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The Prospect Overview: An In-Person Report from the Legends of Basketball Showcase
Maxwell was on the ground in Chicago for The Legends of Basketball Showcase! He gives a full recap of the event featuring standouts DaRon Holmes II, Toumani Camara, Terquavion Smith, and more!
Feature: An In-Person Report from the Legends of Basketball Showcase
On Saturday, I had the pleasure of covering the Legends of Basketball Showcase in Chicago. The event was fantastic and well-organized, and I hope they run it back again next year. There were four games between eight teams with a myriad of interesting prospects—a fun blend of deep cuts, long-term sleepers, and “this year” guys with a real shot of going in the first round of this coming draft. Let’s get into it!
Game One: Northern Iowa defeated Towson, 83-66
This game was The Bowen Born Show. The 5’11” junior guard for Northern Iowa finished with 27 points and eight assists. After a slower start, Born began to slowly dissect Towson’s defense. He was finding ways to use pace and hesitation to get to his spots. Despite being smaller, Born was unafraid of contact and got to the line 13 times. He’s able to pull up off the bounce from deep and has a reliable floater, two critical skills for undersized guards. His handle is slick, he’s shifty, and he’s always low to the ground. He’s also a quick, clever passer who knows how to leverage defensive attention and hit open teammates. Defensively, he’ll always have the struggles of being a smaller player, but he’s a smart help defender. He knows how to play with the body that he has, getting in low on the ball for strips and swiping the ball when opponents aren’t expecting him.
Tytan Anderson did a little bit of everything for the Panthers. He finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, three assists, and a steal. The third-year player is 6’6”, but he rebounds like a much larger player. He gets off the floor easily and scraps hard. His cutting instincts are good, he goes up with intent, and he can finish through contact. He runs the floor hard, eats up mismatches when he gets them, and finds open teammates. Anderson is shooting 20% from three on the year, and he’ll need to improve as a shooter to be a real NBA prospect, but he’s an outstanding glue guy for now.
Freshmen Michael Duax, Trey Campbell, and Landon Wolf all had some nice moments. Duax has good size at 6’5”, drew multiple fouls off well-timed cuts, and is already a plus-defender who can guard tight on the ball. His outside shooting and knack for playing with his head up make him one to watch. Campbell was great, too, tallying nine points, six rebounds, and four assists. At 6’3”, he’ll need to be a combo guard to garner pro interest, and this game was an encouraging development on that front. The 6’4” Landon Wolf got to the foul line nine times and showed that he can be more than a shooter. He’d been living behind the three-point line, taking more than 60% of his shots from three, but against Towson, he showed a willingness to go inside.
Towson’s best player on the night was Charles Thompson. At 6’7” and 235 pounds, the senior is a force physically. He finished with 13 points and five boards. His first half was tremendous, but the ball didn’t find him as consistently during the second. He attacks with strength, he’s a powerful finisher, and his hands allow him to reel in inaccurate passes. Thompson also serves as their defensive anchor, constantly communicating and keeping their team on a string. He knows where to go, and he gets there in a hurry, preventing opponents from getting anything easy. His pro prospects are limited by his shooting touch and range, but he’s an excellent college player, particularly on defense. I wouldn’t be shocked if bigger programs sniff around should he do a graduate year and explore the transfer portal.
Game Two: George Mason defeated Tulane, 62-58
The second half was the Victor Bailey Jr. show for George Mason. Bailey had 19 points on the night, with 16 coming in the second half. The 6’4” guard has some sauce as a passer, but his best skill is his ability to hit tough shots. His jumper is wet, and his experience allowed him to stay poised under pressure. Bailey iced the game with a big three-pointer to go up six with 30 seconds to go. He’s an older player, as it’s now his sixth year in college hoops, but his propensity for putting the orange thing through the circle should allow him to continue on in his basketball career if he so chooses.
