Before the plethora of spring "travel ball" tournaments unfold, there was a consensus as to the five best players in the Class of 2013.
The five players I refer to are Julius Randle (6-foot-8, Plano, Texas, Prestonwood Christian/Texas Titans "travel team"); Jabari Parker (6-7, Chicago, Simeon/Mac Irvin Fire); Andrew and Aaron Harrison (Richmond, Texas, Travis/Houston Defenders); and Aaron Gordon (6-7, San Jose, Calif., Mitty/Oakland Soldiers).
After watching Randle for four days during the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League in Hayward, Calif., I came away with a strong hunch that he's the No. 1 prospect -- on both the college and NBA levels -- in the Class of 2013.
He dominated every game the Texas Titans played, from both the perimeter, and the mid- and low-post areas -- including the one against the Mac Irvin Fire, led by Parker.
Evaluating high school hoopsters while trying to project how good they can be on the next levels of competition (college and NBA, of course) is something that falls well short of being an exact science. But the left-handed Randle has the best combination of size, strength and skill of anyone I watched in May and June at a variety of "national" travel ball tournaments or camps.
Parker -- easily the most touted prospect, from a media perspective, on the spring and summer circuit -- still has plenty of support for being the No. 1 prospect. And I can understand why many will feel that way. I sense that he could comfortably play any of five positions, and I never come away from watching him feeling that he has given anything less than every bit of effort he can muster. The latter is something a lot rarer -- even among the best prospects -- than you might imagine.
My most recent in-person viewing of Andrew Harrison came during the NBA Players Association Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, Va. I can't be as definitive in declaring him the "best point guard prospect in the class" as I can be in putting the "best overall prospect" tag on Randle.
Harrison's twin, Aaron, is heading for the same college program -- Kentucky and Maryland seem to be the hot names -- and he is considered among the best "shooting guard-types" in the class. But a sore knee sidelined him for the last few days of the NBA camp and he had struggled with his jumper beforehand.
A foot injury has kept Gordon on the sidelines since April, although it is expected that he could return to action for the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas (July 6-9). I've seen enough of Gordon since he was an eighth grader, however, to believe that he is easily on the same tier of Randle and Parker as prospects. He was nothing short of phenomenal when I watched him with his Mitty squad in the post-Christmas tournament at Torrey Pines High in San Diego, and then led Mitty to a second consecutive California State Division II crown in March.
*Florida's fearsome threesome: The Florida Rams will be among the most watched clubs during adidas-sponsored tournaments in Indianapolis (adidas Invitational, July 11-15) and Las Vegas (adidas Super 64, July 25-29) next month. And a big reason will be the presence of Kasey Hill (6-2, Montverde, Fla., Academy), Chris Walker (6-10, Bonifax, Fla., Holmes County) and Brannen Greene (6-6, Juliette, Ga, Mary Persons).
Hill, who is committed to the University of Florida, is one of the players who will offer rebuttal on-court testimony to those who suggest that Andrew Harrison is the best of the best when it comes to point guards in this class.
I'd like to get a dollar bill for every time Hill gets the ball to Walker on a penetration and kick or lob for a dunk in July. That would make for one bulging wallet and sore hip.
Whether he's listed as a "guard" or as a "forward" on the University of Kansas roster during his 2013-14 freshman season, this can be certain about Greene, who committed to the Jayhawks early last season: He's going to be on the floor a whole lot for Coach Bill Self.
The Atlanta Celtics will be on the same adidas travel ball schedule as the Florida club.They will be led, in part, by a future Georgia Tech player in Solomon Poole (6-1, Jacksonville, Fla., Parker), and the son of a former Georgia Tech standout, Hunter Price (6-6, Orlando, Fla., First Academy).
Poole, who is transitioning into a full-time point guard, is a top-flight man-to-man defender and is tight with a player already in the Georgia Tech program -- his brother Stacey Poole, the University of Kentucky transfer.
