Over 150 D1 coaches poured into the North Las Vegas CSN campus this past Thursday and Friday for JA48, a JUCO showcase taking advantage of Vegas Summer League’s gravitational pull by taking place at the start of the event. As implied by the name, the showcase saw 48 players from schools across the nation take part in a two-day, six-game exhibition, with each player participating in two games. Below I have detailed eight “spotlights” I wanted to write about. There is no meaningful order for the players listed, and it is important to note there were many more players in attendance that intrigued me than I can realistically write about in this format.
Finally, if you are a player who participated (or coach, trainer, parent, etc.) and want highlights from the event as seen on my Twitter, just shoot me a DM @jacobmachnik or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shammah Scott | 6’2″ Guard | Northwest Florida State College | Offers: Akron, Wichita State, North Texas, Radford, Kent State
- One of two standout six-foot guards, Shammah Scott had an electric two days in Las Vegas, unleashing an array of pull-up jumpers that ranged anywhere from 15 feet to beyond the college arc. Possessing a super-quick first-step and a low center of gravity, defenders struggled to stay in front of him whether in isolation or in ball-screen settings. The decelerate, gather, rise, and fire process on these PUJ’s looked mechanical at a certain point, and the separation created meant that these looks were rarely heavily contested. Scott’s handle is fluid, yet there is rarely a need for more than a single counter to shake the defender off before creating a downhill advantage. A certain level of craft is on display during these advantages as he understands driving angles, looks comfortable with same-foot-same hand finishes and knows the how and why of using his body to shield against would-be rim protectors. Right now the passing gives the appearance of a commensal, with looks created for others deriving from Scott’s downhill pressure and scoring gravity rather than a more manipulative, symbiotic approach to creation. Size is a limiter of the versatility that can be provided on the defensive end, but he excelled harassing ball-handlers at the point of attack and generated a couple of steals from both stripping the ball and playing in passing lanes, suggesting there may be some upside as an off-ball playmaker.
Jaquan Scott | 6’8″ Forward | Pending/Salt Lake CC | Offers: Houston, Texas A&M, Cincinnati, New Mexico State, Mississippi State
- From the outset of the first game all the way through to the end of the second day, it was clear Jaquan Scott wanted to prove something. He had the best shooting performance, in terms of versatility, out of all the 6’6″+ players in attendance. Though there are some finer points to be touched up in the form, specifically in the lower body, the Texas native converted catch-and-shoot looks from the wing, pull-up twos, OTD threes, including one out of the PNR, and even showed an ability to turn over his shoulder out of the midpost. Outside of the shot, he wasn’t tasked with too much creation, and right now the handle is tuned more for getting to spots on the perimeter rather than generating deep paint touches. Most looks around the basket, at least in my viewing, were assisted on or came by way of boards, but if he continues to shoot at a comparable level then the gravity should be enough to allow him to leverage those closeouts into drives against similar-sized forwards or slower-footed, bigger defenders. He has the positional size to defend either forward spot, showing some glimpses of value as a weakside rim protector and a hedge defender in the PNR. Scott was one of the head-turners of JA48 and with his blend of size + shot-making, he is absolutely a player to keep track of going into the next JUCO season.
Nestor Dyachok | 6’9″ Forward | Casper College | Offers: Cleveland State
- If I had a superlative to give for most vocal/effective on-court communicator, Nestor Dyachok would have ran home with it after the first half of day one. The catch-and-shoot 3’s came early and often for the 6’9″ forward, ranging from the corners to a couple steps back from the line when above the break. On these C&S looks he was consistently squared, on-balance, and the process was smooth with the shot coming up in front of the eye. He didn’t attempt much in the way of movement or OTD looks but the ones he did take looked promising, though are some organizational tweaks to be made with the power transfer in his lower half. Creation isn’t on the list of value-adds, but he did flash some connective passing ability as a “catch-and-pass” guy who can quickly spot gaps in coverage and exploit them with quick hitters. While he wasn’t generating his own paint touches, Dyachok was active as a rebounder on both ends who capitalized off smaller match-ups and displayed a soft touch on floaters. Although he struggled at the POA against guards and is more of a team defender than a playmaker, there was still on-ball value to be found when matched up against similar-sized forwards where his frame allows him to take bumps and push-offs. When making the jump to the next level, single-skill savants typically have the advantage over other player-types due to the scalability of that one elite skill; Dyachok projects as a spot-up and pick-and-pop threat at the four, with potential development as a movement shooter and relocater, who does enough as a board-collector, team defender, and communicator to be a value-add on the court.
