The annual King Holiday Hoopfest celebrates the life and ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while also offering some of the best prep basketball in the Pacific Northwest. Last season's Hoopfest featured Abdul Gaddy and Peyton Siva, who now get minutes for the defending champions of the Pac-10 (Washington) and Big East (Louisville), respectively. Three players who took the court at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on Monday have already signed to play D-I basketball next season, and that doesn't include the top prospect on display, undecided standout power forward Terrence Jones of Jefferson High in Portland. I was there for three full games and parts of five, all of them competitive--two went to overtime and none of the others was decided by more than six points. Here are five thoughts from the day of high school hoops.
1. Scouting Terrence Jones
While the other games were interesting and there were other players worth seeing, make no mistake--the big draw of the Hoopfest for those of us primarily interested in the NCAA and NBA levels was Jones, rated the country's No. 13 prospect by Rivals.com and No. 15 by ESPNU. Jones is among the top handful of uncommitted prospects waiting for the spring to sign a letter of intent, having visited Kentucky, Oklahoma, UCLA and Washington and also shown interest in Oregon, Texas and West Virginia, as he told OregonLive.com's Tim Brown. Naturally, the fact that Jones could be playing his home games at Hec Ed next year added extra intrigue to his trip north up I-5.
Scouting Jones is somewhat difficult because he plays such an unusual role for Jefferson as something of a point center. His primary role on offense was to act as an outlet valve against pressure from Federal Way, a natural fit because Jones is a skilled passer and at 6'9" has the ability to catch the ball in traffic and deliver it over the heads of smaller defenders. It also meant that Jones often ventured no further than the three-point line on offense. Jefferson never used Jones in the post. Instead, he created his offense largely off the dribble.
Jones' versatility extends to his shooting, as he demonstrates a smooth, natural lefty stroke and was willing to attempt a couple of threes from NBA range. Jones' shooting ability is especially valuable at the free throw line, where he will make opponents pay for fouling them more than most big men.
At the defensive end of the floor, Jones tormented Federal Way with his length, blocking shots (eight in all) both in the paint and on the perimeter against offensive players clearly not used to working against such a skilled shot blocker. One play in particular stood out when Jones gave probably five feet of ground to his man. My natural instinct was to think Jones needed to come out more, but he ended up blocking the shot anyway.
The biggest concern I saw about Jones was his lack of energy. This wasn't all bad, as his controlled pace of play helps him avoid mistakes, but he will certainly not be able to maintain some of the shortcuts he took defensively and on the glass at the next level. In particular, his next coach will want to make getting back defensively in transition a focus for Jones. His decision-making also waned down the stretch in the midst of a Federal Way comeback, when he forced several passes that became turnovers.
Any quibbles have to be understood in the context of the outcome. Though Federal Way made things interesting down the stretch and the final margin was just four points (62-58), Jefferson generally controlled the game playing on the road against a team ranked No. 21 in the country by USA Today. Even against the best opposition the state of Washington has to offer, Jones looked like a man among boys.
2. The Northwest Continues Producing Quality Talent
It's impossible to go to an event like the Hoopfest without being reminded of the players who came before. Photos of NBA players Jon Brockman, Jamal Crawford, Spencer Hawes and Martell Webster hung in the concourse, examples of the talent the Seattle area has sent to the league in recent years. In the 1990s, NBA players from Seattle were few and far between, but the area has seen a boom in recent years that has been attributed to several factors, among them the AAU organization Friends of Hoop (founded by Denver Nuggets coach George Karl while he was pacing the sidelines in Seattle) that puts on the Hoopfest.
The pipeline shows no signs of slowing, given the talent that was on hand even with the state of Washington's top senior (UCLA-bound center Josh Smith, whose Kentwood team played in a national prep showcase, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's Spalding Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass., without Smith due to a knee injury) and top junior (guard Tony Wroten, who could only sit and watch as his Garfield team lost in overtime at the Hoopfest, having torn his ACL playing football last fall). The Portland area too has produced some quality prospects, including Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love and Duke's Kyle Singler.
