As part of our Jordan Classic coverage, Finish Line polled some of the finest up-and-coming players in America about what it means to them to play in the game that bears Michael Jordan’s name, among other topics. We also solicited perspectives from Knicks executive and former All-Star Allan Houston, plus ESPN national recruiting director Paul Biancardi.
Paul Biancardi (@)
Before joining ESPN as its national recruiting director, Biancardi had a distinguished career as a coach, including serving as an assistant for an Ohio State squad that made the Final Four in 1999. A Boston native, Biancardi came to ESPN in 2006, calls high school games and hosts ESPN Recruiting Nation. He also serves on the committees for the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Gatorade National Player of the Year.
Does anything set the Jordan Classic apart from the other games?
Well, obviously the stage. The Barclays Center is a big-time setting for the game. In terms of the game itself, it’s one of the most high-profile games in the industry. If you’re a player with upside, especially NBA upside, you want to be selected to this game.
What players have really jumped out at you? I saw you watching the West practice.
First of all, these practices are not traditional high school year-round practices. They’re short, one or two days. We have outstanding coaches, (Montverde’s) Kevin Boyle, (Bishop O’Dowd’s) Lou Richie and (Mount Vernon’s) Bob Cimmino, those are three high-level high school coaches. So that’s why the workout was so organized. Antonio Blakeney, to me, is very impressive …
He jumps out at you, doesn’t he?
He jumps out as someone who can score the ball from anywhere on the floor. He can create his own shot with the dribble, with the shot fake, with the jab step — I mean, he has different ways to score the basketball, and he may be the most prolific of all the two-guards in terms of scoring.
Last year, it seemed like the class was heavy on big men. This year, it seems like it’s more about the shooting guards.
Well, the big men are still what make the class special. But the two-guards are what gives it value and depth. On our ESPN 100, it’s never an exact science, but there are 29 shooting guards, and then there are 16 centers, and then there are 21 power forwards. But the best players in the class are the bigs. There’s the most room for growth and upside, but there are some outstanding two guards, like you said.
When you come to an event like this, what is it you’re looking to see? Because like you said, this isn’t a conventional game.
First of all, I’ve evaluated these guys for four years, so right now I’m kind of just watching their mannerisms. I’m just looking at traits, I’m not really looking at skills anymore. I’ve seen each one of these guys hundreds of times. So what I look at now is the body language, the work ethic, the intensity. I look at the teamwork, I look at the unselfishness. I’m just looking for things that are going to help separate them in my mind. For instance, who’s going to play defense in the next hour here? Some guys will, some guys won’t.
You mentioned Blakeney. Are there any other guys who strike you as coming right in and making an impact?
I think Isaiah Briscoe’s going to make a big impact at Kentucky. He’s really matured in the last year. He’s really grown up a lot. He has a leadership awareness about him that he didn’t have before. He’s always been good, but he’s polished up his body and he’s polished up his game. So physically he’s ready, and mentally he’s in a good state of mind right now.
What about Skal Labissiere?
I think Skal’s going to be terrific. I think Skal’s best basketball will be 3, 4, 5 years from now. But he’ll impact Kentucky. He has an Anthony Davis-like effect; he’s not the athlete Davis was, but he’s a better shooter at the same stage. He’s got that long, seven-foot frame of a shot blocker with skill — he kind of reminds me of Anthony Davis in some ways.
You look at a guy like Grayson Allen, he didn’t capture all the headlines right away, but he ended up being a major contributor. Do you see any players out here who people aren’t necessarily talking about that much who might end up having that kind of impact?
That’s a great question, because I always think about those guys. Just one point on Grayson Allen, he played on the Reach One Teach One AAU team with D’Angelo Russell and Ben Simmons. They told him if you’re going to play for us, you’re going to have to come off the bench. He accepted that, which showed me he was a real competitive kid. So I wasn’t surprised what he did at Duke at the end there.
But to your point, I think Malik Beasley. Dwayne Bacon’s going to get the headlines at Florida State, which he deserves, because he’s the most gifted of all the two-guards. But Beasley is a guy who can be better than his ranking and better than the guys in front of him here. I really like his game; he’s a great athlete, good scoring guard, guy who always tries to get better. People aren’t going to know him today, but they might know him a year from today.
I’ll give you another name who’s really good: He’s the least talked about of any of the top 25 guys, Deyonta Davis, going to Michigan State. He’s a great shot blocker, probably second best in the country behind Skal. He led the state of Michigan in shot blocks, 199 in a single season his junior year. He can score from about 12 feet facing the basket, and he’s a good rebounder, he’s an active player. I think he’s going to do really well, whether it’s the first year or the second year, but he’s a guy you’re going to say, ‘Wow! Where was he in everybody’s rankings?’ But he’s a top 20 guy. And he’s going to a coach in Tom Izzo who’s got proven history on his side with Zach Randolph, Draymond Green and Adreian Payne.
** Check back tomorrow as we wrap up our Jordan Classic coverage with Skal Labissiere and Austin Grandstaff.