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Underclassmen take advantage of opportunity, star in Vegas


Mike Miller

Despite more than a thousand traveling teams in Las Vegas at three major club basketball tournaments last week, some of the biggest names in the 2013 class like Jabari Parker (injured), Julius Randle, Aaron and Andrew Harrison (at AAU nationals) and James Young weren’t a part of the festivities. Florida commits Kasey Hill and Chris Walker, both members of Florida Elite, were bounced early on at the adidas Super 64 and didn’t excel.

Instead, a pair of 2014 (incoming high school juniors) stood out as elite prospects, after being given the chance to make their name on a major stage. In particular, 6-8 forward Noah Vonleh (Mass Rivals) and 6-9 center Jahlil Okafor (Mac Irvin Fire) made their case for being lock top 5 prospects in their respective class, and arguably among the top dozen or so prospects regardless of high school class.

Okafor excelled at the FIBA U17 World Championship in Lithuania, and has shown that to be no fluke. An immovable force on the interior, Okafor took his Chicago-based team to runner-up status at the Las Vegas Classic, and was a constant mismatch. He is a physical presence in the way that Jared Sullinger was coming out of high school, but with two more seasons to develop. His nimble feet and soft hands make him a threat to score whenever he catches the ball in the post. Were it not for Canadian Andrew Wiggins currently in the 2014 class, Okafor would be worthy of a No. 1 ranking.

Noah Vonleh’s young team lost in the semifinals at the adidas Super 64, but it wasn’t due to Vonleh’s superb performances throughout the event. At over 210 pounds on his 6-8 frame, Vonleh is a true combo forward at his young age. He can rebound, push the ball on the break, and his expanded his handle and shot to go with his previous transition and interior game. He was most certainly the top player in terms of consistent performance in the adidas event, and was a primary reason that a team primarily made up of incoming sophomores and juniors went so deep.

Two schools that have to be pleased with the way members of their recruiting classes performed in Vegas are Michigan and Iowa State.

Two of the top performers in the adidas Super 64 are both early pledges to the Wolverines in point guard Derrick Walton, the event’s MVP, and wing Zakarie Irvin. Walton took his Michigan Mustangs team to the championship, beating everyone head to head that he played. Likewise, Irvin was arguably the most deadly wing scorer in either event, as he looks like he has taken his skills to the next level.

Iowa State also has a dynamite backcourt locked up, as both members were strong at their respective events. Combo guard Monte Morris was just as effective as Walton throughout the course of the event, and has the ability to be a slashing, attacking scorer that opens up the offense for others. His future running mate, Matt Thomas, showed observers at the Las Vegas Fab 48 that he is among the best pure shooters, nationally. Morris and Thomas have the ability to really be a dandy pair of guards in the Big 12.

A sleeper nationally that showed the nation he can play is Frank Mason. Some will remember that Mason was originally signed to play at Towson, but is off to prep school at Massanutten Military in Virginia, instead. Mason took his Team Loaded squad to the title at the Las Vegas Fab 48 showing a backyard brawler’s mentality at the lead guard slot. An attacker with no quit, Mason was the primary reason his squad won the title. It doesn’t look like he’ll re-up with Towson though, as his terrific play netted him a scholarship offer from Kansas and several other BCS conference schools, with many other high-major tenders to follow.

The other player that significantly helped his cause was point guard Graham Woodward of Minnesota Pump n Run. There’s nothing intimidating about Woodward’s 5-11 frame or average build, but he was dynamic in pushing his team into the semifinals at the adidas Super 64. Woodward was a terrific distributor, hit outside shots with enough regularity, and had a float game in the lane. Whereas he was hearing from lower-level programs prior to his Vegas tear, the right fit at the mid-major level could now be in Woodward’s future.

Photo from Future150

Kellon Hassenstab runs Follow him on Twitter @hoopniks.