AAU Nationals tip off

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The July evaluation period may be winding down, but you wouldn't know it from the competitive games at the AAU National Championships held at Disney's Wide World of Sports. As teams continue pool play, here is a look at some of the players who have impressed.

Standout players

Jarquez Smith (Haddock, Ga./First Presbyterian)
2013, PF, 6-foot-9, 225 pounds

He is a physical specimen who has the perfect lean and long basketball build. Smith is showing skills that we had not seen before. He is a solid ball handler for a post player and a streaky shooter with range to 20 feet. He has a good-looking stroke and is confident in his shot. Smith's skill, size and potential make him a big-time prospect in the 2013 class, but now he must turn into a top-notch player by putting his talent to work and being ultra-productive on the court.

Marc Loving (Toledo, Ohio/St. John's)
2013, SF, 6-8, 200 pounds
College: Ohio State

Loving had a breakout game versus Memphis YOMCA in the first round of the U16 national playoffs, in which he had 37 points, scoring in every way possible. He has always been talented, but he is now beginning to be assertive and productive. Loving has the size and skill to be a top 20 player in the 2013 class. If his play versus Memphis YOMCA was any indication, a star is in the making.

Aaron Harrison (Houston/Travis)
2013, SG, 6-5, 210 pounds

Harrison and his twin brother Andrew Harrison are considered two of the top 16 players in the 2013 class. Andrew is widely considered better, but the gap is closing. Aaron is probably the better pure scorer and he is a prototypical shooting guard with good size, solid skills and a knack for putting the ball in the basket. He is a slick slasher who can finish in the lane, find an open teammate or shoot with range to 22 feet.

Tyler Cavanaugh (Dewitt, N.Y./Jamesville-DeWitt)
2012, PF, 6-8, 185 pounds

The City Rocks didn't bring C DaJuan Coleman (Dewitt, N.Y./Jamesville DeWitt) or SG Ricardo Ledo (Providence, R.I./Notre Dame Prep) to the AAU Nationals but so far, Cavanaugh hasn't fretted. This is a great chance to evaluate him not as a piece of the Rocks puzzle but as the team's leading man, and he's answered the challenge. The stretch 4-man rebounds well and his play at the AAU Nationals could sway bigger schools to offer him; mid-majors already covet him badly.

Tyrone Haughton (Miami/Dr. Krop)
2012, C, 6-9, 195 pounds

As the summer winds down, programs begin figuring out who their top-tier targets are. We anticipate Haughton being a second-tier option for a litany of high-major schools. He's a bit of a long-term endeavor, but his length, athleticism and ability to run the floor and block shots will be coveted. Offensively, he's a stick-back artist, but there's too much natural athletic ability for high-major programs to ignore.

Kasey Hill (Eustis, Fla./Montverde)
2013, PG, 6-1, 175 pounds

Once again, Hill demonstrated his innate ability to break down defenses and score at will off the bounce. He is as good as there is on the circuit changing speeds and direction with the ball. Defenders have little success keeping him out of the paint. Hill led his Florida Rams Black team to the adidas Invitational championship, and don't be surprised if they make a deep run in the AAU Nationals.

Surprise players

Jared Nickens (Elizabeth, N.J./St. Patrick)
2013, SG, 6-4, 175 pounds

Don't count out St. Pat's just yet. Nickens is a skilled wing who is currently a sleeper in the 2013 class. He is a very thin, long and solid ball handler who can play either guard spot. He is a good shooter, especially with his feet set, and is an able driver who needs to learn to finish through contact, which will come once he adds strength and girth to his thin frame. Nickens is an up-and-comer with loads of potential.

Alex Hamilton (Chipley, Fla./Chipley)
2012, SF, 6-3, 170 pounds

The lefty combo guard has seen his stock fluctuate since the spring but has played consistently well at the AAU Nationals. Hamilton can score off the dribble with floaters and pull-ups or beat his defender with range on his jump shot. He is a true combo guard who could play some PG if needed but is much more effective scoring the ball. SEC schools are inquiring while strong mid-major schools are working him hard for an early commitment.

Eye on underclassmen

Chris Walker (Bonifay, Fla./Holmes County)
2013, PF, 6-10, 210 pounds

The Florida Rams have been waiting for the type of performance he delivered on Thursday. In the second half of his first game of the day, Walker erupted. He dunked everything within reach and unleashed his athletic body and length on a crew of overmatched defenders. When his motor is running, he's a load to deal with.

Sam Singer (Miami/Ransom Everglades)
2013, SG, 6-3, 185 pounds

The Gold Coast combo guard attends a high-level academic school, and he's just beginning to receive notice for his hoops ability. He's 6-3 and owns very good offensive awareness. His size and skill package allow him to easily slide back and forth between guard positions. This is a guy we could be hearing a lot about this upcoming high school season.

Trayvon Reed (Montgomery, Ala./Carver)
2014, C, 6-11, 185 pounds

Reed grabs your attention the moment he steps on the floor. His length and athleticism for a young post give him the potential to be an outstanding prospect. He is physically weak and raw offensively but should develop into one of the premiere players in 2014 class.


Shaquille Calhoun (Rome, Ga./Model) is a hot target of mid-major schools at the AAU Nationals. Tennessee Tech and Chattanooga want him; Ole Miss, Murray State, South Carolina and Tennessee State are on his list. BCS schools have also been dipping into his games to take a peek.

Montarius Hall (Charlotte, N.C./Oak Hill) said he plans to attend Oak Hill in the fall. Hall's a good-looking, much-improved mid-major post prospect with face-up ability to midrange. Charlotte has offered, others are looking.

Danrad Knowles (Houston/Home School) is due to crack our post-summer ESPNU 100 and do so in a big way. The Texan draws comparisons on the court to NC State forward C.J. Leslie. He's a live body with a burgeoning jumper and plays at the rim.

• How about a sleeper? Taurean Waller-Prince (San Antonio/Warren) is a power forward with a jump shot. San Antonio seems to kick out sleeper power forwards each year at this event and mid-majors would be wise to lay eyes on him.

Gary Akbar (Dayton, Ohio/Dunbar) is a skilled, undersized power forward who is a great ball handler for his position. He is a mismatch who is too strong for small forwards and too strong for power forwards. He reminds us a lot of Antonio Gates when he was in college, and Akbar is becoming a priority for mid-majors in the Midwest.

• Keon Johnson (Mansfield, Ohio) is a mighty mite of a guard. Though he is small, his heart and toughness are huge. He has no fear as he attacks the basket and is a good defender who frustrates opponents with his quickness and tenacity. Johnson is an able shooter with range to 20 feet who causes havoc on the court and will end up on a Division I roster somewhere before it is all said and done.

Torian Graham (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God Christian) showed why he is going to be an asset to NC State in the scoring department. The guard with good size was draining 3-pointers with elevation in the evening session.

Mike LaPlante, a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Recruiting, has over 20 years of coaching and recruiting experience. Paul Biancardi, Dave Telep and John Stovall contributed to this piece.