April 30, 2011

Jayhawk Invite kicks off

Even in the late spring, basketball is alive in Lawrence, Kan., with the annual Jayhawk Invitational. Local favorite KC Pump N Run kicked things off at Haskell University’s gym, site of the opening night premier match ups. Plenty of Kansas recruits were on hand, including Perry Ellis, Shabazz Muhammad, Mitch McGary, and Nino Jackson, putting on a display of their talent in front of Kansas fans and even KU players.

The first game of the evening features KC Pump N Run, a program headed by LJ Goolsby, and has produced Big 12 players Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar, Travis Releford, Michael Dixon, and Marcus Denmon.

Pump N Run found themselves down double digits for much of the first half, but used a second half surge to get back within
striking distance.

A late bucket with under 10 seconds left gave Pump N Run the lead, however, their opponent, Net Gain, drove the ball down the lane, missing the first shot attempt but getting the follow to go, sealing the 54-53 victory.

The second game of the evening was the marquee match-up of the night, featuring Pray and Play Players taking on Dreamvision. Pray and Play, led by Perry Ellis looked to be outmatched from the beginning as Dreamvision is loaded with top prospects Shabazz Muhammad, Winston Shepard, and Robert Upshaw.

From the outset, Dreamvision used its size and athleticism to control the pace and keep Pray and Play from getting into any groove on the offensive end.

Shepard kicked things off with a monster dunk on a drive to the basket, followed by Upshaw, a rising prospect, putting on a rebounding clinic and displaying an array of post moves. His mobility is still an area needing work, but he has the size, strength, and tools to become one of the top big men in the country.

Although his shot was slightly off, it’s quite clear Shabazz Muhammad is one of, if not the best player in his class.

Last year, the future pro weighed 180-pounds at the 2010 Jayhawk Invitational. This year, he has bulked up to a solid 215-pounds and uses every bit of it to post up his defender, either taking them straight to the basket by backing them down or using a superb hesitation move to either get a mid-range jumper off or drive past the defender.

Muhammad has an incredibly fluid shooting stroke and has great touch around the rim. His athleticism is well above average and although he missed both of them, he was close to finishing off two monster dunks over defenders.

Dreamvision is considered one of the favorites to win the Jayhawk Invite and with players like Muhammad, Shepard, and Upshaw; they may have the most dynamic roster of the group.

Perry Ellis, who some have labeled the best player to ever come from the state of Kansas, was the main man for Pray and Play. Ellis, who isn’t as aggressive as he should be considering his talent, put on an offensive display which wowed those in attendance. He tends to not finish strong at the rim, but has exceptional touch and knows how to score over defenders. He also is able to knock down perimeter shots with ease and is quickly becoming an almost un-guardable player.

One can only imagine what he could do if he was consistently aggressive on the offensive end. To his credit, he is obviously the focal point for the opposing team as Pray and Play simply lacks the offensive fire power to compete with a team like Dreamvision.

To cap off the night, KU target Nino Jackson and the Compton Magic took the court against SYF Players, who feature rising big man Mitch McGary.

Jackson, who was fairly quiet compared to past performances at the Jayhawk Invite, made plenty of jaw-dropping plays and essentially took the game over for Compton in the second half, leading his team to a 74-72 win over SYF.

Jackson is incredibly quick with the ball and lightning fast from end to end. He has also developed a deadly crossover and step back move to give himself space between him and his defender. While the shot didn’t fall nearly as often as it does, his ball skills are elite-level.

The highlight of the night may have been his follow-up dunk over a SYF player off a missed shot. Jackson may not jump as high as some players, but no one gets off the court quicker. Late in the second half, Jackson made several incredible drives to the hoop, finishing each time either off the glass or with a floater. The only unfortunate aspect to his performance was the late start to the game, causing many of the fans in attendance to leave before he even took the court. Jackson is the type of player who can keep a crowd on its feet for an entire game.

For SYF, Mitch McGary was incredibly impressive. Although his ranking is low at the moment, he has the potential to become a big time national prospect. His stock is rising fast and based on what he was able to do Friday night, it’s no wonder.

Modeling his game after the likes of Lamar Odom, McGary is a lefty with plenty of range but the size and strength to play on the blocks. He finished one play with a vicious two-handed put-back dunk, and later in the game, threw down an even more vicious dunk off an ally-oop.

His outside shooting stroke is clean and smooth and he isn’t afraid to pull the trigger. He is a very vocal player and hustles for every ball. He didn’t rebound the ball as well as he could, but is athletic and strong enough to dominate the boards.

If day one at the Jayhawk Invitational is a sign of things to come, it should be an entertaining weekend of basketball in Lawrence, Kan.

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