DaVeon Thomas | 6’1″ Guard | Kilgore College | Offers: Memphis, Arizona State, UAB, Milwaukee, Wichita State, Alabama State, Cincinnati, Coastal Carolina
- I heard from at least one college coach this past week that DaVeon Thomas was the best small guard in attendance at JA48. It’s not a surprising sentiment given how, in many ways, he represents the platonic ideal of the six-foot, score-first guard. The first stand out skill is the PUJ; in that respect he is similar to fellow bucket-getter Shammah Scott, making it even more a shame that we didn’t get to watch the two match-up with each other in Vegas. Both the elevation and release point are high on these shots, to the point where Thomas was even able to double clutch an elbow jump in mid-air without any meaningful difference in the final process or outcome. Most of this work was done within the arc and OTD, but the PUJ3 from the top of the key, suggests it is reasonable to assume the viability of extending the distance, and his process looks the same shooting off-the-catch as it did in other makes. With a blow-by first step in isolation, teams were hard-pressed to find someone who could stay in front of Thomas. The downhill pressure generated was complimented by surprisingly explosive leaping ability off one that allowed him, traffic-permitting, to finish above the rim, or at least at-the-rim, on a number of drives and P&R splits. He will add value on the other end as a durable positional defender who stays connected through screens and can create plays off-ball in passing lanes. Already being recruited by Memphis and Arizona State, Thomas is worth tracking as a MM+ guard going into the next JUCO season.
Robert Whaley | 6’5″ Forward | College of Southern Idaho | Offers: Wichita State, UIC, Missouri State, Manhattan, Samford, Western Michigan, Morgan State, Kent State, Utah Valley, North Carolina A&T, Radford, Loyola Marymount
- Even in the era of “positionless” basketball, there are still some deeply-held mental shortcuts that we cling onto when attempting to categorize players. Then guys like Robert Whaley Jr. come along, looking to dismantle those preconceived notions one crossover, one post-up, one short-roll no-look one-handed shovel pass at a time. Built like a lineman at 6’5” with broad shoulders, the functional athleticism stands out immediately as he is light on his feet and moves extremely well N-S, eschewing any thought that might cast him exclusively as a “post.” To be sure, Whaley does a lot of his work on the left block, showing off an array of seals, reverse spins, and up-and-unders primarily with his left hand. On the perimeter, his handle is geared more towards quick, one-cut moves than fluidity, and he is adept at attacking closeouts, though this relies on opposing defenders treating him as an outside threat, something which doesn’t appear to be a part of his game. In light of this, Whaley looks most comfortable creating out of the short roll where he can take 1–2 dribbles and execute lay downs or skips from a variety of release points. As is the case with unusual and funky player-types, specifically shorter guys who play up, the question is: who does he guard? With quick feet and decent lateral mobility, he has some juice as a point of attack guy against slower-footed wings and forwards. His strength lends itself more to the interior where the lower center of gravity would make it difficult to get pushed off his spot, though lacking a ++ wingspan or superior leaping ability makes defending too far up questionable without some consideration to scheme. The answers to these questions about role and optimization, offensively and defensively, will ultimately come down to Robert Whaley and his team. Wherever he ends up, Whaley is a prospect worth tracking at the next level.
