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December 20, 2013
Tarkanian Classic: Leaf, Wilson star day one
LAS VEGAS -- Now in year two, the Tarkanian Classic on the campus of Bishop Gorman high school has emerged as one of the top winter events in the country. Featuring a heavy dose of West Coast teams, Thursday provided a chance to see big timers like Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson, Stephen Zimmerman, Ivan Rabb, Cheick Diallo and many more. While many of the studs had big days, some others like 2016 top 30 player T.J. Leaf, 2015 Pitt commitment Damon Wilson and rising 2015 three-star Nick Blair had big days as well.
Leaf getting bigger and better
It was this time last year that El Cajon (Calif.) Foothills Christian star T.J. Leaf introduced himself to the high school basketball world. Now a sophomore, the No. 27 player in the class of 2016 is growing in not only physical stature but his on-the-floor performance.
Playing through a shoulder injury that he suffered on Wednesday night, the four-star prospect was highly productive during a win. Now 6-foot-9 and adding bulk to his lean frame, Leaf went for 31 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in one of the day's most impressive performances.
What you notice immediately with Leaf is that he is highly skilled. He can make jump shots out to a few feet beyond the 3-point line, he can post up, and he is an outstanding passer. Though he may not be a true speed burner, he is bouncy around the rim and actually moves quite well for a young player with his size.
Not surprisingly, Leaf has started to emerge as a target for many fine programs. Indiana has offered, and Tom Crean was in to see him on Wednesday night. Leaf said that the Hoosiers are putting the most effort into his recruitment at this time and that UCLA was right up there with them. The Hoosiers and Bruins have both offered along with San Diego State and California, while others such as Michigan also on hand Wednesday), Arizona, Arizona State and more are watching.
As for his plan with recruiting, Leaf hasn't really married himself to any plan about when he would or wouldn't like to end things.
"If something really good happens and I'm feeling it, I could do it whenever," said Leaf. "But, it could be two weeks or it could be two years. I don't really know yet."
Wilson sparks Our Savior to big win
Make no mistake about it, four-star combo guard Damon Wilson is one of the top players in the class of 2015. An early commit to Pittsburgh, Wilson is only out of the rankings because he switched back to his natural 2015 class from 2016 after post-summer rankings were complete. Thursday night, Wilson scored 16 while helping to lead Centereach (N.Y.) Our Savior to a day-ending win over Dallas (Texas) Prime Prep.
With good size and a strong frame, Wilson actually runs the point for his squad and he does a very good job of it. He is under control and does a good job of mixing jump shots and drives. Though his jumper was a little off, Wilson was huge getting to the rim and earning trips to the foul line. His physical and aggressive play helped to set the tone for his teammates in a hard fought game.
It isn't as if Wilson is without help, either. Unsigned senior shooting guard Kobie Eubanks and five-star junior big man Cheick Diallo were also huge in the win as well. Eubanks is an offensive minded backcourt player who is thinking score at all times and will be a guy that high majors take a look at this winter. One of the top 10 players in the class of 2015, Diallo dominated the game on the glass. In addition to his rebounding, he protected the rim defensively and finished with huge slams on the offensive end.
Blair making a name for himself
Host Las Vegas (Calif.) Bishop Gorman has plenty of talent, especially in the junior class. Five-star big men Stephen Zimmerman and Chase Jeter get lots of headlines and deservedly so. But keep an eye out for three-star prospect Nick Blair.
A 6-foot-5 small forward, Blair has always impressed with his athletic ability and ability to finish well above the rim in transition. But he has also been more of an athlete who can play hoops than a basketball player who happens to be a high-level athlete. The change is happening, though, and it is happening quick.
Blair is steadily becoming a more efficient shooter from deep, learning to use the bounce and figuring out how to use his athleticism to be an impact defender and rebounder. Blair said that he doesn't have any offers just yet but he feels like Virginia Tech is putting a lot of effort into his recruitment and could be close. Others taking looks include Oregon, Arizona State, Portland and UNLV.
More Thursday notes from Vegas
For a while, Las Vegas (Nev.) Clark kept things very close with mighty Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. But, at the end of the day Mater Dei has a weapon that few, if any, high school programs are built to cope with. Five-star Stanley Johnson was simply too much as he kicked things into overdrive during the second half to finish with 34 points after dropping 42 on opening night. The future Arizona Wildcat is actually playing the point for the Monarchs and with a head of steam the 6-foot-7 senior who ranks No. 3 in the Rivals150 is simply too much to stop going to rim. On top of that he is becoming more and more comfortable as a deep shooter. At this point there's not much more to say about him other than he's a bonafide stud.
Another player to keep a very close eye on at Mater Dei is 6-foot-9 sophomore big man M.J. Cage. Cage has great shoulders, long arms and very good hands. He is adding strength, playing more powerfully around the rim and the four-star figures to be a mover in the class of 2016 rankings when they get updated and expanded in the spring. Kentucky, UCLA, Washington, San Diego State and Gonzaga have all offered. The son of former NBA tail kicker Michael Cage, it's interesting to note that Cage's father played at SDSU and that his older sister is currently a freshman on the women's team.
Before the weekend is over, 2015's No. 3 player Ivan Rabb is going to be more tested than he was on Thursday. The 6-foot-9 power forward and his Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd teammates had built a 61-19 lead by halftime and his services weren't needed during the second half. A bouncy finisher in the lane, Rabb was dominant on the glass, finished with both hands in the lane and showed good vision passing over the top of a zone defense. We'll see what happens when the competition stiffens but Rabb has the look of a kid who wants to be in the conversation for 2015's top player.
BYU fans should be very excited about their duo of commitments at Highland (Utah) Lone Peak. Senior combo guard T.J. Haws currently ranks No. 70 in the class of 2014 while sophomore guard Frank Jackson looks like a player that will ultimately factor somewhere into the rankings in 2016.
Offensively gifted and skilled, Haws put on a scoring clinic during a Thursday win. He hit deep threes, unleashed an assortment of floaters and mid range jumpers while also making things happen for teammates. He still lacks strength but time and the weight room will take care of that. A 6-foot-1 guard who plays off the ball for now, Jackson has a tremendously explosive first step, is a good ball handler and looks like he will be dangerous as a shooter. Though he defers to Haws, Jackson is still plenty aggressive and is quite efficient in what he does. The duo combined for 51.
His Prime Prep team took a tough loss, but the nation's No. 2 player Emmanuel Mudiay controlled the game on both ends of the floor for long stretches. The SMU bound floor general has such an outstanding feel for how to use his size, vision and athletic gifts that it's almost impossible to see any way that he doesn't end up a big time player in college and beyond. His jumper still needs some work and he'll have to add to his mid range repertoire long term, but there is no denying that he was making great decisions and did an outstanding job of putting his teammates in position to succeed on Thursday. He had a laser beam 35 foot left handed pass across the floor to an open shooter as he fade dribbled into the right corner that was LeBron'esque.
Eric Bossi is the national basketball recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. You can click here to follow him on Twitter.