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January 15, 2013

Jennings Invitational: What we learned

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Over the weekend, the Rivals.com winter hoops tour took a swing through the Milwaukee area. The showcase event was Saturday's Brandon Jennings Invitational presented by Under Armour. However, we also had a chance to swing by a handful of gyms and check out some of Milwaukee's top players, including 2014 five-star Kevon Looney. Here's a look at what we learned.

Looney's game has evolved

The evolution of Looney as a player and a prospect is one that continues to unfold. The 6-foot-8 (maybe pushing 6-foot-9?) junior forward at Milwaukee (Wis.) Hamilton broke onto the national hoops scene with the Milwaukee Running Rebels as a rising freshman. At the time, Looney was a skinny, wide-shouldered wing who loved to shoot deep jumpers and get on the glass and seemed like a natural small forward.

As time has gone by, Looney has grown into those wide shoulders. As we watched the No. 7 player in the class of 2014 over the weekend, we could see that his game is developing as well.

The part of Looney's game that has remained consistent during his development is the high volume at which he rebounds the ball. He's not one of those guys who is some kind of stupendous athlete who leaps over or runs by everybody. No, Looney is a grinder with great hands and a natural instinct for being in the right place at the right time. He reads where the ball will go, understands where misses tend to fall and has excellent reactions to get to and corral rebounds. Those same instincts and patience have turned him into a very good shot blocker.

That ability to rebound affords him lots of chances for easy scores around the rim. A growth spurt that has allowed him to fill out his once skinny frame and get a little taller has turned him into a more reliable interior finisher and somebody who can play with a bit more physicality. Because of that, it's probably time that we start looking at Looney more as a power forward than as a small forward on the next level. He can handle the ball, has a jumper that has to be respected and is an excellent passer, which will allow him to face up and be more versatile as a four who can play inside and out than as a three who will shoot and slash from the perimeter.

Juniors have work to do

Two of the highest-rated players that we saw over the weekend were juniors Dwayne Morgan from Baltimore (Md.) St. Frances and Trayvon Reed from Shiloh (Ga.) High. Morgan is a 6-foot-7 forward who ranks No. 18 in the 2014 Rivals150, while Reed is a 7-footer who checks in at No. 26 nationally.

Both have shown flashes of brilliance while also having days when they were quiet. Unfortunately, each of them had a performance from the latter category and they are both getting to a point where there will need to be more consistent production or signs of improvement to retain their lofty rankings.

Of the two, Morgan is less concerning. On plenty of occasions, we've seen the lanky forward play at a very high level and show flashes of being a big-time wing player. He's long, he's fluid and he has good athleticism when he decides to attack the goal. He can shoot pretty well in the midrange and has yet to mature physically. In Milwaukee, he was quiet and much of it can likely be traced to some issues with tendinitis in his knees. However, he also plays like he lacks confidence in his game at times and seemed timid during a four-point outing.

For the long term he still projects as a small forward, but right now he seems to be stuck between a four and a three and he doesn't always play with an aggressive nature. He looks to be growing a little bit, and if he stretches out then physical maturity and growth into true power forward size could help with what seems to be a bit of an identity crisis on the offensive end. Rivals.com has been high on Morgan since first seeing him in Colorado Springs at a USA Basketball event in October 2011, and he has worlds of potential. But we're sure that Morgan would agree he needs to be more consistent with his production.

A 7-footer who is capable of running the floor, Reed has outstanding length and is quick off the floor. However, the Georgia native is extremely thin and gets pushed all over the floor. He's always been rated high on the hopes that he will fill out and become more assertive on offense or use his elasticity to become a fluid and mobile defender in the mold of Tyson Chandler. In Milwaukee, he scored only five points and was taken out of the game during the crucial final minutes of a loss to Chicago (Ill.) Orr because Orr's three-star power forward, Marlon Jones, was giving him the business on both ends.

Yes, Reed is skinny and lacks strength. Like Morgan, he seems to lack confidence. But that doesn't mean he can't be more of a factor. It's time for Reed to start pushing back when pushed. It's time for him to demand the ball more because he does have good touch. And it's time for him to use his length and quickness to be more of a shot-blocking threat. There is a player somewhere inside that frame, and it's time for Reed to start tapping into it if he wants to reach his full potential.

Giles is the best 2016 prospect we've seen

We want to make this very, very clear. It's way too early to deem anybody the top prospect in the class of 2016. The country's freshman class has had limited exposure and is still developing physically, and there are probably plenty of contenders out there whom nobody even knows about. That being said, High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan Christian's Harry Giles is, to date, the best prospect that Rivals.com has watched from the freshman class.

Standing 6-foot-8, the 14-year-old Giles is a slender but strong four man who has outstanding natural instincts and a terrific base of skills. He spins quickly to either shoulder for scores at the rim, uses shot fakes and is willing to play physically against older and stronger players. Giles is an exceptional passer out of the post, makes good decisions, has touch shooting the ball and is a high-level athlete. Basically, there's nothing not to like about him.

Then again, it's important to remember that he is 14 and that there's no way to be sure what will happen as he grows older. There's also no way to account for what will happen with classmates of his and their individual development. However, it's not unfair to label him as a potentially elite prospect and the best freshman we've seen thus far. His development should be fun to track.



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