Commentary

Surprise prospects surface in two Vegas tournaments

Originally Published: April 30, 2008
By Joel Francisco | Scouts Inc.

Solomon HillJeremy Myers for ESPN.comClass of '09 prospect Solomon Hill shows rare point forward skills.
LAS VEGAS -- The Las Vegas Spring Showcase (Hal Pastner) and Double Pump Spring Classic (David and Dana Pump) went head-to-head in the last weekend of the spring evaluation period -- for Division I coaches that is. The result was two diluted tournaments with only a handful of intriguing matchups. The Double Pump tournament had more talent-laden teams, but since I had seen all those teams the previous week in Denver, with the exception of EBO (based out of Fresno, Calif.), I decided to make a more concerted effort on the Las Vegas Spring Showcase.

After a few days of driving to some of the most remote -- and I'm being kind -- gyms (Bishop Gorman) around Vegas, I became more excited about the surprises of these two events -- 6-3 junior Xavier Thames (Sacramento, Calif.) and 6-5 junior Garrett Johnson (Diamond Bar, Calif.) come immediately to mind -- than the top prospects.

In the Las Vegas Spring Showcase championship Compton Magic blew out Long Beach based Belmont Shore despite a scintillating performance by 5-11 freshman Cezar Guerrero (Bellflower, Calif.), who dropped in 25 points. The Magic were led by 6-3 junior Roberto Nelson (Santa Barbara, Calif.) with 34 points and the all-around play of 6-7 junior Joe Burton (Hemet, Calif.).

Across town -- Bishop Gorman High School to be exact -- 6-2 junior Elijah Johnson (Las Vegas) of the Pump-n-Run Elite team led a comeback against a well-coached Utah Pump-n-Run squad to capture their second championship (Double Pump Spring Classic) in as many weeks.

Standout Players

Darius Morris (6-2, 175)
Junior, Los Angeles/Windward
Morris has steadily improved over the years and is now considered a high-major prospect. His frame has filled out nicely and he has great size for the point guard position. He has a slick handle and has gotten better off the bounce. His jump shot has improved as well, even though his release his point is still low. In the past Morris' downfall has been his decision-making (played with no purpose in mind), which led to turnovers and ill-advised shots. Although he has improved in that area, he does have a tendency to force the issue when the play isn't there. As his savvy improves, Morris will be one of the top five point guards out West in the Class of 2009.

Solomon Hill (6-6, 200)
Junior, Los Angeles/Fairfax
Hill once again proved he is one of the top wing prospects in the country. His point forward skills (a truly unique talent) are special as he delivered a number of nifty passes throughout the event. His handle has improved immensely in the past year as he demonstrated the ability to create off the bounce quite often. His jump shot (more like a set-shot) is still a work in progress, but it's good enough where you have to honor it. Defensively, Hill exhibited quick feet to check a 3-man and did a solid job guarding Joe Burton on a few occasions. He competes at both ends with equal aplomb, and if he continues to hone his skills, particularly his shooting, he should be one of the more sought after wing-types in the country.

Joe Burton (6-7, 250)
Junior, Hemet, Calif./West Valley
Burton has continued to lose weight and, as a result, his effectiveness has progressed. He is an aberration of how someone his size stereotypically plays. He is projected as an undersized 5, but his perimeter skills and overall feel are impressive. He is one of the better passing big men in the country whether in the half-court set and/or in transition. In addition, he has a soft touch out to 15 feet. His post moves are efficient and he has some of the most nimble feet -- think former LSU standout Glen Davis -- I've seen on player his size. Despite all the superlatives, there are questions on whether he can be this effective at the high-major level. He doesn't have great bounce (6-7 junior Chris Cunningham altered his shot a few times) and I'm curious to see if he can keep that weight (lost 50 lbs. in the past year) down. Overall, this is going to be an intriguing summer for Joe Burton.

Avery Bradley (6-3, 180)
Junior, Tacoma, Wash./Bellarmine Prep
Bradley continued his torrid spring with another outstanding performance in the Double Pump tournament. He came into his junior campaign with a reputation of being a great athlete but a suspect jump shooter. Thus far this spring, his jump shot has improved considerably since the last time I saw him (Full Court Fall Classic). His shot is still a tad flat, but he gets great lift on it and it has a soft landing. What separates Bradley from most 2-guard prospects -- and most high school players in general -- is his awe-inspiring effort at both ends. His motor never dies down and he'll get into you on the defensive end.

