I found a good column about some of these HS kids' performances during the summer season I thought you guys muight like to read.
Seth Davis, SI.com
In an era where young hoopsters are taught big talent should come with a bigger ego, Greg Oden is so effusively humble it's unnerving. A 6-foot-11 prodigy from Indianapolis who just completed his junior year of high school, Oden was one of 30 high schoolers convened in San Diego last week for the International Sports Invitational sponsored by USA Basketball. Oden wasn't the best all-around American at the event (that was 6-4 guard O.J. Mayo, a rising junior from Ohio), but Oden led the tournament in dropped jaws and turned heads while pacing his USA White team to the gold medal. Many of those heads belonged to NBA scouts, who were numerous in San Diego during a time of year when college coaches aren't permitted to watch high schoolers play.
Oden's game isn't complicated. He parks himself near the rim, works to get into good position and converts the vast majority of his shots on dunks and layups -- making 32 of 43 attempts in five games. He says he's been working on his shooting, but he's more inclined to pass to an open teammate than loft a 10-footer. "I've seen Oden play several times now, and he's taken maybe one or two hook shots total," one NBA birddog told me. "He'll have to develop some range, but I love his patience." That patience extends to the defensive end, where Oden is remarkably adept at waiting until the last moment to block a shot and it showed as he averaged three blocks per game on the week.
There is no doubting this: If Oden is in next year's NBA Draft, he will be the first player selected. Yet, Oden still says -- still insists -- he will play in college. He even has a short list of schools (Indiana, Wake Forest, Michigan State and Ohio State) he is considering and will visit in the fall. "When I go to college, I want to study accounting," he told me.
"When?" I replied. "There's no doubt?"
"I will go to college."
It would be great for college basketball if Oden went to school, even if for only one year. But his talent is so prodigious it's hard to contemplate. Then again, if anyone with that kind of ability would do it, it's Oden. He's so modest, he actually comes across as borderline dishonest.
To wit, here's an exchange I had with him Thursday night after he posted 24 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in a 103-83 win over the USA Red team:
Me: "You seem to play with more confidence than you did last summer. Do you feel more confident?" Greg: "You always feel confident when you have great players around you. For me, just being on this team is a confidence booster. If I mess up, I know my teammates have got me."
Me: "But individually, do you feel more confident?" Greg: "I don't know. My teammates help me out so much. It's all them."
Me: "Are you the best player here?" Greg: "No. Far from it."
Me: "Come on." Greg: "No, really. There are a lot of good players here. My whole team is better than me."
Me: "I have a hard time believing you really think that." Greg: "Look at it this way. If a guy can dribble, I say he's better than me. I can't dribble that well. If a guy can shoot, I think he's better than me because I'm not a good shooter. I'm just a big body, so until I can do those things, I won't be the best player."
Me: "Don't all great players have to believe they're the best player on the court?" Greg: "All great players think different. A great player has his own mindset of what he wants to do."
For the record, Oden says he opposes an age minimum for the NBA, but he voices that stance not for himself but for other high school players who want to pursue the pros. The 2006 draft might seem far away for him, but its specter will hang over Oden for an entire year. That will be especially true during the annual frenzy of the July evaluation period, when Oden will play in the Reebok ABCD Camp before hitting the trail to compete in tournaments with his Spiece Indy Heat team.
No doubt Oden will continue to dominate the competition this summer, and wherever he goes he'll be asked the college-or-pro question a zillion times and a jillion different ways. His answer, I'm sure, will always be the same. He will go to college. It's a nice response, but it's not at all convincing.
More Hoop Thoughts from the Festival
Knowing that I'll be seeing lots of tired kids playing sloppy basketball in disorganized settings next month, it was refreshing to attend another first-class event put on by USA Basketball. The organization has taken plenty of hits over the U.S.'s failure to win Olympic gold of late, but it does a great job developing players at the grass-roots level. The media staff, anchored by Craig Miller and Caroline Williams, is a pleasure to deal with.
