What we learned from skills academies
Here is a look at a few things that stood out to us during the Deron Williams, Amare Stoudemire and Kevin Durant Nike Skills Academies:
Some of the players who attend these skills academies are in training for the position that they want to play in the future. For example, some combination guards work to become at least a part-time point guard at the Deron Williams Academy. Players like Omar Calhoun (Brooklyn/Christ the King), Rodney Purvis (Raleigh, N.C./Upper Room), J-Mychal Reese (Bryan, Texas/Bryan), Terry Rozier (Shaker Heights, Ohio/Shaker Heights), Rasheed Sulaimon (Houston/Strake Jesuit) and Nigel Williams-Goss (Happy Valley, Ore./Findlay Prep) are all combo guards with point guard size.
Some power forwards also train to become small forwards in the Kevin Durant Academy. Players like Amile Jefferson (Philadelphia/Friends Central), Alex Poythress (Clarksville, Tenn./Northeast), Justin Anderson (Montross, Va./Montrose Christian) and Savon Goodman (Philadelphia/Academy of New Church) are combo forwards with small forward size. What we have learned is that the Nike Skills Academies are the perfect place to make these critical improvements because of not only the competition, but the high level of coaching each player receives.
Coaching second to none
The approach and concept of the Nike Skills Academies is to help a player grow and develop his overall game. The skill and drill work is under the leadership of lead instructor Kevin Eastman, who was a longtime college head coach and now serves as an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics. The concept of exposing and developing players' weaknesses is vital to their growth. Eastman and his staff also teach team concepts of offense and defense in a controlled setting with intensity and instruction. The players benefit from the small number in each group per academy (20), as well as the allotted time per session (two hours). Of all the camps in the country, the Nike Skills Academies truly teach and coach today's player the right way to play the game.
These skills academies are great for the players to figure out what some of the weaknesses are in their games. The key for them will be to take what they have learned and continue to work on and develop their games. The issues will not be fixed in a three-day period, but at least it will be identified. The biggest "weakness" is there are not a lot of high-level shooters amongst the elite players in the 2012 class. There are great athletes and scorers, but not shooters.
The Lone Star State has a couple of prospects who really looked comfortable and confident on the floor. Andrew Harrison (Houston/Travis) has great size and skill along with the mindset to become a terrific point guard. His vision to see the floor and the developing play, while making an on-point pass for an assist, is impressive. As a future point guard, he understands how to set up his teammates as well as knowing when to score.
Cameron Ridley (Fort Bend, Texas/Bush) knows who he is on the floor and tries to play the game to his strengths -- scoring in the paint and rebounding the ball. He uses his enormous 7-foot-4 wingspan when he is calling for the ball inside, grabbing a rebound or blocking a shot. As the future Texas Longhorn continues to run the floor better, he will be a force inside and around the rim.
Future is very bright
When you look at the combination of a prospect (potential) and a player (production) the best candidates are probably in the 2013 class. Julius Randle (Dallas/Prestonwood Christian) was arguably the best player at the Amare Stoudemire Skills Academy, which featured most of the country's top high school big men. He is very quick, athletic and powerful. Randle also has a good handle for a post player and that combination of skill and athleticism proved to be too much for other post players to handle. He is the best post prospect in the country. Fellow 2013 prospect Jabari Parker (Chicago/Simeon), was one of the best -- if not the best -- wings at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy. He is extremely versatile and can play all five positions on the floor. He can do it all and often does. As he continues to improve, he and Randle will battle it out for No. 1 in the 2013 class all the way through their graduation.
Think big in 2012
College coaches looking for a big-bodied, low-post scorer, skilled high-post scorer/passer or raw 7-footer should focus on the 2012 class. As a whole, it's solid but unlike the 2011 class there are plenty of potential NBA centers. The Amare Stoudemire Skills Academy was missing Andre Drummond (Middletown, Conn./St. Thomas More), Isaiah Austin (Mansfield, Texas/Grace Prep) and Kaleb Tarczewski (Claremont, N.H./St. Mark's), but there were still plenty of big-time center prospects. Robert Upshaw (Fresno, Calif./San Joaquin Memorial), Mitch McGary (Chesterton, Ind./Brewster Academy), Willie Cauley (Spearville, Kan./Olathe Northwest), Adam Woodbury (Sioux City, Iowa/East) and Prince Ibeh (Garland, Texas/Naaman Forest) were in attendance and will all be coveted by high-major colleges, as well as followed by NBA scouts.
John Stovall, a recruiting coordinator, has worked as director of scouting for Prep Spotlight Scouting Service and magazine for 15 years. Reggie Rankin and Paul Biancardi contributed to this report.