It was a busy week in Oregon, where for the 21st time the Nike Hoops Summit took place on Friday. The event is annually one of the best All-Star games on the late season circuit, drawing the best players from across the world and across high school basketball here in the United States. And this year was no different. Virtually every big name player in the age group was at the Hoops Summit, ranging from R.J. Barrett and Bol Bol, to Kentucky commits Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro.
And even though the game turned into a bit of a dud (which I wrote about here) there was still plenty to take away from the week itself. In addition to the game, I was able to sit in on three total practices (two for Team USA and one for the World Team) which gave me great insight into not just the players who are headed to Kentucky, but really, all of the players who were here, including many who will play in college basketball next season.
So what did I learn from both the Nike Hoops Summit game and practices? Here are 10 things:
1) There’s no other way to put it: Tyler Herro got screwed on Friday night – but that shouldn’t take away from a good week here
I hate to be this blunt right off the top, but there’s really no other way to put it: Tyler Herro got screwed on Friday night. Look, I get that this is a competitive event where both coaches are trying to win. But the fact that he only got seven minutes of play when other Team USA guards like Tre Jones and Darius Garland got 30+ is absolutely inexcusable. If they weren’t going to play him, they just shouldn’t have brought him out. And to be clear, there was no injury or anything. I asked the Team USA coach and he simply said that playing Herro limited minutes was just how the game worked out.
Still, to Herro’s credit he took the high road after the game – and it really is important to note that a quiet night on Friday shouldn’t take away from what was an otherwise successful week for him in Portland overall. It also shouldn’t take away from the fact that over the last two weeks (including the Jordan Brand Game) he proved that he deserves more respect on the national level.
If anything, this week showed me exactly what I expected when I first came up to Portland: Not only can Herro contribute next year at Kentucky, but Kentucky needs him to contribute for this team to be successful. In the scrimmages behind closed doors Herro proved to be the true offensive threat that he’s been advertised as. The shots didn’t always fall, but he was able to get to his spots on the court, and showed a good savvy around the rim. In his limited time on the court Friday he also showed nice moves, including a sweet step back jumper.
Don’t let the disappointing night fool you: Herro will be an important piece for Kentucky next year. And a problem for the rest of the SEC.
2) The biggest story of the week might not have been who played on Friday night, but who didn’t
The single biggest story of this week wasn’t who was on the court, but instead, who wasn’t playing. This was a game which – on paper – featured virtually every big-time high school prospect in America (and from abroad as well) but the bummer was how few of them actually took the court Friday. Zion Williamson sat out with an injury. Romeo Langford didn’t play because of a concussion. Keldon Johnson missed time with an ankle injury as well. In total, that’s three players that most recruiting services have in the Top 10 of their rankings who were all on the sidelines.
To be clear, all three players did the right thing by sitting out. They had nothing to prove in an otherwise meaningless exhibition game, where they would have risked further injury by playing. Still, it put a little bit of a damper on an otherwise awesome event.
3) I still don’t see how Duke’s “Big Three” will work together
On the day that Zion Williamson committed to Duke, I was one of the first people to publicly question how the three superstars in Duke’s class, Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish would all play together. After watching two of the three in action this weekend, I feel even stronger that next year is going to be, umm… interesting for the Blue Devils. So go ahead and mark it down. I’m putting it in writing and sticking with it. I think we’re again headed for another season of Duke underachieving on the court next season.
Understand, this isn’t some anti-Duke thing. It’s also not a knock (at all) on each of those three individual players, who are all insanely gifted. Heck, this isn’t even an anti-Coach K thing. No coach would turn down the opportunity to take all three of those players.
Seriously not trying to throw shade at Duke, because what Coach K in recruiting is doing is incredible. But this is the exact problem they had last year, with Tatum/Kennard and Grayson all essentially playing the same position. As we all remember, it didn't end well https://t.co/IWjiQZTgHm
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) January 21, 2018
But at the same time, after watching them this week I feel the same way I did the day Zion committed: All three basically play the same game. They are three strong, powerful and athletic wing players. But none of them is a good three-point shooter, and none is a particularly good ball-handler. Any of the three could be a star in their own right, in their own system. But in 2018, where basketball is all about spacing and three-point shooting, I think it’s going to be a real struggle at Duke next year.
Only time will tell, and maybe I’ll be wrong on this one. But I don’t think I will be, and Duke could struggle next season.
4) Of all the Duke guys, Tre Jones was quietly the most impressive all week long
Now look, that’s not to say that Jones is the most talented of Duke’s recruits. He isn’t. That honor goes to Barrett, who is just uniquely gifted in ways that no high school player in this class is. But in a week where I came in with no real expectations of Jones, I was stunned to see just how complete of a point guard he is. He is a true “floor general” in every sense of the word, a pass first point guard, who also is the guy calling huddles on the court and barking out instructions at all times.
With so much star power, Duke is going to need Jones to be the calming force next season.
It’s a major role and of everyone on the roster, he might be the biggest X-factor.
5) Bol Bol might be finally figuring it out
As someone who lives in California, I have seen a lot of Bol Bol over the last few years, and behind the scenes, I can’t lie: I’ve been very critical of him. At times I have seen him and flat out wondered “Does this kid really love basketball? Or is he just a 7’3 kid and the son of a famous NBA player who is playing basketball because he’s forced to.” Rarely have I seen him exert much energy or even try particularly hard. That was mostly how he played at Team USA workouts early in the week.
However, I will give the kid credit where it’s due and say that Friday night was maybe the most complete game I’ve ever seen Bol play. In front of a lot of Oregon Ducks fans (where he’ll be going to school next year), Bol finished with a wildly efficient 12-point, 14-rebound, six-block performance. At times he was the best player on the floor for Team USA and an absolute load in the paint.
