LAS VEGAS -- 2008 could be referred to as the "year of the guard." That theme certainly continued at the Reebok Summer Championships. In the elite eight portion of the tournament alone, there was only one highly regarded big -- the multiskilled 6-10 senior Ryan Kelly (Raleigh, NC/Ravenscroft) -- and he is a finesse forward.
In an era in which back-to-the-basket centers are a rare commodity, guard play was the talk of the tournament. Leading the way was 6-3 dynamo John Wall (Raleigh, NC/Word of God). Wall was selected the tournaments Most Outstanding Player -- in spite of his team losing to Team Breakdown in the championship 81-64.
Team Breakdown, based out of Florida, was led by their dynamic duo of 6-1 senior Kenny Boynton (Pompano, Fla./American Heritage) and 6-3 junior Brandon Knight (Coral Springs, Fla./Pinecrest). Although Boynton gets most of the publicity, Knight was the catalyst for their championship run. Swinging between the 1 and the 2, Knight slashed his way to the basket and swished a number of jump shots. Boynton, on the other hand, was no slouch; he had a few scoring flurries that were peerless.
John Wall (6-3, 180)
Senior, Raleigh, NC/Word of God
Wall is the fastest point guard in high school basketball. Whether it's in transition or the half-court set -- his burst is tremendous. He has a knack for getting to the rim and possesses unbelievable body control. Wall excels in an up-tempo style, in which he can utilize his speed and strength to convert on a regular basis. In addition to his physical attributes, he has an uncanny ability to find teammates. Although he has more tools than any other point guard in the country, he still has some areas that need to be addressed.
First, his jump shot needs to improve considerably. His midrange pull-up is solid, but once he steps out beyond 10-feet he has a tendency to shoot a set shot and his release point is inconsistent. Second, he needs to develop some pace to his game -- at the next level he won't be able to get to the basket on every possession.
Avery Bradley (6-1, 170)
Senior, Tacoma, Wash./Bellarmine Prep
Bradley is making a case for the No. 1 player in the West and top-10 overall in the country. What separates him from most prospects around the country is his effort at both ends of the court. He is arguably the best defensive 2-guard in the country; he slides his feet as well as anybody and he's extremely bouncy. He's also a great athlete -- he caught a few lobs on which his elbows were above the rim. In addition to his bouncy nature, he has that second gear that college coaches covet. His perimeter skills, specifically his jump shot, have improved tremendously since 2007. He can separate himself from defenders at will due to his quickness. He also has the ability to stop on a dime and rise for the midrange jump shot. He gets great lift on his shot and his release is excellent.
Michael Snaer (6-5, 190)
Senior, Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde
Snaer had a stellar tournament and solidified himself amongst the upper half of the ESPN 100 rankings. Snaer is a tenacious competitor who has improved immensely since his junior campaign. His jump shot is fluid out to 23-feet and his release point is much more consistent from a year ago. He is best in a catch-n-shoot situation because his feet are set and he's on balance, but he's also very good in one or two dribble pull-up situations. He is also very good at getting to the basket with a quick first step and he is not afraid to initiate contact on the finish. Although his forte is scoring, he is one of the better passing 2s in the country, especially in a drive and kick situation. In addition to his blossoming game on offense, he is one of the best defenders. Overall, the only drawback to his game is his propensity to get caught up in one-on-one battles with the opponent's best player -- resulting in unnecessary turnovers and bad shot selection.
Maurice Creek (6-5, 180)
Senior, Temple Hills, Md./Hargrave Military
Creek is a archetypical 2 for the motion offense. He has a lanky frame with long arms and he's a solid athlete. He doesn't possess great quickness and/or bounce, but he has tremendous savvy. He never forces the action and allows the game to come to him which is an aberration for players his age. He is very good at finding holes in the defense by moving without the ball. He is adept at coming off of screens for his pull-up and he would be fantastic in a pick-n-pop situation. His jump shot is fluid with a nice arc on it and it lands softly every time. Defensively, he is a solid defender and plays the lanes well, but his lateral quickness is just average. Creek is never going to be a player who will be able to get his own shot at any time, but he should be a solid Ray Allen-type for the next level.