Abdul Gaddy (6-3, 180)
Junior, Tacoma, Wash./Bellarmine Prep
Gaddy plays the game at an effortless pace and possesses the best feel of any point guard I've seen on the West Coast for the Class of 2009. His decision-making is impeccable and his passing, especially in transition, is exceptional. As mentioned before in a previous report, he has great length and a clever handle and is still just 16 years old (a young junior in terms of today's standards where so many kids are held back). His jump shot is a work in progress but it has improved considerably since his sophomore campaign. He doesn't have great quickness or speed, but he is deceptive off the bounce due to his savvy and change of speeds with the ball. Overall, despite all his positive attributes, I'm interested to see how he holds up against a strong, quick defender who gets into him.

Anthony Marshall (6-3, 190)
Junior, Las Vegas/ Mojave
Marshall is the quintessential all-around basketball player. Other than an inconsistent jump shot, his game is very tight. He has great guard skills and possesses tremendous savvy at both ends. Although his jump shot (tends to fade away) needs to smoothen out, his passing ability is high-level. He is a very good athlete and has a solid first step to the basket. He can finish among the bigs at a consistent rate due to his bounce and strength or deliver the assist. Defensively he can guard any of the three perimeter positions and takes pride in doing so. Overall, Marshall might not wow you with electrifying plays, but if a team needs a versatile "glue-type," Marshall fits that role to a tee.

Elijah Johnson (6-2, 180)
Junior, Las Vegas/Cheyenne
Johnson has more upside than any point guard on the West Coast. His strength, athleticism and blossoming skills are special. At this stage he is far from a finished product, but his upside is significant. His projected position is the point guard, but his overall feel for the game has a ways to go. He thinks more score than pass because he can get his own shot at any time due to his quick crossover and explosiveness. In transition, he has shown to have the ability to deliver the nice assist, so I believe he has point guard instincts. In addition, his jump shot has improved and he gets great lift on it. Overall, Johnson excels in a fast break setting, but in order for him to reach his potential, he needs to develop an understanding about time management and getting his team into its offense.

Surprise Players

Xavier Thames (6-3, 180)
Junior, Sacramento, Calif./Pleasant Grove
Thames is a combo guard who I project will be playing point guard down the road in college. He has a terrific wiry frame with long arms that oozes upside. Although he is more of a scorer at this stage, he made a number of plays during the event that made me think that point guard will be his eventual position at the next level. He is a good athlete with excellent ball skills and has an innate ability to get to the basket off the bounce. However, he needs to get stronger and be able to finish with his left hand on a more regular basis. His jump shot is smooth with range out to 20 feet and he has an excellent release. Thames has a nice feel for the game at both ends and projects as being one of the top 20 prospects out West for the Class of 2009.

Garrett Johnson (6-5, 190)
Junior, Diamond Bar, Calif./Diamond Ranch
Along with Solomon Hill (Fairfax) Johnson may be the most improved prospect on the West Coast. In the last couple of months he has gone from a relative unknown to a possible mid-high major wing type. He has a terrific frame with long arms and overall great length. He runs the point for his AAU team (So-Cal Assault) and does a solid job of getting his teammates involved, even though he is a natural scorer. He is very good off the bounce and can finish equally well with either hand in the paint. His jump shot has improved dramatically since the season and his overall shooting motion is fairly smooth. In addition, he showed the ability to go in the post and exhibited a well executed turn-around jump shot. Defensively, he has the length and quickness to guard a 2 or a 3. His upside is significant and it wouldn't surprise me if he is one of the top 25 prospects on the West Coast by the end of the summer.

[+] EnlargeAlec Williams
Jeremy Myers for ESPN.comAlec Williams has improved to a mid-major prospect.
Alec Williams (6-5, 230)
Junior, San Juan Capistrano Valley, Calif./J Serra
Williams continues to improve with each outing and should now be considered a solid mid-major prospect. He has a strong frame with long arms and great hands. He has decent bounce but is very quick and elusive for a youngster his size. What separates Williams from most players his size is his general understanding of the game. He has tremendous savvy around the basket and can hit the 3-point shot with regularity. On defense he uses his body well and he's a tough competitor. He is still only 16 years old, so it will be interesting to see how he develops in the coming years.

Jared Cunningham (6-3, 175)
Junior, San Leandro, Calif.
Cunningham (verbal to Arizona State) came into the Double Pump event with a solid reputation. I've always liked his upside due to his lengthy frame and maturing perimeter skills. However, in my estimation, he hasn't developed as much as I had hoped. At this stage he doesn't possess a point guard's mentality and his jump shot isn't solid enough to be considered a high-major 2-guard. On the other hand, his handle is solid, especially when breaking down defenders. But he struggled on numerous occasions finishing at the rim due to a lack of explosion. He still has plenty of time, but in order for him to make an impact in the Pac-Ten, he needs to get tougher on the defensive end and continue to improve his jump shot.

