By Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
After an exciting four days in Portsmouth, Virginia at the Portsmouth Invitational (PIT) this is a recap of the players that impressed, some of the talk that was flying around the gym, and a European angle on the event.
Player Perception vs. Reality
After talking to a lot of European team GM’s, NBA people, and agents, the gap between player perception vs. reality is as wide as ever. Agents often need to either tell a player that he thinks he has a good chance to make the NBA to sign him, when really he’s lying to the player. If an agent is truthful and lets a player know that his dream of playing in the NBA has a very small chance of happening and that he’ll probably have to play overseas often means he won’t be able to sign the player. One agent told me that a player who we both deemed very unlikely to play in the NBA and wasn’t even in the top half of players in Portsmouth, told the agent that, “he didn’t want to hear anything about Europe and is totally focused on trying to make the NBA.”
Now the outlook isn’t the same for every player in Portsmouth but the truth is that there were really only potentially two or three guys that might get drafted from PIT and almost all will have to play internationally next year or at some point in their careers. The perception a player has of trying to make the NBA and the reality that he will most likely be in the D-League or Europe next year just hasn’t hit home yet. Understanding that a lot of player’s dream is to make the NBA and they want to shoot for the highest goal they have is great but knowing where your salary is most likely going to come from is something that is going to have to change eventually. For most of these players the NBA is all they know and Europe is a big mystery. It will take years and sometimes many cuts from teams for players to understand their true value but it was quite interesting to see and hear how far off players are in their own assessment as they start their pro careers.
Another perception vs. reality argument is all of the drop-outs for PIT. 35 seniors declined an invitation to the event, with a bunch being mentioned as early first round candidates which for them makes sense to drop out. But for players like Talib Zanna, Sam Dower Jr., and Xavier Thames, who all dropped out late after initially being on rosters, it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. This is a chance to be seen by multiple members of every NBA team as well as teams from all across Europe. Guys like Zanna and Dower Jr. who are 6’8″/6’9″ and can really only function as centers in Europe, it doesn’t make sense at all. Having a bad PIT really won’t hurt your stock that much and if you can have one good game or even a series of good plays, it can really help you out. For a lot European teams in attendance, this might be their only chance to see a guy in person this year or in future years. These players have a lot of noise in their ears as they start to turn pro but a chance to play in front of this many decision makers is a can’t miss opportunity.
Portsmouth was packed with GM’s and coaches from across Europe. Italy had the largest group of team representatives with close to 20 people from both SerieA and Lega Due Gold. Spain had a couple of GM’s in attendance. Germany had a couple representatives from the bigger clubs. And although not European, there were a bunch of personnel guys from the South Korean TBL League. And there were tons of agents from all over the world. PIT is one of the most interesting events I’ve been to as far as a gathering of European and International clubs but it was surprising there weren’t even more clubs, especially from places like Belgium, France, and Germany where a lot of first year pros from college end up. It’s a little bit of an investment to go to Portsmouth but the ability to start scouting 60 players who will most likely be playing overseas is too big of an opportunity to miss. Whether you can sign them for next season or start a profile on them for future seasons, the information you can find at PIT and the scouting you can do on players makes it a can’t miss event for a European team.
Best Performing Players at PIT
There were a handful of other players that performed well at PIT but these were the ones I noticed and was able to scout most closely.
David Stockton, PG, Gonzaga (Sales System LTD)
Stockton is quite short (5’10” but with a 6’3″ wingspan) but really helped himself at PIT. He made pass after pass that helped easily set up his team to score. Stockton was also very active on defense, even registering three blocks in his first game. But with a slow and not very good jump shot and height issues, Stockton will need the right situation to succeed on the pro level.
Jake Odum, PG, Indiana State (Portsmouth Partnership)
All-around point guard who plays with an exciting flair and can really see passing lanes. At 6’4″ he’s got great size for a point guard. Odum’s shot was a real question coming into PIT but he hit three treys in his first game and while it’s not the quickest release, he looks to have worked on the jumper. But what makes Odum enticing is his ball handling and passing ability. He’s exceptional in transition, often dribbling into little spaces that open up cutting lanes for his teammates. He can pass the ball in a variety of ways and really surprises you with where he can place the ball. If you put shooters and a big man who can finish at the rim around Odum, he’ll have a field day on offense.
Taylor Braun, SG/SF, North Dakota State (Roger Brown’s Restaurant)
One of my more anticipated players coming into last week, Braun had an average PIT but still stands out because of his unique skill set. At 6’6″ Braun can handle the ball or play off of it. He has a decent jump shot, smart passing instincts, and has a knack for finding driving lanes. Braun wasn’t very aggressive at PIT but should be able to fit into a lot of pro situations because of his versatility.
