Not everything that happens in Vegas stays there
LAS VEGAS -- The old saying goes "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas", but not everything that happened at the Fantastic 40 -- like the play of five-star Ziaire Williams -- needs to stay in Vegas.
The Fantastic 40 was my final event after a long summer and I want to wrap it up by taking a look at what should be leaving Las Vegas and what should be staying there.
Leaving Las Vegas: Talk of Ziaire Williams versatility
Whenever we update class rankings, it's a team effort. But, when we update the 2020 rankings in early September, it's going to be hard for me to find five players I could rank over Williams.
The 6-foot-8 wing can really put the ball on the floor, he can shoot with range, he is athletic and he consistently makes the smart basketball play.
With the crew of stars being assembled at Sierra Canyon, it is Williams who should be considered the headliner. He can do too much and is now showing confidence, an aggressive style on the offensive end and he's always going to score with a high level of skill.
Needs to stay in Vegas: Summer basketball
When I walked into the gym on Thursday afternoon and there was a men's league game taking place at the same time as the first few games of the Fantastic 40, I gotta tell you I was a little nervous. I can't even remember the last time I went to an event in Vegas that college coaches couldn't but the NCAA essentially ended the annual live week in Sin City with their changed recruiting calendar. You know what, though, the event proved that summer basketball in Vegas can work with or without the college coaches.
Actually, I think Vegas needs to stay a part of the grassroots summer tradition for lots of reasons. Players, they all think of playing out in Vegas as a right of basketball passage. Families, many of them see it as a nice way to end the summer with hoops and presumably some away from the floor family or adult fun. Guys like me want events in Vegas because it's familiar, it can accommodate many budgets and it's also not a bad place to end a long spring and summer.
Not to mention, everybody wants to see teams from all the different shoe circuits and non sponsored teams playing each other.
More than anything, I think the people of Vegas really enjoy summer ball. With the NBA's Summer League gaining popularity over the past few years, Vegas locals have gotten more and more interested in seeing the next up-and-coming stars. Locals want the chance to see a guy like 2021's Jonathan Kuminga play above the rim and to see who comes out of nowhere to boost their stock.
With no college coaches to fill the stands this year, it was going to be a learning process for event operators as they looked for new ways to run quality events. Hopefully it works out that we see a few more teams and a little more support next summer because a summer without Vegas events just doesn't seem right.
Leaving Las Vegas: Terrence Clarke's ability to create off the dribble
Over the last year, the 6-foot-6 shooting guard from New England has showed more wrinkles. He's developed as a shooter, he's gotten more athletic and to end the summer what I was most impressed with is how smooth Clarke has become off the dribble.
The guy can really put the ball on the floor with skill and he's able to create without over dribbling. It just looks easier and easier for him each time out and because he can create open looks with regularity, he doesn't have to take as many difficult shots as in the past.
Needs stay in Vegas: UNLV fans
In the prime of the Jerry Tarkanian days, UNLV basketball was the biggest show in Vegas. There's an awful lot of entertainment (and now pro sports) to choose from in Vegas, but that doesn't mean that new coach T.J. Otzelberger couldn't win over the locals again and have things rolling again.
Otzelberger has proven he can recruit as an assistant and run a program before landing in Vegas and over the weekend I saw two guys who could really help move the process of rebuilding UNLV along in local products Nick Blake and Donovan Yap.
Blake has always had terrific size, athleticism and instincts for a guard, but he wasn't always consistent. He has added the consistency, a more rounded game and gotten stronger. We need to discuss him for the 2020 rankings.
As for Yap, he's got a bit more maturing to do physically than Blake does, but he's quite talented too. He's skilled, he can create and he has big upside as he adds strength.
They should be the kind of kids UNLV fans can get behind.
Leaving Las Vegas: Closing notes
I wanted to finish off with some rapid fire notes.
.... I left Vegas Saturday afternoon so I didn't get to see the Compton Magic wrap up a title (with just six players for most of the weekend). But I did see them plenty the first few days and discussed Jaylen Clark, Dalen Terry and D.J. Davis in my weekend coverage of the event. I think that 2021 Malik Thomas is a guy we need to think about for the 2021 rankings. He's a tough combo guard who can knock home a jumper and really came up big offensively when needed. His recruiting out West needs to pick up.
.... There may be a solid mid-major sleeper in Seattle named John Hart. I enjoyed Hart's athletic, downhill and attacking style of drives to the rim and he's got a bounce and confidence about him. He is deserving of some attention at Rainier Beach this fall and winter.
.... Class of 2021 point guard Brenton Knapper of Ontario (Calif.) Colony and the California Stars is fun to watch. He's a scorer with confidence who can shoot from deep, has some juice in his game and does a nice job leading.
.... I got to see quite a bit of wing Kerwin Walton over the last few weeks and I don't know that I saw anybody else shoot the ball he did at any of my other stops since the early spring. It just seemed like each time he caught the ball it was going in and his shot is exactly the same each and every time. It's pretty clear he's gotten legit reps with his shot and it translates in his game. A return to the 2020 Rivals150 is certain for him.
.... I'm curious to see what level Josh O'Garro is going to be recruited on. The 6-foot-4 wing is a fine athlete with a lean frame and the ability to finish at the rim. I don't think he's just an athlete, though, and I see lots of potential on both ends of the floor. I first saw him with BTI Select over Memorial Day and he caught my attention there, but I was really impressed with his work in Vegas.
.... Finally, this was the second time I was able to watch 6-foot-10 center Baye Fall from Denver. He's only going to be a freshman in high school this year, but played up at the 17U with level with the Colorado Hawks. He more than held his own, too. His timing, instincts, relative skill and athleticism are all ahead of the curve and we will definitely be tracking his progress.