TUCSON, Ariz. -- The adrenaline was soaring as I arrived at the 3rd annual Arizona Cactus Classic. It's easily the most enjoyable stop on the spring evaluation tour and even trumps any event in July. The event is scout-friendly with only 32 teams and director Jim Storey did a masterful job of attracting a bevy of talent to the McKale Memorial Center, not to mention a hospitality room that will knock your socks off.
On Sunday, despite being exhausted and bleary-eyed, I was able to conjure up enough energy to watch Houston Hoops defeat Compton Magic 70-67 to capture the championship. Tommy Mason-Griffin, a 5-11 junior out of Houston/ Madison, was the catalyst for a Houston Hoops squad that was blessed with front court depth and excellent shooters.
Mason-Griffin dropped in 14 points and handed out 6 assists, but most importantly his team plays together -- not typical of AAU basketball -- and did an excellent job of neutralizing the inside presence of 6-7 junior Joe Burton (Compton Magic). The Magic were led by a scintillating performance from 6-3 junior Roberto Nelson (Santa Barbara, Calif.), who dropped in 29 points in the loss.
Roberto Nelson (6-3, 180)
Junior, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Nelson missed about half of the regular season due to academics. How that plays out in the future has yet to be determined. What we do know is he is one of the better all-around players in the West. He isn't great at anything, but he does many things well, including competing on a consistent basis. A year ago I saw some Andre Miller (Philadelphia 76ers) in him, although he appears to be a better shooter. He rebounds (not afraid to get his nose dirty), scores from anywhere on the court and has the ability to set up teammates off the bounce. He has a tendency to be selfish at times and streaky with his shot, but overall, his skills, savvy and competitive nature make him one of the more attractive combo-guards in the West.
Tommy Mason-Griffin (5-10, 190)
Mason-Griffin is one of the most improved players I've seen in the past year. His stocky frame doesn't exactly scream upside, but he is one of the strongest and quickest point guards in the country. He uses his body very well to ward off defenders while finishing in the paint. His decision-making has improved as he doesn't hunt for his shot as much as a year ago. His jump shot has a solid release and he gets solid lift on it as well. He is very quick off the bounce and quite the effective passer as well. In addition, he was the catalyst for his team's championship run. He rarely forced the issue and for the most part succeeded when he did.
Abdul Gaddy (6-3, 170)
Junior, Tacoma, Wash./ Bellarmine Prep
With his play here Gaddy should be considered one of the top ten players in the country. His matchup with fellow standout John Wall was one that actually lived up to the hype. Wall is better in the open court because of his spectacular athleticism, but Gaddy is much better in terms of running his team in the half-court set. His savvy is that of an NBA veteran and his poise is amazing as he led his team back from a number of second half deficits. His jump shot is a tad unorthodox but it's good enough where you have to honor it. His mid-range game is coming as well and he possesses an already solid-looking floater he gets off extremely quick. Other than his pin-point passing the most amazing part of his game is his innate ability to change speeds to adjust to the type of defense that is being thrown at him.
Avery Bradley (6-2, 170)
Junior, Tacoma, Wash./Bellarmine Prep
Bradley's stock continues to rise with each event. His jump shot was solid throughout the weekend and his relentless play at both ends is peerless. Defensively, he was a menace as he slides his feet as well as any guard in the country -- just ask standout Jordan Hamilton. Bradley is a tad undersized for the 2 at the next level, but his athleticism, tenacity and ever-improving jump shot should make up for his lack of height.
Kendall Marshall (6-3, 180)
Sophomore, Arlington, Va./Bishop O'Connell
Marshall, who is committed to North Carolina, was spectacular all weekend. He will not wow you with ultra-athleticism, but he makes up for it in savvy and leadership. One respected scout compared him favorably to former Tar Heels standout Derrick Phelps, and I tend to agree. His understanding of the game is impressive considering his youth and he always plays under control. He is one of the better passers in the country, either off the bounce or in transition. His jump shot needs refining as he appears to be quite stiff and mechanical in its release. He is not a burner, but he sets up defenders with his change of speeds and clever handle. Marshall, undoubtedly, is one of the top prospects in the Class of 2010.
