As they do every summer during the last weekend in June, Nike invited a group of the top college and high school wing men in the nation to Washington, D.C. to participate in the 2014 Kevin Durant Skills Academy. Some of the best basketball minds in the business, like former NBA coach John Lucas, current Chicago Bulls assistant Ed Pinckney and former NBA player Dee Brown, were on hand to train the invited players and take them through a rugged series of drills, workouts and scrimmages during the three-day event.
In addition to many NBA scouts, The Shadow League was there to check out the competition and survey the landscape of what the future of the position portends. Here’s a breakdown of some of what we saw during the sessions that were open to the media.
In the high school ranks, the following players impressed:
Antonio Blakeney, 6-foot-4 Senior, Orlando Oak Ridge/Orlando, Florida
Malik Beaseley, 6-foot-4 Senior, St. Francis/Alpharetta, Georgia
Charles Matthews, 6-foot-6 Senior, St. Rita/Chicago Illinois
Rex Pflueger, 6-foot-5 Senior, Mater Dei/Santa Ana, California
Haanif Cheatham, 6-foot-5 Senior, Pembroke Pines/Pembroke Pines, Florida
Terance Mann, 6-foot-6 Senior, Tilton School/Tilton, New Hampshire
Montaque Gill-Ceasar, 6-foot-5 Senior, Huntington Prep/Huntington, West Virginia
VJ King, 6-foot-6 Junior, St. Vincent – St. Mary/Akron, Ohio
Jayson Tatum, 6-foot-8 Junior, Chaminade/St. Louis, Missouri
Jaylen Brown, 6-foot-6 Senior, Wheeler/Marietta, Georgia
Aaron Falzon, 6-foot-8 Senior, Northfield Mount Hermon/Gill, Massachusetts
Derrick Jones, 6-foot-6 Senior, Archbishop Carroll/Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
In the college ranks, you might want to pay extra attention to these players and their schools when filling out your March Madness brackets:
JAMES WOODARD, University of Tulsa, 6-foot-3 Junior – Woodard led Tulsa in scoring and rebounding last year and exhibited a very smooth, clean perimeter stroke at the KD Skills Academy. He looked very poised and comfortable and he can contribute in more ways than just his advanced scoring ability.
MICHAEL QUALLS, University of Arkansas, 6-foot-6 Junior – Qualls displayed some supreme athleticism and hops. He is at his best in a fast paced transition game. With close to a 7-foot wingspan, he came up with an inordinate share of rebounds, blocked shots and loose balls while showing a willingness to scrap and excel at some of the game’s less glamorous aspects.
RONDAE HOLLIS-JEFFERSON, University of Arizona, 6-foot7-Sophomore – Hollis-Jefferson was one of the best players at the camp. He was very crafty with the ball, using hesitation and change of pace dribbles to create space for his smooth lefty jumper. He rebounded with strength, displayed excellent vision and passing ability as a facilitator, and his mid-range stroke and body control around the basket was smoother than a stick of melting margarine. On the defensive end, with a wingspan that measures over 7-foot, he’s strong, long and athletic enough to guard multiple positions. If he continues to improve in the manner that he did last year at Arizona as a freshmen, he’ll be a top 15 pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Don't be surprised if the Wildcats, despite the loss of Aaron Gordon to the NBA, win the National Championship next year
SAM DEKKER, University of Wisconsin, 6-foot-9 Junior – Dekker was, by far, one the most consistent shooters at the camp. But he’s more than just a guy with a sweet stroke. He showed some surprising short-burst quickness with his ability to drive the ball. He set hard screens and displayed a willingness to mix it up on the defensive end. He also looked fluid moving without the ball.
STANLEY JOHNSON, University of Arizona, 6-foot-7 Freshman – Wildcat fans better savor his game while they can, because Johnson looks like a Top-5 pick in next year’s NBA Draft. For a guy who is a highlight reel on the fast break, he’s a very unselfish player who looks to find the open man. When he’s on the court, he plays with a rare competitive fire. And for a guy with such strength and size, he has some advanced mechanics, balance and footwork on his jump shot, both off the catch-and-shoot and off the dribble. He powers to the rim and is looking to rip it off once he gets there. Johnson is also a rugged rebounder who takes pride in the combat within the paint. On the defensive end, he can guard multiple positions. Next year, he’ll be a beast as a shooting guard, small forward and power forward on the college level.
KELLY OUBRE, University of Kansas, 6-foot-7 Freshman – Oubre’s matchups with Durant during some very competitive scrimmages convinced me that he’s a Top-3 pick in next year’s NBA Draft. His wingspan measures over 7-foot-1 and his combination of skills is mesmerizing. He can soar like a bird and bang shots from beyond the pro three-point line. On the one hand, he’s smoother than a newborn baby’s booty. But a second later, he'll make a burst off the dribble and elevate toward the rim with a quick and powerful burst that will leave you stuttering and stammering like 'The Champ' in Harlem Nights. There were some very good players and some future pros at the camp, but Oubre looked like the best player on the court not named Kevin Durant. He has great scoring instincts, seems to see the entire floor and if he was in an area where a rebound was being contested, more often than not, he came up with it. With Oubre’s arrival in Lawrence, Kansas, Jayhawk fans need not lose any sleep over losing Andrew Wiggins to the NBA.