While much of the attention on the Nation's top prospect Nerlens Noel, the East squad had him coming off the bench in Sunday's All-American Championship game in New Orleans.
Alongside him as reserves were Syracuse signees DaJuan Coleman and Jerami Grant. In an ironic twist of fate, the three were all in the game at the same time throughout the event, in which the East won 84-72, led by a scoring display from Connecticut-bound combo guard Omar Calhoun.
But make no mistake, the game was all about the big men, so here's my take on Noel, Coleman and Grant from Sunday's action.
The highly sought-after big man, who announced that he will make his decision between SU, Kentucky and Georgetown on April 11, was as-advertised even against the elite competition. He impacted the defensive end of the floor immediately, coming up with a big block just two possessions into his floor time. Noel ended up with a trio of blocks on the afternoon, though he affected at least a handful of additional shots. He added five rebounds in the win, including three in the final minutes.
Offensively, Noel showed his elite athleticism despite a 6-foot-10 frame. His first two buckets were each on big-time dunks, and the second one was from a few feet inside the free-throw line. He glided through the air for perhaps the most impressive two points of the game, and he ended up with six on 3 of 4 shooting. Noel wasn't against showing off his passing skills, even hitting Coleman on a behind-the-back look under the basket. But the most unexpected thing he did was to nail a 20-foot jumper from the top of the key.
Observations: Noel was the best shot-blocker on the floor, as he should have been. Not only was he able to display his elite anticipatory skills, but he showed a somewhat surprising ability to get up to an apex on an opponent's second or third shot attempts as well. His ability to jump consecutively with minimal wasted movement only makes his defensive arsenal that much more lethal. As if that weren't enough, Noel even showed quick hands against opposing big men, coming up with two steals in the win.
After impressing on a national scale with elite rebounding in the McDonald's All-American game earlier in the week, Coleman followed it up with another impressive display on the boards. He snatched up everything in sight, showing strong hands and anticipatory skills on long shots that most centers only tip out to guards. Coleman changes his angle and gets to those kind of rebounds. The 12-rebound performance was again a game-high, and he added a stout block in the process.
Offensively, Coleman proved his power under the basket on some big-time dunks, including one that caused the rim to see-saw back-and-forth for nearly 30 seconds after he let go of the rim. He also showed his ability to pass in the game, coming up with a pair of assists including one on an outlet to future Orange teammate Jerami Grant. Coleman only took three shots, finishing with six points just like Noel did.
Observations: Coleman is arguably the best high school rebounder in the country, and he's proved it over the two All-American games he played in. Nationally, his passing has become a bit of a buzz topic though local Syracuse media have been aware of his court-length outlet passes for the last four years. Coleman has also been running the floor well, continuing to show the benefits of the conditioning program Jim Boeheim and company have him on.
Grant came in as the most under-the-radar of the three prospects, but he held his own as he always seems to do. With so many big men on the floor with him, he was looked at to play the off-guard spot – and he handled it well. Grant was aggressive with the ball in his hands, and ended up with eight points while attacking the basket more times than not. A pair of his dunks showcased his exceptional length to go along with an effortless ability to get from one end of the floor to the other. The only knock on Grant was a subpar game at the free-throw line, though he converted each of his last three attempts.
Defensively, Grant wasn't asked to do much. He played the smaller guards as tough as he could have, but was really out of place against elite point guards. Still, he managed a pair of rebounds and helped to double-down on big men in the win.
Observations: Grant is 6-foot-6, but he continues to play bigger and longer no matter his role. On Sunday, he was asked to play guard and he was solid as a ball-handler and passer. But the most impressive aspect of Grant's performance was his aggression. He understands how to get to the basket, and in-turn to the free throw line. The wing-man also knows how to play the angles on both ends of the floor, re-emphasizing his high basketball IQ.
On the floor together…
Noel, Coleman, and Grant played every minute together on the floor – and each collaborated on at least one basket. Each was unselfish with the ball around the basket and assisted the other on easy dunks. Defensively, Coleman and Noel rotated at center, each showing the ability to play the position although the defense – like any All-Star game setting – was a loose man-to-man for most of the game. The dilemma remains, should Noel choose SU on the 11th, as to which position each would play when on the floor at the same time. For now, I would say Noel at center and Coleman on the wing – though it's far from ideal.
In the only recollection of a zone-like play in the game Sunday, Noel and Coleman combined for a big block that sparked a fast-break opportunity for the East squad. A sign of things to come?
We'll just have to wait and see…