NBA prospects shine in Thanksgiving week tournaments


NBA prospects shine in Thanksgiving week tournaments

With the Bulls off to a 6-13 start, it’s already time to start zeroing in on which college and international players could be at the top of the 2020 draft.

Guards LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton are playing professionally in Australia, so we won’t get a chance to see their games here in the U.S. Memphis center James Wiseman, the preseason favorite to be the No. 1 overall draft pick, is currently serving a 12 game suspension because his family received money for moving expenses from current coach Penny Hardaway when Wiseman was still in high school.

We did get a chance to see Wiseman play a few games before accepting the NCAA penalty, and he looks like a Marvin Bagley type big man, all the way down to his left-handed shooting. The jury is still out on whether Wiseman will be able to develop the outside shooting range NBA teams are looking for from power forwards and centers, but he is an impressive athlete, quick off his feet and capable of dominating games on both ends of the court.

Still, this week’s feast of Thanksgiving holiday tournaments gave us a chance to see some of the top players in action for a few days in a row. The most impressive performance came from Georgia shooting guard Anthony Edwards, who bounced back from a shaky start in the Maui Invitational to put up 33 points in the second half of a loss to Michigan State, draining seven three pointers, several of them in the high difficulty category.

Edwards already has an NBA body at a solidly built 6-foot-5, and is able to finish at the rim through traffic. He will almost certainly be a top five pick next June because of his strength and unlimited shooting range.

Spartans’ point guard Cassius Winston is one of the favorites to win player of the year honors after being named a first team All-American last season. But scouts are divided on his NBA potential because he doesn’t have the dazzling physical skills they’re looking for in starting point guards. Winston played well in Maui, scoring 55 points in the three games, but Michigan State lost to Virginia Tech on Monday, dropping the Spartans into the consolation round.

Another player who helped his draft stock in Maui is Dayton big man Obi Toppin. Toppin turned in three straight high quality performances in leading the Flyers to the tournament championship game. He has excellent size at 6-foot-9, 220 pounds and showed the ability to consistently knock down the college three-point shot. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas was especially impressed with Toppin’s play, calling the Dayton forward a lock to be selected in the 2020 lottery.

Kansas took home the championship trophy in Maui, thanks to the inside-outside tandem of Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson. Those two combined for 60 points in the Jayhawks’ overtime win over Dayton in the title game. The 6-foot-11 Azubuike completely took the game over in the extra period, overpowering defenders with a series of old-school post moves.

Dotson drew the attention of the 30-plus NBA scouts and executives in Maui by scoring 31 points and also coming up with five steals. The Kansas point guard was expected by many to go pro after his freshman year in Lawrence, but decided to return with the hopes of winning a national title and moving into the first round of the 2020 draft.

Arizona point guard Nico Mannion figures to become a fan favorite as the college season continues. The native of Siena, Italy is hard to miss with his red hair and goatee, and he also brings plenty of flare to his game. Mannion torched Illinois for 22 points and nine assists in a game earlier this month.

At the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, Seton Hall shooting guard Myles Powell put on a shooting exhibition in the tournament opener against Oregon, exploding for 32 points. The 6-foot-2 senior averaged 23 points per game last season, and he’s been even better this year, shooting over 40% from three-point range.

North Carolina point guard Cole Anthony, the son of long-time NBA guard Greg Anthony, burst onto the college scene by scoring 34 points in his Chapel Hill debut, and he’s averaging right around 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists for the season. Anthony excels at creating his own shot when plays break down, a valuable skill in the point guard-driven NBA. He has top five pick written all over him.

Another point guard of interest is Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton, who has excellent size at 6-foot-5 and is at his best attacking the rim. Haliburton had a near triple double in a win over Alabama, finishing with 23 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. His all-around play helped the Cyclones rack up 104 points against the Crimson Tide.

Gonzaga sophomore big man Filip Petrusev also is drawing attention from NBA talent evaluators at the Bahamas event. The 6-foot-11 center scored 22 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in a semifinal round win over Oregon. Petrusev is shooting 62% from the field for the season.