What we learned

• Dwayne Polee, a 6-7 sophomore wing out of Los Angeles/Westchester, is one of the most explosive players in the country. However, his skill level for the 3 needs a lot of work as does as his overall feel for the game.

• It generally takes longer for bigs to develop and 6-9 Devonte Elliot (Paramount, Calif.) is no exception. He has a ways to go both offensively and defensively and needs to get stronger, but his length is impressive and he has made tremendous strides since last summer.

• Chris Manresa, a 6-8 junior out of Rancho Santa Margarita/ Tesoro, is a University of San Diego commitment. He should be a nice player in the WCC due to his savvy as well as his ability to use his thick frame against more athletic players.

• Two of the better unsigned senior prospects were 6-2 Kyle Fogg (Brea, Calif./Brea-Olinda) and 6-10 Jonathon Underwood (Phoenix/ Agua Fria).

Fogg has an excellent upside due to his defensive presence and maturing offensive game. San Diego State appears to be the leader at this stage.

Underwood has added some weight to his lengthy frame and has excellent timing on the defensive end. His offensive game is still raw, but he is starting to develop a soft hook shot. He is definitively a prospect to keep an eye on.

• Nick Johnson, a 6-2 freshman out of Gilbert, Ariz./Highland, is quite the bouncy athlete. His jump shot is tight and he gets tremendous lift on it as well.

• He is extremely raw at both ends, but 6-5 junior Damon Powell (Oakland/McClymonds) plays the game at a relentless pace and is an explosive athlete.

• Brandon Davies, a 6-8 junior out of Provo, Utah, continued to demonstrate why he'll be a priority for the WAC and Mountain West conferences.

• Eric Lawton, a 6-1 junior combo guard out of Hemet, Calif./West Valley, is as spectacular as any player his size and can get his own shot at any time. However at his size he needs to hone his point guard skills and develop an understanding on what it means to run a team and get others involved.

• Kawhi Leonard, a 6-6 junior combo-forward out of Riverside, Calif./Martin Luther King, did a much better job of attacking the basket -- rather than launching the ill-advised jump shot -- this weekend. He's a bit rigid and not as bouncy as you might think, but he has the frame and enormous hands to be very effective in the paint.

• He is one of the better shooters in the West, but 6-6 Max Hooper (San Jose, Calif./Valley Christian) needs space to get it off (not overly quick). In addition, he needs to develop other aspects of his game because he's one-dimensional at this point.

• Jahii Carson, a 5-10 freshman out of Phoenix/Mountain Pointe, plays with poise beyond his years. His frame is impressive (long arms) and he has very quick hands on defense. He is a true point guard who sets his teammates up and advances the ball in transition.

• There aren't too many wings in the country who can score like 6-7 junior Jordan Hamilton (Compton, Calif./ Dominguez). He is not as explosive as you might think, but he's effective.

• Once 6-7 junior Hollis Thompson (Los Angeles/ Loyola) gets stronger and improves his ball handling, he has the savvy and overall talent to be an elite wing-type at the next level.

• Chris Cunningham, a 6-7 junior out of Diamond Bar, Calif./Diamond Ranch, played well against highly touted 6-7 junior Joe Burton (Hemet, Calif./West Valley). Cunningham is very shrewd in the paint area, utilizing his great hands and excellent footwork.

• One of the more explosive, yet quite raw bigs this weekend was 6-10 junior Keion Palmer (Miami/South Miami Senior). His length is off the charts and he is quite bouncy as well.

• Fairfax High School (Los Angeles) has another top prospect emerging in 5-11 freshman Darius Middleton. This lefty is a true point guard with a lengthy frame. He has a nice floater in the key and is a solid passer. His jump shot needs work, but as he gets stronger that part of his game should come around.

• Michael Snaer, a 6-5 two-guard out of Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde, displayed a much smoother jump shot this weekend to go along with an already sound all-around game.

• Coaches in the Big West Conference should keep an eye on 6-4 junior sleeper Justin Brue (Oakland, Calif./Bishop O'Dowd). He has a quiet demeanor and a smooth0looking shot out to the stripe. If he can get better off the bounce he could be a solid prospect at the wing spot.

• Justin Cobbs, a 6-1 junior out of Torrance, Calif./Bishop Montgomery, is developing into one of the better point guard prospects in California. His jump shot is solid (gets great lift), but most importantly his decision-making is improving (has a tendency to be turnover prone and hunt his shot too much).

• Cezar Guerrero, a 5-11 freshman out of Bellflower, Calif./ St. John Bosco), has great speed and can pull up on a dime and nail the mid-range jump shot. However, his overall feel for the position -- plays too fast -- needs a lot of work.

• He can score in bunches and he has some moxie to him, but 6-3 junior Roberto Nelson (Santa Barbara, Calif.) has been the same player (size and skill) the last 3 years.

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