Duke, UNC recruits give strong showing at all-star games
Posted April 24
Raleigh, N.C. — Let me begin with a disclaimer: the basketball you see annually on TV in the McDonald’s and Jordan Brand All-American games bears little resemblance to a competitive college basketball game.
Fast breaks often go undefended. In the half court, you rarely see screens or backdoor cuts. Players do share the ball, but sometimes only after they see their one-on-one options shut down. Long jump shots fly quickly.
Defensively, players show good anticipation at times, jumping into the passing lanes, forcing turnovers, and of course, running to the other end. But you won’t see many players stop dribble penetration, over play the wings, or provide help in the post.
Under the boards, players are quick to show their athleticism to get rebounds. But box outs are definitely optional.
Having said all that, I felt like I learned some things from the 2013 games.
UNC’s Kennedy Meeks, for example, showed that he has good hands for a big man and can really pass the ball. NC State’s Cat Barber exhibited “cat-like” quickness on the defensive end in forcing turnovers and also showed he could score in transition. Jabari Parker demonstrated a well-rounded, all-court game, as well as a strong work ethic on the glass.
In short, sitting through those two all-star games, though difficult to watch at times, gave me some small insight as to what I might see in the coming ACC basketball season.
To that end, I rewatched the McDonalds’ game from early April in Chicago, and the Jordan Brand game that aired last Friday night at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, scene of the 2017 & 2018 ACC Tournaments.
Kentucky, Kansas, and UCLA certainly have strong representation among the nation’s top high school stars. Again. But based on what I saw in the limited, style-oriented environment, North Carolina and especially Duke will see as much new freshman talent as anyone.
UNC recruit Joel Berry did not play in the Jordan game, but in the McDonalds’ game he showed some quick feet at the defensive end. In fact, I would say Berry’s on-ball pressure was about as good as one ever sees in these all-star games. He should help the Tar Heels’ perimeter defense and definitely will give Marcus Paige and Nate Britt some much needed help on offense.
It’s way too early to project exactly how Roy Williams will deploy Paige, Britt, and Berry at guard, but he will have good options.
To me, the player who could make the greatest impact for Carolina, based on this limited look, is Justin Jackson. This is a guy who runs the floor extremely well for a 6-foot-8 player. He can catch, pass, and shoot. Most importantly for the Tar Heels, he seems to have a well-developed mid-range game. You can certainly envision him filling one of the outer lanes on a Carolina fast break and doing damage from the wing. He can find the open man, and boasts a very quick release on his shot.
One negative: Justin Jackson is thin. Really thin. That could be a factor defensively.
Theo Pinson is another highly rated player committed to the Tar Heels. Pinson is just 6-foot-6, but plays much taller. Though he didn’t demonstrate much of a perimeter game in the two all-star contests, he did show great athleticism in attacking the basket, getting on the glass and blocking shots. He could be another force for Carolina on the offensive boards.
Duke lacked a true center this past season. Next year the Blue Devils will have one.
Jahlil Okafor is not just a post player, but an athletic post player. He measures 7-feet, but appears to have the ball handling skills of a smaller player. Okafor can catch the ball, pass the ball, or put it on the floor and score. It remains to be seen how he’ll fare against an older physical center of similar size, but there aren’t many of those in college basketball. Okafor can rebound and block shots. He will run the floor as well as any ACC big man since Tyler Zeller.
One would think that Parker, who knows all about Okafor from their days together in Chicago, must have considered, at least for a moment, the possibility of staying one more year at Duke and playing power forward to Okafor’s low post. That would have been something.
The Blue Devils also get help at point guard.
Tyus Jones can pass the ball. Jones’ most memorable delivery in the Jordan game came from the sideline near mid-court, when he fired a one-hand bounce pass in traffic to a breaking Okafor for a dynamic dunk. But he also demonstrated an ability to draw the defense in the half court offense and find the open man for an easy score. We didn’t really see him run a five-man offense in the all-star games, but he showed that he can create opportunities in the simpler two- or three-man games, with the drive-and-dish or the drive-and-kick. He sees the floor really well and can pass in tight spaces. If defenses sag, he can score himself. I didn’t get a feel for how well he’ll play defensively, and obviously defense was an issue at Duke last year.
Grayson Allen, standing 6-foot-4, should give Duke some physicality in the back court. Allen comes across as a hard-nosed defender. Offensively, he looks for his shot, but certainly can pass. He gives the Blue Devils another perimeter threat.
It will be interesting to see how Mike Krzyzewski incorporates Jones and Allen into a backcourt that is already pretty good, with Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon.
To me, Justise Winslow did not have the same impact in these games as the players above. But he is definitely athletic, and at 6-foot-6, he will provide depth at the position formerly manned by one-and-done transfer Rodney Hood. Remember, in the several seasons prior to Hood’s arrival, Duke lacked small forward type players. Winslow could perhaps back up Amile Jefferson at power forward as well. Winslow should help on the boards along with Okafor and Jefferson, where the departures, of Parker and Hood will be felt.
Side note: On Tuesday, 6-foot-9 transfer Sean Obi announced he plans to enroll at Duke. Obi would become eligible the season after next. And, oh yes, Duke is still in the running for uncommitted 7-footer Myles Turner.
NC State, for the first time in the Mark Gottfried era, did not see one of its recruits selected for the McDonald's or Jordan Brand all-star games. But several hundred schools are in the same boat, and lots of them made their way into the NCAA Tournament in 2014.
I don’t want to rush the season, but we have less than six months until basketball practice starts. Should be an interesting year.