Josh Oduro’s physicality blew me away. The 6’9” senior was on my watchlist headed into the year. Players, even bigger ones, are constantly bouncing off him. There are always bodies in his wake. He has to be careful with his elbows and shoulders, as he drew two offensive foul calls in the first half. It didn’t knock him off his game, though. I asked him about the way he got past that hurdle mentally during the post-game presser. “I would say number one, it was my teammates, making sure that I was in there. They had my back the entire time…just making sure that my head was in there. And then making sure that like, maybe if I can’t be as productive as I usually am on the post, then how can I impact winning? And I saw VJ (Victor Bailey Jr.) had it going for a little bit there, and so it was good; he really took that scoring load down the stretch. I just make sure I’m playing my complete game, not just trying to score.” Head Coach Kim English added, “And some of the shot creation is, you know, the novice might not see it, right? Setting a ball screen, rolling hard to the rim, that attention he gathers opens a skip pass or open three.” Oduro finished with 12 points, six boards, two blocks, and a steal. He needs to look at the rim more from long range, but he did nail a critical three to put George Mason up five with two minutes left, and that shot looked good the whole way.
Tulane had a rough game in general, struggling to move the ball and get good looks. Even in an off-game, I thought Jaylen Forbes looked good. The 6’5”, fourth-year player looks every bit of his listed height. He finished 4-16 from the field, but he still left his mark on the game defensively, gathering two blocks and two steals. Forbes was a 36.8% three-point shooter on high volume coming into the game; he was simply cold. He adjusted, though, and began to get downhill and attack more to compensate for it. The fact that he still felt like a positive despite his shot not falling is a huge positive for his chances. His combined package—point totals, shooting percentages, steal rate, and size—makes him a real wing prospect.
I’ve been a big Kevin Cross believer for a while, but he had a rough night. The 6’8” senior forward typically offers high-end defense, facilitation, and floor spacing. Here, he found himself in deep foul trouble, committing his fourth early in the second half and limiting his impact. When he did play, his defensive communication, timing on the glass, and screening all passed the eye test. Cross made a lot of unforced errors, though, taking some questionable shots off the dribble and trying to do too much as a passer. 6’0” junior guard Jalen Cook was ice cold, going 5-20 and 0-5 from three. Because of his lack of size, he really disappears from games when his shot isn’t falling. He’s averaged 18 PPG over the past two seasons and has a good reputation as a shooter, but his struggles against heavy pressure and poor separation hurt him in this one. No Stone Unturned prospect Sion James still doesn’t command respect from opposing defenses on the perimeter, but he played an efficient game, scoring 11 points on eight shots to pair with six steals, a rebound, and an assist. Defensively, his balance is outstanding, and he rarely makes mistakes. If he can find a way to provide more off-ball value, I still think he has a chance at an NBA cup of coffee after his senior season next year.
Game 3: Dayton defeated Wyoming, 66-49
First off, despite the neutral location, this was basically a Dayton home game. The school has a big alumni base in the Chicagoland area. On top of a relentless fanbase filling up the United Center, they also had their pep band and cheerleaders at courtside. It was a rough draw for the Wyoming Cowboys.
6’10” sophomore big man DaRon Holmes II was the star of the show, as expected. His name has been comfortably in mock drafts since this off-season, and it’s easy to see why. He’s exceptionally mobile for his size, covering large spaces of territory on defense and holding his own when forced on the perimeter. Holmes elevates so high with the ball on offense, and it’s clear that he’s a cut above his college competition from an athletic standpoint. However, what impressed me the most was how well he performed from a mental and strategic standpoint.
Early in the game, Holmes hit a three-pointer off movement. The next time down the court, Holmes pump-faked from three and got his defender to leave their feet. Holmes took a step in, drew some help, and kicked it to an open teammate who missed an open jumper. Shortly after, Holmes used another pump fake to get his defender off balance. This time, he attacked the basket at full speed with big, long strides and got himself to the free-throw line. It was cerebral—Holmes realized that he had created gravity for himself, and he immediately began to leverage it for himself and his teammates.
When Wyoming started to mount a comeback, Holmes acted as a stabilizing force. He knew that Wyoming’s big men weren’t on his level, and he took them to task. Holmes burned them with his quickness and established good position to get easy dunks. His speed from the catch to the rim is a blur. If there isn’t someone already in help position when he catches it on the inside, it’s over. He finished the night with 24 points on 15 shots, four rebounds, and two blocks.
