John Lucas Top 160 - 2016

September 6, 2016

John Lucas Top 160 – 2016

By: Shane Laffin (Premier Basketball Report)

Labor Day Weekend 2016 brought us what has become an annual must see skills, drills, and competitive camp in the John Lucas Top 160. Players from classes 2017 – 2021 and from all over the continent, including Alaska, Hawaii, and a few from Canada, visited the Legends Sports Complex in The Woodlands, Texas to participate and gain some wisdom and add to their game.

As registration started and players started pouring into the gym, voluntary early drills were already going on at every basket. There is no wasted time at the John Lucas Top 160 camp. You walk in, get your shoes on, get warm, start working, and you do not stop.

To kick things off, the players and parents were gathered all around so the staff could be introduced and the tone could be set. John Lucas explained the intention of the camp, the methods, a general outline of activity and timeline, and shared his vision for young athletes. He made sure to emphasize to these young ladies that there are more opportunities than ever, specifically in this realm through athletics, for them to chase their dreams. He also made a point to mention that in order to take advantage of those opportunities that they would have to compete for them – more opportunities than ever, but also more people that want them more than ever as well.

Coach Lucas then introduced the NBA and WNBA Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts. She shared her story and some of her professional experiences that highlighted through hard work and education, these young ladies have the platform and opportunity to achieve great things.

One of the things Coach Lucas mentioned in his opening remarks was the lack of emphasis across the board (more so in the grassroots sector) in the strength and conditioning on the girls’ game. To kick the camp off, the players were split into groups and went to one of five stations:

  1. “The Beach” – A quick preview of a sand conditioning workout
  2. “Boot Camp” – Sleds, core work, team conditioning drills
  3. Vertical Test – Measured standing vertical leap test
  4. Sprint Test – Timed ¾ court sprint
  5. Agilities Test – Quick linear and lateral movement test; testing change of direction/explosiveness/footwork

Results can be found here: https://static.spacecrafted.com/f7bbe1c0248940c5b393c7baa5a99586/r/e98cad21b3e24a82b33f93764112128f/1/c354c3f2e7134f42a49ec50d3e836811.pdf

This began the work for the weekend.

The next portion of the camp was dedicated to several different stations. These included things like ball handling, contact finishes, full court 1 on 1, controlled 3 on 3 in a semi-transition situation, shooting footwork, penetrate + kick fundamentals with an emphasis on spacing and relocation, and shell drill fundamentals. The coaches took the time to teach, correct, and praise the success and improvement of the players over the course of each respective drill.

After drills came the meal break for about an hour and half. The players had put in some serious work and deserved and appreciated this time.

The evening session was competitive 5 on 5 games played in 10 minute quarters split into 5 minute even playing time segments. I was particularly interested in this segment because I knew the players had worked hard for quite a while earlier in the day, and they would not be at their prime from an energy standpoint for the games. This part would really show who truly enjoyed competing, and who could still think the game well once they were a little fatigued.

The other thing I look for in these situations is what players carry things over from what was taught or emphasized earlier in the day. This is not your typical “exposure” event. The emphasis is not on individual play – it is on competition, toughness, skills, and game concepts. The tendency for some players in the games is to revert back to the habits of individual play and to only focus when the ball is in their hands. Their defensive effort tends to be less than stellar, and they are not engaged unless they have the ball or they are calling for the ball. I saw this in a few players. They pound the cover off the ball and take early shots and lead many possessions down the floor (sometimes even consecutive possessions) when no one else even touches the ball. Unfortunately, this was displayed by a few of the “lead guard/combo guard” type of players and this is a trait that is less than desirable. This kind of play just does not translate to success at the next level. There is no extra credit for “degree of difficulty” possessions.

I was particularly impressed with Texas commit Chasity Patterson (2017 – TX) in this role and would hope to see more players emulate her style of play. Her eyes are always up, she gives the ball up early and moves to space so she can be effective when she gets it back, takes good shots (and when she was left open, it was money), and then immediately becomes a defender after the shot goes up – straight into defensive stance and reading the opposing guard and slowing the ball down. Patterson has made herself into a shot maker and has found the niche of being able to run an offense, but also pick her spots to take advantage of her ability to score the ball in multiple ways. I like her demeanor on the floor and anticipate success at the next level. She competed in every rep all weekend long.

