I’ve spent many weekends wasting away at AAU tournaments. It’s kinda cool to see coaching legends fill bleacher seats to watch “the next best (insert NBA comparison),” but AAU ball is so disorganized and there are so many games, it’s tough to put a barometer on an individual’s talent.
This past Saturday was different. Pulaski County High School hosted a plethora of Prep School talent in the Thoroughbred Classic. With good coaching, these teams are unlike anything I’ve ever seen from amateur athletes. Now that I’ve witnessed it firsthand, I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more Mustang Madness and Marshall County Hoopfest.
Here are scouting reports from the best of the best, beginning with prospective Juniors, all with Kentucky as possible future destinations.
They don’t make players like Ayton. The 7-foot Bahamian is built like the beasts that filled the paint in the 90’s, yet Ayton has a smooth 3-point shot. He can lower his shoulder and bang in the post, or take the ball from the top the key for a finesse finger-roll finish at the rim.
Ayton’s game was the nightcap, and about two hours behind schedule. I was tempted to leave after a lackluster first quarter, but once he got going, he had three or four “I can’t believe he just did that” moments. Like any big guy, the only thing holding him back is his ability to go 100% all of the time.
If Calipari can convince him to become a Wildcat, he will not be able to avoid DeMarcus Cousins comparisons. Not just because he’s an athletic, dominant post-player, it’s his personality. Keep a close eye on Ayton because frankly, they don’t make players like him.
DeAndre Ayton, the 7-foot #1 player in ’17, makes windmills off the backboard look easy pic.twitter.com/HalzeyHQsQ
– Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) February 7, 2016
He’s the number one point guard in 2017 for good reason. Usually these point guards get their accolades by being flashy, but not Duval. He’s Mr. Fundamental, playing low and wide with exceptional ball control. His strength is unlike most 16-year olds, and his acceleration with the ball in his hands is unbelievable. He knifed through three defenders on a regular basis, whether it was in the open court or in the lane. Most importantly, when things got tight at the end of the game, he had the ball in his hands to put the game away with an And 1.
Duval visited UK before his Saturday night game, but he surprisingly hasn’t received an offer yet from Calipari. The only point guard he’s offered yet is ranked #3, Trae Young of Oklahoma. It will be interesting to see how the dynamics of this duo play out.
You know how if you go to any park to play pickup, there’s always one big guy that nobody messes with? On Savage Drive in Shively, it was Chauncey. You could score on him, but when he really tried, he would embarrass you and do something ridiculous, like tear down the rim so no one could play anymore. If you don’t have a similar experience, think Deebo from “Friday.”
Billy Preston is one of those guys. At 6’10” 240 pounds, when I watched API play, I only noticed his teammate Trevon Duval. Preston didn’t stand out because it looked like he was moving slow and lackadaisical. But by the time the game was over, he had 22 points and the the game’s MVP award. How did he do it?
He played a lot on the perimeter, handling the ball well, but when he wanted to score inside, he was automatic. Like the big bullies on the playground, Preston has strength that his opponents simply cannot handle, and the ability to be dynamic with the basketball in his hands from anywhere on the court.
The total package. Name a skill and this kid does it. You could watch less than half of a quarter and you could see him block a shot, lead the fast break, dunk on someone, pick his opponent’s pocket, and back down a bigger defender on an excellent post move. If he was playing baseball, this is what it would look like:
The only thing I don’t recall seeing Vanderbilt do — knock down a three, and that’s probably because the game was being played well passed my bedtime.
Vanderbilt has played in the state of Kentucky about five times. He’s visited campus and he has an offer from UK. The Junior won’t be deciding soon, but if I was going to put money on which kid would commit to UK first in the ’17 class, I’m putting my money on Vanderbilt.
Moving on to the current Senior class, Maker probably won’t be a Wildcat, but he is one of the most entertaining players I’ve ever seen.
Twice his opponents were going to bring the crowd into a frenzy with an authoritative slam dunk. Twice the crowd let out an audible, “OOOOOOHHHHHH” after he denied his opponent access to the rim. The wiry 7-footer took the ball up the court frequently. He actually might be better away from the rim, with a solid step-back jumper. His team nearly pulled off an unbelievable comeback, but he put the step-back to the test on a deep three with under a minute to go, and it fell just short.
Maker is an unbelievable talent, but the way he plays will not easily transition to college. One thing is certain — it’s hard for a UK fan to watch him play and not think of the similarities between him and Skal.
The UK signee had a bad game, yet he still had 19 points and 18 rebounds. SKJ’s biggest weakness? strength, but that doesn’t mean he avoids contact. In fact, nothing impressed me more than watching him attack the rim over and over, despite getting roughed up without any help from the officials. If he and Wenyen Gabriel are both considered “Stretch 4’s” Gabriel prefers the perimeter, whereas SKJ does his dirty work in the post.
I had the chance to speak with SKJ and his coach after the game, but you’ll have to wait a little longer to find out more about one of Kentucky’s Next Five.