Holmes’s quickness, finishing acumen, passing flashes, rim protection, and ability to track the ball defensively all have him as a surefire “this year” guy in my book. There are certain things to quibble with as far as his draft positioning. He’s still not the strongest, complicating matters when he tries to get to his spots against a more traditional big man. His shooting touch leaves something to be desired. Still, Holmes is a guy who finishes, makes good passes, and can defend multiple positions. That should buy him plenty of NBA opportunities and give him the chance to have a long, meaningful career, even if his ceiling isn’t as sexy as other prospects.
Toumani Camara really jumped off the page in person. The 6’8” fourth-year player has comically long arms. He looks like he could stand up straight and still scratch the power part of his kneecap. His outstretched arms and nimble feet make him an imposing defender at the point of attack. Camara can’t be bullied, and he knows that his tools allow him to play tight on the ball. Off-ball, his instincts are sublime, too, knowing where he has to go with the ability to get there in a hurry. He’s a threat in passing lanes and he gets up quickly for blocks. Offensively, he’s savvy. Camara knows where to roll after setting a ball screen, his vision is sharp, and he can make quick touch passes that render defenders helpless. He also slung a nasty one-handed dime to a cutting R.J. Blakney for an easy two. Camara did it all for Dayton, finishing with 17 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks. His size, feel, and defense all feel like NBA talents. Where his case gets tricky is his outside shooting. Though he was 2-4 from three on the night, he’s only at 29.6% on the year, and he’s shot 59.2% from the charity stripe over this season and last. This will likely prevent him from hearing his name called on draft night, but an NBA future is possible if he can become a consistent shooter. Everything else is there.
Hunter Maldonado is likely Wyoming’s biggest name talent and garnered some attention from the draft community last season for his propensity to stuff the stat sheet. The 6’7” sixth-year player is a quirky prospect. His outside shot has never been consistent, so he often operates out of post-ups and acts as a facilitator. It’s unconventional, but he’s been tremendously productive throughout his college career. Once he has a defender on his hip, he can use his polished inside touch or hit the open man when a help defender comes his way. Against Dayton, he struggled. The Flyers have heaps of size, and there was no one for him to bully. His iffy first step and lack of bounce limited his effectiveness, and he went 2-11 from the field. Maldonado’s poor outside shooting and inability to play a faster game didn’t look good here.
Wyoming’s best player on the night was sophomore guard Noah Reynolds. The 6’3” sophomore can really fill it up. He scored 14 points in the first five-and-a-half minutes of the second half. While his first step isn’t much, he has gorgeous offensive footwork and an arsenal of Eurostep variations to get where he wants. The old man game here is off the charts, and I mean that in the most positive sense. He knows how to manipulate defenders to get inside, and while his lift isn’t exceptional, he has the touch to place the ball high over defenders and still convert. Reynolds does a tremendous job of protecting the ball at the cup, too, and doesn’t get his shot swatted away. At his size, he still needs to find teammates more consistently, but the offensive building blocks are intriguing. He’ll likely never be an amazing defender, given his size and speed, but he plays with enough fire and attentiveness to hold his own.
Game Four: NC State defeated Vanderbilt, 70-66
It was a tale of two halves for Terquavion Smith. The 6’4” sophomore and projected first-round pick came out of the gates scorching, scoring 14 points in the first twenty minutes. It was all on display—his tough long-range shot-making off the dribble, his wild burst when he turns the corner on opponents, and the nasty snap of his crossover dribble to shake defenders. His deceleration, hesitation, and explosiveness all looked much more like an NBA player than a college one. In those realms, he was far ahead of every other player I saw on the day. It was also great to see him in person because I got to see one of his biggest areas of improvement firsthand, which is his knack for finding teammates more often. I could see his eyes moving around as he attacked, searching for teammates as he anticipated weakside help. Smith’s interior passing, in particular, has taken a sizeable leap. He also played defense with a greater sense of obligation, tracking his man and the ball well. Gone are the days of his zealous over-gambling and tendency to fall asleep off-ball. He finished the game with three steals and didn’t give up anything easy. Smith went cold in the second half, going 0-8 from the field and 2-4 from the free throw line. Still, he added three assists in the half and played well on the other end. Even though his shot wasn’t falling, I still wanted the ball in his hands in big moments, and that matters. Smith is clearly an NBA guy, and in my mind, he’s a first-round talent. Where he goes will depend on how teams view his playmaking and defense.
