MERRILLVILLE, Ind.- Action picked up again early Saturday morning as the Spring Showcase raged on at the Merrillville Fieldhouse about 30 miles to the east of Chicago. There was no shortage of local talent on hand as guys like Gary Harris, Kendrick Nunn and Steve Taylor did their thing.
Saturday notables at the Spring Showdown
Kendrick Nunn, SG, Meanstreets 16's- Their games aren't exactly the same, but it's hard to watch the 6-foot-2 sophomore and not be reminded of former Marquette star Jerel McNeal at the same day. Though not quite as intense as McNeal was at that age, the sophomore still gets after it and is a threat on each end. The southpaw is a fine spot-up jump shooter to 21 feet and a big-time transition finisher. Nunn listed Memphis, Marquette, Missouri and Oregon State as some who have made an early impression with him.
Gary Harris, SG, D3 Pride- By now, most Rivals.com readers are pretty well versed in what the 6-foot-4 shooting guard from Fishers (Ind.) Hamilton Southeastern brings to the table. Getting stronger each time we see him, he's a driving athlete who mixes in enough jumpers to be dangerous. As usual, Harris was at his best finishing with monster slams in transition. He rattled of a list that included Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Louisville, Tennessee and Notre Dame among others.
Ka'Darryl Bell, PG, Full Package Elite- Here's a guy who looks like he wants to take his game to the next level and help solidify what is a pretty shaky class of point guards nationally. A 6-foot-1 playmaker, he has speed but understands how to harness it and is a very good decision maker on drives to the hoop. While he can score a bit, Bell is definitely more of a "pure" point guard. Iowa and Ohio have stepped up with early offers while Butler, Florida State, Nebraska, Drake and Illinois have all showed attention.
Jerron Wilbut, SG, Illinois Wolves- One of the weekend's most pleasant surprises, the 6-foot-2 junior is a nice shooting guard prospect. A capable ball handler who uses a crisp crossover and excellent first step to create separation, he's a bouncy finisher near the rim. More than just a slasher, Wilbut is also a dangerous three point shooter. Wilbut lists Nebraska, Illinois, Bradley, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois and Nevada as having shown early attention.
Jahlil Okafor, C, Mac Irvin Fire 16's- Only a freshman, the 6-foot-8 Okafor is one of the more highly touted prospects to emerge out of Chicago in the last six or seven years. Watch him play and it's easy to see why. Young bigs are usually too reliant on their athleticism, but Okafor plays a back to the basket game and does so skillfully. His hands are sure, he's much more nimble and quick with his feet than you would guess and he's got excellent touch. Certainly a potential five-star prospect.
Drake Harris, SG, Meanstreets 15's- This spring has been a good one fore class of 2014 wings and Harris is just the latest in what is becoming an increasingly long line of freshman wings that look like future high major players. A fine shooter who is already nearing 6-foot-4, Harris also owns a high basketball IQ, good athleticism and a nice feel for the game.
Jaylon Tate, PG, Meanstreets 16's- A young point with good size, Tate just has a feel for playing the game at any speed. Uptempo or halfcourt style, his play stays steady and he makes plays for others. A fine athlete who can score a bit off the dribble, it's not a surprise to see him generating high major attention from the likes of Xavier, Tennessee, Illinois, Marquette and Ohio State.
Kendall Stephens, SG, Illinois Wolves 16's- It would have been nice to see him perform in a little more competitive situation, but the 6-foot-4 Purdue commitment looked pretty good during a blowout win and a squad scrimmage when an opponent failed to show. A long and slender wing, Stephens has a gorgeous jumper and plays with good pace and feel for the game.
Jalen James, PG, Illinois Wolves 16's- Word is starting to spread that the 6-foot-2 point guard from Chicago (Ill.) Hope is a player and he backed it up. A nice sized point with speed and athleticism, he's quick off the bounce, has a sense for where his teammates are and scores enough to demand respect. He has the look of a potential high major so it's not a surprise that he's already being evaluated by Illinois, Michigan, DePaul, Missouri, Tennessee, Dayton and several others.
Steve Taylor, PF, Mac Irvin Fire- The 6-foot-7 stretch four man picked up right where he left off in Hampton at EYBL #1. That means he was raining down a downpour of deep, contested, jumpers and finishing in transition. According to Taylor the likes of Memphis, Xavier, Iowa, Pitt, Ohio, Ohio State, DePaul, New Mexico and others were in to see him during the past few weeks.
