Thoughts from the McDonald’s All-American Game and GEICO Nationals

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It’s time to start preparing for the next season of college basketball. This past week, there were two of the biggest events in High School basketball: the McDonald’s All-American game and GEICO Nationals. These two events featured many of the best recruits in the country. In this article, I’ll share my initial impressions on how these recruits can impact the college game next season. I will not talk about prospects I haven’t seen at least two games of, so players that participated in the MCDAAG but not in the GEICO Nationals will not be included (there will be some very quick thoughts on them at the end, and I broke this rule with Dereck Lively because I’ve seen more of him, also broke this rule with very interesting players in Kel’el Ware and Anthony Black). I’ll talk about the prospects I’ve watched a little bit more, and the order will be based on the ESPN recruit rankings.

Dereck Lively

7’1” Big | Duke | Ranked #1

Lively is to only one of these prospects I’ve seen in person. I watched him at an event last summer, which was before his rise to the number 1 ranked player. At that event, there were many college coaches in attendance. John Calapari, Penny Hardaway, Dan Hurley, and Jim Larranaga were all in attendance. All of which were laughing every 5 minutes about something Lively had just done. His AAU team, Team Final, featured Lively and Jalen Duren. They switched every ball screen and killed the teams they played. Lively was impressive moving on the perimeter at his size, but he also put a lid on the rim. The unicorn stuff is that he has a really nice-looking shot from distance. He has very translatable mechanics and should be a catch and shoot threat right away. 7’1” players that are capable of protecting the rim, switching out on the perimeter, and shooting are rare.

I don’t mind Lively being ranked at 1, but I would personally have him lower. He is skinny, but doesn’t quite have the length, timing, or awareness of skinny centers such as Chet Holmgren and Evan Mobley. In general, I don’t know if the feel aspect is all the way there. Lively does not impact the game a ton offensively outside of shooting and catching lobs. He doesn’t have much of a handle or post game, and I am unsure of him as a passer. However, Lively is still interesting and should be very impactful for Duke. I just don’t expect him to have the impact of a typical number 1 recruit.

Keyonte George

6’3” Guard | Baylor | Ranked #3

Keyonte George is someone I’ve seen some of before this week because he plays for IMG, but he continued to impress this week. George isn’t a great athlete and doesn’t have great size, but he has a really functional handle and enough wiggle to get to his spots. He’s also a lethal shooter from deep, with real range and a major threat off the catch. He is also a good finisher around the rim. He’s had some absolute scoring explosions, and the heavy spread ball screen offense of Baylor should really complement his game. That program is a perfect fit for him. I’m unsure about the general defense, but he should be solid enough on that end. I don’t think George is a surefire star at the next level, but he will certainly have his moments. Should at least be a good starting caliber guard with a great shot and ability to put the ball on the floor.

Dariq Whitehead

6’6” Wing | Duke | Ranked #4

Dariq Whitehead was one of the players I came away most impressed with after the week. I’ve seen him a little this year and last year because he plays for arguably the best team in the country in Montverde, but the amount of improvement he’s had has been exceptional. He’s a legit threat as a pull-up shooter, and when you combine that with his ability to attack downhill it’s not fun to defend. He made a lot of nice passes when defenses overloaded to his side. He has impressive physical tools. The defense is also very exciting. He often guards some of the opponents’ best players, spending a lot of time on Keyonte George in their game against IMG. Whitehead might be the player that impacts the game the most at the college level next season, and he should be one of the highest drafted players in the class. He’s one of the ones I’m most excited about.

Nick Smith Jr.

6’4” Guard | Arkansas | Ranked #6

I said Whitehead was one of the players I’m most excited about, but Nick Smith Jr. is the player I am the most excited about. If I had my own recruit rankings, Smith would sit comfortably at number 1. Smith is a great athlete, has a really manipulative handle, can really shoot it, defends on the perimeter at a high level, and is a good playmaker. He has it all, and I’m not sure what I’m missing that he isn’t ranked higher. He should fit great into what Eric Musselman does offensively, as he should be a better version of what JD Notae gave them last season. I expect Nick Smith Jr. to be the highest drafted player in this class.