I love Casey Morsell’s game so much. NC State’s 6’3” senior guard is chicken soup for the film junkie’s soul. Morsell finished the night with 15 points on 6-10 shooting from the floor. He’s always ready to shoot off the catch. While his assist numbers are low because he’s essentially the third initiator behind Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner, his turnover numbers are low, too. Morsell is one of the most trustworthy players in college hoops. He doesn’t make mistakes, he has good vision on the go, and he always knows where to be on the court. He’ll relocate to advantageous spots on the perimeter to get himself open threes, and he had some clutch moments as a cutter down the stretch in a tight game Saturday night. On defense, his strong frame allows him to punch above his weight guarding on the ball. His timing and floor-reading capabilities allow him to spring for steals when appropriate. Morsell is one of the best “star in his role” players in the country. I’m not sure there’s an NBA outcome for him, but I hope teams at least give him a look in workouts or that he can get into some of the pro combine events.
The Vanderbilt prospect with the best shot at the NBA this year is probably Myles Stute. A 6’7” junior wing, Stute is an outstanding three-point shooter. His shot looks clean off movement, and when he gets open ones off the catch, it feels automatic. Stute also showed some craft and footwork getting shots in the mid-range. Over the past two seasons, Stute has hit 45.5% of his threes on 5.4 attempts per game. The combination of size and shooting always gives players a chance. The issue for Stute is a simple question: “and what else?” His offensive game is limited outside of his shooting. Through 11 games, Stute has tallied a meager four assists and 21 turnovers. He doesn’t have a way of leveraging his gravity yet. He’s fine defensively, but he’s not a lockdown guy on the ball or a roaming menace in scramble situations. If he can round out his game in the next two years, his potential outcomes will be more favorable.
The Expanding Big Board
Welcome to The Expanding Big Board! Every week, a new player is added to the board. Once a player is added, they cannot be removed. The current ranking is listed first, with last week’s ranking in parenthesis.
1. Victor Wembanyama (1)
2. Scoot Henderson (2)
3. Amen Thompson (3)
4. Cam Whitmore (4)
5. Ausar Thompson (5)
6. Nick Smith Jr. (6)
7. Anthony Black (7)
8. Brandon Miller (8)
After a rough outing against Houston, Brandon Miller began to take a large amount of flack for his poor performance inside the arc. He went on a heater against Gonzaga on Saturday, scoring 36 points on 22 shots in a wildly exciting game. Some of the well-discussed issues with his game still popped up—his struggle to separate against heavy pressure and poor vertical pop off one foot in traffic. But Miller might be figuring some things out. In the two games after the Houston debacle, Miller has gone 9-for-16 on twos. These games were against Memphis and Gonzaga, too, who aren’t exactly pushovers. Finding his groove inside the arc would drastically help him hold onto this type of big board ranking as more players emerge.
9. Jett Howard (UR)
Jett Howard, welcome to the party!
First, let’s do some housekeeping. I have a bit of a tier drop in my board around this range. That’s not to say I think everyone after #8 stinks or anything like that—I actually like these players quite a bit through about the 16th spot. I’m just not totally sold on any of them over the others just yet. I do feel quite comfortable with what I’ve seen from Jett Howard, though. He presents tremendous upside scenarios with what should be a safe floor.
Let’s start with the simple stuff: Jett Howard is a 6’8” freshman who can dribble, pass, and shoot. The shooting is what opens up all of it—he’s hit 40% of his threes on 6.5 attempts per game this season. From long range, Howard is comfortable both off the catch (40.4%, per Synergy) and off the bounce (37.5%, per Synergy). When he’s chased off the line, he still has a ton to offer. Howard has made 62.8% of his twos. He can finish at the cup, his floater is outstanding, and he also keeps his head up for his teammates. Right now, he’s averaging 2.5 APG to 1.0 TOV, a fantastic ratio in general, but especially for someone who is that big and that young. I like his feet as an on-ball defender. He does a good job of keeping players in front of him and recovers well. Howard has racked up a few blocks by sliding with players step-for-step before springing up to reject them.
