Summer recap roundtable
Rivers' dominance and the emergence of Davis and Connaughton highlight the summer
Now that the summer tournaments have come to a close -- from the Fab Frosh camp in Lexington, Ky., to the adidas Nations Global Challenge in Portland, Ore. -- we had a chance to look back and see what stood out.
Here is a look at what impressed each person from ESPN Recruiting this summer.
Who is the best player you saw this summer?
Paul Biancardi: Austin Rivers (Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park) dominated the AAU Super Showcase with his scoring. He showed off all of the offensive weapons in his arsenal, including 3-pointers, midrange pull-ups, floaters in the lane and dribble-drives to the rim. On top of all that, Rivers is becoming a better passer and has the ability and confidence in himself to carry his team to a championship.
Adam Finkelstein: Relative to his age bracket, 2012 power forward Nerlens Noel (Everett, Mass./Everett) was the most dominant player I saw this month. He has the rare ability to dominate a game without scoring a point thanks to his shot-blocking prowess, and he put on a defensive clinic at the U-16 AAU Nationals in Orlando, Fla., leading BABC to a national championship. While older players, like Rivers and Michael Gilchrist (Somerdale, N.J./St. Patrick), may be better right now because of their physical maturity, Noel's dominance over his peers was second to none.
Joel Francisco: There were many elite-level players and outstanding performances this summer, but 6-foot-7 junior Khem Birch (Fitchburg, Mass./Notre Dame Prep) exhibited the type of talent and upside that could vault him to the top of the 2012 class. His frame resembles that of Tracy McGrady and he has a blue-collar approach to the game. His offensive skill set is still in its infancy, but his motor, bounce and savvy are peerless.
Michael LaPlante: It is a tie between Gilchrist and Anthony Davis (Chicago/Perspective Christian). Gilchrist has a dominant personality and elevates his play versus great competition, while Davis is a fast-rising power forward who may be the most talented player in the class with tremendous upside. Both players consistently dominated at the EYBL Finals at the Nike Peach Jam.
Reggie Rankin: Rivers is the best one-on-one player I watched and he has deep 3-point range, although he can be streaky. He is the most prolific scorer in the Class of 2011 and he can blow open a game with his ability to score in a variety of ways. His No. 1 strength is his confidence and swagger on the court. Plus, he has a short memory, so misses don't bother him.
John Stovall: The best player I saw all summer was Rivers. He put on some of the best performances over the course of the past couple of months. He can have some of the most dominant offensive stretches of anyone in the class. He may not be the best player or the best prospect, but at times he can be the most unstoppable.
What was the biggest surprise of the summer?
Biancardi: It wasn't surprising to me that Kansas State commit Thomas Gipson (Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill) played well at the Las Vegas Fab 48, but I was surprised with how effective and efficient he was on the blocks. Around the basket, he displayed strong hands to receive the pass with a soft touch to put it in the basket. The 6-7, 240-pounder knew his role, carved out space with his body, was productive on the glass and finished plays through contact.
Finkelstein: Being from New England, no one had seen as much of Pat Connaughton (Arlington, Mass./Saint John's) going into Orlando for the AAU Nationals as I had and even I was shocked to see how well he performed. The fact he started the month of July with one Division II offer and finished it with offers from a dozen high-major Division I programs -- including the likes of UCLA, Tennessee and Florida -- is absolutely astounding. That is something that probably won't be duplicated anytime in the near future.
Francisco: During Las Vegas Fab 48, I encountered the emergence of 6-8 center Erik Copes (Philadelphia/Imhotep Charter). He plays at a relentless pace and impacts the game at both ends of the floor. Offensively, his skills are raw, but due to his strength and energy he is difficult to contain.
LaPlante: It is a safe bet that almost everyone will say the biggest surprise has been Davis. After growing seven inches, Davis has transformed from an average 6-2 shooting guard into a skilled combo-forward that does it all. However, I'm going with Connaughton, who came into July with one Division II offer and left the AAU Nationals with dozens of high-major suitors.
Rankin: Davis because he has gone from being unranked to making a push for a top-5 spot or better in the Class of 2011. He has size, skill and length on offense and the ability to defend both post positions on defense. He has been dominant and consistent throughout the spring and summer.
Stovall: It has to be Davis. He is a player that went from being an unknown in April to being a consensus top-5 (probably top-3) player in the class.
What is your best memory from the summer?
Biancardi: During a conversation I had with Rivers and his dad (Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers), after Each 1 Teach 1's quarterfinals victory at the Super Showcase, there was a fan in the stands berating Rivers, saying that Houston Hoops was going to beat them in the semifinals. Austin looked up at the fan, who was waving a Houston Hoops towel, and then continued the conversation. The next morning, Rivers let his game do the talking. He dropped 37 points on Houston Hoops to advance to the finals.
Rankin: Watching the two best shooting guards in the 2011 class -- Rivers and Bradley Beal (St. Louis, Mo./Chaminade) -- match up in the Super Showcase and show off their great scoring abilities. Beal was like Ray Allen, running around screens to nail open shots, while Rivers got his own shot at will like Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade.
Finkelstein: One of the most exciting games I saw all summer took place when a U-16 team from New Jersey -- Hoop Heaven Elite -- knocked off Each 1 Teach 1 in pool play at AAU Nationals. Regardless of the fact Rivers didn't play for Each 1 Teach 1, it was a huge win for a team made up primarily of high school teammates from Gill St. Bernard's High School in Gladstone, N.J. Based on their reaction to winning that game, you might have thought they had just won the national championship.
Francisco: During the July evaluation period, there is always that one game that keeps you engaged at all times -- and for me that particular game was the New Jersey Playaz vs. Drew Gooden Soldiers in the semifinals of the Las Vegas Fab 48. Junior point forward Kyle Anderson (North Bergen, N.J./St. Anthony) put on a dazzling performance, but it wouldn't be enough as the Drew Gooden Soldiers' four ESPNU 100 players -- Kyle Wiltjer (Portland, Ore./Jesuit), Jabari Brown (Oakland, Calif./Oakland), Josiah Turner (Sacramento, Calif./Sacramento) and Nick Johnson (Gilbert, Ariz./Findlay Prep) -- would be too much to handle.
LaPlante: There were a lot of great matchups and individual performances throughout the July evaluation period, but the best performance that I caught this summer was a 47-point explosion by B.J. Young (Florissant, Mo./McCluer North) at the U-17 AAU Nationals in Orlando. The 6-3 blur is one of the best open-floor players in the country and gets into the paint and to the rim at will.
Stovall: Other than being on TV, the best memory from the summer has to be the great competition I saw. There were plenty of prospects playing hard with tremendous competitiveness. Overall, the EYBL and Peach Jam brought out some of the country's best talent.
Paul Biancardi, who has been a head coach and assistant on NCAA Tournament teams, is the national director of basketball recruiting. Adam Finkelstein is a frequent contributor, both in player evaluations and event coverage. Joel Francisco is a recruiting coordinator and has been evaluating high school prospects for over 20 years. Michael LaPlante is a recruiting coordinator who has over 20 years of coaching and recruiting experience. Reggie Rankin, a recruiting coordinator, has coached in the Mid-American, American East, WAC, SEC, Big 12 and Atlantic 10 conferences over a span of 14 seasons. John Stovall, a recruiting coordinator, has worked as director of scouting for Prep Spotlight Scouting Service and magazine for 15 years.