Commentary

NPSI a test for elite bigs

Several elite big men showed their skills at the National Prep School Invitational, writes Antonio Williams.

Originally Published: February 9, 2009
By Antonio Williams | Scouts Inc.

The National Prep School Invitational pairs some of the elite prep schools in the country against each other for four days of action. With most teams playing four games in this four-day span, the event affords talent evaluators and college coaches the opportunity to see highly regarded prospects in different situations, a valuable tool when trying to project how a player will develop for the next level. As teams start to ready themselves for their postseasons, the NPSI provides a final national proving ground for these prospects and is good preparation for their playoffs.

The event this past weekend featured matchups between some of the top big men in the country. On the first day, Brewster Academy's Thomas Robinson and Andrew Fitzgerald tangled with Rashanti Harris and Hassan Whiteside of Patterson School. The last day of action saw a matchup between Tilton's Alex Oriakhi and Dan Jennings of St. Thomas More.

Standout Players

Andrew Fitzgerald, 6-8 (PF)
Senior, Owings Mills, Md./Brewster Academy (N.H.)

Fitzgerald plays with a great amount of passion and effort in the paint. He does a good job of using his body to establish prime scoring position there. Once he gets the ball, Fitzgerald uses his thick body and good length to score. He has decent footwork in the post and effectively utilizes the jump hook with his right hand. Still, Fitzgerald would benefit from increasing his repertoire of counter moves to overcome his lack of explosion and athleticism. He never stops working, and he uses his deep positioning in the paint to pound the glass on both ends of the court. Fitzgerald does a great job of powering back up for scores after he collects rebounds on the offensive end, using his good understanding of angles and strength to finish in traffic. He puts a ton of pressure on opposing big men with his effort and draws plenty of fouls on opposing bigs. He also scores points in pick-and-pop offensive sets and on fast breaks due to his ability to connect on midrange jumpers.

Thomas Robinson, 6-8 (PF)
Senior, Washington, D.C./Brewster Academy (N.H.)

Robinson has a take-no-prisoners attitude when it comes to hitting the boards. He relentlessly attacks the glass with incredible fervor and collects rebounds just as adeptly out of his area as he does in. He works hard and plays as a high-energy guy, using his outstanding athleticism to make plays for his team. Robinson has solid footwork in the post with his back to the basket, and he can score in the paint with his right or left hand -- although he needs to improve his touch around the hoop. Robinson also has the strength and tenacity to power up in traffic to finish above the rim. He can handle the ball in transition and as a face-up power player. He also passes very well out of double teams. Robinson can shoot jumpers in the 15-16 foot range with some skill, but he needs to develop more consistency in this area. His vision and decent shooting ability allow him to play in the high post. Robinson runs the floor well and will finish above the rim in transition.

Guy Landry, 6-4 (SG)
Post-Grad, Simi Valley, Calif./Stoneridge Prep

Landry has good strength and a chiseled body, which he needs to learn to use to his advantage on both ends of the court. On defense, he has good lateral quickness; the combination of his quickness and strength means Landry should dominate on the perimeter. However, he does not give maximum effort throughout games -- instead, he does it on select defensive possessions. On offense, Landry has a good first step and can get into the lane. But once he gets to the rim, he has a tendency to negate his strength advantage by throwing up difficult shots in an attempt to avoid contact instead of using his developed body to initiate contact. Landry can hit jumpers with range that extends out to the 3-point line, but he does not rank as a great shooter at this point. He also can hit the midrange pull-up jumper, but he needs to utilize this tool more. Landry has decent vision and can locate open teammates, but he does not do it enough, instead electing to shoot too many difficult, contested shots. Landry also has to overcome his tendency to dribble into trouble and become more efficient and comfortable dribbling the ball.

