ATLANTA -- The Final Four has brought the basketball world to the Peach State this weekend for the around the clock festivities. On Saturday morning, 23 players from across the country took part in the inaugural adidas Nations workout at Emory University.
Out with the old, in with the new
Gone are the days of the adidas Superstar camp. The new attraction on the grassroots scene is skill development camps and intimate training with some of the game's best teachers.
Former NBA head coach and player Paul Silas and his staff, including former Wright State head coach Ed Schilling, ran the elite players from the class of 2008 and 2009 through a well scripted workout.
The drills focused on simple fundamentals with elite level effort. It was immediately obvious who spends time in the gym by themselves and those that rely solely on athleticism and raw potential.
The players spent a lot of time working on simplicity and fundamentally sound plays. Dunks were rare, lay-ups (usually with the left hand) were common and smart, instinctual passes are demanded.
It is obvious that Silas and his staff were teaching the young prospects the simple things of the game before diving too deep into more complex things. The kids are driving with an instructor before they put on their racing suits and floor the gas in a sports car. We're talking about baby steps here and it might have been the best basketball these kids have played with other elite level players. That part was certainly refreshing to watch.
Breaking down the 2008 players
Jerime Anderson – The UCLA commitment had a hard time making his shots in the drills and in the scrimmage. It was a tough outing for the California native. Perhaps the 8 a.m. (5 a.m. to his west coast mental clock) had something to do with it.
Luke Babbitt – Coming off a Nevada state championship, the future Ohio State Buckeye played with great energy, as he always does, and brought it on the blocks. His physical play will suit him well in the Big Ten.
Larry Drew – When the players ran drills suited for the guards, the California point guard looked at ease and had little trouble grasping the points being taught. He was good with the ball and confident with his ability.
Yancy Gates – There wasn't a soul bigger than the Cincinnati big man at the adidas Nations workout. The 6-foot-8 manchild will only benefit from the instruction he's receiving in this process.
Jrue Holiday – Smooth has always been the best way to describe the nation's number two player overall and that was the case on Saturday. Everything he did took little effort, at least on the surface, and he approached the experience like a guy looking and willing to get better and better.
DeAndre Liggins – The Chicago native has long been tabbed as a point guard. He's not. Liggins is a great passer. It's easy to confuse the two. The 6-foot-6 prospect made good passes but still needs to improve his jumper.
Korie Lucious – The smallest player in the field made buckets, you wouldn't except anything less from him anyways. His quick trigger shined through in the short scrimmage to end the morning session.
B.J. Mullens – The future Ohio State center is bigger than last year, checking in at 7-foot-1 and roughly 265 solid pounds. Buckeye fans are getting spoiled with the size coming to Columbus. Mullens continues to really improve and his hands were a thing of beauty on Saturday.
Emmanuel Negedu – Flanked by much bigger players, the Brewster Academy forward made up for his height definecny with his trademark quick springs off the floor. He did struggle in the shooting drills but quickly went back to his strength – ridiculous and quick jumping ability – in the scrimmage.
Travis Releford – There were few guards that did as well as the Kansas City native. He was fantastic and flawless during the instruction process. He was on top of things and ran through the stations with ease. It was a good showing from the four-star guard.
Matt Simpkins – If the adidas nation was an athleticism contest, he'd be at the top of the list. But it's not. And Simpkins seemed to struggle in this type of venue. He lacks the skill set to comprehend the drills but has the raw potential that will keep the high-majors close.
Chris Singleton – Get ready to hear about him a lot this spring. The Canton, Georgia native seemed to be incredibly focused on the task at hand, ran the guard drills with ease, defended quick and strong guards well in the scrimmage and really seemed focus on the task at hand. If he maintains that mentality this spring, he could easily climb up from his top 40 ranking.
Howard Thompkins – The Oak Hill forward rounded out his game this year away from his Georgia home and you could tell in the station work. He shot the ball well and blocked tough shots against bigger players in the scrimmage. Improving his foot speed and athleticism will only help his game this next year.
Jeff Withey – The future Louisville center had a good junior year in San Diego and he's entering the spring on a high note. The speed of some of the drills moved a little quick for him but he performed well in the low post drills.
Breaking down the 2009 players
Jerry Brown – There were times when the San Francisco area prospect looked comfortable in this setting. There were other times when he was learning along the way. It was an okay morning for the California kid and showed enough to make you want to see more of him.
Derrick Favors – From start to finish, he may have been the most impressive big man on the two teams. The 6-foot-8 Atlanta native showed off a great looking jump shot in the shooting drills, fluid ball-handling skills and made tough baskets over B.J. Mullens and blocked his shot a couple of times in the process.
Tyler Griffey – The Missouri native played the role of the blue collar worker. He gets up off the floor rather quickly and bounced back after a shot to the nose with an elbow. His skill set is good and showed enough to beg for more looks this spring and summer.
Noel Johnson – Much like Holiday in the 2008 class, the Atlanta area product is smooth. The 6-foot-7 wing has advance ball skills, a silky jumper and great explosion when needed. He seemed at home working with intense coaches and trainers.
Lance Stephenson – The New York guard has always played in the spotlight that the Big Apple casts upon the best players from Gotham. It was good to see him away from the expectations and just play. He blended in with the other elite level guards in the event and shot the ball well in the drills.
Dexter Strickland – Much like Derrick Rose, the 2009 point guard plays the position with great poise, mature focus and freaky athleticism when needed. Strickland really understood what was going on at all times.
GJ Vilarino – There wasn't a better point guard in the gym than the Texan on Saturday morning. He quietly went about his business, ran the drills with great ease, set up teammates in the scrimmage and soaked in the experience.
Christian Watford – A last minute addition to the team, the Alabama native stepped right into the action and showed off a reliable jumper for a player of his size (6-7). Watford was a four in high school and a likely three at the next level. He's making that transition right now.
Shawn Williams – Coming off a huge season at Duncanville (Texas) High School, the 6-foot-6 wing looked strong in the workout. He made shots from the wing, handled the ball and proved he belonged in an event like this. He is poised for a big spring and summer with his Texas Select AAU club.
The adidas Nations will continue on May 4, when the players travel to San Francisco, where they will work out at the EA Sports complex. Then, in June, the teams will take part in the Rose City Challenge in Portland on the 15th. The 2008 team will play the 2009 team in the event.
In August, the teams will travel to New Orleans where they will play teams from Latin America, Asia and Europe from the 3rd to the 7th.
Justin Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.