It is a long, hard grind from April until August on the AAU basketball circuit. The best teams that have shoe contracts will play as many as 100-120 games. It’s both a nightmare and a blessing for the college coaches. They can track plenty of players but with so many tournaments going on, even the top staffs are stretched thin.
Over the past six weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time at AAU tournaments talking to Division I basketball coaches from every conference and every level, from Billy Donovan at Florida and Tubby Smith at Kentucky to guys like Eddie Biedenbach at UNC-Asheville. Here are my top ten, my five who are better than advertised and two whom I think you’ll be hearing about someday. These are players that I saw at least two or three times each, and with each one, I asked the opinion of several Division I head coaches and assistants.
TOP 10 FOR 2007:
1. ERIC GORDON (6-3, SG, Indianapolis North Central): Forget what you’ve heard about O.J. Mayo. There isn’t a better high school basketball player in the country than this Illinois commit. He’s the best 3-point shooter. He’s the best shooter period. And he could play the point in a pinch. He lives at the foul line because he knows how to draw contact and still finish his shots. This is the only player in the country that could go straight to the next level without missing a beat.
2. KYLE SINGLER (6-8, SF/PF, South Medford, Oregon): Everybody on the west coast is drooling over this guy. He can do it all and make it look so easy. Just doesn’t make bad decisions with the basketball and gets better every time you see him. He can easily go out to the wing and score or he can post up. He’s got to get stronger physically but he’s still growing. Duke wants him and so does Kansas but I’ll put my money on Arizona.
3. NICK CALATHES (6-6, PG, Casselberry Lake Howell): He makes everybody on his team better. This is the most complete player in the recruiting class of 2007. Nobody can beat you as many ways as Nick. The perfect fit in Billy Donovan’s system at Florida. He can score a ton of points without hogging or demanding the ball and he can create points for everybody on his team. When his team needs him to do it, he can take over a game completely. This is one serious three-point shooter.
4. PATRICK PATTERSON (6-8.5, PF, Huntington, West Virginia): Everybody raves about his defense and rightfully so, but he’s going to be a fine scorer at the next level too. Nice touch on anything inside 10-12 feet. Needs to be more aggressive on the offensive boards but otherwise, not too many flaws in his game. In one ten second stretch Monday against Team Florida, he blocked three shots to preserve a win, a big time performance by a big time player. When comparing him to players you might have seen, think Al Horford. Duke wants him and so does North Carolina but the smart money is on Florida and Kentucky.
5. DERRICK ROSE (6-2, PG, Chicago Simeon): There is nobody better taking the ball to the rack. He’s got a streaky outside game and when he’s hot, he’s pretty much unstoppable. He’s got to learn to take the easy pass for the sure two over the flashy pass for the spectacular finish and he’s got to learn to pull the ball out instead of going one on four but you have to love his confidence. Illinois is begging for him to team up with his AAU teammate, Gordon, to make up a backcourt that will be as good as it gets in college basketball. Memphis and Louisville have a real good chance to get him too.
6. BLAKE GRIFFIN (6-9, PF, Oklahoma Christian, Enid, OK): Landing his commitment was the first and smartest thing new Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel could have done. Griffin has very strong hands, good feet, and he will battle on the boards all day. He’s an outstanding scorer in the low blocks with a nice soft touch around the rim. He’s got some defensive issues but there are no flaws in his offensive game. He really hustles at both ends of the court, too.
7. O.J. MAYO (6-4, PG/SG, Cincinnati North College Hill): Yeah, I’ve heard all the hype and there are moments when I want to believe it but there are too many moments when I think this is the most overrated player I’ve ever seen. He can go on these unreal streaks from the outside but he can just as easily disappear for long stretches. He could be a great passer but he’s far too consumed with making spectacular plays instead of getting all his teammates involved. If he’s ready for the NBA then put me on the rack, stretch me to seven feet and get my contract ready. He says the Gators are in his final three but Florida is not recruiting him and has not recruited him. He’s going to Southern Cal where he plans to be a one and done. Mark that down.
8. JAMES ANDERSON (6-7, SF, Junction City, Arkansas): Think Corey Brewer with a consistent jump shot and you’re getting close. Defensively, he’s fearless. He’ll guard anyone on the perimeter and he won’t back down from anyone, no matter how big, on the inside. Tremendous in transition and as good an open court defender as there is in the recruiting class of 2007. Averages 30 a game in high school and could easily be a big time scorer at the next level. Florida’s on his short list but the smart money is on Memphis or Kansas. Arkansas could put the pressure on him to stay in state.