Dillon Mitchell

6’7” Wing | Texas | Ranked #7

Mitchell is easily the best vertical athlete of the group. He has a massive vertical leap, but also has a quick step and is really fast moving up and down the court. He is a very good cutter and slasher, and he can handle the ball some and make some passing reads. He reminds me a lot of Kendall Brown. He is a really versatile defender with some secondary rim protection ability. Throwing him into Chris Bread’s aggressive no-middle system should be a really good fit with his length and versatility. He will be able to switch onto guards with ease for the most part. He has the same weakness as Brown, which is the jumper form the perimeter. I struggle to see how his shot translates next season. Again, the Brown comparison is low-hanging fruit but fits him well. Mitchell might be a little more fluid in the hips and upper body as an athlete, but the cutting isn’t as good as Brown’s. I think he can be a very impactful wing, projecting as more of an off-ball player with really good defensive ability.

Gradey Dick

6’7” Forward | Kansas | Ranked #8

Dick was the Gatorade Player of the Year this season in High School. He was the star player for the number one ranked team in GEICO Nationals, although they lost in their first-round game against a team missing two of their best players. That was a game in which Dick struggled. The selling point for Dick is the shooting ability at his size. He had an incredible shooting season, shooting at an elite level off the catch, dribble, and off screens. He is also adept at attacking closeouts and making plays. He isn’t a great athlete but isn’t necessarily bad in a straight line. Dick should fit really well into the Bill Self concepts offensively, as he does a great job of generating space, movement, and open shots. I see the vision, but I am more concerned about Dick’s translation than most.

Dick has a little bit of a two-motion jumper and doesn’t get a lot of elevation on the shot. With his main skill being shooting, I’m concerned he doesn’t have enough versatility with the shot or the elevation of release quickness to get it off in different situations. I’m also concerned about the self-creation ability. I haven’t watched a good Gradey Dick game yet so I could certainly be wrong, but in my viewings, he has struggled to create space against better athletes. One of my biggest concerns is the defense. I’m not sure if he has the physical tools to compete on that end at his position. Late in his first-round game of the GEICO Nationals, he was taken out of a game for a defense only possession. If that’s happening at the High School level, I’m concerned about what it will look like at the next level. I am unsure of if Dick will live up to his recruit ranking.

Jarace Walker

6’7” Forward | Houston | Ranked #9

Jarace Walker to Houston might be my favorite fit in the class. Walker is a really athletic 4 who has fluid movement skills. He will excel in Houston’s defensive system, featuring a lot of pressure and aggressive ball screen coverages. He will be useful on the back line in help, as well as against a variety of ball handlers at the point of attack. Walker is also an excellent rebounder, which is what Houston is all about. His offensive development has been exciting. He has moments of showing a really nice handle, getting to the rim from the perimeter. He is not a bad perimeter shot maker but is still improving there. He should slide right into Houston’s starting lineup with Fabian White gone.

Jordan Walsh

6’7” Forward | Arkansas | Ranked #10

Walsh had an incredible week at the GEICO Nationals, dominating the first two rounds of the tournament before his team lost in the Championship. Walsh is an athletic forward with really long arms. He has a reported 41.5-inch vertical jump but has some ball handling and playmaking chops as well. The defensive side of the ball will translate immediately, and Walsh has a really high motor. His shooting might be one of the biggest swing skills in the class. Nothing is broken, but it does get a little funky at the top. He’s a good enough at everything else that he has legit top half of the lottery potential if the shot comes along. I like the fit in Eric Musselman’s system as well, with the floor being seemingly high with his ability to do everything but shoot it.

