of guys that earned their stripes in the City of Brotherly love. Wayns was a blend of Sean Singletary and Kyle Lowry and certainly made a case for his own brand of basketball.
Wayns powered his way to the basket with quickness like his city mates do so well. He pushed the ball in the open court, slowed it down in the half court and showed off a good-looking pull up three-pointer. Defensively, he got right into Brandon Knight and Dashan Harris. Wayns is working on separating himself from the rest of his fellow point guards in the class of 2009.
Future Wake Forest center Ty Walker was no match for the Oklahoma 1-2 punch of Kyle Hardrick and Daniel Orton. Defensively, Walker's spidery arms altered shots. Offensively, his length was the edge as he powered home a number of dunks. Walker, every bit a 7-footer, did a lot of damage in the half of work that we watched.
Walker is coming along offensively and starting to shed the shot-blocker/rebounder only tag he's acquired over the course of time.
The ascension of Eloy Vargas continues. The 6-foot-10 big man from American Heritage is putting it all together. For a big man, he hits a great number of shots facing the basket and from the three-point line. A majority of his makes come with no one defending his shot. As a passer, he's one of the more skilled post players nationally. Vargas is unselfish and hits players in stride.
What Vargas needs is more strength. The big man struggles against stronger players under the basket for loose balls, rebounds and back to the basket scores as well as causing more problems on the defensive end of the floor. Vargas has done a fine of carving out himself as spot amongst the top big men nationally.
Two of the top shooters from the morning session were Elliot Williams and Matthew Humphrey. The two guards were almost identical on the wing. Both are left-handed shooters. Both hit roughly four three-pointers each in their early game. Both are have good length at their position. Off the court, both are great students.
The difference between the two? Williams has a great explosion to the basket and might be a better set-up player. But both were great in the morning session of games.
Notes from the notepad
Atlanta area rising junior Noel Johnson struggled against the length of Vargas in the first half but found his groove in the second half. Primarily known as a spot up perimeter threat, Johnson shed himself of his normal attack and went to the basket. The 6-foot-6 wing scored a dozen points in the final 10 minutes of work and helped his team climb back from a fairly large deficit.
New Yorker Mookie Jones continues to show off his soft touch from the wing. He let it fly from deep and used his great length to get to the basket. AAU teammate and good friend Kevin Jones did the same. He buried a couple of three-pointers and knocked down a nice 15-foot fade away jumper.
Montverde (Fla.) Academy point guard Dashan Harris will certainly be a much watched player here at the camp. The 6-foot rising senior does not play a lot of AAU basketball and prefers more controlled settings like the NBA camp. Harris has made improvements in his perimeter jumper, something that was a bit of a concern last year, and knocked down a couple of three pointers off the dribble.
Harris has great speed, loves to defend and knows how to run a team efficiently. There is a chance for separation nationally at his position. Harris knows this and said he's hoping to carve himself out an nice spot amongst the best of the best in the 2008 point guard listings.
If big man Kenny Kadji can master the pick and roll with his point guard teammate Harris, then he'll walk away from the camp as one of the most effective centers in the camp. The two worked the simple play for a couple of plays. Simplicity goes a long way in settings like this.
Rutgers locked up Mike Rosario early for a reason. The St. Anthony's guard is as tough of a guard as you'll find nationally. The 6-foot-2 scorer can put up points in a hurry and doesn't break a sweat doing it. He's a quiet killer but his buzzer beater certainly made some noise to give his team a two-point win in the first round of games at the camp. He's looking strong this spring and heading into the summer.
If a three-point shooting contest were to break out during the down periods, Matt Roth of Illinois has to be considered a favorite in the impromptu contest. The long-armed shooter is automatic from deep.
If a mid range shooting contest were to break out during the down periods, put all of your chips on Canadian guard Devoe Joseph.
There probably isn't a bigger gym rat in the camp than Arizona commitment Brandon Jennings. If he isn't playing, he is sitting on the end of someone's bench. During dead balls, he's on the floor putting up shots.
Odds & Ends
A couple of players are in attendance but unable to play. Michigan forward Draymond Green is in town but hobbling around on a pair of crutches. He sprained his ankle at Michigan State's elite camp last week, he said.
Georgia bound forward Howard Thompkins is also out of commission and boasting crutches because of a bum ankle. Indiana commitment Bud Mackey has been regulated to cheerleader with an undisclosed ailment.
NBPA president Billy Hunter is at the event as well. So is former Virginia star Ralph Sampson. His sons, Ralph, III and Robert, are participating in the camp. Charlotte Bobcats forward Emeka Okafor and NBA big man Marc Jackson. Former NBAers Charles Smith, Rick Brunson and Frank Brickowski are also working the camp.
Matt Humphrey said he is hearing from Oregon, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Illinois, Kentucky, Florida, Connecticut and Duke. Official visits will be a key for the four-star Chicago native.
Florida State, Florida, Alabama and North Carolina are the top four for Alabama big man Xavier Gibson. Georgia Tech, Cincinnati, Kansas State and Kentucky are also staying on him.
Dashan Harris has been a major target for a number of programs. The point guard said he has offers from Florida State, Cal, USC, Kentucky and Cincinnati.
Matt Simpkins said his top five are Cal, Washington, USC, Florida and Connecticut. The bouncy forward said he would like to stay close to home but also likes the draw of the national appeal of the non-West Coast programs.
Class of 2009 stud Dominic Cheek said he has high interest from Ohio State, Pitt, Miami, Syracuse, Georgetown, North Carolina and Florida.