Deonte Burton, SF, TP Elite- Playing during the winter at loaded Brewster Prep, the 6-foot-4 sophomore had to pick his spots. In a more featured role, Burton proved that he's still a capable playmaker. Built like a college tight end or speed rusher, he's an absolute bull off the dribble who finishes with violent dunks at the rim. As he continues to fill out, it's going to be important for him to stay flexible and keep his lateral movement up to snuff.
Fred Van Vleet, PG, Pryme Tyme Players- It's going to be a surprise if Midwestern mid-majors don't get into a major fight over the services of the 5-foot-11 lead guard. No, he's not the quickest kid and won't be the kind of guy mixtape filmers make a priority. But, people who like to see winners play the point guard position with poise, confidence and solid decision making will enjoy watching Van Vleet.
More Saturday notes and observations
While Gary Harris gets much of the attention for the D3 Pride, he's also lucky enough to have a pair of solid point guards running the show. Juniors Tyler Corley and Jacobby Bledsoe both do a solid job of keeping everybody happy and providing different things. Of the two 5-foot-10 PG's, Corley is a bit more physical, more of a driver and plays with a bit more emotion and edge. Bledsoe, on the other hand, is a bit more calculated, surveys defenses and opens the floor up with his ability to knock home some long range jumpers. Corley listed Western Michigan, Drake, Oakland and Ball State as showing the most attention. The younger brother of Illinois shooting guard Brandon Paul, 2012's Darius Paul plays a much different game than his older brother. Already 6-foot-7 and nearing 6-foot-8, Paul is a thin insider with some length and athleticism who looks to finish in transition and can score out to 15 feet. According to Paul, he's hearing from Iowa, Ball State, Northwestern, Nebraska and Marquette among others. A teammate of Paul and Ka'Darryl Bell on Full Package Elite, thin 6-foot-1 shooting guard Mike LaTulip is among the premier jump shooters in Midwest. If he catches in rhythm, defenses best prepare to inbound the ball because odds are it's going in.
Purdue commitment Jay Simpson has definitely added some bulk since we last saw him. The 6-foot-7 power forward is also pretty springy around the rim where he explodes off the floor to finish and gather rebounds. His touch looks to be improving and he can face up and make some short to medium range jumpers. Next, he needs to improve his footwork in one on one, low-post scoring situations. Years ago, Shannon Brown was one of the most enjoyable players to watch on the grassroots circuit. Not just because of his talent, but because of his refreshing approach to the game and because he seemed to have so much fun on the floor. Now, Brown's younger brother Sterling Brown is starting to make some noise of his own. A lengthy, 6-foot-3, maybe 6-foot-4, athlete, Brown is a hard playing kid who makes plays in transition. The 2013 wing also shows aptitude for playing on the defensive side of the ball and is well on his way to earning himself a division one scholarship. Dominique Matthews is going to be a fun one to watch as he develops at Chicago (Ill.) St. Rita's. The 6-foot-1 freshman isn't really a point and he isn't really a two. Instead, he's an instinctive ball player with a nose for making plays in traffic on each end of the floor.
The Meanstreets 16's are as fun a team as there is to watch on the circuit. Tai Streets' guys play together and they are loaded with talent. In addition to the previously mentioned Nunn and Tate, wing Alvin Ellis and power forward Alex Foster play big roles in their success. The 6-foot-4 Ellis is a transition finisher who does all of the little things while the 6-foot-7 Foster does a ton of work on the glass and the lefty is an improving finisher in traffic. We will be real interested to see where Illinois Wolves 16's big man Andrew Zelis is a year from now. The sophomore looks to be a legit 6-foot-10, has good hands and soft touch around the rim. Michigan, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, Brown, Northwestern, Dartmouth and Illinois have all expressed varying degrees of early interest. . Quad City Run-N-Jump came dangerously close to pulling off the upset of the tournament when they took the mighty Mac Irvin Fire into overtime and much of it was because of the stellar play of 6-foot-6 combo forward Zach Burnham. Athletic and tough, he was very quick to the boards, finished in transition and scored on aggressive drives to the rim. He will earn admirers with his approach to the game.