Julian Phillips

6’7” Wing | Unsigned | Ranked #11

Phillips is currently the highest ranked unsigned player, but I’m not sure if he will be the best college player of the unsigned group (we’ll get to that later). Phillips is definitely the most interesting pro prospect of the unsigned players. He was committed to LSU before Will Wade got fired, where he would’ve been a perfect fit. He is an athletic, lanky wing that can shoot the ball and slash to the rim. He fit really well with Link Academy but is generally a little raw as a ball handler and decision maker. I don’t know if he will be a highly impactful on-ball player right away but could be a star if he stays in college for another year or two. I expect him to go to the NBA after one year. Florida State would be an excellent fit for Phillips.

Chris Livingston

6’6” Forward | Kentucky | Ranked #12

Livingston is an elite athlete with some accompanying skills that make him a really intriguing player. He is an excellent defender, and that will be his immediate calling card. He also has a really high motor. Offensively, the shot is solid right now, and he is a monster in transition. The handle is not bad, and he is a decent passer. I wish he was a little bit taller for the role he plays, but that is probably more of a concern for his NBA translation. In college for Kentucky, the defense and transition ability will make him a fan favorite. The other parts of his game are still filling out and I’d be concerned about playing him with too many other non-shooters, so I’m interested to see the Kentucky lineup combinations with Livingston next season.

Kel’el Ware

7’0” Big | Oregon | Ranked #16

Kel’el Ware could easily be the first drafted big man in this class. Despite being ranked 15 spots lower than Dereck Lively, I think if the draft was tomorrow, he’d get picked ahead of him. Ware is in a similar mold, but just a better vertical athlete and I think he has more length and fluidity. He also has really nice touch and mechanics on his jumper. I don’t know exactly what he looks like next season at Oregon because he is a little raw. Probably a good but not great college player that gets looks early in the draft because of his potential.

Anthony Black

6’7” Wing | Arkansas | Ranked #20

Anthony Black has quickly become one of my favorite players over the past week. Black is a 6’7” wing that has spent a lot of time playing point guard. He is a smooth, fluid athlete that handles the ball and makes a ton of fun passing reads. He is one of the better playmakers in the class at 6’7”. He is a crafty finisher around the rim, using both hands and angles well. He has a solid frame and is an above average athlete. He doesn’t have elite burst, but the change of pace is there. He has great touch on floaters. The jumper from 3 is still coming along, but I believe in the eventual development there. I also like him as a perimeter defender. I would have him ranked much higher in this class, and I expect him to fit very nicely in what Musselman does on both ends of the floor. A potential two-man game with him and either Nick Smith Jr. or Jaylin Williams is a very exciting idea.

Malik Reneau

6’8” Forward | Unsigned | Ranked #21

Reneau is the player I alluded to earlier in my Julian Phillips portion. I think Reneau will be the best college player of all the unsigned players in the class. He’s built really well for the college game. He works mainly out of the post but can attack from the elbows. He has excellent touch and a ton of different moves on the perimeter. The footwork for someone of his age is exceptional. He’s probably a slightly above average athlete at best and very undersized but uses timing and footwork really well to compensate. Defensively it’s the same story. He will be held back to some extent because of the tools, but he definitely makes plays on that end with excellent positioning. There is also value here from the perspective of college recruiting. I don’t see how Reneau’s game translates at all to the NBA because the relance on post ups, lack of shooting, lack of size for his position, and lack of athleticism. However, he profiles to be an immediate starter and multi-year weapon for a college basketball program.