I like to see what players in these events are the players that try to bring their team together even though they are in the camp as individuals. Every time Samantha Brunelle (2019 – VA) is on the floor, I see this. She plays on both ends of the floor, she communicates, and celebrates the positives of her teammates and encourages them after possible mistakes. She sets an example by moving without the ball and despite being one of the more capable players on the floor, shares the ball and takes appropriate shots. She is certainly one of the best shooters in the country. When in a catch and shoot situation, beware: she is almost automatic. She has an easy stroke with a smooth release.

UCONN commit Lexi Gordon (2017 – TX), her younger sister Myra Gordon (2020 – TX), and Deja Kelly (2020 – TX) are three more players that I would put in this mold. They are talented and can score the ball in multiple ways, but they do not force shots and they are extremely coachable. They are aware of their teammates’ strengths and weaknesses and have a court vision and awareness that makes the game smoother.

What hasn’t been said about Megan Walker? (2017 – VA). She is supremely talented and a gifted strong athlete who plays the game right. She is just a player – no need to call her a position or pigeonhole her as anything in particular. She can just play the game at a high level and makes plays with precision and fundamental quality that really sets her apart from the pack.

Honesty Scott-Grayson (2018 – MD) is a similar playmaker. She is a fundamentally sound and supremely talented player. She makes plays without forcing the action or trying to do too much. She stands out whenever she is on the floor.

Sedona Prince (2018 – TX) has come off the summer circuit with a renewed focus. Her pace and effort were particularly noticeable during the whole camp. She did not miss a chance to run the floor or fight for a rebound. Her motor was impressive all weekend. It is interesting to watch a 6’7 fluid moving athlete such as Prince in all the drills: she does not look out of place during any of them. She handles the ball in the ball handling drills like a guard (two balls, tennis ball drills.. doesn’t matter), her footwork into her jumper and her release is as smooth and soft as anyone in the gym, and even in full court 1 on 1 – she just went to work. In the games she displayed her court vision and her passing skills to cutting teammates or players running the floor for advance passes. She could afford to be more aggressive on the offensive end, sometimes forgetting that she plays on a plane that many do not because of her height, but she is always aware of her teammates on the floor. This is a basketball player, not just a big. Her physical upside has not even been touched yet, so watch out in the next calendar year as she commits to the weight room and the department of strength and physical improvement. There is still a lot of upside there.

One of my favorite players to watch at the camp was Breanna Beal (2019 – IL). She has a frame that will have her physically ready for the college game and beyond very soon. She is a big wing (G/F) that has a very good fundamental feel for the game. I first saw her at USA Trials in May and immediately recognized her physical prowess. She showed me a smoother release on her jumper at this camp that resulted in more consistency from the perimeter. Her handle is improving as well her change of pace. She competed and showed great effort throughout the event. She is going to be a hot commodity on the recruiting trail.

Deyona Gaston (2020 – TX) is a must see. She reminds me of a young Nalyssa Smith: length, versatility, confident, and is better every time I see her. Look for her to be discussed as one of the top players in this class moving forward. I look forward to watching her continue to develop.

This camp was full of talented players. Here are a few more of the standouts by class:

( Premier Basketball Report subscribers will get the full list, info, and evaluation notes)

2017

Khayla Pointer

Gabby Connally

Channise Lewis

Maya Dodson

Rennia Davis

Alexus Johnson

Kayla Owens

Shakira Austin

2018

Morgan Talley

Raija Todd

Tyia Singleton

Christina Morra

Deja Woodard

Brooke Bigott

Kourtney Weber

Lauryn Thompson

Tehya Lyons

Breyonna Ferebee

Xaria Wiggins

Morgan Jones

Charli Collier

Brooke Moore

Nydia Lampkin

Jala Buster

Cameron Swartz

Shania Edgecombe

Mia Heide

2019

Kennedi Jackson

Donna Ophambo Ntambue

Ashley Daniel

Ciera Ellington

McKinzie Green

Ashley Owusu

Madison Griffon

Jadyn Byrd

Liz Scott

Angel Jackson

Jasmine Williams

DaJinae McCarty

Jordan Isaacs

2020

Taylen Collins

Sahara Jones

Kaniyah Harris

Lisa Tesson

Jada Walker

Laila Blair

2021

Reigan Richardson

Neaveah Caldwell

Sunday brought some sore bodies, but the same energy. As soon as everyone walked in the gym at 700am, voluntary drills were going on all over the courts. Once the players had checked in, Coach Lucas spoke to them and their parents again and gave what I termed his “ Sunday Spacing Sermon”. He spoke of the importance of spacing and playing together and reading and reacting to your teammates so players could learn to effectively move without the ball. He pointed out that the game does not have to be complicated if you work and know how to play, with special emphasis on playing together and playing to each team member’s strengths.