Joe Burton (6-7, 250)
Junior, Hemet, Calif./ West Valley
Burton wasn't the most promising post prospect at this loaded event, but he was highly effective in many facets of the game. He utilizes his huge frame very well to ward off taller events, has soft hands and is deceptively quick. His passing ability and overall feel for the game were in full force throughout the tournament as well. In order for him to reach his potential, he needs to lose more weight to gain more bounce. This was evident in the championship game when the taller and more athletic post players of Houston Hoops caused him to struggle scoring in the paint area.
Tyler Honeycutt (6-7, 170)
Junior, Symar, Calif.
Honeycutt is one of the fastest rising prospects in the country. He has always intrigued me since his sophomore season due to his lanky frame and developing perimeter skill set. However, the intrigue has now become a reality -- he'll end up at the high-major level. His frame is a tad troublesome because of narrow shoulders, but his skills are outstanding, especially his uncanny passing ability. In this event he exhibited an improved jump shot, including a couple of step-back 3s that were quite impressive.
John Wall (6-4, 175)
Junior, Raleigh, N.C./Word of God Christian Academy
There isn't a more gifted point guard in the country than Wall. His length, speed, quickness, handle and overall athleticism are peerless, at least on this level. He is a one- man fast break and goes through opposing defenses similar to Memphis standout Derrick Rose. In a classic matchup with fellow superstar Abdul Gaddy (NW Panthers), each accentuated their respective strengths. Wall was unstoppable in the open court and had very little trouble getting to the rim or delivering a spectacular assist. Gaddy, on the other hand, utilized his high basketball IQ, savvy and clever playmaking ability to bring his team back from a 13-point second half deficit to pull out the victory. Hall has the higher upside than Gaddy due to his athletic prowess, but he must become a better jump shooter and develop more savvy because at the next level and beyond defenses will adapt to his up-tempo style.
Mike Moser (6-7, 180)
Junior, Portland/ Grant
The biggest surprise of the event was the emergence of Moser. He has the prototypical wing-type frame with extremely long arms and overall excellent length. He's a tremendous athlete who is very bouncy and quick. His skills are quite good, especially his passing and handle. He has a solid feel for the game as he delivered a number of assists in transition that were quite nifty. His jump shot is a work in progress -- he gets if off quick, but it's erratic. Defensively he is quite versatile (may be able to guard a 2 and a 3) with his ability to slide his feet and quick hands. Overall, he is one of the top five wings in the West.
Thurman Woods (6-5, 190)
Junior, Compton, Calif./Dominguez
Woods continues to recover nicely from his knee injury. His overall game has improved considerably from the regular season as he is beginning to show signs of his bounce coming back. He has always been an excellent rebounder and finisher around the basket, but now he's beginning to hit the 17-foot jump shot with regularity. If Woods continues to develop his game, particularly his ballhandling, he'll be reminiscent of former UCLA standout Charles O'Bannon.
Renardo Sidney (6-9, 260)
Junior, Los Angeles/ Fairfax
No one will ever question Sidney's overall talent and upside, but his effort and desire to be the best can be questioned with no valid argument attached to it. Sidney was having a very productive spring up until this event. He had spurts where he dominated (Boo Williams game), but overall his effort and attitude were troublesome to say the least. He looked out of shape and rarely played hard at either end. Sidney has the makings of the next Chris Webber, but if he can't keep his weight under control we may be looking at the next Oliver Miller (former Arkansas and NBA player).