Kalifa Sakho | 6’10” Big | South Plains CC | Offers: Western Kentucky, Cal State Bakersfield, Weber State, Florida International, Morgan State, UCF, St. Bonaventure, Xavier, UAB, Cincinnati
- At an event mostly lacking in true bigs, Kalifa Sakho stood out as one of the more intriguing upside prospects in the 6’6”+ category. The 6’10” French-native has all the physical benchmarks of a developing forward/big: narrow frame, long arms, lengthy strides, dominant hand-heavy. An offensive work-in-progress searching for a primary value-add, Thursday’s action saw him operate mainly as a rim-running 5, actively setting screens, keeping hands high and exploding into rolls. He didn’t have too much gravity as a vertical spacer, due to the still-developing strength in his lower half, but progression in this area will enable more finishes above-the-rim and make it easier to punish smaller defenders on tags. On Friday, Sakho showed some flashes of self-creation in the post, displaying nice touch with right-handed hooks and actively fighting for seals/positioning down low. Despite not looking for his shot at all, he did attempt one C&S jumper at the elbow with a one-motion form and good rotation coming off his hand. Away from the offensive side, he competed on the glass, consistently looking for someone to box-out while sealing off similar-sized players effectively. His physical tools are a major boon for defensive versatility; he covers ground quickly on the perimeter, adding value when switched outside as both a weakside rim protector and when sliding with wings at the POA. On the interior, he held up well against bigger forwards who tried to bang down low and seems to have a solid grasp of verticality despite not having an elite second-jump. Until there is more to see on the offensive end, I would consider him a smaller five rather than a four; regardless, Sakho is one of the more intriguing prospects of his class and has already amassed a collection of LM-MM offers.
Yaxel Lendeborg | 6’9″ Forward | Arizona Western College | Offers: New Mexico, Quinnipiac, Northern Illinois, Iona, Milwaukee, Jacksonville, Florida International, North Texas, Lamar
- The first player I took notes on, Yaxel Lendeborg, intrigued throughout two games as a forward with physical tools and ball skills. Listed at 6’9” with a strong frame, Lendeborg has the size of a true four-man with N-S movement skills and decent leaping ability off two feet. With a functional straight-line drive handle, he operates more as a connective piece on offense, attacking closeouts off the dribble which enables him to unlock what might be the most eye-catching aspect of his game, the closeout creation. He is a good ambidextrous live-dribble passer capable of finding seams in the defense, even at one point hitting a sinking man on the weakside with a one-handed skip. These flashes of creation even showed up in the handful of reps Lendeborg got as a PNR ball-handler, something which I wanted to see more of as it allowed him to show-off this connective passing while lessening the burden of creating separation OTD without an overly quick first-step or fluid handle. Additional PNR reps would also allow him to generate downhill pressure without needing the opposing team to closeout hard since his shooting gravity was the product of scheme rather than actually taking and making shots. When inside, Lendeborg was a durable two-foot finisher and even added some value as an offensive rebounder with putbacks resulting from good positioning. At the point of attack, he can struggle with quickness, getting caught upright a couple of times, though his combination of positional size and understanding of verticality allow him to add value on the defensive end. A connective forward with great positional size, Lendeborg has the tools which make him someone that should be followed this upcoming season and beyond.
Darren Jones | 6’8″ Forward | College of Southern Nevada | Offers: None
- Boasting some of the most impressive tools of the 6’6”+ crowd, Darren Jones has the slender frame and + wingspan of your prototypical athletic wing/forward. A couple of coaches I heard from ascribed to Jones the prized “3&D” designation, something which is pretty easy to envision, but I think that discounts the flashes he showed of being able to put the ball on the floor and get to his shot OTD rather than just in spot-up situations. He has a one-motion form with a high release point, albeit with some flaring in his legs at the apex, which combined with his height/length allow him to get to his shot both off the catch and in traffic over hapless defenders. The handle shows glimpses of becoming more fluid vs. one-cut, yet at this point he still plays fairly upright with the ball in his hands, allowing defenders to knock him off driving angles more than you would like to see. When he does have a clear lane, Jones is an explosive leaper off one, capable of completing putbacks and elevating in semi-transition advantages. Defensively, the San Bernardino-native showcased versatility and flexibility as a scheme defender, with the wingspan and lateral movement skills to cover wings and even potentially some bigger guards at the POA. His frame is still developing, making sliding up more of a challenge against older, stronger forwards and bigs but he offered value in the two day showcase as a weakside rim protector and disruptor. One of the most intriguing upside guys in attendance, Jones has both the foundation and developmental avenues in place; it will just be a matter of where he ends up.