There are two big areas of concern with Howard. The first is off-ball defense. While he’s capable of making timely rotations and getting into position from a physical standpoint, Howard is too often an “either/or” defender. He’s either watching the ball or watching his man rather than keeping tabs on both at the same time. When he’s too focused on the ball, he leaves himself open to back cuts. Being too glued to his man leaves some opportunities on the table, too. In a recent game, his back was completely turned to the ball, the ball came loose, and the ball actually bounced into Howard. If he’d been tracking the ball, too, it would have opened up a live-ball transition opportunity for Michigan. The second issue is his rebounding. Despite being 6’8” with some elevation to him, he’s averaging a mere 2.4 RPG with a season-high of four coming against Kentucky. I ultimately believe Howard can overcome these issues. He’s improved dramatically in the last year, and he’s still coming into form. The fixes are theoretically simple ones that should come with time, experience, and effort. I buy the effort being there given in the work he’s done to round out the rest of his game these past few seasons.
-Utah State’s Max Shulga has made a big jump this season. He’s averaging 12.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 5.0 APG, all of those numbers more than doubling his output from a year ago. The junior is a 6’4” playmaker who can play at different speeds and finds deceptive ways to look off his passes. He has a quick, no-dip release when he shoots off the catch (38.1% from three on 4.7 3PA/game) and takes big strides to the cup when he has a driving lane. His ability to start and stop dramatically is how he creates advantages, freezing the defense and forcing them to recover with his next move. He doesn’t pressure rim a ton, but he has good body control at the cup and has made 10 of his 13 attempts at the basket in the halfcourt, per Synergy. I think he can find ways to get inside more often, given that he has some wiggle and creativity. Defensively, he moves alright laterally and works hard to get around screens both on and off the ball. He’s more competent than productive on that end, but his size and ability to map the floor prevent him from being a liability. There’s a chance he could find himself in the mix for the 2024 cycle.
-Noah Clowney went from being a “hey, this guy’s interesting!” prospect to a “this year, more likely than not” prospect at warp speed. His mobility and rim protection give him loads of defensive upside, and his jumper (27.8% on 3.3 3PA/game) has started to garner significant buzz. It’s understandable, as those things make him an exciting, high-ceiling prospect. But what I feel is overlooked is how good the simple elements of his offense are at this point. He doesn’t force bad shots, he has good hands, he rim-runs hard in transition, and he’s a wildly effective finisher. Clowney’s converting 73.7% of his twos and making 69.4% of his shots at the basket. While he’s ahead of the curve as a shooter for a 6’10” 18-year-old, even if the shot doesn’t turn into a giant threat…the rest of what’s here is still really good. Clowney has been outproducing many of the freshmen big men that came in with higher expectations than him, and his upside is equally as intriguing.
-I do my best to not let prospects sneak up on me, but last year, someone still got me. Trevor Hudgins showed up at the Portsmouth Invitational after a prolific career with Northwest Missouri State, a high-end Division II program. He parlayed a series of solid outings there into a two-way contract with the Houston Rockets. I was thinking about Trevor Hudgins the other day (as most normal guys do), and it led to me looking into some of the top Division II prospects. My favorite of the bunch is Kelvin “KJ” Jones.
The one-time All-American is in his fourth season. At 6’6”, Jones checks a lot of boxes. He has pro size, obviously, but he also has a gorgeous shooting stroke. Jones is 42.6% from three on the year. His shot is clean off the catch, but he’s often given a lot of defensive attention. As a result, Jones had a mix of moves like side-steps and step-backs to get himself space. If you want to park him in the corner and get spacing, you can, but he’s capable of creating for himself, too. Jones creates for others, too, averaging 3.8 APG. There is a rhythm and patience that he operates with, allowing him to dissect the defense at his own pace. He’s creative, finding unique angles to get the ball to his open teammates. Pair that with his rebounding (8.1 RPG), and he’s a grab-and-go threat in transition. He’s about as complete as you can get on that end. Jones hasn’t finished well at the basket this season, but digging through his past seasons on Synergy, that’s an outlier—he’s typically great at the rim in the halfcourt. Despite that, Jones is still scoring 26.8 PPG on the year and has yet to be held below 20 through 11 games. He’s doing it efficiently, too, with 47.1/42.6/83.7 shooting splits. To his credit, it doesn’t feel like he’s dominating the ball, either. On defense, he moves well laterally on the ball and reads passing lanes well, but he isn’t the same type of force he is on the other end. It’d be nice to see the interior finishing come around, and it would be nice to see him block a few shots here and there (he currently has none on the season, generally a prospect red flag, though he’s tallied blocks in all of his previous seasons).
