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April 2, 2014
McDonald's AA: West looks to be best
CHICAGO -- Tuesday was a pretty busy day for player at the 2014 McDonald's All-American game. First there was a practice in the morning, the player's then had a media day to attend before the East and West got to face off for the first time this week during a scrimmage on the floor of the United Center. Tuesday's practice session had a lot more of the same from Monday. Jahlil Okafor was tremendous again and the West workouts have looked better than the East's have leading up to tonight's game at the United Center.
West looks strong
So far this week, the East and West teams have had three practice sessions and on Tuesday they played a scrimmage on the floor of the United Center. Like Sunday's first practice session, the scrimmage was a "closed" practice so we can only write about what happened during Monday and Tuesday's practice session. Like on Monday, the West squad looked to be performing at a higher overall level during practice.
Once again, Jahlil Okafor was pretty strong. Often times in All-Star settings, big men either have to really cry for the ball or they get disinterested. Not the current No. 1 player in the class of 2014. He calls for the ball, catches it and then assesses what his next best move is. While Okafor is big and strong, he is not a high riser around the rim or a speed blazer. But, he does have some explosiveness to him and he's shown during practices that he can score against big bodies like Trey Lyles and Thomas Welsh. Lengthier shot blocker types can give him some troubles but he is going to end up a pretty reliable shooter from 10-12 feet which can help open some space for him. Unlike most young big men who spin to the same shoulder every time, Okafor spins to either shoulder and can use spin combinations to get to the rim.
No. 3 Stanley Johnson and Rashad Vaughn were doing there thing again as well. Johnson has been shooting the ball pretty well in Chicago and that combined with his size and strength have been tough to stop. Vaughn has been making deep jumpers and getting a lot of chances to handle the ball. Like he did on Monday, Vaughn continued to score with relative ease given the high-level nature of these workouts.
The biggest story -- in terms of players enhancing their stock -- on the west team may be the play of Tyler Ulis. Ranked No. 33, the Kentucky bound point guard has been playing tremendously. Frankly, Rivals.com hadn't realized how natural of a jump shooter he looks to be and he's got an edge of toughness about him that you don't expect out of a small point guard like him. He has been a real pest on defense and can really move his feet and anticipate there. Bigger point guards -- like Emmanuel Mudiay -- can essentially bull rush Ulis so adding as much strength as possible will be important. But, he looks to be more than capable of stepping in and running the show in Lexington as a freshman if need be.
Speaking of Mudiay, the SMU signee and No. 2 player in 2014 has had to play a lot of two during practices. Those chances he has been able to play point or get some space to attack from the wing, he has been a very good playmaker via the dribble. Can beat you with strength or savvy.
Finishing up with the West, here's a rapid fire style recap of how their other players have been. Reid Travis has been the hardest worker through the practices. He seeks out contact and is relentless to help counteract his lack of height. Grayson Allen has probably boosted his stock a bit with his all-around game on both ends. Trey Lyles has been pretty steady. In fact, he reminds Rivals.com of Kansas forward Perry Ellis a bit in his approach and skill set. Lyles is bigger than Ellis, though.
Joel Berry has done a solid job of taking care of the ball and has a very mature way about him on the floor. But, he's had some defensive struggles. Devin Booker has shot the ball well and been better creating some space with the dribble against high level talent than he has been before. Kelly Oubre has been a little bit up and down. At about 6-foot-7, he looks like he can ultimately play the two and he doesn't need to be prodded to shoot the ball. Handle is a little shaky still, he is also an excellent offensive rebounder. Rounding out the squad, the UCLA bound Welsh has been pretty good. Welsh has the least experience against elite players of anybody named to the game and he's not super athletic. But he has been tough and smart while holding his own.
A look at the East
The East practice sessions have also been entertaining and we've learned a lot from them. Tyus Jones has been by far the most effective running the show and has shown that he can shoot, find teammates and do the scoring himself off the dribble. He will likely spend the most time handling the ball though it will be interesting how he handles the physical nature of Mudiay or the quickness of Ulis if those match-ups occur.
After Jones, Romelo Trimble, James Blackmon and even Theo Pinson had the offense flowing through them at point. Trimble, though, looks like he will end up doing most of the ball handling that Jones doesn't. Trimble takes good care of the ball and makes good decisions. He can also knock down a shot but is less likely to get into the lane and create for others as Jones is. Blackmon has been near automatic on catch and shoot opportunities and you pretty much expect that out of him at this point. However, he has seemed a little reluctant when given the chance to make dribble plays. Pinson is a pretty good ball handler for a 6-foot-6 wing and he has tremendous quickness, but a few times he has danced with the dribble a little too much. Looks very good attacking baseline.
Though he won't play the point, Ohio State bound D'Angelo Russell has been very steady. He is a very good catch and shoot guy, can put the ball on the floor some and doesn't seem to force any bad shots. Every now and then he plays a little too straight up and down and has to get into a better stance on defense but he has been very solid through Tuesday.
Because Cliff Alexander was out of Tuesday's practice after getting a contusion on his wrist during Monday night's dunk contest, Justin Jackson had to play more four. Jackson should eventually be a very nice option as a stretch four but he's not quite strong enough for that now. He and Kevon Looney got after each other pretty good but Looney's extra height and weight caused Jackson problems. Looney is on the slender side himself as a power forward but was a little too much for Jackson. Jackson looks very good when he can catch and operate from the wing and he gets right into attack mode out there.
For the second day in a row, Karl Towns and Myles Turner spent a lot of time going at each other. At least while we watched, Towns seemed to be scoring pretty well, handling the glass and bothering Turner just enough defensively that Turner couldn't ever get into a comfort zone during Tuesday's session. Chicago has been a good showing for Towns.
Both Isaiah Whitehead and Justise Winslow have looked impressive from a physical standpoint. They and Alexander probably have the most college ready frames on the East roster. Whitehead didn't score it like we are used to again on Tuesday, but he was solid and didn't disrupt things by hunting shots when his jumper wasn't hitting. Winslow had to pretty much rely on his athleticism and quickness to go get the ball for himself. Perhaps more than any player on either the East or West, seems like Winslow hasn't had a lot of passes go his way.
Eric Bossi is the national basketball recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. You can click here to follow him on Twitter.