Scotto: Future Stars Shine Bright in Jordan Brand Classic

Jordan Brand Classic LogoThe Jordan Brand Classic introduced us to the game’s future stars. And from the looks of it, the future is bright.

Top recruits from Duke, Kansas and Kentucky dazzled in the All-American Game and showed why each program has drawn considerable buzz heading into next season.

Seton Hall – which had five recruits named to the Jordan Brand Classic – dominated the Regional Game.

Canada shined in the International Game once again thanks to Jahvon Blair’s MVP performance with the help of his fellow countryman, Anthony McNish.

In addition, Udoka Azubuike – a 14-year-old from Nigeria – looked like a man amongst boys poised to become the next top recruit in a few years.

Duke’s quartet of Grayson Allen, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justice Winslow combined for 59 points, 22 rebounds, 16 assists and 4 steals.

Picture 1The most notable of the group is Okafor, the consensus top overall prospect in the incoming freshman class according to recruiting experts.

Okafor displayed excellent footwork in the post using spin moves to get past defenders near the baseline or drop-steps around the paint. Okafor also displayed a high motor running the floor aggressively in transition on consecutive possessions after hauling in defensive rebounds and finishing with dunks on the offensive end. By the end of the night, Okafor was named MVP for the East scoring 29 points – making 13 of 17 shots in the process – and grabbing nine rebounds in only 23 minutes.

Tyus Jones, the Stockton to Okafor’s Malone, weaved his way through the defense and into the paint with fancy crossovers. His court vision as a floor general was evident as he handed out 12 assists with only two turnovers. Jones and Emmanuel Mudiay, who had the dunk of the night, are considered the top two point guards in this year’s class.

With Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood headed for the NBA Draft, Winslow’s scoring ability will be a welcome addition as evidenced by his 13 points in 16 minutes. As for Allen, he’s expected to spread the floor beyond the arc and take double-teams away from Okafor inside.

“I think we can be very good,” Okafor said. “With me, Tyus, Justice and Grayson, we all want to win. That was all part of the reason we all decided we wanted to go to Duke together because we felt that would give us the better opportunity to win.”

Kentucky also boasts an equally impressive quartet of Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyler Ulis who combined for 46 points, 24 rebounds and 14 assists.

Karl Towns Kentucky Towns, the 2014 Gatorade National Player of the Year and the most versatile big man in the incoming freshman class, had the assist of the night with a ridiculous behind-the-back pass from halfcourt.

The 7-footer also has NBA 3-point shooting ability, a rare quality for most big men his age. When he’s on the block, Towns can post up with his back to the basket and has a hook shot in his arsenal if needed. On defense, Towns uses a 7’4” wingspan and 9’5” standing reach to block shots.

Joining Towns in the frontcourt at Kentucky will be Lyles, a similarly versatile player at power forward. Lyles is known for his face-up game and ability to block shots on defense. Lyles showed his scoring ability with 17 points in only 19 minutes played.

With Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson returning, the additions of Lyles and Towns give Kentucky arguably the most talented – and deepest – frontcourt in college basketball.

Ulis is a true point guard with a high basketball IQ who can attack the defense with a lethal crossover dribble. Ulis didn’t commit a single turnover in the game and handed out nine assists. As for Booker, he’s expected to stretch the floor with his shooting ability and thrive alongside the playmaking ability of Ulis.

“I see a lot of continuity right now,” Towns said. “We’re doing a great job of coming together, we’re gelling. I see how all of our games can complement each other right now and I see that we’re really talented.”

Kelly Oubre and Cliff AlexanderWhile Kansas doesn’t have the quartet of Duke and Kentucky, they have a potent duo in Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre.

Alexander won MVP for the West with 23 points and eight rebounds while looking like a human flyswatter with five blocks on the night that had fans holding onto their popcorn courtside. Alexander has a high motor and is a physically rugged player inside who doesn’t shy away from contact.