Markel Starks, PG/SG, Georgetown (Sales System LTD)
Stark looked like a different player at PIT, free from the restrictive Georgetown system and able to play point guard close to full time. He was really potent on the dribble drive and was aggressive creating offense. Starks’ ability to get in the lane and either score or pass made him dangerous on offense. More seasoning running a team fulltime and we’ll see Starks really grow
Travis Bader, SG/SF, Oakland (K&D Rounds Landscaping)
The best shooter not only in Portsmouth but possibly in all of college basketball. The NCAA’s all-time leader in three’s made came out hot at PIT. At 6’5″ he has enough length to get his shot off over most guards and once he gets going, he’s hard to stop. At one point in his first game Bader’s team was down double digits for most of the second half. Bader then hit three treys in a row, including a 4-point play on the last one to tie the game. If you’re looking for someone to run off screens, able to get a one or two dribble pull-up jumper, and that’s about it, Bader’s your man.
Jordair Jett, PG, St. Louis (Roger Brown’s Restaurant)
Jett will never show up on NBA radars because he doesn’t have the athleticism or speed for Adam Silver’s league. But Jett’s passes are right on the money, putting you in a great position to score. He’s a point guard who’s willing to give the ball up, a problem for a lot of the main ball handlers at PIT. He doesn’t have much of a three point shot but has an improving pull-up mid-range jumper. But where Jett will make his money is on defense where he was his conference’s defensive player of the year the last three seasons. With a really thick frame and the willingness to play very physically, Jett corrals most potential driving or passing lanes.
Davion Berry, SG, Weber State (Mike Duman Auto Sales)
Berry was a favorite of mine heading into PIT and he didn’t disappoint. Playing with great intensity, Berry was really deadly in transition. He can facilitate the fast break with his creative driving and passing ability but is also great running the wings. Often seen streaking to the basket to make for an easy passing target or running to the corner to get set up for a three point shot.
Berry is a combo guard who you’d probably put a more traditional point guard next to for steady ball handling reasons. He’s a playmaker who’s almost always in attack mode and can sometimes force the action. But with the great pace he plays at if Berry can get a little stronger and learn to play at different speeds he could be a very exciting pro player.
Josh Huestis, F, Stanford (Sales System LTD)
Huestis is a really great slashing wing. He has ideal wing size and strength at 6’7″ and 213 lbs with a 7’0″ wingspan. The first focus for Huestis is on defense where he can guard the two, three, or even the four at times. He can lock you down on the perimeter but also is solid at reading passing lanes and is possibly the best non-post playing shot blocker among college seniors.
Offensively Huestis is still growing. Great in transition and finishing but still needs to work on creating with the ball and shooting. His shot looks solid form wise, he just seemingly needs to get more shots up and get a little more lift under him. Overall Huestis was one of the most intriguing players in Portsmouth. An NBA Draft prospect and my favorite player at PIT.
Niels Giffey, F, UConn (Sales System LTD)
It almost seemed unfair at times to have Giffey and Huestis on the same team. Two wings who work extremely hard running along side each other and basically out hustling everyone in their path. Giffey’s energy level was the highest of anyone in Portsmouth and was a breath of fresh air when he got on the court after a first day of sloppy play by other teams. One play in the first game sort of personified this energy when Giffey batted away a shot at the rim and then sprinted ahead of everyone to finish an alley-oop on the other end.
Giffey can also defend the two, three, and possibly the four. He is a very reliable shooter and most importantly as we saw at UConn, has the ability to make shots in the clutch. He’s a smart defender who plays to take away your strengths. Although he can’t really create much of anything off the dribble, he’s a guy most any European team would want to have because of his shooting, energy, and ability to defend multiple positions.
Jamil Wilson, F, Marquette (Mike Dunman Auto Sales)
Wilson is a case of what I want a player to be compared to what he actually is. At 6’6″/6’7″ with a 7’0″ wingspan and a 217 lb frame, Wilson has a great physical frame. He’s super strong and looks like a guy who can play bigger. I want him to be a Euro 3/4 who could be a mis-match at both spots, being either quicker or stronger than the player guarding him. But Wilson seems determined to start all of his offense from the perimeter and usually ends up falling in love with his jump shot. And in Europe a versatile 3/4 often has to be one of the smartest players on the court, having to operate from all different spots on offense and defense. Physically I’d take Wilson on my team in a second but mentality wise it seems he’s a long way off on finding his role on the court.
Fuquan Edwin, SG/SF, Seton Hall (Roger Brown’s Restaurant)
Edwin is one of handful of NBA Draft candidates at PIT because of his defensive ability (2.7 steals per game during the season), athletic ability, and shooting. Edwin came out warm in his first game, knocking down three second half three’s. But while he does a good job of turning you over on defense, he’s inconsistent on offense. Edwin can’t do a lot with the ball, creating for himself or others, and when his shot is off he really needs to hustle to get points on the fast break. But as an off the ball player, Edwin has real potential. Just don’t ask him to be a main shot creator.