Terrence Ross (6-5, 180)
Sophomore, Portland, Ore./Jefferson
After this weekend, Ross may be considered the No. 1 2-guard prospect out West in the Class of 2010. He possesses a Jordan-esque frame with long arms and his athleticism is off the charts. He has excellent quickness and he had a number of resounding dunks over the weekend that were quite impressive. His jump shot is tight and he gets great lift on it. His shot is consistent out to the stripe and off the mid-range pull-up as well. If there is an area of his game that may come into question it's whether he can break down defenders off the bounce. Overall, if he continues to develop his skills and feel for the game, he has a chance to be outstanding.
What we learned
• One of the more disappointing prospects of the weekend -- considering his vast reputation -- was 6-8 junior Deshaun Painter (Chatham, Va./Hargrave Military). He has a great frame with long arms and broad shoulders, but he is quite mechanical in the post with very little feel for the game.
• Keala King, a 6-4 sophomore out of Compton/ Dominguez, continues to raise his stock due to his potential of quite possibly playing the 1 someday. His skills are smooth and he's one of the better passers on the West Coast.
• I initially projected 6-7 junior Derrick Williams (La Mirada, Calif.) for the West Coast Conference, but his improved jump shot and overall feel for the game may have him flirting with the Pac-Ten.
• Jordan Hamilton, a 6-7 junior out of Compton/ Dominguez, continues to exhibit why he is one of the most skilled players in the country. He gets most of his notoriety from his perimeter skills, but his desire to hit the boards has made him a better all-around player. However, quicker defenders can be troublesome to him -- Avery Bradley (NW Panthers) comes immediately to mind.
• One of the best kept secrets out west is 6-7 junior Niyi Harrison (San Jose/ Calif./Bellarmine Prep). This Santa Clara commitment has a terrific frame and is one of the better rebounders on the West Coast.
• Cezar Guerrero, a 5-10 freshman out of Bellflower, Calif./ St. John Bosco, is a blur with the ball and has one of the smoothest jump shots out West.
• There weren't too many 2-guards more efficient than 6-3 junior Steven Pledger (Chesapeake, Va./Atlantic Shores). His toughness and scoring ability with a good-looking jump shot were keys in some of Boo Williams' victories.
• Marshaun Powell, a 6-7 junior out of Charlottesville, Va./Miller School, was the most consistent interior performer for Boo Williams at this event. He had a number of impressive finishes attacking the rim in traffic.
• One of the better jump shooters in the event was 6-4 junior Andre Dawkins (Chesapeake, Va./Atlantic Shores). He has a chiseled frame and gets great lift on his shot.
• He may not have a whole lot of bounce, but 6-8 junior Chris Cunningham (Diamond Bar, Calif./Diamond Ranch) utilized his footwork and fundamentals to score over players much more athletic.
• One of the top up-and-coming point guard prospects in the West is 6-2 junior Xavier Thames (Sacramento, Calif./Pleasant Grove).
• Nolan Dennis, a 6-5 wing-type out of Richland Hills, Texas, was one of the bigger disappointments of the event. He has a lengthy frame and solid perimeter skills, but he plays soft at both ends of the floor.
• His skill set is very good and his frame and athleticism are excellent, but 6-9 junior Ryan Kelly (Raleigh, N.C./ Ravenscroft School) needs to develop a better feel for the game as he had a tendency to be selfish and turnover prone.
• John Henson, a 6-10 junior out of Round Rock, Texas, may have the highest ceiling -- due to his length and athleticism -- of anybody at this event, but he is far from a finished product. The North Carolina commit is still figuring out his offensive game and needs to get considerably stronger to play in the ACC during the 2009-2010 season.
• One of the unsung heroes for Houston Hoops was the play of 6-8 junior Augustine Rubit (Houston/ Smiley). His frame is solid with long arms, but whenever Houston needed a bucket inside, he delivered.
• Kawhi Leonard, a 6-5 junior out of Riverside, Calif./Martin Luther King, had a solid tournament as he nailed a number of jump shots from beyond the arc.