John Henson (6-10, 190)
Senior, Austin, Texas/ Roundrock
Henson is the most intriguing prospect in the Class of 2009. He really doesn't have a position at this stage; he is too skinny to bang inside, but at his size he won't be able to guard a 3-man. However, despite the debate of what position he projects at, his overall talent is enormous. He is a great athlete who runs as well as any big in the country and he has superior quickness for a player his size. His length and quick feet allow him to be a menace around the basket and he has a great pair of hands. At this stage, Henson projects as a finesse 4. He can step outside and hit the 17-foot shot with regularity and/or utilize his length in the interior. He has a remarkable jump hook that is impossible to block and he has an uncanny ability to find open teammates with his passing ability. Henson utilizes his length on the defensive end and blocks a number of shots due to his timing and wingspan. Whether Henson gains the needed strength to bang on the inside remains to be seen. However, he has a unique blend of skills and athleticism that doesn't come around very often.
Kenny Boynton (6-2, 180)
Senior, Pompano, Fla./American Heritage
When describing Boynton the word that immediately comes to mind is relentless. Boynton is an aberration of the modern-day basketball player; these days, style seems to take precedence over production. Boynton is a tremendous scorer, especially in transition -- he attacks the basket with reckless abandon. He is a tremendous athlete and has a body that is chiseled out of steel, but he does have some areas of his game that make me question his upside. First, he is a streaky shooter with an erratic release -- he shoots his jumper differently every time -- and his shot selection is troublesome. He can go on scoring runs that are awe inspiring, but overall he can be inconsistent. In addition, he's going to have to develop a midrange game because he isn't going to be able to get to the basket as often as he does on this level.
Brandon Knight (6-3, 170)
Junior, Coral Springs, Fla./Pinecrest
Knight is a member of the ESPN Super 60 and he certainly didn't disappointment. He is a high-major point guard prospect who can score in a variety of ways. He has quickness in the open court; he can either convert with an acrobatic finish or a pull-up jump shot. His jump shot has improved from a year ago, but he can still continue to smooth it out; his shot is very flat and needs more arc on it for a softer landing.
Although Knight has become a high-level scorer, I would prefer he returned to his point guard roots. Unfortunately, for Team Breakdown, Knight has turned into a dominant scorer rather than a top-notch point guard. He has a great feel for the game and is a gifted passer, especially in transition. In addition to his skill and feel, Knight has great size for the 1 position, which makes him that much more attractive to college recruiters and beyond.
Ryan Kelly (6-9, 200)
Senior, Raleigh, NC/Ravenscroft
Kelly has become a hot commodity since the spring and that comes as no surprise. He has extraordinary skills at the 4 and looks to be a serious candidate for the McDonald's All-American Game. Kelly has a thin and lanky frame, and he's blessed with solid quickness and athleticism. He runs well in transition and can finish with either a pull-up or a dunk. His face-up game is tight; he has the ability to knock down the 3-point shot or take defenders off the bounce. His shot is smooth and he has a great release, especially when he gets balanced looks. He utilizes the pump fake very well to get his opponents off balance and his jab-step is quite good. He can dribble with the best of them at his size and he has agility when operating around the basket.
Offensively, he is quite good, but defensively he is far from a finished product. Despite his size he is a weak rebounder, especially on the defensive end and he does put forth the necessary effort when defending in the post. He has the athleticism to get into the lanes and the bounce to be an outstanding shot-blocker, but at this stage he is just average. One of the primary reasons is his lack of strength, which in due time will come.
Richard Howell (6-7, 220)
Senior, Marrietta, Ga./Wheeler
Howell had an outstanding week in Las Vegas. He has a Division I frame that is well-built with solid length. Howell has superior quickness and strength that he utilizes when operating in the paint area. He is a quick leaper who can finish with contact. He has nice spin moves in the key and nice passing ability out of the post. What makes him more difficult to defend is his ability to face-up and either shoot the midrange jump shot or take his opponents off the bounce. He does have a tendency to overhandle it at times which makes him turnover prone, but that's a habit that can be rectified with coaching. Defensively, he has the strength and bounce to defend in the post and the lateral quickness to check versatile 4.
