- Joel Francisco
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HILLSBORO, Ore. -- It appeared as if Canada was going to cruise comfortably to the title of the 2009 Nike Global Challenge. Behind a shockingly inspired effort by 6-9 Tristan Thompson (Henderson, Nev./ Findlay Prep) and the dazzling point guard play of 6-2 junior Myck Kabongo (Patterson, N.J./St. Benedicts) Canada was in full control of the championship game.
However, while 6-6 Will Barton (Baltimore, MD./ Lake Clifton) kept USA East close heading into halftime with his scoring prowess, it was 6-2 point guard Kyrie Irving (Elizabeth, NJ/ St. Patrick) who led the comeback victory. He sliced and diced through the Canadian defense for lay-ups and a number of flashy assists to elevate his team to the championship. Irving's performance at this event demonstrated that it will be hard to find a more polished point guard in the country.
Although Josh Selby (Baltimore/Lake Clifton)is the more spectacular prospect and put together a fine three-game performance, it was Irving who was the catalyst for USA East's championship run. His savvy and skill were on a completely different level than any of the point guards at the Nike Global Challenge. He has a sudden quick burst off the dribble to blow by his defender, but he also knows how to change speeds to keep defenses off balance. His crossover is tight, and he keeps his handle very low to the ground. Once he explodes to the rim, he can either finish with a nifty lay up or he can drop off a crafty pass to an open teammate. If defenses sag off of him, he is more than a capable shooter; he knocked in a quite a few 3s over the weekend. Although there appears to be a plethora of talented point guards in the Class of 2010, Irving appears to have the most complete game at of all the lead guards in the country.
After a lackluster summer and an up-and-down performance the first two games of the event, Thompson played with an urgency and efficiency that had not been seen out of him in quite some time. His frame has thickened each and every year and he doesn't have the bounce he once had, but he played with purpose in the championship game. He dominated the interior with his length and savvy and converted his shots at a high percentage. In addition, he has the skill to face-up his opponents and take them off the dribble. He utilizes the pivot very well and can convert with either hand. However, he needs to refine his jump shot because it is very stiff and mechanical. Thompson is not the elite level prospect that we thought he was at an early age, but due to his length and savvy around the basket, he should turn out to be a very good high-major 5/4 at the next level.
Nike Global notes
Ray McCallum (Beverly Hills, Mich./ Detroit Country Day), a 6-3 point guard, will not wow you with quickness and explosion, but he understands how to manage (makes few mistakes) a game. He can knock down the open jump shot and will pick his spots to get to the rim.
Making a big impressions
He doesn't have a refined offensive game, but 6-8 Okaro White (Clearwater, Fla.) is a relentless competitor. He is an extremely quick leaper as demonstrated by the number of rebounds and spectacular blocks he had.
Kyle Wiltjer (Portland, Ore./ Jesuit), a 6-9 junior, has a feathery touch out beyond the 3-point line and is deceptively bouncy. He doesn't possess great lateral quickness, but he has improved as a rebounder since the regular season.
Payne shows his power
When big man Adreian Payne (Dayton, Ohio/ Jefferson) is assertive at both ends his upside is immense. He gets off the floor very quickly and he has extraordinary long arms. He is a diamond in the rough, but with coaching and willingness to play hard he has a chance to be an impact player as an incoming freshman.
After watching 6-9 Perry Jones (Duncanville, Texas) at the Amare Stoudemire Skills Academy, it appeared as if he was destined for immediate stardom. He played with assertiveness at both ends and possessed exceptional bounce. However, after evaluating him in Las Vegas and again in Portland, he has a ways to go before he will be an impact player at the next level. He needs to get more assertive at both ends -- he collected only five rebounds in 56 minutes over three games -- and develop a go-to move other than a 15-foot jump shot.
An up and down week
James Johnson (Lake Elsinore, Calif.), a 6-8 senior, struggled all three games to get into any kind of offensive rhythm. He has a nice frame with a solid amount of bounce, but he has very little savvy for the game, especially in the paint area. He has some intriguing skills, but he needs to get tougher.
Where there's a Will
Will Barton, a 6-6 spindly wing headed to Memphis, can score in a variety of ways. He is very potent in the open court where he can slash his way to the basket or hit the pull-up jump shot. When he gets to the rim he can contort his body to avoid contact and convert. He'll need to get stronger for the next level, but he is a talent who plays hard every possession.
If there is a faster player in transition than Texas commit Myck Kabongo (Patterson, NJ/St. Benedicts) I have yet to see him. He is a blur in transition and his passing is impeccable. He can break down defenders off the dribble and get to the rim at will. To take his game to another level, he'll need to smoothen out his jump shot because it's shaky at best.
Joel Francisco covers basketball recruiting for Scouts Inc.