Typically, the unwritten rule in Las Vegas is what happens there stays there, but a handful of players competing in the Top Flight Invite this past weekend turned in performances that were simply too good to keep under wraps.
Here are just a few of the things we saw out west.
Dior Johnson’s on-ball defense is underrated.
The gift and the curse of being an elite point guard with three-level scoring ability, high basketball IQ and exceptional feel is that those attributes tend to overshadow everything else.
Johnson, an Oregon commit, is as capable as they come on the offensive end, and a true definition of the cliché sports phrase “extension of the coach on the floor,” still it’s his defensive prowess that is often the most overlooked part of his game.
Johnson plays with a fiery edge on defense, hounding opposing point guards for 94 feet, frustrating them with active hands and anticipating movements to beat them to spots.
The bottom line is that Johnson’s ability as an on-ball defender keeps opposing guards uncomfortable and when that happens, guards tend to rush, stay off balance and out of rhythm. It’s quietly one of the main things that makes Johnson elite.
MJ Rice’s chip is taking his game to the next level.
Rice, a Kansas commit, has been one of the most consistent players in the country over the last year, first averaging 23 points a game at Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) as a junior then posting 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists a game for Team Loaded-NC this past summer on the grueling adidas 3SSB.
Still, Rice didn’t feel like he was getting the respect nationally that he was due and that created a basketball-sized chip smack-dab on his shoulder since the summer ended.
Ironically, it’s elevated his game to a level that is undeniably solidifying his stature as a top 10 prospect in the 2022 class when the SI99 rankings for 2022 debut in December.
Rice is at his best when he’s in constant attack mode, blowing by his defender and maneuvering into the lane to finish strong at the rim. This creates avenues for him to drain three-pointers efficiently.
This past weekend at the Top Flight Invite, Rice seized the moment winning back-to-back duels, first with elite wing Chris Livingston then with consensus No. 1 prospect Shaedon Sharpe, both of which are headed to Kentucky.
Rice took on the challenge defensively as well, requesting to guard each player and forcing them into uncharacteristically dismal offensive nights.
Rice averaged 21 points at the event.
Consistently remaining at that level of engagement every game is a tall order, but Rice is seeing the benefits and seems dead-set on earning his respect the old fashioned way.
Jared McCain putting 2023 on notice.
If McCain’s production at the Top Flight Invite this past weekend surprised you then you clearly haven’t been paying attention.
The 6-foot-2 scoring guard averaged 25.6 points a game against some of the country’s top teams, but his dominance was simply a carryover from a productive summer with Team Why Not (Calif.) in the Nike EYBL.
Despite sharing the backcourt with Kylan Boswell, one of the top point guards in the 2023 class, McCain managed to average 20.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists a game and led Why Not to the Peach Jam E16 title.
Two months prior to that he helped Centennial (Corona, Calif.) capture the CIF Open Division title, knocking off heavily favored Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.). McCain isn’t content that his name is ringing out, it’s clear by his play that he sees himself as one of the top guards in the country, regardless of class, and is coming for that appointment.
Caleb Foster is coming into his own.
Last month, Foster committed to Duke, subsequently making an already large bull’s-eye, as one of the top prospects in the 2023 class, even bigger.
To combat the extra attention, Foster has raised his level of play across the board, averaging 17.5 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to lead Virginia Gold (Oak Hill Academy) to the Top Flight Invite title this past weekend.
Foster plays with great poise, has elite vision and always dictates tempo; his mid-range jump shot is automatic and opens up lanes for him to exploit defenders in other facets.
Foster has a legitimate chance to be the top point guard in his class.