Jalen Hood-Schifino

6’5” Guard | Indiana | Ranked #24

Hood-Schifino was the de facto point guard for Montverde, the team which won the GEICO Nationals. Hood-Schifino is another valuable recruit as someone who projects to be a really good college player that might not be quite good enough to go to the NBA after one year. The most appealing part of Hood-Schifino’s game is the ball handling and playmaking ability at his size. He is a legit 6’5” and has a relatively strong frame. He works well as an offensive initiator but can struggle a little with ball pressure. I see him operating more as a secondary handler next to a true primary at Indiana. He has a good change of pace and nice pull-up game in the midrange, showing off real touch. The perimeter shot is still a work in progress, but the touch and mechanics are there. Defensively, he hounds to ball and can switch 1-3. He should fit nicely into Indiana’s high pressure pack line. The lack of real burst, manipulative handle, and shot from deep may hold him back to some extent, but Hood-Schifino should be an impactful starter from day 1. He’s certainly more ready to contribute right away than the previous two high-level guard recruits that Indiana has brought in with Khritian Lander and Tamar Bates.

Mark Mitchell

6’8” Forward | Duke | Ranked #31

Different recruiting sites see Mitchell differently. Mark Mitchell is a big wing with good athleticism and fluidity. He’s a really good slasher and finisher in traffic. He’s also not a bad playmaker for others. He fits in as a really versatile defender, similar to a lot of the other wings in the class. The issue is the jumper. I don’t trust his jump shot translating in year 1. He doesn’t have bad touch, but the mechanics and energy transfer are a little off. I think it’s reasonable to rank him lower than the Chris Livingston, Jordan Walsh, Julian Phillips, and Jarace Walker group. He just lacks the other aspects of his game. He isn’t quite as good on the defensive end and isn’t quite as good as a handler and decision-maker. I expect him to bring energy and activity off the bench for Duke next season, although could end up starting if Trevor Keels leaves for the NBA.

Tre White

6’5” Wing | USC | Ranked #34

I’m not sure if any player improved their stock more during the past week than Tre White. He put on an absolute shot making clinic for Prolific Prep, leading them to their massive first round upset against Sunrise Christian. He has the size of a wing, is an explosive athlete, and is a talented shot maker off the dribble. I’m not exactly certain about the playmaking or defense and would definitely have to watch more to get a better feel for him. Overall, White seems like he could be ranked a little low.

Jett Howard

6’7” Wing | Michigan | Ranked #41

Son of Juwan Howard, Jett is an athletic wing with good size (notice a theme in this class?). He is one of the more interesting NBA prospects of players ranked this low, as he is a fluid athlete with shooting and versatility on both ends of the floor. His lower body rotates a lot on the jumper that’s relatively a set shot, but the results and confidence are there. He can handle the ball as well and had some playmaking flashes for an IMG team that was missing their starting point guard. People seem to think he will be at Michigan for multiple years, but I’m not exactly sure if that will be the case. He should slide in really nicely in Michigan’s system, and I expect him to be a starter relatively early.

Felix Okpara

6’10” Big | Ohio State | Ranked #58

Okpara feels like a multi-year project for Ohio State. He has the physical tools to make an impact down the line, as a long and athletic big. He projects as an eventual high-level rim protector and rim runner. He doesn’t fit the mold of some of the past Ohio State centers, which could be a good thing. He’s much more of a lob threat and true rim protector, which is something Ohio State has really lacked. Defending centers in the post could be a struggle for Okpara right away, so we will see how he develops in that area. I don’t expect Okpara to really contribute next season outside of spot minutes, but I’m interested in the upside.

Devin Ree

6’7” Forward | Unsigned | Ranked #78

Ree is my favorite prospect I’ve seen that’s ranked this low. He was committed to LSU, where he would’ve been a wonderful fit, but he decommitted after Will Wade got fired. Ree is a long forward that can really shoot the ball. He plays mostly in a spot up role at Oak Hill but can certainly attack off the bounce. He also has the length and athleticism to guard multiple positions at an above average level. Ree can be an impactful role player right away next season, which cannot often be said about a player ranked as low as him. There is a ton of value here.

Other Quick Thoughts

-Amari Bailey (UCLA, Ranked #2): Bailey is an athletic guard, with really good physical tools for a 6’4” guard. He is a little lefty dominant and I’m unsure about the jumper, but I haven’t seen enough to have too many thoughts.

