LeBron James Skills Academy 2014: Top Recruits, Participants, Schedule and More

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistJuly 9, 2014

FILE - In this June 17, 2014 file photo, Miami Heat's LeBron James gestures as he answers a question during a news conference in Miami. LeBron James held meetings for more than three hours in a Las Vegas hotel Tuesday, July 8, 2014 leaving without giving any indication of what team he’ll play for next season. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)
Alan Diaz/Associated Press

With one day left to leave an impression on all the scouts in attendance Saturday's action should provide see even more prospects step up. 

As the NBA world awaits LeBron James' decision about where he'll play basketball next, some of the best and brightest college and high school stars will get what every reporter would sell their first born for: a few moments of conversation with the King.    

The four-time NBA MVP will host the LeBron James Skills Academy beginning Tuesday in Las Vegas. A yearly tradition, James' four-day skills camp is part of a series of summer extravaganzas facilitated by Nike's youth basketball arm. This week's proceedings follow the Elite 100, Point Guard, Big Man and Kevin Durant camps before it.

The Vegas camp sees elite players from college and prep basketball travel across the nation for a chance to meet and play with the game's best player. Last year's attendees included Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh and Aaron Craft, among many others. The camp has also been host to many memorable moments over the years, including perhaps the most infamous moment of Jordan Crawford's basketball career. 

While grainy, Zapruder film-like footage of LeBron getting dunked on is unlikely to come out of this week, the list of participants is always worth a look. Odds are, you're in for a preview of the players who will be dominating college basketball next and in coming seasons. It's also a bit of a haven for NBA scouts looking for an initial glimpse of what might be coming down the pike—and conveniently located in Las Vegas, where summer league just so happens to be going.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the slate for this week and highlight some of the top players in attendance. 

LeBron James Skills Academy Rosters


High School Notables

Ben Simmons (F, Monteverde Academy)

An Australian import, Simmons has made an immediate impact since arriving stateside. The 6'8" forward has vaulted up national player rankings, where he currently sits tops overall in the 247Sports composite. Most evaluate either Simmons or Bishop O'Dowd's Ivan Rabb as the top player in the class.

Simmons came to the forefront by flashing a burgeoning skill set to go with his size and frame. He can handle and pass the ball with proficiency in the open court, and could become an interesting piece working out of the high post if his game continues to develop. He's also a solid scoring threat, with an above-average touch on his jumper and ability to finish near the rim.

I'm also rooting for Simmons a bit because he's of a different breed. Arguably his first notable move stateside was declaring himself committed to LSU—not exactly a national powerhouse nowadays. There remains the possibility that he'll renege his verbal, and undoubtedly the likes of John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, et al. would welcome him if he did. But when the top overall player in a class goes against the grain, that puts him firmly in the "guys to watch" category.


Ivan Rabb (F, Bishop O'Dowd)

2014 LeBron James Skills Academy Schedule
July 99:45 a.m. - 11 a.m.College Player Workout
11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.High School Player Workout
5:30 p.m. - 7:15 p.m.College Player Workout
7:30 p.m.Evening Games
July 109 a.m. - 10:45 a.m.High School Player Workout
10:30 a.m. - 12 p.m.College Player Workout
2:30 p.m.Afternoon Games
5 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.College Player Workout
7:30 p.m.Evening Games
July 119 a.m. - 10:45 a.m.High School Player Workout
10:30 a.m. - 12 p.m.College Player Workout
2:30 p.m.Afternoon Games
5 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.College Player Workout
7 p.m.Evening Games
July 129:30 a.m.Quarterfinal Games
10:45 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.College Player Workout
2:30 p.m.Semifinal, Consolation Games
5:15 p.m. - 6:45 p.m.College Player Workout
7 p.m.Championship, 3rd Place Games

Once Rabb's body starts filling into his 6'11" frame...oh dear lord. This kid has the potential to be really, really special. His body reminds you of a high school Anthony Davis. All arms, legs, athleticism and wild reaches of untapped potential.

There are definitely differences, as Davis was a once-in-a-generation talent. Rabb doesn't have nearly the same level of polish as a ball-handler nor is his jumper all that projectable. When assessing his game, he's a little more on the Nerlens Noel side. He's going to block a ton of shots, grab boards and make a bunch of mystifying rim runs.

Last season, Rabb averaged 27 points and 14 rebounds while winning numerous local and national awards. At the moment, 247Sports' Crystal Ball has him pegged for either Arizona or North Carolina. The Wildcats would be particularly interesting given their recent history of defensive dominance. Once he adds 20 or so pounds, though, Rabb might turn into the type of two-way force most evaluators are projecting.