Scaling up is difficult. There’s a reason the NBA isn’t crawling with Division II players—the skill, size, and athleticism gaps are enormous. But if you told me that someone this year could hit “the Trevor Hudgins trajectory,” my money would be on KJ Jones. He fits the modern dribble-pass-shoot archetype, he’s big, he’s consistent, and he’s dominating the opposition.
-That last one wasn’t a very “quick” hit; sorry for getting carried away.
-It’s time for the MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE WEEK! Belmont beat Chattanooga 83-79 in OT. Despite coming up short, it was Chattanooga’s Jake Stephens who stole the show. For the uninitiated, Stephens is an absolutely enormous human being.
Okay, so now that you know how large he is, think about this: he’s a 48.2% three-point shooter on the year, and he was a 49% three-point shooter last year. Stephens is the coolest college basketball player that not a lot of people know about. Against Belmont, Stephens had 30 points (5-8 from three), 20 rebounds, five assists, five blocks, and three steals. Jake…you did good. That’s a good game of basketball. His jumper was silky smooth, and his shot prep footwork was clean. He’s also finding his rhythm as a passer again. Stephens is an outstanding orchestrator at the top of the key, finding open shooters and delivering slick passes to cutters. Previously a heavy mover, Stephens is moving better on the defensive end now. He had a clutch block against Ben Sheppard toward the end of regulation and also sprung up for a mid-range block that the shooter didn’t anticipate earlier in the game. His recognition has always been good, but now he can get into position quicker. He’s still not someone you would want to deploy in a switching scheme, and he can still be slow to get out to the perimeter, but he’s ahead of where he was a year ago. Obviously, between his size and length, he’s a force on the glass. Where he needs to improve is in the post, surprisingly. He doesn’t have the same vision there, and he coughed up seven turnovers. Of course, he’s going to be swarmed as his team’s number one option, but Stephens needs to see the help quicker in those settings. His polish in the post didn’t shine much here, either, and despite the monstrous totals, he didn’t punish mismatches as easily as I would have hoped. Still, he’s giant, he’s long, he can shoot, and he’s getting more athletic. Jake Stephens has a real NBA chance.
The previously mentioned Ben Sheppard had a rough outing, easily his worst of the season. He went 2-16 from the field, finishing with eight points. The most glaring issue with Sheppard is the lack of bend he plays with on offense. It bites him in two areas. The first is that it causes him to dribble high, making it easier for opponents to get into his dribble. The second is that it really limits how high he can jump at the basket, causing his shot to get blocked there too often. Still, he had moments. His handle is better, and he’s able to create more for himself in the mid-range and beyond. Sheppard loves to employ a behind-the-back dribble into a step-back, and the speed at which he stops gets the defender out of position almost every time. It’s great—that type of stuff wasn’t in his bag at all last year. He’s also seeing more, and he finished with five assists to one turnover. Sheppard nabbed three steals, too. His long arms and ability to slide make his point-of-attack defense a real strength. Despite a rough outing, Sheppard is still a 6’6” guy who hits a ton of threes, guards the ball well, and is developing as a playmaker. He’s still in the mix for me.
Cade Tyson is another Belmont name to track. The 6’7” freshman posted 17 points, seven rebounds, and four steals. He doesn’t jump off the page athletically, but he knows what he’s doing on both sides of the ball. Tyson can really shoot it, and he’s already shown some off-the-bounce game when chased off the line as a pull-up shooter, finisher, and passer.
-No Mid-Major Game of the Week, as you’re getting a special mid-major player feature piece next week! It will likely be a shorter column than normal due to the holidays and the lighter basketball schedule as well.