-Cason Wallace (Kentucky, Ranked #14): Wallace is someone I really like as an impactful two-way player. He’s one of the best on-ball guard defenders I’ve seen in the class, but he can also handle the ball and hit shots. I think he should contribute right away and could potentially be a lottery pick next year.

-J.J. Starling (Notre Dame, Ranked #17): Starling is a good shot creating guard, that can really get to the rim and has some good touch on floaters. I’m unsure about how often he will get to his spots next season, he is a little similar to Blake Wesley but not nearly as nuclear of an athlete. The shot is definitely further along than Wesley’s.

-Brandon Miller (Alabama, Ranked #18): Miller might have the most upside of the players in this group, but I’m not exactly sure how much of that will be realized next season. He is a big forward that can really handle the ball and make reads as a passer. His shot is not yet consistent, but the touch is there. He could stand to get a little stronger in the core and can be more impactful defensively with his tools. I don’t know exactly how good Miller will be next season, but the upside is there in the Nate Oats system.

-Arterio Morris (Texas, Ranked #22): Morris has very interesting abilities, although did not show himself very well in the MCDAAG. He is a great athlete and has a fantastic shooting stroke, but shots just weren’t falling over the week. I think he can also be an impactful defender. He has a lot of upward mobility to end up far better than the 22nd ranked player in the class (I really don’t think he should be ranked that much lower than Amari Bailey).

-Ernest Udeh (Kansas, Ranked #23): I have seen limited amounts of Udeh, but I don’t exactly see it with him. He feels like a strictly rim running big with limited upside to do anything with the ball or outside of five feet. The physical tools and motor are there. He’s a good defensive player, but I’m not sure if he’s good enough defensively for that to be his core competency. I don’t expect Udeh to start next season.

-Cameron Whitmore (Villanova, Ranked #29): I don’t exactly see how Whitmore can be ranked this low. He’s a ridiculous athlete with fantastic physical tools for a wing. He might be the best athlete in the class outside of Dillon Mitchell. He’s ridiculous off one or two feet as a leaper but can also use that athleticism to slash and finish. Whitmore is also elite defensively. The shot needs improvement, but I think a year or two with Jay Wright at Villanova could turn Whitmore into a lottery pick.

-Judah Mintz (Syracuse, Ranked #35): Mintz has really risen up the recruiting ranks this season with Oak Hill. He is a crafty guard that can handle the ball, shoot off the dribble, and really get to his spots. He has a good build but is not a super explosive athlete. He compensates with his handle, craft, and timing, He still finds a way to put pressure on the rim. I also like Mintz defensively. I feel like he is still a little underrated and could end up as a first-round pick. I’m not exactly sure Syracuse is the right fit though.

-Eric Dailey Jr. (Unsigned, Ranked #37): Dailey is skilled and strong as a forward, but I wish he was just a little bigger or more explosive as an athlete for how he plays. He is 6’7” but isn’t necessarily great from operating out on the perimeter. He is good defensively against his position but switching out onto guards could be a struggle. I think he can be a starter in a year or two, but I am not expecting a ton from Dailey next season.

-Kijani Wright (USC, Ranked #38): I think Wright should be a productive role player next season. He is a great rebounder and has the physical tools to be a good rim runner and defender. I wish he was bigger for his position, but USC has done a god job with his type of player. I’m not sure if he’s a starter next year, as the skill level still need some work.

Top 30 prospects that didn’t play: Kyle Filipowski (Duke, Ranked #5), Adem Bona (UCLA, Ranked #13), Jaden Bradley (Alabama, Ranked #16), M.J. Rice (Kansas, Ranked #19), Skyy Clark (Unsigned, #25), Collin Chandler (BYU, #26), Vincent Iwuchukwu (USC, #27), Dior Johnson (Oregon, #28), Jalen Washington (UNC, #30)

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Bryce Haase

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