• Anthony Marshall, a 6-2 junior out of Las Vegas/Mojave, continued to demonstrate why he is one of the best all-around players in the West. His jump shot needs work, but his handle and feel for the game are excellent, not to mention his defensive prowess.
• Mac Irvin Fire had a plethora of great underclass talent in 6-0 sophomore Reggie Smith (Harvey, Ill./Thornton Township), 6-4 sophomore Crandall Head (Richton Park, Ill./South) and 6-7 freshman Mike Shaw (Chicago/ Whitney Young).
Smith is a quick athlete with a great handle who is known for getting to the rim. He also dished out a few nifty assists this weekend as well, especially in transition. Head has an unbelievable frame and a terrific handle but needs to tighten up his jump shot. Shaw needs to be more effective in the paint area, but he has a sweet shooting stroke out to the stripe and quite the lengthy frame as well.
• Doron Lamb, a 6-3 junior out of New York/Bishop Loughlin, has a smooth looking stroke and a pretty tight handle.
• There aren't too many prospects in the country more talented than 6-7 junior Jamil Wilson (Racine, Wis./ Horlick). He is one of the most versatile players in the country, but his effort level at both ends needs to increase significantly.
• Johnnie Lacy, a 5-10 junior out of Milwaukee/Bay View, plays at a relentless pace and possesses all the skills needed to be a top-notch point guard, but his decision-making needs to tone down for the next level.
• Keith Appling, a 6-1 sophomore out of Detroit/ Pershing, is a quick-on-quick combo-guard who had a terrific weekend. He plays too fast, but you cannot ignore his overall talent.
• Peyton Siva, a 6-0 junior out Seattle/Franklin, is quite the unique talent. His jump shot is prolific and he can get to the basket at will, but can he play the point in college?
• Is there a better freshman in the West than 6-3 Anthony Wroten (Seattle/Garfield)? His jump shot needs more arc, but his perimeter handle, savvy, and quickness are high-level.
• Terrence Jones, a 6-7 sophomore out of Portland/ Jefferson, has a very versatile game for a player his size. He isn't as bouncy as you might think and he needs to improve his jump shot, but his passing ability and overall skills are solid for a player his size.
• Although he isn't the best prospect on Team Jones, 6-5 junior E. J. Singler (South Medford, Ore.), the younger brother of Duke standout Kyle Singler, was one of the better all-around players in the event. He gets great lift on his jump shot and possesses savvy beyond his years.
• Cory Jefferson, a 6-9 junior out of Killeen, Texas, could have easily been one of the top standouts due to his tremendous length and bounce. This Baylor commitment oozes potential and has all the tools to be an All-Big 12 performer someday.
• Brandon Davies, a 6-8 junior out of Provo, Utah, continued his strong play with his performance at this event. He doesn't have great lift and he's a tad mechanical, but he has great hands, solid post skills and can step out and hit the 3-point shot with regularity.
• One of the top sleepers of the event was 6-5 sophomore Kyle Collinsworth (Provo, Utah). He has a solid looking frame for a mid-major 3 and tremendous savvy for someone so young.
• Gerland Judkins, a 6-3 junior was one of Houston/Christian Life, displayed the skills and tenacity to play at the high-major level. His jump shot is more than solid and he possesses that scoring mentality.
• After having back-to-back subpar performances in both Denver and Las Vegas, 6-2 junior Tim Harris (San Jose, Calif./Valley Christian) played much better in Tucson. His jump shot was fluid in the two games I saw as well as his overall decision making.
• One of the major surprises this weekend was the emergence of 6-10 junior Steven Bjornstad (Columbia River, Ore.). He has a great frame, nimble feet, and terrific hands.
• Josh Smith, a 6-9 sophomore out of Kent, Wash./ Kentwood, needs to shed some weight, but he has great feet, soft hands and a pretty solid skill set for a high-major 5-man.
Joel Francisco has been a high school basketball scout for 15 years. He has written for Hoopscoop Magazine and Basketball Times and organized "So-Cal's Finest," his own scouting service.