Price has a jump shot that looks a lot like the one that his dad -- Mark Price -- used to launch at Georgia Tech and in the NBA.
*Keep your eyes pealed: If you're on the adidas trail in July, be sure to pencil in a couple of up-close looks at the Garner-Elite Coleman (N.C.) squad. It's the spring and summer launchpad to 2013 McDonald's All-American honors for a future North Carolina Tar Heel, Isaiah Hicks (6-8, Oxford, N.C.), and a soon-to-be Louisville Cardinal in Anton Gill (6-3, Chatham, Va, Hargrave Military).
Hicks is a bit wiry (200 pounds-ish or so) to keep from getting a lot of ACC bumps and bruises inside right now, but he's got a year to pound the protein shakes.
And Gill -- a potential member of what could be a pretty fair "all left-handed All-American" class -- is one of the more productive scorers, in transition or half-court settings, in the class.
*Forward thinking: Here are four forwards, who check in at about 6-8 apiece, who impressed me in May and June with their ability to flourish both in the post with a defender on the hip, or on the perimeter, while bending knees in triple threat position:
They come by way of Louisiana (Jarell Martin of Baton Rouge Prep and the New Orleans Elite), New Jersey (Jermaine Lawrence of Sparta Pope John XXIII and the New Rens), Connecticut (Kuran Iverson of West Hartford Northwest Catholic and Long Island Lightning) and Arkansas (Bobby Portis of Little Rock Hall and Arkansas Wings Elite). All four excelled at the NBA camp although Lawrence missed much of the early going because of a wrist injury.
*Height in Huntington: Easily the tallest (he says he's 7-4; he looks the part, that's for sure) of the closely followed players will be Mamadou Ndiaye, who checked into the U.S., by way of Senegal, two years ago.
He rarely faced an opponent taller than 6-2 while playing for relatively tiny (250 or so students) Brethren Christian in Huntington Beach, Calif., during his junior season.
His offensive skills are still at the rudimentary level (but certainly well beyond "crude"), his running style is more aligned with "lumbers" than "sprints", his lateral reaction is often tardy and he doesn't jump much at all -- of course, with his dimensions, that's almost moot. But he's got a nice shooting touch from the free-throw line. And did I mention he's very tall?
*All is not lost at Findlay: Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) lost players to Ohio State, Arizona, Oregon and San Diego State -- among other destinations -- but Coach Mike Peck will return a pretty nifty guard next season in Nigel Williams-Goss (6-3, California Supreme).
Williams-Goss, who committed to the University of Washington earlier in June, was selected as one of the NBA Camp's top 12 players in ballots casted by the players themselves. That's pretty solid testament, wouldn't you agree?
*If you don't know, now you know: The best of the guards at the Pangos All-American Camp was a fellow from Wichita (specifically, North High).
With eight McDonald's All-American voters on hand in Long Beach, Conner Frankamp (who will be on the July tour with the Kansas City Run GMC), left little doubt that he's among the front-runners for one of the 24 slots next spring. His jump shot and crossover dribble maneuvers can all safely be tagged "wicked".
*Memphis domination: There isn't a city anywhere that can offer four prospects in this class of the caliber that Memphis can.
The foursome is made up of 6-8 forward Johnathan Williams and 6-5 point guard JaJuan Johnson (both of Southwind High and the Nike-sponsored Bluff City Legends/Team Penny program); 6-7 Nicholas King (East High; he's a travel ball teammate of Williams and Johnson); and 6-5 Markel Crawford (Melrose High and the Atlanta Xpress).
Williams is a terrific rebounder and King with his "jab step and step-back jumper" is cool viewing for spectators and lethal for defenders. Johnson isn't much as a jump shooter, but he is oh-so-much as a handler and passer.
But "Mr. Memphis", circa 2012-13, in that city's prep hoops could prove to be Crawford who was one of the better scorers and defenders at the NBA camp.