For Seattle, one interesting thing to watch over time is whether the departure of the Sonics ultimately has any effect on the quality of local talent. Anecdotally, non-NBA cities seem to produce fewer basketball stars. Sometimes, the connection is direct. Bellevue High School featured Nate Sikma, son of Sonics legend Jack, in its starting lineup. Sikma's older brother Luke now plays at the University of Portland, while last year Bellevue also had Alex Schrempf (son of Detlef), who walked on this year at UCLA.
3. Scouting the Best of the Rest
The top senior I saw beyond Jones was Bellevue's Aaron Bright, a 5'11" point guard headed to Stanford (along with fellow local John Gage, a forward who played in the Hoopfest before I arrived). Bright is a phenomenal ballhandler who runs the pick-and-roll with aplomb and demonstrated fine court vision. His shooting appears to be a strength too, but his size will be a concern in the Pac-10. Bright struggled to finish against Enumclaw; doing so in the Pac-10 against defenders like Jones will be much more challenging. Bright will also give up size and quickness at the defensive end of the floor.
Federal Way's Cole Dickerson--half-brother of former NBA guard and Arizona star Michael--wasn't a big factor in the first half against Jefferson, though that could be explained by a case of the stomach flu that kept him out of practice earlier this week. Dickerson did a better job of finding ways to beat Jones' shot-blocking, especially with upfakes, in the second half. At 6'7", he has the size to play both forward positions in the West Coast Conference at the University of San Francisco. Teammate Isaiah Umipig, a 6'1" guard headed to Cal State Fullerton, impressed with his ability to make tough shots, which is something of a mixed blessing. In part, it meant Umipig had a tough time finding good looks against the Jefferson defense.
I liked what I saw from Jones' teammate Stephen Madison, a 6'6" forward who transferred to Jefferson for his senior year after playing AAU basketball with Jones. Madison, who has gotten some attention from mid-majors, displayed athleticism along with the ability to shoot the basketball from the perimeter that could allow him to succeed as a stretch four. Rainier Beach's Lonnie Pearson also has a chance to play at the next level. A long 6'6", Pearson can really get up.
4. Eyes Over Numbers
Fortunately, the stats vs. scouting argument is relatively muted in basketball. One reason is that people like TrueHoop's Henry Abbott have done a good job of pointing out the analytics community is less concerned with replacing scouting than with replacing bad numbers--the traditional holy trinity of points, rebounds and assists per game--with ones that are more descriptive. That's the thing about scouting hard-liners--they're always looking at some stats. It's inevitable ... except at prep basketball games. Although these were played at a modern NCAA arena, the scoreboards never featured any player stats, so while I was able to guess at stat lines, this was a case of truly going on observation until I could get home and read a few numbers in the Seattle Times' recaps. The perspective felt incomplete, though not nearly as much so as going strictly based on stats given the paramount importance of how players produce as they make the transition to the NCAA.
5. An Unfortunate Contrast
While I watch plenty of college basketball, my reference point for the sport is the NBA. This can make it a little difficult to watch prep basketball because of the mistakes that are inevitable from teenagers juggling practice and classes. I love basketball in all its forms, but anyone who questions the fundamentals of the professional game simply isn't watching closely enough. The thing that most stood out to me Monday is how much worse transition defense is at the high school level. Part of that is because the offensive glass is an important weapon to make up for poor outside shooting, but there were some defensive lapses no NBA or college coach would ever tolerate. One team failed to get back and allowed a transition layup with a minute left in the game. Imagine Stan Van Gundy's reaction to that.
Of course, the contrast also works the other way. My friend Seth hasn't watched much NBA hoops since the Sonics moved and regularly attends high school games. When he watched the Cleveland Cavaliers play last week, he was moved to text a mutual friend of ours about how amazing the level of play was. Mind you, this was a game against the Golden State Warriors. So yeah, the NBA is awesome.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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