- Adam Finkelstein
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- AAU nationals kicked into high gear on Thursday as only two teams remained in the U-16 championships with BABC and All-Ohio Red set to square off for the national championship on Friday night.
Bracket play also got underway in U-17 nationals with the field in the championship bracket being cut to 32 by the time the day had come to an end.
Nerlens Noel (Everett, Mass./New Hampshire Tilton School)
2013 PF, 6-10 | AAU team: BABC
Noel has put on a defensive clinic all week to lead his team to the U-16 finals. A long and athletic player with incredible instincts for blocking shots, Noel has terrific mobility and agility for a player his size and phenomenal timing. Undoubtedly the best pure shot blocker in Orlando, Noel's defense is still far ahead of his offense. Still, he shows flashes on the offensive end as well, scoring with both hands from inside six feet, making quick spin moves, and passing out of the post.
Aaron Ross (Little Rock, Ark/Parkview Arts & Science Magnet)
2011 SF, 6-8 | AAU team: Arkansas Wings
The Arkansas commit made the Razorbacks look good as he was a dominant force on the offensive end of the floor. A 6-8 forward with a polished skill set and a strong body, Ross presents major matchup problems for opposing defenses. He showed a smooth stroke off the catch and the dribble, attacked the rim hard with a single bounce from the short-corner, scored inside the paint and on the offensive glass, and even handled enough to drive and kick for his teammates.
Kedren Johnson (Lewisburg, Tenn/Marshall County)
2011 PG, 6-3 | AAU team: Georgia Stars
Johnson is a strong point guard with a quick first step who can get into the paint by bullying his defender or blowing past him. He sees the floor well, plays through contact, and makes plays for himself and others. Although more of a drive first guard, Johnson was a threat to make open jumpers when defenders elected to play off him. He also gave a diligent effort on the defensive end of the floor, utilizing his size and strength to pressure opposing ball-handlers.
P.J. Torres (New Rochelle, N.Y./New Rochelle)
2011 SG, 6-3 | AAU team: Hudson River Hornets
Making a cameo appearance with the Hudson River Hornets this week, Torres took advantage of his increased offensive role to drop a 40 point game on Thursday. He made shots in bunches from the perimeter, got loose in transition a few times, and made some quick scoring moves off the catch when limiting himself to a single bounce or two.
Athlete of the day
Bishop Daniels (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God)
2011 SG, 6-2 | AAU team: CP3 All-Stars
Daniels brought the crowd to their feet and made a name for himself on Thursday afternoon when he came down the lane on the break, caught a lob in transition, and outlasted the defender by hanging in mid-air with the ball extended out to the side for a Statue of Liberty" dunk. Daniels also slashed along the baseline, made a mid-range pull-up, and made a series of athletic scoring plays around the rim.
• Aaron Ross' running mate with the Arkansas Wings is 6-5 point guard Kyle Madden. The rising junior guard did a little bit of everything in a win over Martin Brothers. Following the game he said he had already received scholarship offers from Arkansas, Ole Miss, Baylor, Florida, Alabama, Memphis, Marquette, Georgia, Georgetown, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State.
• All-Ohio Red's Elijah Macon is eligible for the U-16 level, and would surely be a big boost in tomorrow's final, but is running with the 17's instead. The 2012 athletic big man listed UConn, Clemson, USC, Dayton, Cincinatti, and West Virginia as the schools at the forefront of his recruiting.
• Tavon Sledge is another New York point guard who has captured high-major attention this week. Sledge is a great athlete with terrific speed with the basketball from one end of the floor to the other and great bounce. Sledge lists offers from St. John's, Fordham, Rutgers, Seton Hall, UTEP, Iowa State, and West Virginia.
Adam Finkelstein is a frequent contributor, both in player evaluations and event coverage, to ESPNU's recruiting coverage.