Malik Newman (G, Callaway)

There may not be one player who screams "Calipari guard" more in this class than Newman. A 6'3" combo guard who works best with the ball in his hands, Newman excels at attacking the rim and putting the ball through the basket. He's not quite as dynamic athletically as a Tyreke Evans or Derrick Rose, but his playmaking skills are reasonably similar at this point.

As of now, the Wildcats are unsurprisingly in the lead for his services. 247Sports gives Calipari a 77 percent chance of landing the third-ranked player in the country, with only Kansas anywhere near shouting distance. Then again, there is a bevy of time between now and when a decision needs to be made.

Newton is also noteworthy for this reason: He's eschewed the megapower system. He's stayed local at Callaway High School in his native Mississippi.


Cheick Diallo (F, Our Savior New American School)

Where have all the great New York City players gone? I don't know, but the mecca of basketball will have to put their eggs in the basket of Diallo until the next crop grows up. A native of the Ivory Coast, Diallo has made his basketball name just outside of Long Island in Centereach, New York.

Raw is the best word to describe his game, though it's become a mindlessly cliche descriptor at this point. He's more of an athlete than a basketball player. Listed at 6'9" and 225 pounds, Diallo can fly out of the gym and plays with almost an insatiable passion for the game. He blocks the living hell out of shots, finishes alley-oops well above the rim and is a relentless defender.

And then that's where the "raw" thing comes in. Diallo can essentially do the things required by a tall, freakish athlete and little else. His offensive game really hasn't shown the level of improvement you'd want, though that's a very early evaluation. Kentucky and Kansas are the favorites, but wouldn't it at least be fun to see him take the St. John's plunge? 


Stephen Zimmerman (C, Bishop Gorman)

Skilled 7-footers get recruited. It's just a reality of life. Zimmerman is perhaps the most polished player in this class and is one of the more well-rounded offensive bigs to come along in the last half-decade. Other than strength—an admittedly critical issue—Zimmerman has nearly every skill you'd look for in a 2014 center.

He can facilitate and shoot out of the high post with an impressive efficiency. I've watched a few clips and gone "that's a Joakim Noah pass" or "that's a Marc Gasol pass" more than once. Should he continue to develop that jumper beyond the three-point arc, we're talking about someone who's going to get immediate lottery buzz.

The Las Vegas product seems to be headed to UNLV or Arizona. Given the solid work Sean Miller has done developing Kaleb Tarczewski, the Wildcats might prove the more attractive destination. Zimmerman needs work defensively and might become the two-way force Tarczewski hasn't quite reached yet. 


College Notables

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (F, Arizona)

Hollis-Jefferson might have been a first-round pick had he come out in 2014. Though inconsistent and a bit undersized for the NBA 3, Hollis-Jefferson tantalized scouts with his potential as a defender and athleticism last season. He was a high-motor freak as a freshman, buzzing all over the court for timely blocks and the occasional ridiculous dunk.

Teams will be looking for improvement with his jumper. He attempted only 10 three-pointers as a freshman and made a poor 20.8 percent of his jump shots overall, per Synergy Sports (subscription required). His decision to come back was probably a good one—the 2015 class is weaker, and he might wind up a lottery pick if he improves—but it also puts pressure on his shoulders.

Of the players we've actually seen play college basketball, Hollis-Jefferson arguably has the most talent.


Stanley Johnson (F, Arizona)

Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

Arizona might have the best forwards in college basketball next season, and Sean Miller's landing of Johnson is a big reason why. Already listed at 6'7" and 237 pounds, Johnson has an NBA build and a bulldog mentality at age 18. He's going to be among the best defenders in college basketball next season.

An only somewhat applicable comparison: Johnson reminds me of Marcus Smart, plus three inches and 15 pounds. Not in a sense that he can be a primary ball-handler—he most certainly cannot—but in his relentless nature on the defensive end. Johnson doesn't take a play off, and he's willing to bully people with his physicality.

I've only gotten a couple chances to see him so far, but his offensive game struck me as still developing. More of a guy who's going to make his hay cutting to the basket and getting out in transition. With Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona has a really strong defensive squad in the making.


Sam Dekker (F, Wisconsin)

Dekker is one of those players you don't hear many draftniks talking about. He's on the periphery, a non-freshman whose ceiling is somewhere in the high teens and lower twenties. But given how much shooting has become a premium-cost item this offseason, it'll be interesting to see his development.

Dekker's sales pitch is not unlike Gordon Hayward's a few years ago. He's a very solid shooter with deep range, a better athlete than most think and could develop into a nice secondary facilitator in the right system. Bo Ryan's offense is built around a Spursian commitment to the process, so he is never going to be a nightly 20-point scorer or even compete for Big Ten Player of the Year honors.

Nevertheless, teams are watching. Dekker has enough offensive skills to really be an asset someday and could be an above-average defender if he adds a little bit of bulk.


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