Jordan Brand Classic festivities officially kicked off today, where the first open practice and Media Day was held at the Brooklyn Nets USS Training Center.
Kentucky signees Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro were selected to compete in the Classic, with point guard Immanuel Quickley just missing the cut.
We got to see Johnson two weeks ago at the McDonalds All-American Game, but for Herro, this is the first time the Big Blue Nation will be able to see him compete against elite competition on national television.
And you should be excited.
You see, when Tyler Herro committed, everyone got excited because he averaged 30-plus points per game and shot 44-percent from three this past year. It’s no secret the 2017-18 Wildcats struggled at times to score the ball, specificially from the perimeter. In fact, Kentucky’s epic three-point streak came to a close in heartbreaking fashion as a result. When news of Herro’s commitment came along, we all knew we’d have at least one solid deep threat to rely on next season.
But then I saw him in person. As did several other NBA scouts, college coaches, and of course, the competition at the Jordan Brand Classic practice this afternoon.
Several prospects said Herro was easily the biggest surprise of the event, and scouts whispered similar opinions. Again, he has the “shooter” tag attached to his name, and most think that’s all he has to his game.
He wants to erase that narrative now.
“More than a shooter,” he said. “I’ve always been labeled as just a shooter, and I’m more than that. I can score, I’m a playmaker, I can get everyone involved. On my high school team I had to score a lot from everywhere, and that’s what I think I can do.”
To open the practice, Herro’s team went through several different shooting drills, working hitting shots from both half-court sets and in transition. In one drill in particular, Herro knocked down four consecutive three-point attempts, with not a single one of them touching the rim. The drill moved to a midrange shot-making drill, where each player had to catch a pass on the elbow and hit the shot in transition. Once again, nothing but net on three straight.
Herro already lighting up the competition shooting the ball. Hit four straight threes in transition, now knocking down midrange jumpers with ease. pic.twitter.com/FcnHAsSWVf
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) April 7, 2018
During the drill section of practice, Herro was the best shooter on either team by a wide margin. Some of the most popular names in the class of 2018 bricked shot after shot, while the Kentucky guard couldn’t help but embarrass them.
He had my attention, but again, these were drills where the shots were non-contested. And we already knew he was a solid shooter. I wanted to wait and see what he could do against elite competition in the five-on-five scrimmages.
And then I completely understood why he hated the “only a shooter” narrative.
To start the scrimmage, Herro drilled a three from the top of the key, and then followed it up with a deep two from past the elbow. The defense was in his face on both shot attempts, and he drilled both with ease. Once he got that out of the way in front of scouts, he moved to the other aspects of his game. He made a ridiculous behind-the-back pass to a teammate in transition, who then (unfortunately) missed the contested dunk attempt. He then followed it up by taking a defender off the dribble, crossing him up, and then whipping the ball to the corner for an open three for Shareef O’Neal who converted the assist.
When the defense closed in, his handles tightened up, and he made some impressive dribble moves to get out of the situation. But he did it without looking at the defender and trying to play iso ball like several high school and college players do. Instead of going one-on-one, he scanned the floor to find the open man and made the intelligent play.
His shot cooled down a bit as the scrimmage progressed, but he continued to get himself open and create his own shot. He was finding incredible looks against some of the best high school players in America, something you guys need to look out for tomorrow in the real game.
Court vision, crisp passes, and tight handles. Oh, and shooting. Really, really good shooting.
As for Keldon Johnson, he impressed, and he didn’t even really do anything today. He sat out with an ankle sprain, an injury he sustained last week that kept him from playing in the majority of the national semifinal game for Oak Hill. From the start of practice, Johnson worked with trainers to stretch out his ankle, wrapped it in ice, and walked on it to keep it loose.
And (to no one’s surprise) he just couldn’t help himself from trying to get back in the action in an All-Star practice.
Go figure, Johnson is now out warming up. RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson sitting out with injury, Johnson doing whatever it takes to get himself ready for the event. Can’t help himself. pic.twitter.com/QqM3u5JeSZ
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) April 7, 2018
He threw on his basketball shoes and went to an open side of the court and started putting up shots. He worked his way from the corner of the court, came in for midrange shots, and then worked on up-and-under layups. He was jumping and putting weight on his hurt ankle, despite walking with a very minor limp.
“I’m just trying to keep the mobility in it and keep it moving so it won’t get stiff,” he told KSR. “We’re going day by day to see where I’m at.”
As for the actual game, Johnson said it’s a “low chance” he is able to play, but he’ll try to give it a go if he’s feeling comfortable.
“It’s a low chance. I’m not really pushing it, but if I feel that good that I’m comfortable enough to play, then I’ll get out there,” he said.
We’ll have more from the practice and media session in a bit.