What I found to be particularly unique to his talk was that he chose random pairs of players to come and stand in front of the camp and explain drills that they participated in the day before. More importantly though, he asked the WHY’s and the HOW’s of the actions and drills. I think this illustrated to the players and their parents that to be mindless in the drills and just get through reps is a waste of time if you cannot take the particular action and apply it to playing the game.

He challenged the players and their parents to find skill instruction that both challenges them and constructively criticizes them, but also supports them in their growth. He told them that being “soft” in this game has never served anyone. He emphasized to them that there is a balance between individual skill instruction and the teaching of game concepts as well – all players need both. It is also undeniable, he said, that this would be a time investment and a money investment, but that the return would be a high level education. He told them to not be afraid to introduce themselves to some pressure because that is exactly what they would feel as they climb the ladder towards college and, for some, the professional ranks.

Sunday court activities included a very focused warm up to get some of the soreness out through some blood flow followed by different drills: Drive, Drift, and Fill actions; 3 on 3 in the full court, 5 man weave into 3 on 2, and full court 1 on 1 to name a few. The camp ended with two games for every team.

After observing this camp I am a fan of what they are doing here. The bottom line is you have to come ready to really work. I think a lot of players do not ever allow themselves to “empty out” and really push their limits – they only think they are. It is good to help players learn that “playing at pace” really means you are in the supreme condition to “think at a fast pace”, not just occasionally run the floor or pressure the ball, but to always do those things. There is no wasted time at these camps, no down time to relax mentally or physically or to get reset. It is GO TIME as soon as these players step on the floor. Fatigue is a factor when playing at the highest level, but this is an element that can be controlled and experienced so that when that big moment comes, it is not a brand new experience.

This camp gives players a platform to perform and for exposure, but also to be exposed to the high level of players and expectations out there. It also exposes them to failure, which is paramount to their growth as people and players. No player was perfect this weekend, and all were challenged in one way or another. The reality is that for all but one or two players in the country, there is always somebody that is better and there has to be motivation in that realization to these players. They go away from this camp with both the details and the big picture idea of what it takes to be a good player at the next level.

I hope the parents take away a lot from this camp as well. John Lucas has his own unique style, but the fact is he is telling the absolute truth. Parents have to stop trying to protect their kids from people who want to challenge them in a healthy way. Obviously, there is a difference between poor treatment and constructively criticizing and challenging a high level player. A good coach has the relationship with a player that leaves that player wanting to be challenged. There will be days when the player and/or parents, due to lack of experience, will not particularly like or understand a coach’s methods. Find somebody you trust who has the experience and qualifications (real ones) and buy in to the process. You will thank them and yourself for doing so down the road.

People ask me all the time “What is the hardest thing for freshman transitioning into the next level?” I think many believe it is the speed of the game and the athleticism, etc. – which, there is truth to that, but obviously they are capable or they would not have gotten a college scholarship. More specifically, it is the attention span – can you pay attention and retain new actions and instruction and do it over a two and half hour practice? Because, you are expected to.. Can you think when you are fatigued? And, once fatigued, do you check out because it is ok for you (in your mind) to do that when you are “tired”? Remember this: doing things at a Division 1 pace and level consistently are not easy, but you will learn how. However, un-writing your bad habits once you get on campus is HARD. We revert to our habits in moments of fatigue both mentally and physically. So, the moral of the story is allow yourself to be challenged before you get to that point, and trust me: THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN IN GAMES ON ANY CIRCUIT IN AMERICA CONSISTENLY – POINT. BLANK. PERIOD. Those things happen in workouts and in practice. These games are the tests and the platform to perform.

There is just another level once you step on a college campus. Find an environment that will push you and help you grow. Most importantly, take ownership of your own player development so you do not have 100 people telling you their opinion of what you should do, ultimately just making it a confusing situation. There is a law of diminishing returns when you have too many voices and too many hands on a player. There are some qualified people out there – go find them.

Set your goals, both big and small, and quietly go about your business. If and only if you stick to it, when it is time to perform, you will be ready. Trust me…