What I learned from Dallas EYBL

DALLAS – The third session of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) is in the books. Unfortunately, injuries depleted the talent pool at the top as standouts PF Aaron Gordon (San Jose, Calif./Archbishop Mitty), PG Tyus Jones (Apple Valley, Minn./Apple Valley), SG Jabari Bird (Richmond, Calif./Salesian) and SG Keith Frazier (Dallas/Kimball) either played sparingly or didn’t play at all. Recent Alabama commit, big man Jimmie Taylor (Greensboro, Ala./Greensboro) was also not in attendance.

Same old Wiggins

For the second consecutive EYBL session, the best prospect was 2014 small forward Andrew Wiggins (Toronto/Huntington Prep, W.Va.). So far through the spring, he’s turned into the standard by which everyone is measured. Frankly, Wiggins did things last weekend that no one else is capable of doing. His athleticism and creativity at the rim is elite and he’s looking like a pace car that holds a larger-than-expected lead on the pack. When you have the highest ceiling and are among the most productive players, that’s a lethal combination.

Youth movement saves Jackson Tigers

The Jackson Tigers were not having a good run in the EYBL, so they dipped down into the farm system and used a freshman and an eighth-grader to give themselves a better chance of competing. Malik Newman (Jackson, Miss./Callaway) is one of the top members of the 2015 class and played like it over the weekend. Thon Maker (Metairie Park, La./Country Day) is a 7-foot member of the Class of 2016 and the Sudanese Australian is probably the most unique big of his countrymen. He has small-forward skills and center height. Small-forward skills means he plays facing the basket and isn’t anchored in the paint.

Randle imposing his will

An area where Julius Randle (Dallas/Prestonwood) doesn’t need work is with his motor. Randle goes hard. Real hard. His game is predicated on imposing his body and using size and force to get to his destination. He’s the type of guy whose effort is replicated, no matter what.

Jefferson learned from the best

Speaking of going hard, small forward Rondae Jefferson (Chester, Pa./Chester) is as blue collar a player as there is in the Class of 2013. This should come as no surprise considering he plays for Team Final, the travel team that spawned Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Jefferson values winning, works hard for his points and his approach to every game is consistent. Watch him a few times and you see the influence of Gilchrist, with a hint more offense.

Agau on the rise

Akoy Agau (Omaha, Neb./Omaha Central) was a priority player to see during the session. The first evaluation on him yielded the following note on my part: “What’s the attraction?” Intrigued, I doubled back and after a second viewing was relieved and excited. Agau is a high-major power forward. The Sudanese-born 6-foot-9 big sees the floor, has a better feel than most and is crafty enough to get where he wants. He doesn’t bring it strongly enough at the rim, but that’ll come. He’s a top-100 prospect and brings value to a frontcourt. Don’t make the initial mistake I did; watch him a few times.

Long-term players to watch

Damian Jones (Baton Rouge, La./Scotlandville) needs to get stronger and grow into his game. He is a power forward whose natural athletic ability guides him, but he doesn’t have a plan of attack offensively. Playing alongside Randle for the Texas Titans means that he’s a second offensive player. In time, he needs to ramp up the aggressiveness and cultivate his own basketball ego; the tools are there.

Jarquez Smith (Haddock, Ga./First Presbyterian) has superior length but isn’t physically ready. He also envisions playing small forward and that’s not going to happen anytime soon, though he can shoot it.

B.J. Johnson (Ardmore, Pa./Lower Merion) also needs to grow into his body but does enough in flashes to catch your eye.

Players like these don’t typically move the needle, but they’re long-term stocks and wise programs will monitor them closely. Having potential isn’t what’s important; having the ability to maximize potential is the key ingredient, so an analysis of where these guys are in that category will go a long way.

Portis is for real

For all the negatives associated with travel-team ball, one of the enormous advantages are the matchups. Bobby Portis (Little Rock, Ark./Hall) is a top-25 prospect and he should feel good about his game but there remains work to be done. However, he did win a key head-to-head evaluation against up-and-comer Marcus Lee (Antioch, Calif./Deer Valley), who runs like Derrick Williams but needs time in the weight room. Portis was able to hold position and keep Lee off the glass and out of the post. Statistically, neither sets the world on fire, but Portis kept Lee at bay and that hasn't been easily done this spring. Portis has found the proper balance between good shot-making big and conscientious contributor inside.

Shooter alert

Team Takeover didn’t know what it had on its hands when it agreed to take a look at shooting guard Nick Griffin (Rockville, Md./Magruder). Turns out, Griffin is an ace 3-point shooter and a starter. Mid-majors that value guys with grades and a stroke should be all over this kid. Who knew? Prior to the EYBL, he didn’t have much of a reputation.

The secret behind Bell’s blocks

Jordan Bell (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) is listed at 6-foot-8 and he truly believes he’s that tall. If he’s 6-8, then our system of measuring height needs an update. Bell’s every bit of 6-6 and one of the best shot-blockers in the country. Seriously. Bell has fantastic reflexes and instincts as a shot-blocker, though his approach is nontraditional. At 6-6, he’s far from intimidating, which he uses to his advantage. Bell waits in the bushes, then explodes for rejections. If he were 6-8, he’d be more intimidating but maybe less effective.

Anya quietly goes about his business

BeeJay Anya (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha) is in this for the long haul. Last year, he overhauled his body and debuted as a top-20 prospect. This time around on the AAU circuit, he’s without his pal, point guard James Robinson (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha) and Team Takeover is still learning how to play without the Pitt signee. Anya, however, keeps plugging away. He has two things that stick out. For starters, he has extraordinarily long arms. Others are taller but Anya’s length makes his hook shot difficult to block and gives him a bigger presence in the lane. The second is Anya’s demeanor. He’s incredibly balanced mentally and plays with an even-keeled approach.

Thornwell carries United

Everybody wants to be a highly ranked player, but with the ranking comes expectations. Ideally, top-50 players -- especially wings -- can carry the burden of being a No. 1 scoring option or at least capable of assuming great responsibility for his team in some capacity. Sindarius Thornwell (Lancaster, S.C./Lancaster) has his game in a state where he’s that guy. Kennedy Meeks (Charlotte, N.C./United Faith) had to depart early from the event, so Thornwell carried the load. A noted slasher, his jump shot is coming around.