9. GARY JOHNSON (6-8, PF, Houston Aldine): He might have the best rebounding instincts of anyone in the class of 2007. He has great hands and never gets outpositioned. Needs work on his offensive game because his jumper is practically non-existent but he’s got the ability to clean up around the rim. As a defender, he does all the dirty work, boxing out, setting picks, etc. There are more spectacular recruits in Rick Barnes’ 2007 class at Texas, but not any that will prove more valuable.
10. HERB POPE, (6-9, PF, Alaquippa, Pennsylvania): He got into a fight with his AAU coach and got sent home early from Orlando. When you add in his lack of intensity on the defensive end, there’s good reason to question his attitude but nobody can question his ability to score around the basket. The lights definitely come on when his team has the basketball. He’s a great offensive rebounder and he knows how to seal off a defender on his hip to get to the basket for thunder jams. Pitt, Kansas State, Louisville and Memphis are hot after him. With his attitude, he’s a perfect fit for Huggy Bear at K-State.
BETTER THAN ADVERTISED:
1. ALEX TYUS (6-9, PF, Cincinnati Harmony Christian): He plays on a team that’s loaded up with big timers like Mayo, Bill Walker, Dallas Lauderdale and Aaron Pogue, but this Florida commit is as good as anyone on the team. He’s long, lean and athletic. He’s 210 now and you can see that frame can easily carry another 30 pounds of muscle. He runs the floor well and has the ability to get to the rim. The only questions about him are on the defensive end. He’s a great shot blocker but he tends to stand around flat footed quite a bit.
2. CHANDLER PARSONS (6-9, SF/PF, Lake Howell): Nobody made bigger strides on the AAU circuit. He’s gone from a player riding the coattails of teammate Nick Calathes to one that has the attention of just about every big time program in the country. Tremendous shooting range and has proven that he can put the ball on the deck and create his own shot. He needs to get stronger. LSU and Arizona State have been battling the hardest for him with Alabama, Tennessee, Wake Forest, Indiana, Boston College and Oklahoma coming in on the scene late. If Billy Donovan offers, it’s all over.
3. DALLAS LAUDERDALE (6-9.5 C/PF, Solon, Ohio): He’s committed to Ohio State and plays on the same AAU team with O.J. Mayo and Alex Tyus. He’s the strongest player on D-1 Greyhounds and one of the nicest kids, too. He plays hard at both ends of the court and he’s not intimidated by anyone from a physical standpoint. Don’t know if he’ll ever develop a great offensive game outside of five feet but he’ll be a tremendous physical presence around the basket.
4. DORENZO HUDSON (6-5, SG/SF, Hargrave Military Academy): Everybody knew he could shoot. What he’s proven on the AAU circuit is that he can defend in the open court and finish or spot up on the break. He’s still got to do some work on his grades and that’s why he’s off to Hargrave, but there’s no question that he’s got the ability to play at the highest levels. He’d love to go to North Carolina but there’s no offer there. My money is on NC State.
5. CHRIS EARLY (6-7, SF, Huntington, West Virginia): He’s a high school and AAU teammate of Patrick Patterson. Committed to Oklahoma. He’s a very physical defender that is almost dirty but there’s no question that he has the hustle and passion for the game. Not a really gifted offensive player but he can get points on the break and in the open court and he will take on anyone defensively. If he ever learns to hit a 15-foot jumper consistently, he could turn out to be scary good.
TWO SLEEPERS FOR 2007:
1. TIM FLOWERS (6-4, SF/PF, Chicago Simeon): Gordon and Rose got all the headlines for their Mean Streets Express AAU team but Flowers was the glue that held them together. He weighs close to 240 and has the look of the next great tight end in the NFL. There are a lot of people comparing him to the Chargers’ all-pro tight end Antonio Gates who played college basketball instead of football. Flowers plays so hard. Not afraid of anyone and he’s got the strongest hands of anyone in the country. If he gets his hands on the ball, it’s his. He’s a surprisingly good scorer in the low blocks, too. Absolutely relentless. Can you say Barkley clone? One of the top programs is going to take a flyer on this kid and four years from now, they’ll be glad they did.
2. LANCE KEARSE (6-7, PF, Fort Myers): When Solomon Alibi (Nigerian national junior team) and Joseph Kautuka (torn meniscus) left Team Florida in July he stepped in to play center. Even though he’s undersized and he’s a truly raw talent, he’s got tremendous spring in his legs and he’s a relentless rebounder. He’s got the ability to go up several times to keep the ball alive. He’s got a nice looking shot and he could learn to be a pretty good offensive player. He’s a cousin of Jevon Kearse. Anthony Grant of Virginia Commonwealth is all over him. With some coaching he could be very, very good.
TOMORROW: The best players in the recruiting class of 2008. The Florida Gators are in good shape for several of them.