Shabazz Napier, 5-10 (PG)
Sophomore, Groton, Mass./Lawrence Academy

Napier has the ability to electrify the crowd and spark runs for his team with his ability to connect on jumpers from well beyond the land of 3. He has great form accentuated by a textbook follow-through. He also has very good quickness off the dribble, but instead of looking to get in to the lane, he looks for 3s first. In order to continue to progress as a floor general, Napier has to improve his shot selection and not opt for so many 3s. He also has to continue to involve his teammates and get into the lane to create scoring chances on kick-outs to the perimeter and drop-off passes to bigs. When he goes off the dribble, Napier almost exclusively goes left when he chooses to try to get into the teeth of opposing defenses. When Napier goes right, he usually does not look to score. He will shoot the pull-up, midrange jumper in transition, but he does not look to get into the midrange in half-court sets. Napier has to gain more strength, which will help him on the defensive end. But he does a good job pressuring the ball when he applies himself. He has quick hands and knows how to bait opposing ball handlers into dribbling carelessly, which allows Napier to pick them. He also baits ball handlers into throwing errant passes, on which Napier can use his quickness to anticipate and play passing lanes for steals.

Chris Gaston, 6-7 (PF)
Senior, Newark, N.J./New Hampton Prep (N.H.)

Gaston, with his athleticism and rapidly emerging offensive game, plays impressively as a face-up power forward. He has good leaping ability and length in addition to a quick second jump, which allows him to collect a number of rebounds on the offensive end. Gaston has sneaky strength despite his wiry build, but he needs to increase his strength in order to play the 4 successfully at the next level. He uses this strength and leaping ability to finish plays around the hoop with his nice touch. Gaston has to continue to improve his footwork with his back to the basket to score off post-ups. Gaston also can use his quickness to drive past slower bigs, and when he does, he uses a very sweet, quick spin move to free himself for lay-ins. He also uses his good body control to adjust in the air for lay-ups. Although he does not rank as a great shooter, Gaston can score from the perimeter using the jump shot, especially in the 15-17 foot range. He changes ends very well.

Surprise Players

Tim Johnson, 6-4 (SG)
Post-Grad, Lee, Maine/Lee Academy

Johnson has very explosive leaping ability and good length, which allows him to finish above the rim in transition. He uses his quickness to drive past opposing defenders on his way to the rim. He also uses his leaping ability when he gets into the midrange area of the floor by leaping high enough on his pull-up jumper to see over the outstretched arms of perimeter defenders for shots. He also hits 3-pointers -- although he needs to improve his consistency from that territory. Johnson really excels as an on-ball defender, using his length and quick feet to hound opposing ball handlers into frustration and fatigue, which ultimately leads to turnovers. He plays with great passion.

Rashad Lucas 6-2 (PG)
Post-Grad, Woodstock, Va./Massanutten Military Academy
Lucas has a very burly build and uses it to get to the paint. Although thick, he has decent quickness. Lucas loves to attack the paint and puts pressure on opposing defenses. He does a good job using his body to overpower weaker guards. Lucas has a nice floater when he cannot get all the way to the rim. He draws a number of fouls on opposing guards due to his physical nature on offense. If he gets to the rim, he can finish with his right or left hand and does a good job taking contact with his upper body strength and still finishing. He likes to get out in transition -- although he has at tendency to get out of control and needs to enhance his decision-making. Lucas also has range that extends beyond 3-point territory, although he needs to increase his consistency from the perimeter. He does not use his build to bother and harass opposing ball handlers. In fact, Lucas does not focus much on the defensive end. Instead he prefers to gamble for steals by reaching behind his man after the player blows past him. Lucas sometimes turns the ball over and does not run back on defense. He needs to improve his conditioning by shedding some pounds and increase his effort on the defensive end. Lucas also needs to improve his ball-handling skills and eliminate his tendency to overdribble.

David Smith, 6-3 (combo-guard)
Senior, Lake Forest, Ill./Lake Forest Academy

Smith has range on his jumper that extends to the 3-point line -- although he has a somewhat awkward shooting form. He has a nice release, but his legs sometimes hurt his jumper. Smith does not shoot with his feet under him; he has his right leg in front while his left leg lines up behind him. He also could become a better shooter by raising his release point. Smith has good quickness and can get into the lane effectively. Once at the rim, he does a very good job using his body control and strength to take contact, adjust in the air and still finish off the hoop. Smith has the ability to finish with both hands at the rim. He also splits double teams very well on his way to the basket. Smith plays hard and gives good effort on the defensive end of the court.

