Tuesday, March 31, 2015

McDonald's week off & running

THE RIVALS150: 2015 | 2016
CHICAGO -- Technically, the 2015 McDonald's All-American festivities got started on Sunday. But, Sunday's practice was only open to selection committee members and NBA Scouts and no media reports were allowed. So, Monday always serves as the kickoff of the week's action and players like the nation's No. 1 senior, Ben Simmons made sure things got started off right. East team observations The worst thing you can do when watching Ben Simmons is to try and box him into conventional or traditional position classification. If you want him as a power forward you might find him too small, or as a wing you might find him a little lacking in explosive athleticism. That's why it is important to look at the LSU-bound Simmons as a basketball player.
Ben Simmons is a good bet to finish his career ranked No. 1 in the Rivals rankings.
Because as a basketball player, he is the best player the East team has to offer and after a strong senior season and solid showing through early practices looks like a good bet to retain his status as the No. 1 player in the class of 2015. An Australian import who has spent most of the last two years at Montverde (Fla.) Academy, the 6-foot-8 Simmons has a basketball IQ and skill level that is pretty much unmatched. He can handle the ball, makes jumpers, and has a very good post game. He is as explosive as he needs to be athletically, and is a strong defender. Plus, what really stands out about the lefty is his ability to make plays with his right hand. He checks off pretty much all of the boxes and has very few deficiencies. It all showed during the practice and there's no reason to think the nation won't see that again during Wednesday night's game. Because five-star four man Henry Ellenson is out with an injury and Simmons is working with the wing players, the East is a bit thin in the low post. However, the three guys who are manning the post for them, Diamond Stone, Cheick Diallo and Thomas Bryant had a pretty spirited and highly physical practice session. Stone showed the best combination of strength and skill while Bryant is a big-shouldered and strong kid who is starting to make faceup jumpers with regularity and who always goes 100%. Diallo is a little smaller than the other two and looked like he was possibly a bit rusty after some injury issues during his senior season but the unsigned big man came strong in the effort department. Also having himself an outstanding day was Kentucky-bound point guard Isaiah Briscoe. The powerfully built guard looks to be in much better shape than he was even just a month ago and his ability to play with power and wiggle off the dribble makes him an unconventional cover for other guards. Briscoe had several awkward angle finishes at the rim and has every floater and pull-up you could want out to 15 feet. As he's been throughout his career, Briscoe was more scorer than pure shooter in practice. Playing his best in transition was Antonio Blakeney. The slender 6-foot-4 shooting guard will join Simmons at LSU next season and he's really added burst to his athleticism. The ability to go finish above the rim or use his biggest weapon, the pull-up jumper, make him tough to find and defend in transition because you have to make a quick decision to play him as a jump shooter or finisher and if you choose wrong he figures it out quickly and attacks the guess you didn't make.West team observations While Ben Simmons was the East standout, the tandem of Malik Newman and Brandon Ingram were the two most notable performers in the West practice.
Malik Newman showed his many offensive gifts on Monday.
Starting with Newman, the No. 3 player in 2015 was outstanding on both ends. Early in practice the 6-foot-4 combo guard struggled with his shot a little while running the point, but once he got settled in the baskets started dropping with regularity. Newman was too explosive into scoring moves to stop and once he started connecting on pull-ups from NBA range he had teammates like Jalen Brunson and Allonzo Trier -- who both knocked down a fair share of their own shots -- scrambling to figure out the best to attack him defensively. Long term, Newman is too natural of a scorer to burden with running a team full time, but he made good decisions and was unselfish in the PG role and showed that he can play spells at that position against elite competition. A thin 6-foot-8 small forward from Kinston (N.C.) High, Ingram had a monster senior season. The No. 19 player in the class doesn't look like he's slowed down a bit and he was on fire with the deep jumper on Monday. Ingram also got to the rim, finished in transition and showed that he can fight for rebounds in tight spots if he needs to. Prior to McDonald's, Ingram had been building a case to move into the national top 10 in April's final rankings and he didn't do anything other than help himself in that regard during Monday's workout. Nobody in the gym created more of a buzz with the NBA guys because they were surprised at how much he got done despite his lean frame.On the interior, No. 8 Ivan Rabb -- who still hasn't set his mind on exactly when he'll announce a college decision -- and No. 24 Deyonta Davis both had productive days. Rabb showed off his ambidextrous finishing that makes him so tough despite a lack of strength. Rabb likes to use his left hand from eight feet and in on jump hooks and finishes at the rim while he favors his right hand for passes, mid range jumpers and his free throw shooting. Very bouncy off the floor and quick footed in traffic, Rabb plays a little taller than he looks and was active on the glass. In terms of overall skill and polish, the Michigan State-bound Davis is probably the farthest from being a finished product of the West big men. But he's the best athlete of the group and is the quickest off the floor and with lateral movement. He needs little time to gather himself and explode to the rim whether in traffic or open space and he's a pretty instinctive rebounder and shot blocker. It's clear that his footwork needs a lot of attention for an elite prospect, but he will work and what is most promising is the soft touch and range that he wields on a jumper that could make him a legitimate pick and pop threat as soon as he arrives on campus.

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