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Maui Invitational: Top Prospects

Tue, 12/03/2013 - 2:56am
One of the premiere events of the early season is the EA Sports Maui Invitational with its tournament format. It gives scouts a 3 game window to really get familiarized with 8 of the top teams in the country. While this year's event lacked one of the Nation's truly elite teams, the schools came in with a combined 30-0 record and there was no shortage of talent. The winner of the event has also had an excellent track record, in recent years, of going on to win the National Championship with North Carolina (twice) and UConn each pulling that off in recent years.

Jerami GrantJerami Grant1. Jerami Grant 6-8 210 SF/PF Syracuse So. -- Grant has really emerged as not only an elite level athlete and prospect, but also a strong contributor. His 19 points in each of the final two games were key to Syracuse taking home this year's Maui title. He had the dunk of the event with a two handed second half put back versus Cal in which he absolutely jumped out of the gym. Grant still has a ways to go skill wise. His jumpshot needs better range and consistency, and he's still a bit of a tweener as he lacks great ball skills, both handling and passing. However, he's got enough skills to make him very intriguing and he gives the impression that he'll develop over time. He was clearly the top athlete in the event and has the length and athleticism to play either forward position in the NBA. He's a shy kid off the floor so just gaining confidence in general will help him from a leadership and vocal standpoint. The son of Harvey and nephew of Horace Grant (former NBA Twin power forwards in the 80s and 90s). He could easily be a lottery pick this year if he continues to play the way he did in Maui.

2. Jabari Bird 6-6 190 SG California Fr. -- Bird drew a Klay Thompson comparison from one scout. He's about as smooth a scorer as you will find out of a college freshman. While he's not the most explosive athlete, he does have above average athleticism, strong agility plus prototypical size for a 2 guard. He makes catching and shooting look incredibly easy and should be a NBA starting shooting guard in the future if he continues to develop. He still has some rough edges to his game, and could certainly use a second season of ball based on what he showed in Maui, granted he looks a heck of a lot better than Jeremy Lamb did at the same event in his freshman year. And you will remember by the end of that season, punctuated by a National Championship, many felt Lamb could have been a top 10 pick. So it's early to make any definitive conclusions. But one thing appears certain, Bird should be one of the more productive freshmen in the nation, and in the running, along with Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine for Pac 12 Freshman of the Year.

3. CJ Fair 6-7 215 SF Syracuse Sr. – The event’s MVP is showing an improved ability to create and knock down shots in the half court. Fair came up huge in the title game knocking down a number of key shots late to hold off Baylor. But as good as he looked against Baylor, he struggled against Cal hitting just 5 of 17 from the floor. He appears to have worked hard on polishing his isolation game. His shot and offensive skills have shown improvement from last season and he seems to have embraced the role of go to scorer for this team. But, it’s uncertain what kind of role he will have at the next level. Playing at Syracuse also means there will be some skepticism about his defensive ability, and potentially an adjustment period. Fair has long been seen as a bubble first rounder and scouts remain lukewarm on him, questioning his positional fit (SG or SF) for the NBA.

4. Michael Qualls 6-6 225 SG/SF Arkansas So. -- This event usually has one breakout prospect, and this year it was Qualls. He showed that he's more than just one of the nation's most explosive athletes, displaying toughness and the ability to knock down outside shots. Arkansas toppled Minnesota, and Qualls was a catalyst, giving the team clutch play and elite level athleticism. While he wasn't a bigtime recruit coming out of high school, he has quickly become a team leader and broken out early in his sophomore season. Scouts one big criticism is that he needs to tighten up his handle. He has moved into the late first round of the 2015 mock after his showing in Maui. With elite length and athleticism, he'll have a chance to move up as the season rolls along.

5. Cory Jefferson 6-9 220 PF Baylor Sr. -- Jefferson has passed Austin as Baylor's highest rated prospect. He shows assertiveness and has added some consistency to his midrange shooting. He's also an explosive athlete with the ability to play above the rim. While he has gotten stronger, his lack of physicality limits his effectiveness to some degree. He's a solid offensive player but lacks a variety of post moves and his touch is just average. He could play himself into the early second round with a big senior season, but first round appears to be a long shot at this point.

Others:

Justin Cobbs 6-4 200 PG California Sr. -- Cobbs competes hard and scouts brought him up as a guy they were intrigued with. His main problem is that he is an erratic floor general. He's got good size, scoring ability, defense and toughness but nothing that really stands out. He really seems to enjoy competing and never backs down from a challenge. He fought until the very end in the Syracuse game. He appears to be a little too trigger happy at times and should look to set up his teammates more, particularly since they are better now than in the past. But he appears to be wired to score more so than distribute which may ultimately make him a better fit for Europe than as a back up NBA PG.

Isaiah Austin 7-0 200 PF Baylor So. -- Believe it or not there was a scout at this same event a year ago that questioned why I had Austin so low and said that some fellow scouts had him as a potential #1 pick. Times have certainly changed. We had him in the late first round at the time but now even getting first round looks appears to be questionable for Austin. He missed much of the summer after having shoulder surgery and it obviously limited his weight training. His legs look as skinny as ever and it's debatable whether he'll ever be able to put on the necessary weight to play in the post. He lacks strength and aggressiveness and appears to have missed the boat on his first round hype. Granted it was unlikley he would have been a first rounder last year with the shoulder injury. Ryan Hollins is carving out an NBA career as a role guy, and for a player who was riding a wave of hype a year ago, staying in school until his junior or senior year and trying to improve his strength and athletisim may be his only chance to make it in the league.

Tyrone Wallace 6-4 185 SG California So. -- Wallace is a kid that appears to still be figuring things out. His shot has shown some improvement from last year and while the form still isn't perfect, it is showing some steady improvement. He's a high level, fluid athlete with the ability to defend multiple positions and should get his chance to play PG next year with Cobbs graduating. A guy with some intrigue for future years as he is a late bloomer.

Tyler Ennis 6-2 185 PG Syracuse Fr. -- Ennis plays nothing like a freshman. He's extremely cerebral, a great leader and has deceptive quickness. While he lacks elite level athleticism and is probably a guy that will ultimately be a 2nd rounder and an NBA backup at best, he's an intriguing prospect due to his ability to run the point and his intelligence. He's reminiscent of Kendall Marshall but he is a much better shooter than the former lottery pick who is now on the outside looking in for an NBA position.
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