Marquette guard Markus Howard was the top scorer among major college players last season, but scouts were concerned about his size at 5-foot-11 and the lack of elite athleticism. So, Howard returned to Marquette for his senior season, and he opened the Orlando Invitational by scoring a tournament-record 40 points in a come-from-behind win over Davidson. Howard is currently projected as a second round draft pick, but he could move up by showing improvement in his ballhandling and assist numbers.

These are just some of the college players who caught my eye during the past week of tournament basketball. It will be interesting to see how NBA teams’ draft boards start to take shape as we get ready to begin conference play in December.

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United Center pays tribute to Kobe Bryant following tragic passing

United Center pays tribute to Kobe Bryant following tragic passing

Lakers great Kobe Bryant tragically passed away Sunday in a helicopter accident which left eight others dead, including his daughter, Gianna.

The NBA is mourning the loss of Bryant, with teams honoring him league wide during Sunday's slate of games. The Bulls didn't have a game, though the United Center paid tribute to Bryant:

Bryant is survived by his wife, Vanessa, with whom he had four daughters. He was 41 years old. Gianna was 13.

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Kobe Bryant idolized Michael Jordan, and thus always respected the Bulls

Kobe Bryant idolized Michael Jordan, and thus always respected the Bulls

Kobe Bryant had two dalliances with the Bulls.

In July 2004, a Lakers’ three-peat ran its course with back-to-back playoff exits, including a 2004 Finals loss. Phil Jackson left as coach. The Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal relationship no longer functioned on or off the court.

One year after succeeding Jerry Krause as the Bulls’ top basketball executive, John Paxson flew to Newport Beach, Calif., with Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to pitch Bryant in free agency. Bryant liked what he heard.

In the pre-social media age, Bryant liked even more that the Bulls kept their pursuit quiet. A full week passed before any media outlet reported the meeting.

“We were looking at houses, we were looking at schools,” Bryant told the Chicago Tribune in December 2004. “We already were talking about a sign-and-trade.”

Even if O’Neal hadn’t requested a trade that landed him with the Heat, there’s no guarantee the Bulls would’ve acquired Bryant. The Clippers pursued him as well.

As it was, Bryant re-signed with the Lakers and eventually won two more championships. But those came after Bryant made noise about wanting a trade during the 2007 offseason and again expressed interest in the Bulls’ nucleus.

Reports of the Bulls refusing to part with Luol Deng were greatly exaggerated. For starters, Bryant wanted to end up with the Bulls only if Deng played for them. Furthermore, the Lakers engaged in non-serious trade talks mainly to appease Bryant, who eventually calmed.

Both those scenarios came to mind with Sunday’s heartbreaking news that Bryant, 41, died in a helicopter accident near Los Angeles. One of his four daughters was killed as well.

“The Chicago Bulls organization is terribly saddened about the sudden passing of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and the other passengers in today’s horrific helicopter crash in California,” Paxson said in a statement. “While he leaves us far too soon, his legacy and persona will forever be remembered. One of the best to have ever played the game of basketball, we extend our deepest sympathies to the Bryant family and the other families affected.”

The Bulls never acquired Bryant, but the mutual respect between them always stood out. Beyond Bryant’s appreciation for Paxson and Reinsdorf’s 2004 pitch, this was guaranteed because the Bulls once employed Michael Jordan.

Bryant never hid his desire to 'Be Like Mike.' He walked like him, talked like him, won one fewer championship than him and relished having his cutthroat competitiveness compared to his idol’s.

That’s why, on his final visit to the United Center, Bryant spoke so eloquently about the influence Jordan had on him. And why, if he had ever become a Bull, the honor would have been his.

“No words can really do it justice,” Bryant said on Feb. 21, 2016. “As a kid growing up in Italy, all I had was video. And so I studied everything. I studied every player. And then once I came back to the States and I realized I wasn’t going to be 6-9, I started studying Michael exclusively. And then when I came into the league and matched up against him, I found that he was extremely open to having a relationship, a mentoring relationship. He gave me a great amount of advice in an amazing amount of detail — strategies, workout regimens, things like that.

“Seriously, I don’t think people really understand the amount of impact he has had on me as a player and as a leader. So if I was fortunate to come here, if that trade had happened, it’s not a pressure situation to live up to what he has done. It’s more can I carry on the man’s legacy? Can I do it justice? Can I represent Chicago the way it should be represented in his honor?”

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