Javon McCrea, PF/C, Buffalo (Norfolk Sports Club)
McCrea was one of the most anticipated watches at PIT with his great production in college and super muscular frame that could really work as a Euro center. He’s kind of stuck between a PF and C because he’s 6’6″/6’7″ and played a lot of PF in Portsmouth. McCrea is really strong and with his active hands, he can really be a pest on defense. He can reach in for quick steals if you bring the ball low in the post or rise up to block your shot. What makes his defense potentially special is that he can guard the perimeter too, especially valuable in pick and roll heavy Europe.
Offensively McCrea isn’t quite sure how to play right now. He tried showing off a mid-range jump shot, one that he hit earlier in the week and then faded. He didn’t attack the basket or rim run hard off picks or cuts like he should have. While I really want to imagine him as a Kyle Hines type who can defend all over the court on defense and then can mix it up in the paint on offense while also being able to take much taller player off the bounce, McCrea needs to work harder to put all that together. Hard work and defense are the main characteristics of an undersized center and mentally, McCrea isn’t there yet.
Javonte Reddic, C, VCU (Norfolk Sports Club)
Reddic has great physical tools, plays around the basket, and is in great shape after playing in Shaka Smart’s HAVOC system all year. So as far as getting up and down the floor and changing ends, Reddic is one of the best. He has very little post up game but showed a nice jump hook when given the opportunity. Unfortunately Reddic injured his knee in the first game and didn’t return to action.
Jerrelle Benimon, PF, Towson (Portsmouth Sports Club)
Benimon won his conference’s player of the year twice and is used to having the ball in his hands. He’s a point forward with the body of a power forward. His versatility is his best weapon. Benimon can snag a rebound, bring the ball up, and make a great post entry pass. At 6’8″ and 240 lbs, Benimon can also go to the block and post up, where he has solid footwork. He lacks hops and can have trouble with taller, more athletic bigs but he’s so crafty that Benimon can usually out maneuver you. Offensively you can stick him in so many places and he’s strong enough to provide solid rebounding. Defensively he should be able to defend the post but it will be interesting to see if he can guard a European power forward who can also play all over the court.
Richard Solomon, C, California (K&D Rounds Landscaping)
Solomon was one of biggest guys at PIT in terms of height + wingspan. He has the ability to really protect the rim and finish on the other end but the question remains, what else can he do? Solomon had some nice rim runs off of ball screens but they were few and far between. He didn’t show much skill offensively either. But at that size (6’11”), Solomon might even get NBA looks with his potential. Solomon needs to become a much harder worker and seemed like a player that gets inside his own head too much as he seemed to have an overly emotional reaction to most plays.
Ronald Roberts Jr., PF/C, St. Joseph’s (K&D Rounds Landscaping/Norfolk Sports Club)
Roberts is a freak athlete who has a crazy vertical leap. He actually switched teams during the week because of the Reddic injury and it was the best thing for him. In his last two games with Norfolk Sports Club Roberts looked like a different player. Roberts went from a guy that could really only sky up for rebounds and finish around the rim to someone who could make a move with the ball in the post and looked much more focused on defense. Roberts has the athletic profile to be an impact player but needs to learn a role and really commit defensively to succeed.
Akil Mitchell, C, Virginia (Portsmouth Partnership)
A defensive stalwart, Mitchell does everything you want on that end. He plays the middle often, showing out on drives, playing help side when needed, and bodying up when a post player decides to challenge him. He’s not the shot swatting type but more the rock solid, can’t move me out of the paint if you wanted to type player.
Shayne Whittington, PF/C, Western Michigan (Portsmouth Partnership)
Whittington was the biggest surprise of the tournament as he turned into a stretch big in Portsmouth. Whittington went 6 for 33 from deep in college but here at Portsmouth he was 10 for 22. So over the course of three games he hit more three’s than he did all year. And the shot looked good too with a really quick release. Whittington has good size and strength (6’11”, 245 lbs) and turned himself into a really intriguing pro player. There are very few stretch bigs developed in college and Whittington is yet another example of a player who just needed the opportunity to succeed.
Davante Gardner, C, Marquette (Sales System LTD)
The MVP of PIT and member of the Championship team. He wouldn’t have been my pick for MVP but Gardner was near un-guardable once he got position in the post. Using all of his 290 pound frame, Gardner while large, also has a Sofo like nimbleness to him in the post. He can finish on both sides of the rim, can finish easily through contact, and is just a really large man to defend. Basically a total liability on defense and a bad rebounder, Gardner is in there to score. The 2-time Big East 6th man of the year can really only be at his best for three or four minute stretches in the current shape he is in. But if you need post scoring and have other capable defenders and rebounders to put around him he can be a real tough player to guard in the paint. .