LOS ANGELES -- I was a tad skeptical making the trek up the 405 Interstate with long-time friend Frank Burlison as I mulled over suffocating traffic jams and inflated gas prices. However, once the top-flight talent started to make its way toward Bruin Gym, my skepticism would quickly turn to elation.
During the two-hour workout the adidas Nations training staff instructed the players through a various amount of drills and eventually a controlled 30-minute scrimmage that became very captivating. Whether it was a ferocious dunk by ESPN No. 1 player Derrick Favors or a scintillating pass from 2010 point guard extraordinaire Brandon Knight, the scrimmage was definitely worth the drive.
Derrick Favors (6-8, 220)
2009, Atlanta/ South Atlanta
Favors was the most dominant player and most promising prospect during the scrimmage. His length and athleticism are peerless, but his fundamentals (footwork needs polishing) are far from where they need to be. He is limited in the post in terms of skill, but his bounce and quickness are high level. He can step out to hit from about 15-feet, but he converts most of his points within the key area with either a jump hook and/or a thunderous dunk. In addition to his athletic prowess, Favors has outstanding demeanor and rarely changes expression regardless of the situation. He has all the intangibles to be the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2009.
Christian Watford (6-7, 190)
2009, Birmingham, Ala./ Shades Valley
Watford has that quintessential wing-type frame with long arms and overall great length that college coaches covet. He plays hard at both ends of the floor and is very sound at help defense and rebounding despite his wiry frame. His jump shot is decent with range out to the stripe, but he has a slow release (winds up on his shot). He can handle the ball in the open court and is a good passer, but in the scrimmage he had a tendency to hunt for his own shot. But despite him looking for his shot too often, his energy and overall impact on the scrimmage was significant. Watford is one of the top 3-men in the country and should be an integral addition to a high-major program in the coming seasons.
Brandon Knight (6-3, 180)
2010, Fort Lauderdale, Fla./ Pine Crest
Knight was clearly the No. 1 point guard prospect in the scrimmage. He is an imposing lead guard who plays the position with savvy and skill beyond his years. He is a tremendous athlete with a quick burst to the basket that is awe-inspiring. Despite his ability to get to the rim at will, he is very unselfish and handed out some of the most spectacular passes I've seen this spring. He runs the pick-n-roll very well, and his ability to read the defense is very impressive. His jump shot needs polishing because of its flat trajectory, but his mid-range pull-up is pretty solid. Knight has a tremendous upside and his growth in the coming years will be intriguing to watch.
Tristan Thompson (6-8, 200)
2010, Newark, NJ/ St. Benedict's
Thompson -- think former UNC standout Brandon Wright -- oozes upside with his willowy frame and significant bounce. He attacks the glass with a vengeance and he's extremely quick off his feet. He has room to grow in the post due to his raw skills and developing footwork, but his overall desire is evident. He can step out to hit the 15-foot jump shot, but his release point is extremely high -- ala the aforementioned Wright. He has terrific timing on the defensive end and his shot-blocking ability is impressive. He's a terrific rebounder at both ends and fills the lane extremely well in transition. His ballhandling is still in its developmental stages and overall he's years away from being a finished product but his overall athletic prowess cannot be denied.
Tyler Griffey (6-7, 215)
2009, Wildwood, Mo./ Lafayette
I originally had Griffey slated for the surprise list, but as the scrimmage wore on his stock elevated to the standout category. Despite all the talent that was on display in the Bruin Gym, Griffey's savvy and skills at the 4/3 were impressive. His jump shot, with range out to 20-feet, is smooth and he's extremely effective nailing it in transition. In addition to his shooting touch, he has the ability to post up and displayed a nifty jump hook. He's a solid athlete with a very mature game, which should translate very well to Bruce Weber's motion offense at Illinois.
Jason Morris (6-5, 200)
2010, Lakeville, Conn./ The Hotchiss School
Morris possesses the prototypical 2-guard frame and athleticism for the next level. He has a chiseled physique and is also quite bouncy. He is very good at rubbing off of screens and his pull-up jump shot is high level. His release on his shot is very tight and the ball comes off his fingertips very smoothly. He is a prolific scorer and a tremendous finisher in transition -- he had one dunk attempt that was Jordanesque in nature. He still needs to become better with the ball, particularly while using his left hand, and look to set up teammates more, but his future is quite bright.
Erik Murphy (6-9, 215)
2009, Southborough, Mass./ St. Marks
Murphy, who is committed to Florida, was one of the more intriguing prospects I saw over the weekend. During the shooting drills, he was lights out. His stroke is very smooth and he has range out beyond 20-feet. He has a solid-looking frame with fairly long arms and overall ideal length for the 4/3 position. However, he needs to get considerably stronger to be an impact player during the 2009-10 season. During the scrimmage, he got bounced around the paint area and struggled scoring in traffic -- not to mention he shied away from contact on more than one occasion. He does have outstanding face-up 4-man skills, but he needs to become a much more aggressive player on the inside to make his game complete.
Ray McCallum (6-1, 180)
2010, Bloomington, Ind./ North
McCallum is one of the top point guard prospects in the Class of 2010. He has a strong physique and numerous speeds to his game. He is very savvy at changing speeds depending on the situation. He knows when to push it transition and understands when to pull it back to get his team into its offense. He is a true point guard who is an excellent passer both off the bounce and in transition. He always has his head up and his decision-making is impeccable. His jump shot is solid (smooth release) out to the stripe, but he's more comfortable with his midrange pull-up. Overall, McCallum probably had the highest basketball IQ of all the point guards I saw during the scrimmage and it wouldn't surprise me if he is starting for a high-major program during the 2009-10 season.
What we learned
• UCLA picked up a good one in 2009 standout 6-8 Brendan Lane (Rocklin, Calif.). His upside is significant because of his lengthy frame, athleticism and smooth shooting touch out to the stripe. Once he fills out his frame he has the necessary skills to be an all conference performer.
• Wisconsin commitment 6-10 Evan Anderson (Eau Claire, Wis./ North), who is a member of the Class of 2010, displayed the skills and frame reminiscent of former Notre Dame standout Troy Murphy. Anderson is a prototypical Bo Ryan big who has the versatility to step out and nail the 17-foot jump shot with regularity.
• He is the owner of one of the better mid-range pull-up jump shots, but Ohio State commitment 6-2 Trae Golden (Powder Springs, Ga./ McEachern) out of the class of 2010 displayed questionable shot selection, especially considering he is projected as a point guard.
• G.J. Vilarino, a 6-0 point guard out of McKinney, Tex., loves to push it in transition; however, he doesn't possess that coveted second gear to blow by opponents and he was turnover prone as well.
• If you're looking for the next Allen Iverson type, look no further than 2010 prospect 6-0 Joe Jackson (Memphis, Tenn./ White Station). His explosiveness is off the charts and his jump shot is fairly smooth as well.
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.