Oubre had 24 points. Had Okafor not been on his team, he would have been considered an MVP candidate for the East. Oubre is considered one of the best wing players in the country thanks to his rangy and athletic frame and ability to shoot the 3-pointer efficiently.

Kansas’ recruiting class could be elite if uncommitted star Myles Turner signs.

“(Turner) says he’s just weighing out his options right now,” Alexander said. “Me, Kelly (Oubre) and Joel (Embiid) have been talking to him. Joel talked to him earlier today at the hotel trying to get him to commit. Hopefully, he does that.”

Turner has all the tools you want in a 7-footer. Turner runs the floor consistently, excels facing the basket and in pick-and-rolls or pick-and-pop situations. Furthermore, Turner is an excellent shot blocker from the weak side on defense.

While Kansas is looking to add another top recruit, Seton Hall had four recruits participate in the Regional Game while Isaiah Whitehead sat out the All-American Game due to an injury.

Isaiah WhiteheadSeton Hall’s quartet of Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, Ismael Sanogo and Desi Rodriguez combined for 53 points, 39 rebounds, 10 assists and five blocks.

Whitehead, the jewel of Seton Hall’s recruiting class, joins Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson as heralded recruits from Lincoln High School. Whitehead is a scoring guard who can finish with contact and gets to the foul line frequently with the ability to find the open man while penetrating when he desires.

Carrington, the Regional Game MVP with 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists, will look to ease the scoring load for Whitehead at Seton Hall.

“I think we bring a little spunk,” Carrington said. “We’ve got scorers – me and Whitehead. Desi runs the floor. Ismael and Angel get rebounds and run the floor. It’s going to be interesting to see how practice and the season next year is going to go.”

Delgado had a game-high 17 rebounds while Sanogo hauled in 11 rebounds. Rodriguez finished with 17 points.

“I know what they’re going to get in Khadeen because I’ve coached him for four years and coaching those guys today, and then you add Isaiah (Whitehead) to the mix, they’re going to be a very scary team to deal with going down the road,” coach Ed Gonzalez said. “Once they figure it out, get stronger and learn coach Willard’s system, I think it’s going to be a very good team. One that we’re going to be proud of in the tri-state.”

Jahvon Blair JBCSpeaking of being proud, Canada continues to produce young talent. Jahvon Blair won MVP honors by scoring 16 points, snatching five rebounds and handing out four assists in the International Game.

Many of those assists went to fellow countryman Anthony McNish who finished with 14 points of his own. McNish has good size at 6’3” and 200 pounds with the ability to hit 3-pointers consistently.

Blair and McNish will play for CIA Bounce, one of the top programs in AAU basketball, this summer.

Last, but certainly not least, is Udoka Azubuike who had the play of the game. Azubuike missed a dunk in traffic, but caught the carom in the air and immediately dunked it again.

Azubuike said Florida, FSU, Houston and Kansas have been some of the colleges recruiting him already.

Udoka AzubuikeWhat makes the 14-year-old so special is his size at 6’11” and 260 pounds. He runs the floor like a gazelle and is a powerful load inside looking to wreak havoc on the rim.

“When I was back home I dunk, that’s what they know me for,” Azubuike said. “My coach was telling me to dominate, dunk everything and all that. I think that’s the mentality I’m using over here.”

Azubuike also knows he must polish his offensive game to be a complete offensive player.

“I want to work on my jump shot, my hook shot, make better decisions,” Azubuike said.

“I like to model my game with Hakeem Olajuwon,” Azubuike added. “Recently, I like Dwight Howard. I like the way he plays because he plays the same way I play.”

With all this in mind, it’s safe to say the future of basketball is bright – as evidenced by the Jordan Brand Classic.

Michael Scotto is an NBA columnist for SheridanHoops.com. You can follow him on Twitter

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  1. Jermaine says

    Is this site not covering the playoffs? Why is this the featured story after 3 games were played last night? Nice coverage! I can see why this site is so popular and you have so many people discussing your stories.

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