David Grebru, 6-9 (C)
Post-Grad, Pittsfield, Maine/Maine Central Institute

Grebru has a good set of skills to work with for a post guy, and he could develop into a solid player in the pivot for the next level. He has decent footwork playing with his back to the basket in the paint -- although he does not have the strength to hold deep position in the paint very long. Grebru also can hit the jumper from the 15-16 foot range, which would allow him to play in the high post. He can put the ball on the floor and score off the dribble -- if he can do it in two or three dribbles. Grebru also can finish with his left hand around the hoop. He has decent athletic ability and can play in fast-breaking offensive attacks if he needs to. He does a decent job rebounding the ball in his area, but with more strength, he could become more of a force on the boards on both ends of the court. In order to realize his potential, Grebru needs to increase his upper- and lower-body strength and maintain his focus throughout games.

Hector Harold, 6-7 (SF)
Junior, Mount Hermon, Mass./Northfield Mount Hermon

Harold has a very mature and diverse offensive game, getting buckets in a variety of ways. He has the ability to connect on jumpers from well beyond 3-point range. He also can use his quickness to get to the rim. Once in the paint, Harold can finish with his left hand when he needs to, although he plays as a righty. He needs to add the midrange pull-up jumper to his arsenal and increase his strength, which would make him a better finisher in the paint. In addition to increasing his strength, Harold also needs to improve his ball handling skills and learn to play under control. He plays passing lanes for steals well but could improve his focus as an on-ball defender. Harold has good vision and willingly gives the ball up to open teammates.

Notes

• Post-grad prospect Latavious Williams (Starkville, Miss./Humble Life Christian Academy) has the athleticism and leaping ability to dominate the boards on both ends of the court. The 6-7 power forward finishes offensive rebounds above the rim with tip-dunks. As he continues to improve his ability to hit jumpers and ball-handling skills, Williams could develop into a nice inside-outside frontcourt player.

• Evan Smotrycz (Reading, Mass./New Hampton Prep), a 6-9 junior combo-forward, has the ability to score in a variety of ways. He can connect on jumpers from beyond 3-point range and score in the paint. As long as he does not try to overextend himself and maintains a high level of aggressiveness, Smotrycz can develop into an excellent frontcourt player at the next level.

• Dan Jennings (Staten Island, N.Y./St. Thomas More), a 6-8 post-grad PF, dominates games with his physical presence. He pounds the boards on both ends and takes ownership of the paint through his shot-blocking and overall physical play. If he continues to improve his post game, Jennings could become a dominant interior force at the next level.

• Post-grad prospect Reggie Moore (Everett, Wash./Brewster Academy), a 6-1 PG, has the ability to score off the dribble almost at will. However, if he wants to continue to mature and develop as a point guard, Moore will have to do a much better job creating scoring chances for his teammates.

• Post-grad Carl Johnson (Philadelphia/St. Thomas More), a 6-0 PG, can put up a number of points in a short amount of time. He has the ability to hit the jumper from 3-point land and get to the hoop, especially in transition.

• Junior PG Akeem Williams (Brockton, Mass./The Winchendon School) does a great job running his team in transition. Williams can easily spot the open man on the break, and if he limits his turnovers in addition to continuing to improve his shooting from the perimeter, Williams could develop into a nice college point guard at a mid-major school.

• Post-grad Eric Ferguson (Brockton, Mass./The Winchendon School), a 6-8 SF, has a tremendous amount of upside and room for development. Ferguson needs to continue to work on his strength, ball-handling skills and jumper. But he has the length and athleticism that coaches covet in small forwards.

Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.

Antonio Williams

Basketball Recruiting
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.