This past week I attended the National High School Invitational tournament over at Georgetown Prep in Washington, D.C. to get a look at one of the Terrapins prospects, as well as get a look at the future of basketball. Montverde Academy, led by Kentucky committ Dakari Johnson, ended up winning the entire tournament on a last second shot, but there were plenty of surprises and fantastic players filling the building. Here’s a look at some of the players that stood out as fantastic in the 2014/15 class, most of which remain uncommitted.
2014 Class Uncommitted
1.) D’Angelo Russell – G – Montverde Academy
Russell may only be a junior, but he was far and away one of the best players in the entire tournament, as evidenced by him finishing 5th place in voting as MVP of the tournament. Russell was easily the best player in the 2014 class over the course of the tournament, significantly outplaying fellow superstar ’14 target Emmanuel Mudiay during their lone game against one another. During that contest, he showed off what is likely going to make him rise a bunch in the rankings: his smooth shooting. Russell connected on 7-of-13 shots from the floor, including 3-of-5 from long range against the Prime Prep Spartans. He has an incredibly advanced shooting stroke for his age, and may even be the best in his class when it comes to hitting shots light’s out.
Russell also channeled his inner-Reggie Miller by grabbing three steals and dishing out three assists during the game as well. One of the more underrated aspects of his game is his ability to pass. Even though he is a phenomenal shooter, Russell also does a great job setting up his teammates around the court and in transition. He plays on the perimeter, but was great at delivering crisp entry passes to his big men, and rarely looked frazzled on the court. Even in the championship game when his shooting was off, Russell still managed to make plays, nabbing two steals and dishing out a pair of assists (which probably could have been more). Defensively the effort is very much there.
While Russell isn’t currently listing anyone on his short list of teams, the Terrapins have reached out to him in the past. Dalonte Hill in particular at least sent some feelers out his way previously, but there isn’t much news on his recruiting right now. Still, his ability to shoot would be a major, major, plus for the Terrapins if they made a hard push and got him.
2.) Emmanuel Mudiay – G – Prime Prep
Mudiay was the highest rated player in the 2014 class at the tournament, and while Russell got the better of him in their lone match, he really didn’t disappoint too much. Mudiay may only be a junior, but he has court vision and command of the offense that very few players have. Mudiay plays with tempo, and most of the time the game is played at his pace, and not the other way around. He is is great at setting up his teammates in transition, and fantastic at controlling the ball in traffic. Mudiay has the athleticism to create his own shot or get to the basket at will, oftentimes drawing contact.
The downside for Mudiay is that he’s almost too good of a passer, and as such makes very risky passes that end up being turnovers. More than a few times during the tournament Mudiay pushed the ball up the court in transition and decided to lob a pass in the direction of his big men that resulted in a turnover. It’s not that he doesn’t take care of the ball as much as it is him trying to do too much.
Still, he makes plays and is flashy enough that a few times a game your jaw will drop with how creative he can get with the ball. It makes sense that most every school in the country will be vying for his services this year and the next, because he’s that talented.
2015 Class – Uncommitted
1.) Ben Simmons – F – Montverde Academy
Montverde was so loaded with talent this year that it’s hard to pinpoint one player who stands out more than others, but Ben Simmons did his best to get everyone in the building to notice him. It’s still early, but Simmons may already be the best prospect in the 2015 class. The Australia native, playing his first games on U.S. soil with Montverde since transferring earlier this year, wowed everyone in the gym with his athleticism and feel for the game. There are things he does that are essentially unteachable.
For starters, Simmons has a calm, but vicious, demeanor. I can’t tell you how many times I saw this kid opt for a powerful jam over a soft lay-in. Simmons can leap out of the gym, and has a knack for rebounding. Since he runs the floor like a guard, he is capable of getting a lot of transition points by being in the right place at the right time. For a forward, he has a rare passing ability and can actually handle the ball relatively well. No, he won’t run it up the floor for your team, but he probably could without missing a beat.
On the defensive end he might be even better. At one point during the championship game, he was doing a pretty good job guarding Syracuse-bound point guard Tyler Ennis. His footwork is great, and he can stay in front of just about anyone. He keeps his hands up all the time, and rarely gets beaten. Given his frame (he’s a 6’9, 235 lbs sophomore), the sky is the limit for this kid. He has a chance to become something incredibly special provided he puts in the work. In another year, he is going to be one of the most talked-over players in the country, so get hip to the kid now.
2.) Isaiah Briscoe – G – St. Benedict’s Prep
Isaiah Briscoe is another can’t-miss prospect. Briscoe is still looks young, but he is an incredibly good scorer for his age. At 6’3, 190, Briscoe has an incredibly good crossover that he uses to create space and get his shot off. His shot, I might add, is very smooth and he has a very developed jumper already. While not necessarily the best dribbler on the court, he can carry the ball up court just fine and doesn’t need anyone to get his shot. Most of his points this tournament came off isolation play, but he is still a capable passer. He also has phenomenal body control, and was capable of getting to the rim at will to finish even with contact. Indeed, against every team he faced, Briscoe had no issues with getting into the paint and drawing contact.
Defensively he isn’t bad, but given the tough competition he faced throughout this tournament, he sometimes struggled with who he was being asked to guard. Still, on a fully-loaded team, Briscoe was probably the third-best player on the court a lot of times and as a sophomore, that’s spectacular.
Briscoe still needs to continue growing into his body, as he doesn’t look fully developed yet and could stand to add some muscle. His frame suggests that when he does finally hit the gym, he is going to be a horribly difficult player to guard. I look for him to get on a lot of people’s radars very quickly because of how advanced he is on the offensive end.
3.) Elijah Thomas – F – Prime Prep
Elijah Thomas wasn’t necessarily the most impressive player on the floor at any time, but you could certainly see why ESPN has him ranked as #6 in the 2015 class. At 6’9, 240 lbs, Thomas already has a college-ready frame, but he doesn’t look like he’s started aggressively working out yet either. He is a very active rebounder who initiates contact and never shies away from physical play, which is something you have to like. Thomas has the ability to score off putbacks for the rest of his career and easily average double-digits in scoring.
Against Dakari Johnson, Thomas didn’t back down one bit, which is something you have to like about him. Still needs to learn the game a bit better, as sometimes the pace seemed a tad quick for him. Nonetheless, as a blooming prospect, Thomas is as good as they come considering his size and pretty solid hustle.