Here are some thoughts and observations on the week:
• As I mentioned above, Mayo, whom I wrote about for this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, was the best overall player in San Diego. I had seen him play several times before, but Mayo's ability does not always jump out at you, especially during pickup-quality summertime hoops. This, however, was definitely the most impressed I have been. Mayo is trying to become a full-time point guard and ran his team with aplomb, but he is truly an intelligent, explosive scoring machine -- driving aggressively while almost always staying under control. I also found him engaging and patient with the press, which is encouraging. He's not a superfreak athlete like his high-school teammate Bill Walker (who reminds me a lot of Jason Richardson), but Mayo's basketball IQ shined as the week wore on.
Mayo certainly helped himself last week in the eyes of the NBA. One personnel guy who was there told me early in the week he was not on the Mayo bandwagon. As Mayo was in the midst of scoring 31 points in the final, despite having five stitches over his right eye (he had sustained a gash during a nasty collision in the second quarter), I looked over at the guy and asked if he was now a believer. He nodded affirmatively and mouthed the word, "wow." Couldn't have said it better myself.
• Other players who helped themselves in San Diego include:
Paul Harris, a 6-5 bull of a power forward from Niagara Falls. He's not a good enough shooter to take as many 3s as he does, but has a great knack for getting to the rim and scoring over taller players. He said he will soon choose between Pittsburgh and Syracuse, indicating he was leaning toward the 'Cuse but was a little concerned about playing zone all the time. However, as I pointed out to him, if Harris goes to Syracuse, at least he won't have to play against that zone.
Wayne Ellington, a 6-4 guard from Wynnewood, Pa., who has committed to North Carolina. He is a big scoring guard with smooth moves. He shoots a high-arcing jumper that lands softly and should have an immediate impact in Chapel Hill.
Kyle Singler, 6-8 forward from Medford, Ore. Singler was one of four juniors at the Festival, but he was still one of the best players. He's a natural scorer and also a surprisingly deft passer. He reminded me a lot of former Stanford guard Casey Jacobson, though of course Jacobson rarely passed.
Scottie Reynolds, 6-0 guard from Herndon, Va. He's headed for Oklahoma. Reynolds is a heady floor general who can shoot and appears to love playing defense. I liked his competitiveness and intensity -- so too will Kelvin Sampson.
• One player who didn't live up to his rep last week was Lance Thomas, a 6-8 forward from Scotch Plains, N.J., who is highly sought after by several Big East and ACC schools. Thomas has decent size and athleticism, but didn't demonstrate much ability to create his own offense. I saw him play three times at the festival, yet I can't recall him making anything other than a rebound putback or slashing layup.
• Another high-profile player from New Jersey, 6-9 center Derrick Caracter, was not invited to the Festival after displaying a poor attitude at last year's event in Colorado Springs. From what I was told, the folks at USA Basketball often had to roust Caracter from his room to be on time to practices and games, and his coach was so displeased with him he sat him for a game. Like Mayo, Caracter has been on the national radar screen since eighth grade, but he needs to change the way people perceive him.
• No surprise to see sneaker impresario Sonny Vaccaro (now of Reebok, if you're keeping track) stopping by to check out some games. Vaccaro told me that he has never seen high school hoops so loaded with talent. "The next three classes will be the best classes consecutively ever," he said. "Normally, you'll have one great class and then an off year here or there, but never three in a row like this."
• Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers was among the NBA glitterati attending the festival while most of the league executives were working the predraft camp in Chicago. But Rivers wasn't just scouting talent, he was watching his son, Jeremiah, compete for the USA Red team. The younger Rivers acquitted himself well, especially on defense, while averaging 5.3 points points and 3.0 rebounds in five games for USA Red. Doc Rivers tried to keep a low profile, even donning a baseball cap pulled low, but graciously accommodated autograph seekers and a few pesky reporters. "I tell him that he doesn't want to read my scouting report on him," Doc joked of his son. "Actually, I try not to say too much to him. I'd rather let him come to me. I think there's far too much parental advice after games these days."