NEW YORK -- As practices got under way for the 2008 Jordan Brand Classic, both teams went through the feeling-out process, even though many of these players have played with or against each other in the McDonald's All-American Game or on the AAU circuit.
After stretching, both teams broke down into 4-on-4 full-court scrimmaging, which produced the most action from the first day of workouts. The blue team, with a full complement of players available, produced the most spirited action. Blue has three players who are heading to UCLA (Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee and Drew Gordon). All three excelled on the defensive end during practice -- not surprising considering that UCLA coach Ben Howland loves to get after it on the defensive end.
Both Samardo Samuels and Al-Farouq Aminu missed the first workout for the white team, while Delvon Roe, recuperating from a knee injury, did not practice (though he did attend the workout). The following players managed to distinguish themselves in the first practice for both teams:
Wesley Witherspoon, 6-8 small forward
Witherspoon impressed with his defensive abilities, using his length and lateral quickness to harass opposing ballhandlers. He has the size and quickness to legitimately guard three positions effectively (point guard, shooting guard and small forward). Witherspoon has electric athleticism and can really finish in the open court due to his leaping ability. He shot well from the perimeter, which provides him with good versatility offensively and complements his good passing skills. He lists Colorado, Florida, Memphis, Texas and Virginia as his schools of interest at this point, with a decision coming on May 1.
Greg Monroe, 6-10 power forward
Monroe displayed his vast array of offensive skills throughout the practice. Matching up with B.J. Mullens, he took Mullens away from the basket and scored off the dribble or by shooting the jumper from 15 feet. He also scored in the paint, showing dazzling footwork and counter moves in the post; he also contested shots and played with intensity on the defensive end. He did not exert this amount of effort during the McDonald's workouts and said fatigue played a role in his subpar performance in Milwaukee. If he decides to play up to his immense ability, Monroe could become the best prospect in the class.
Jrue Holiday, 6-3 combo-guard
Holiday again demonstrated his intense will to compete, especially on the defensive end; he caused all sorts of problems for Brandon Jennings with his size, lateral quickness and strength. Though his facial expression rarely changed, Holiday has the heart of a lion, and it showed most on his defensive effort. He also got to the basket well, though in this workout he missed shots at the rim that he customarily makes, using both his right and left hands effectively. Holiday still has some work to do on his jump shot, but given his work ethic, he will improve his jumper for college. Holiday also passed the ball well and played unselfish basketball in this practice.
B.J. Mullens, 7-0 center
College: Ohio State
Mullens did not have the same success that Monroe had in this practice, but he did exhibit his offensive skills and overall athleticism during the workout. He got out in transition with guards who would feed him the ball, and he finished on the break. He showed his ability to step away from the basket and hit jumpers in the 15- to 17-foot range. He also scored in the post some but did not match the intensity Monroe brought to the first practice and had problems finishing around the rim when Monroe became more physical with him.
William Buford, 6-5 shooting guard
College: Ohio State
Buford shot the ball very well from the perimeter in the first practice. He has the perfect mentality for the shooting guard spot, constantly looking to get his reliable jump shot off, but not hunting down shots. Rarely does a player with his scoring abilities exercise good shot selection, and it seems he rarely takes a bad shot. He has a smooth release and little wasted motion in the shot. When Buford worked off the dribble, he did not pound the ball incessantly on the floor; instead, he efficiently took two or three dribbles and pulled up over defenders.
Drew Gordon, 6-9 power forward
Gordon looked almost fully healed from the foot injury that plagued him during the season, easily getting off the floor in a hurry for offensive rebounds and putbacks. He displayed good energy and quickness, especially on post defense. Gordon attacked the offensive boards relentlessly and passed the ball very well for a player his size.
Tony Woods, 6-10 center
College: Wake Forest
Woods has quick feet for a big guy and showed his emerging post game. He has the quickness and agility to perform spin moves in the paint with ease. Once he got to the rim, he did have some problems converting the basket, which he should easily do. Woods has the size and strength to go through defenders and finish despite the best efforts of most opposing big men.
Devin Ebanks, 6-8 small forward
Ebanks has the ability to break down defenders and get to the basket, which he should do more often as opposed to relying on his jump shot. He has the length and leaping ability to finish at the rim and draw fouls. Ebanks needs to increase his intensity and effort on the defensive end and use his physical gifts to make an impact on defense.
Willie Warren, 6-4 combo-guard
Warren has great athleticism, quickness and leaping ability, which he demonstrated in various instances when he looked to penetrate to the rim. With his developed body, hang time and body control, he easily takes on contact at the rim and finishes successfully.
Tyreke Evans, 6-5 shooting guard
Evans surprisingly looked to get others involved as opposed to hunting down shots. He passed the ball very well in the 4-on-4 half-court sets and looked content creating for his teammates. We will see if this continues once the lights come on at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, but he has good vision and passing ability when he decides to use it. Evans also got to the basket well, using his quick first step and leaping ability to finish at the rim.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.