With all of the talent gathered at this week’s 20th annual NBPA Top 100 Camp at John Paul Jones Arena, there is one particular group that has stood out – literally and figuratively.
This year’s crop of centers and power forwards is arguably the most skilled ever in the two decades of the event according to many, including camp scouting consultant John Lucas.
The 2013 camp boasts nine players listed at 7-foot or taller, including 7-1 Kentucky commitment Karl Towns Jr. (rated as the No. 5 player in the rising senior class) and 7-0 rising junior Stephen Zimmerman, each of whom are tabbed as one of the top overall performers in their respective class.
Towns, who played for the Dominican Republic’s Olympic team as a 16-year old last summer, was a late arrival on Friday night at the event but has already turned many heads in the world of basketball.
Zimmerman, who notched a triple-double in the Nevada state championship game earlier this spring, got a later start at basketball than most of his peers, but the No. 5 player in ESPN’s latest Class of 2015 rankings is taking advantage of the structure of the Top 100 Camp.
“My class and [the 2014 class] has some pretty amazing big men,” the Las Vegas native admitted. “I’m really honored to be one of the premier names.”
Zimmerman said he patterns different parts of his game after a few current NBA players’ unique abilities.
“Tim Duncan’s footwork, Blake Griffin’s explosiveness and [Dirk Nowitzki’s] shooting ability,” said Zimmerman, who has been bombarded with the recruiting process but won’t start narrowing his college choices down any time soon.
Lucas, a former two-time first-team All-American at Maryland in the mid-1970s as well as 14-year professional and head coach of three NBA squads, has been involved with the camp since its inception and says that he’s overwhelmed with just how much potential these big guys are loaded with, and excited to see how the matchups play out – both this weekend and for years to come.
“I think this year, the quality of big men in camp is extraordinary,” Lucas said. “I think about 14 of our top 20 big men here can make it to the league. These are big men with real inside skills, and that's great for the NBA. I’ve always said, ‘The game goes good when you have someone to throw it to on the wood.’”
Other bigs in town of note include: 7-1 Trayvon Reed, 7-2 Isaac Haas, 7-0 UVa 2016 target Thon Maker from Martinsville, 7-0 Satchel Pierce, 6-10 Skal Labissiere, 6-9 Kevon Looney, 6-9 rebounding machine Angel Delgado, 6-9 Cheick Diallo, 6-11 Myles Turner and 7-4 Bhullar Tanveer, the tallest listed competitor in camp, just to name a few.
Labissiere, rated in the Class of 2015’s top 10 by many recruiting services, is also eager to embrace the competition and use the camp’s games and drills as a measuring stick while he’s in town.
“I get to face some of the elite players in the nation, it’s really competitive and overall it’s a really good camp,” said Labissiere, who’s already got offers from Kentucky, Kansas, Georgetown and Memphis, among others. “It’s real competitive on the boards and on offense down low because we have a bunch of 7-footers, 6-11s, so it’s tough in the low post. It’s fun because I get to see what I need to work on, what I need to get better at for the next level, so it’s always good to play against somebody my height and as talented as I am.”
Lucas is a proponent of seeing the return of getting post players to, well, post up. In recent years, the sport has witnessed a trend of its taller players moving further and further away from the basket and playing closer to the perimeter rather than in the paint, where many traditionalists believe they belong.
Past University of Virginia and NBA standout Olden Polynice is back in Charlottesville for the week as one of the camp coaches, and he also feels that the big guys should get back to their post-up roots. At the same time, Polynice said that if a 7-footer can shoot the rock, how can you tell him not to? The former Cavalier said that finding a balance between the inside and outside games is the key to success in today’s game.
“I’ve been telling people, man, compared to when I was coming up, it’s night and day,” said Polynice with a chuckle, adding that he’s really enjoying being back in the area for another visit. “These kids – they’re like 7-1 – but they can dribble, they can shoot, and I’m like, ‘Wow.’”
The veteran added that while these bigs may be able to make a jumper every now and then, not all of them can be consistently-skilled perimeter shooters like Kevin Durant, Nowitzki, Chris Bosh or LaMarcus Aldridge and just hoist shots from the outside because it takes away from the whole reason they’re on the floor.
“A lot of them are big and physical, but nobody’s teaching them how to play the post game – it’s a lost art…,” Polynice said. “So it’s like a fine line; do you say [not to shoot]? You can’t really force people to do something they’re not really comfortable doing sometimes as basketball players, but I’ve just never seen this many 7-footers that can play.
“I’m not saying don’t shoot outside shots, but mix your game up – that makes you more valuable. If you can go on the block as a 7-footer and still step out, oh my goodness. You can get in the pick and roll and shoot shots, you can get on the block and shoot shots, you can get [opponents] in foul trouble – you command more if you’re able to do more, and that’s all I’ve been trying to preach to a lot of these guys.”