Ultimately, I have no idea what we’ll see from Bol on a night-to-night basis once he gets to Oregon.
But if the Ducks can get the same Bol they got on Friday night every night next season, they could be scary good.
6) Kansas has two studs – if they can keep them committed
Two other guys who stood out to me this week were a pair of players who are committed to Kansas. Wing Quentin Grimes (a former UK recruit) was maybe the best player the entire week for Team USA, and one of the best players on the court Friday night with 15 points. David McCormack (who played high school ball with Keldon Johnson) is an absolute bruiser in the paint, one of those kids who takes the court and you say “Hey, did he bring his birth certificate? There’s no way that dude’s 18.” He is a physical load and seems destined to evolve into a double-double machine at the college level.
Both were special, and each should have a major impact at Kansas next year. That is assuming that they get there with Kansas being the latest program to get wrapped up into college basketball’s FBI probe earlier this week.
To Grimes’ credit, I spoke with him and he played it cool when I brought up the FBI. He said that he’s spoken to the coaching staff and they’ve assured him that there’s nothing to worry about. When I pressed him on the issue, he also said that he is “100 percent” committed to Kansas.
Of course while the staff is saying everything is fine, only time will tell if that’s actually the case.
If these two kids end up at Kansas they will be total studs. But that’s a big “if” with the way things stand.
7) Darius Garland grew on me over the course of the week
I’ll be honest, after the first practice I attended on Thursday afternoon, my initial reaction to Garland was kind of like, “Wait, was that it? What’s the big deal?” He was a little small, not at all effective, and to be perfectly honest, largely forgettable.
But then, like an ugly puppy who curls up next to you on the couch, Garland just sort of grew on me. In a scrimmage on Thursday night he controlled the pace of play and was one of the better players on the Team USA roster. On Friday night he might have been their best player behind Grimes period, finishing with 16 points. And to his credit he was able to get to his spots on the floor, make plays and also get others involved. In addition to his 16 points, he also had five assists.
Ultimately, I don’t think Garland is a flat stud, the kind of kid who will get to Vanderbilt next year, put the program on his back and take them to the NCAA Tournament. But he will be a darn good 3-4 year college player, with the potential – depending on who they bring in with him – to have a major impact at the college level for years to come.
8) I still don’t get Darius Bazley’s decision to go to the G-League
A lot of you might not be familiar with the name Darius Bazley, but for those who’ve forgotten, he was the high school kid who announced a few weeks ago he was skipping college and going straight to the G-League. Yes, the G-League. As in, not only did he pass up playing college basketball, but he probably passed up the most logical professional options as well. Rather than making hundreds of thousands overseas, he’ll instead make roughly $25,000 in the G-League next year. I’m not knocking the kid. But let’s just say it’s not the decision I would have made.
But as bad as the decision seemed a few weeks ago, it seems even worse after I watched him up close this past week. If I’m being perfectly honest – and he’s a professional now, so I need to be – he simply isn’t ready for the pros. And I’m not saying that because I love college basketball. I’ll readily admit R.J. Barrett could go to the pros right now and be successful. Cam Reddish and one or two other kids in the class probably could as well.
But Bazley? He’s a skinny kid at 6’10 and to be blunt, he didn’t even stand out among the players at this event. If I was ranking every play I saw play this week from first to last, I don’t even know that he would have been in the top half. And now he’s going to go play professional basketball against grown men every night next year?
To be clear, I’m not rooting against Bazley and wish him no ill-will. But I truly think this is a decision he’ll come to regret.
9) 2019 prospect Josh Green is a stud
I’ve already written about Green twice this week, but he is a name that Kentucky fans should get to know. The 6’6 Australian is listed as one of the Top 30 prospects in the 2019 rankings, and already holds offers from virtually every big-time school including Arizona, UCLA, Kansas and Virginia. On Friday he showed why, as he was finished the game with a solid 11 points on 5 of 10 shooting to go along with three assists and one rebound.
And here’s the crazy part: He was one of the youngest players in the event at just 17-years-old. Heck, he was two full years younger than some of the guys here like Bol Bol.
With that, I truly believe that this week was a sign of things to come this summer for Green. As I said, he’s currently ranked in the Top 30 prospects in high school basketball, but I also think that with a big summer he could play himself into the Top 10. And if he gets into the Top 10, you’d have to think a Kentucky offer is coming.
Keep an eye on him this summer.
10) The best story of the week came from a kid named Kevin Porter Jr.
So last story here and I’ll let you go for the night. But so check this out: On Thursday night, the people who run this event decided to bring in a bunch of local players to scrimmage against Team USA. It included a bunch of former college players, and a couple of pros.
It also included a kid named Kevin Porter Jr., who was a senior this year in high school. He is ranked by most recruiting services as one of the Top 50 players in the country or so, and he is committed to play at USC next season.
Dame Lillard Watches Kevin Porter Jr. Steal the Show vs USAB!
— SLAM HS Hoops (@SLAM_HS) April 13, 2018
Except here’s the thing: When Porter took the court, he absolutely TORCHED Team USA. I’m talking slicing, dicing, pulling up from deep three. I’m not exaggerating when I say that he was the best player on the court that night, better than Cam Reddish, Darius Bazley, Tre Jones, whoever. I mean he was just a flat out stud.
And I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. After the game, Rivals’ Eric Bossi said that they may have to even consider moving Porter up to five-star status after the performance, a ranking which would make him one of the Top 20 or so players in the country.
Ultimately, I know that story doesn’t really have much to do with anything. But it’s still pretty cool.