Marquez Cothron (6-8, 190)
Junior, Huntsville, Ala./Patterson School
Cothron opened many eyes with his performance at the Reebok Championships. He has a prototypical frame at the 4 and the skills to boot. He has an incredible wingspan and very broad shoulders. He is an effortless runner in transition and has the ability to come to a jump stop and finish with a short bank shot or go in for the strong finish. He is a quick leaper who hovers around the rim for put-backs and dunks. His back-to-the-basket game is raw and needs a lot of polishing and repetition, but his face-up skills are quite good. Despite being very long he has a quick first step to the basket as well as a soft touch out to the stripe. In addition, he is a nifty passer from the post which demonstrates his savvy for the game. Once he gets stronger and continues to develop the weak aspects of his game, he is a certain high-major player.
Erick Green Jr. (6-3, 170)
Senior, Winchester, Va./Paul VI Catholic
Green was one of the better combo-guards I saw all week and fits the mold of what Seth Greenberg has been recruiting at Virginia Tech. Green has quickness and speed, and his wiry frame suggests a ton of upside. He is persistent in the open court and has the wheels and bounce to weave his way through traffic. He had many acrobatic finishes on which he used his length and superior athleticism. Like John Wall, Green plays extremely fast and he needs to develop a steadier pace to his game. He has the savvy to play the 1 at the next level as demonstrated by the number of clever assists he handed out over the weekend. His jump shot is very good, especially in the midrange level. He gets solid pop from his legs and his shot has a nice arc on it. Defensively, he has the potential to be a devastating defender at the next level due to his enormous wingspan and superior lateral quickness.
• Abdul Gaddy, the 6-3 point guard extraordinaire out of Tacoma, Wash./Bellarmine Prep, was rather ordinary for his standards. He has the best feel for the game out of all the top point guards in the country, but his lack of elite athleticism was evident when quick guards got into him.
• He needs to hone his perimeter skills, particularly his jump shot, but 6-3 sophomore Quddus Bello (Greensboro, N.C./Westchester Court) had some of the most spectacular finishes of the event.
• Hollis Thompson, the 6-7 wing out of Los Angeles/Loyola, improved as the week progressed. He did a much better job taking it to the basket and finishing while taking contact.
• Wisconsin got a good one in 6-3 senior Diamond Taylor (Bolingbrook, Ill.). Taylor is a well-rounded 2 with a solid stroke as well as a nice feel for the game. In addition, he is a tough competitor and a solid defender.
• He doesn't have much lift, but 6-5 senior Devaguhan Thornton (Aurora, Colo./Denver East) is a blue-collar 5-man for the low Division 1 level.
• The most explosive scorer of the event was 5-10 senior Ray Penn (Houston, Texas/ Fort Bend Travis). He is a volume shooter with a soft touch, but his decision-making is troublesome at times.
• Anthony Brown, a 6-5 senior out of Spokane, Wash./Shadle Park, has a solid 3-point stroke, but he has limited bounce and struggles handling the ball and scoring in traffic.
• Mfon Udofia, a 6-3 senior out of Stone Mountain, Ga./Miller Grove, is a steady point guard who has improved his savvy from a year ago. He used to hunt for his shot far too often, but now he looks to set up his teammates both in transition and the half-court set -- he is especially good in a pick-n-roll situation.
• Pe'Shon Howard, a 6-2 junior out of Mouth of Wilson, Va./Oak Hill Academy, didn't put up big numbers, but he played an integral part of Team Breakdown's championship run. He's a 2 who has a lot of moxie and skill as well. He's very physical finishing in the paint and his jump shot is Division 1 ready.
• Houston Elite received outstanding performances from Division 1 recruits 6-6 senior Jonnie Richardson (Missouri City, Texas/Hightower) and lightening quick 6-1 senior Tim Frazier (Houston, Texas/Strake Jesuit).
• I-Can All Stars didn't make a strong tournament run, but they did get a strong performance by rugged 6-5 senior Tony Freeland (Los Angeles/Fremont). His perimeter handle is developing and he attacks the rim like no other.
Joel Francisco is a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Scouts Inc. He has been a high school basketball scout for 15 years, has written for Hoopscoop magazine and Basketball Times and organized "So-Cal's Finest," his own scouting service.