Prospects make their cases at elite camps

An inside look at the collection of talent and high risers at the Nike Basketball Academy and adidas Nations event in the Los Angeles area.

BACK-TO-BACK CAMPS
NBA executives and players from around he globe were front-and-center for a unique confluence of sneaker-powered events, with Nike and adidas holding their annual camps in consecutive weeks in Southern California.

First up was the Nike Basketball Academy, which was held at a private airport hangar. It’s a beautifully constructed facility that was essentially built from scratch for this event. Twenty collegiate and 60 high school prospects conducted drills in the afternoon and played five-on-five games in the evening, often with NBA players (and Nike endorsers) such as Aaron Gordon, Stanley Johnson, Devin Booker, Isaiah Thomas, Julius Randle, Tyler Ulis, Jordan Clarkson and Jordan McRae.

In addition to the on-court action, the players were invited to participate in cross-fit-style and yoga workouts on the beach in the morning, take part in film studies and Q&A sessions with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and receive on-court instruction from former NBA players such as Rasheed Wallace, Brian Shaw and Gary Payton. Chris Bosh, Jahlil Okafor, Rudy Gay, Eric Bledsoe, Tristan Thompson and D’Angelo Russell were also roaming around the star-studded event.

Some of the NBA executives and scouts in attendance expressed a degree of disappointment at the level of collegiate prospects Nike brought in compared to last year. That was perhaps inevitable because five of the top 12 players who were selected in the 2016 NBA draft participated in last year’s event.

Miles Bridges at the 2016 McDonald's All-American Game. (Getty)
Miles Bridges at the 2016 McDonald’s All-American Game. (Getty)

Moving on up
This year’s group at the Nike Basketball Academy featured a couple of sleeper first-round prospects in Xavier’s Edmond Sumner, Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame, Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, SMU’s Shake Milton, Iowa State’s Monte Morris, Arizona’s Allonzo Trier, and Oregon’s intriguing big men duo of Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell. Valparaiso’s Alec Peters, Baylor’s Johnathan Motley, Villanova’s Josh Hart and Illinois’ Malcolm Hill showed they deserve strong consideration as draft picks as well.

On the flip side, the high school players assembled featured most of the top prospects in the rising senior class, even if the level of play wasn’t great due to a lack of structure.

A different feel
With just one day off in between camps, many NBA scouts elected to stay in Los Angeles and head south to the Long Beach area for adidas Nations, an annual four-day event that is celebrating its 10th year in existence. Having attended every iteration of the event since the first one in New Orleans in 2007, the expectations were clear and the high level of organization and the quality of talent assembled remained impressive.

While the Nike Academy revolves heavily around giving potential future endorsers a chance to interact with an army of current and former NBA players, adidas Nations has more of a “camp feel,” so it’s far more beneficial to NBA scouts.

Experienced NBA coaches, honed through years of practice at the adidas EuroCamp in Treviso, Italy, run an efficient program, leading to a structured and organized setting. The event includes far friendlier security, superior media access, box scores after every game, and the ability to scout international prospects from Canada, Asia, Latin America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The adidas Nations has been the gold standard for many years, and this year the high school (with 93 players) and college rosters (with 31 players) were arguably the strongest in the history of the event. The biggest challenge is figuring out which of the six courts to watch at any given moment.

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N.C. State’s Dennis Smith
It was good to see the incoming N.C. State freshman point guard have a dominant showing at adidas Nations, confirming his status as one of the elite prospects in the 2017 draft class. Smith tore his ACL at this same event a year ago, but looked as quick and explosive as he ever. He told The Vertical he’s “110 percent” and “stronger physically and mentally” than he ever was before the injury.

Adidas performers
Highly touted potential one-and-done prospects Frank Jackson (Duke) and Rawle Alkins (Arizona) also made appearances, but perhaps the player that helped himself the most was Kansas junior Devonte’ Graham, who made a strong case to be considered a first-round pick.

Graham’s teammates at Kansas, Carlton Bragg and Frank Mason, also had very impressive moments, indicating that the Jayhawks could have the pieces in place for a Final Four run in 2017. They will be joined by potential top-five pick Josh Jackson, 19-year-old junior wing Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (fresh off a good summer with the Ukrainian national team) and underrated defensive big man Landen Lucas.

Lesser-heralded prospects such as Nevada’s Cam Oliver, Butler’s Kelan Martin, Texas A&M’s D.J. Hogg and Admon Gilder, and St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams each had strong moments as well.

The only mild disappointment was Indiana wing and potential first-round pick O.G. Anunoby, who was unable to participate in five-on-five games because of a groin injury. Hoosiers teammate Thomas Bryant, also a potential first-rounder, competed and impressed with his non-stop motor and team spirit.

Blossomgame was the only college player to participate in both camps. He won over quite a few fans in NBA circles with the amount of energy he expended at both ends of the floor. He also showcased his rapidly improving skills as a ball-handler and perimeter shooter. Blossomgame bet on himself by pulling his name out of the 2016 draft despite being likely to hear his name called. Despite the fact that he’ll turn 23 in September, Blossomgame looks to have made a good decision and boosted his stock.

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