COLORADO SPRINGS -- On Saturday, USA Basketball kicked off its 2012 Fall minicamp at the Olympic training facility. Around 45 of the nation's top players from the classes of 2015 and 2016 are in town trying to get a foot in the door for future USA Basketball national teams. The level of play was high, and post players such as Ivan Rabb, Daniel Giddens, Diamond Stone and Harry Giles were among the standouts through the first two workout sessions.
Conditioning key for Rabb and Giddens
It's not as if either Ivan Rabb or Daniel Giddens need any extra advantages over their competition. The sophomore big men are already two of the toughest kids on the block because of their games. On Saturday, their conditioning gave them an extra advantage.
While many of their fellow campers were bending over and tugging on the front of their shorts gasping for air, Rabb and Giddens both looked to be having little trouble adjusting to the pace of play or altitude of the Rocky Mountains.
A 6-foot-8 power forward from Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd, Rabb is a springy athlete who runs the floor, has the ability to create one-on-one, and rebounds all over the floor. He also seems to have an endless supply of energy.
"I feel like I was well prepared," Rabb said of his adjustment to the altitude. "A lot of my teammates were saying their chests hurt. I did a lot of running before I got here and I felt pretty good."
Hailing from Atlanta (Ga.) Wheeler, the 6-foot-10 Giddens comes from the other side of the country and plays a different game. More of a center, Giddens is an imposing shot blocker and a physical rebounder, but like Rabb he can really run the floor.
"I run two miles a day, so I feel like I'm in great shape," Giddens told Rivals.com. "That first game my lungs were burning a bit but after that I was alright."
Neither has gotten very far into the process of making a decision, and there is no rush. Rabb said he hadn't even thought about it much, while Giddens seemed more concerned with focusing on this weekend.
"I didn't know that there were so many good big men in my class," said Giddens. "The competition here is great. I really like it here and am trying to make the most of it.
Matthews emerging in the Windy City
Last season as a freshman at Chicago (Ill.) St. Rita's and then during the summer, Charles Matthews showed plenty of flashes of brilliance.
Saturday, the 6-foot-4 lead guard really looked like he has taken a step forward with his game. Known as a scorer, Matthews proved to be plenty deadly driving to the rim and hitting pull-up jumpers. However, it was his ability to distribute and play the point at a high level that really stood out.
"I would say that I'm more of a combo guard," said Matthews. "Because I've played up when I'm younger, they've had me score where I'm comfortable. Now, my coach is putting me more at the point and really letting me handle the ball."
So far so good as the sophomore looks very comfortable with the ball in his hands while he runs a team. Not only is he skilled, but Matthews is also a high-level athlete with a tremendous first step and plenty of burst getting to the rim.
He's only a freshman, but Joshua Langford from Alabama is already a physically dominant player. The 6-foot-4 combo guard is an explosive athlete who attacks the rim, is a surprisingly good passer and competes hard. Per Langford and his father, he already has offers from Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State. The safe bet is that he gets more before it's all said and done
Impressive freshman Harry Giles isn't just one of the best 2016 prospects in town, he's probably one of the top five or six prospects in camp. The power forward checks in at around 6-foot-8, and the North Carolina native has game. He runs the floor, is quick, has great hands and is already pretty skilled with good overall footwork. All of the local high majors have been in to see him, and he's likely to be a national level recruit.
When he's off, freshman wing Amir Coffey is really off with his jumper. But he's not a bad shooter at all. He just lacks strength, and that's understandable for a freshman. Instead, look at his 6-foot-4 size, length, natural feel for making plays when he gets the ball. When you consider his upside, he looks to be a nice player. From the same Minnesota Pump 'N Run program as Coffey, 2015 big man Henry Ellenson is at least a high-end four-star prospect and may have five-star potential. At about 6-foot-8, he's a big and strong kid who doesn't get moved off of his spot. But Ellenson's real strength is his overall skill level and near-lethal jump shooting in pick-and-pop situations.
When you see Malik Monk walk into the gym, he doesn't immediately draw your attention. The freshman from Arkansas is lean, baby-faced and doesn't make a lot of noise. But when he touches the ball, Monk is as explosive as any player in Colorado Springs. On top of elite level athleticism, the young shooting guard has a good pull-up jumper, great first step and a solid feel for the game. Not surprisingly, Mike Anderson and Arkansas have been all over the younger brother of former Arkansas football and basketball player Marcus Monk.
Another of the 2016 players in attendance, wing V.J. King has as big a reputation as any freshman in the country. Turns out that the rep is very well earned for King, and he was making plays all day. Nobody in the gym is a more consistent two dribble pull-up jump shooter, and he's got great size and feel for passing. He sure has the look of a potential five-star prospect.
In the point guard contingent, few had a better day than freshman Derryck Thornton. The 6-foot-1 floor general from California got plenty of exposure playing up over the summer but backed things up on Saturday. He's probably the single most determined on-the-ball defender, makes plays happen for teammates off the dribble and, in a gym full of combo types, looked like a true playmaker.
Down in Texas, Elijah Thomas is one of the more talked about sophomores. After intriguing as a freshman, Thomas has really started to take his game to a new level. He's changing his body, runs the floor hard and was really looking to play physical around the rim. Thomas also shows good signs of early skill and touch to 12 feet.
There are so many good players in Colorado Springs that it's impossible to write about everybody. But we'll finish Saturday coverage with quick notes on combo-guard Perry Dozier, guard Tyler Dorsey and big man Diamond Stone. Dozier is a smooth jump shooter who plays at a steady pace and measures defenders. Dorsey is a scoring guard who can go out to the wing and really make things happen because of his off-the-dribble scoring and willingness to share the ball. Finally, Stone is a likely five-star and a highly skilled post player. He's cut out of the mold of a Kevin Love type and understands how to use his body.