Two future Longhorns to participate in Nike Global Challenge. Canadian countrymen and fellow Longhorn commits Tristan Thompson and Myck Kabongo were both scheduled to participate in the adidas Nation tournament that started on Tuesday, but changed their plans and will now play for the Canadian team in the Nike Global Challenge from Friday to Saturday in Hillsboro, Oregon. The team page does not currently list Thompson on the Canadian team, but he is expected to be there. Unfortunately, the adidas Nation finals are streaming online on Saturday, but there does not appear to be any televised or streamed coverage of the Nike event, so the switch probably costs Longhorn fans a chance to see them in action.
The Nike Global Challenge features eight teams from all over the world in a 12-game tournament-style format. Participation in a series of Skills Academies narrowed the field of American players down to 30 players selected at the LeBron James US Skills Academy. It's the third year of the Challenge in Oregon and notable alumni include Avery Bradley, John Wall, and DeMar DeRozan. 2010 Texas target James Johnson will also participate in the event.
Strong month for Kabongo. Entering the month of July, the primary criticism of Kabongo remained a perceived lack of outside shooting. After participating in a variety of camps during the month, including the prestigious Las Vegas camp, Kabongo allayed some of those fears ($). Ever self-reflective, Kabongo critiqued his play:
People already know my strong points...leadership, on the ball defense, a playmaker and a winner. I showed people I can shoot the ball. A lot of people don't think I can shoot the ball, but I worked a lot on my jump shot. I made some shots beyond the arc and in the mid-range.
Of course, good players don't become great players by resting, confident in their game. The young point guard clearly has that drive, as well as being critical enough of himself to push beyond his current limits:
I can improve on everything. I say it every time, but it's really everything. I'm always in the gym working on everything. I work on every little thing. Leading the team this year, a lot will be on my shoulders losing some key guys. I have to keep improving as a leader.
Few question his leadership, but as he mentioned in the first quote, the most common criticism of Kabongo's game is his jump shot. Think about it -- Kabongo came up as a player balling with Tristan Thompson and Corey Joseph, a finisher and a knock-down shooter, so Kabongo's job growing up was to break down the defense to create for his teammates. And by all accounts Kabongo does that in spades and with commendable selflessness.
In a way, Kabongo's role on the St. Benedict's team without his former teammate Tristan Thompson should evolve in a manner commensurate with his need for improvement. He'll be asked to take on a larger role as a scorer this season, giving him an opportunity to work on his outside shot and mid-range game. He already looks fluid as a shooter, so it looks like a matter of game repetitions for him.
However, that penetrating ability isn't always executed under control. In the NHSI game against Oak Hill that St. Benedict lost despite making a late one, Kabongo took himself out of the game with several player control fouls. He has the ability to change pace, he just needs to more consistently jump stop or better change direction if a defender beats him to the spot, much like Dogus Balbay (who is practicing again, by the way). The good news is that Kabongo has two more years to improve his game before he steps on campus as a Longhorn and there is little doubt that his jump shot will improve greatly during that time.
ESPNU 150 features 10 Longhorn commits. While there hasn't been much good recruiting news in the last several months for Longhorn recruitniks, there is good news -- of the 19 players committed to Texas in the 2010 class, 10 of them are considered by ESPNU to be in the top 150 in the class, the best in the nation (Florida as nine). By comparison, OU only has four out of their 19 commitments and, despite putting together a strong class, Texas A&M only has three.
Most notably, the list has Taylor Bible and Ashton Dorsey as the top-ranked defensive tackles in the country, with Bible coming it at 14 (highest of all the commits) and Dorsey at 44. Rounding out of the rest of the top 100 are linebacker Aaron Benson (51), receiver Chris Jones (73), and defensive end Reggie Wilson (100). The rest of the Longhorns on the list are cornerback Adrian White, linebacker Tevin Jackson, defensive back Carrington Byndom, athlete Adrian Phillips and offensive lineman Trey Hopkins.
Jackson Jeffcoat ranks as the top player on the list, with Jordan Hicks coming in second and Darius White at number eight -- the Longhorns still have a shot to add three top-10 players, while four other Longhorns also received four stars but did not make the list (defensive end Greg Daniels, quarterback Connor Wood, defensive tackle De'Aires Cotton and offensive lineman Dominic Espinosa). A strong senior season should vault Reggie Wilson well into the top 100 and into a position closer to his ranking by the Texas services (top 10 in each). The other player who will probably make the biggest leap is Tevin Jackson, the incredibly-talented linebacker who has been impressive this summer at various 7-on-7 events and combines.
Speaking of Jackson...The Garland linebacker drew rave reviews at the Gridiron Kings event in Orlando, a combination of 7-on-7 competition, skills challenges, position training, and performance training. A member of the Day 1 Hot 11 ($), Jackson impressed with his physique and, most impressively, his fluid hips and smooth backpedal in coverage. Known mostly as a downhill player at Garland, his ability in coverage at the event speaks volumes of Jackson's ability to become a complete linebacker capable of stuffing the run, rushing the passer, and covering tight ends or running backs in the passing game, the latter skill critical to being a three-down linebacker in the Big 12.
At the end of the event, Rivals ranked him as the top linebacker ($) because of his consistency and limited mistakes. Unsurprisingly, the aggressive Jackson spoke mostly of wanting to de-cleat his opponents ($), surely using an immense of amount of self-control to stay within the touch format of the 7-on-7 competition. As easy as it is to pine for uncommitted players, it's important not to lose sight of the talented Tevin Jackson.
Franklin set to make decision within days. On Tuesday, Marshall linebacker Aaron Franklin confirmed that he will make his college decision ($) "some time at the end of the week." He also confirmed that his decision will come down to OU and Texas -- while Franklin feels "good" about the OU coaches and program overall, he also feels "good" about the Longhorns. Oh, guess that doesn't really say anything. In all fairness, both schools are probably roughly equal to Franklin and it must be extremely difficult to answer the questions of all the recruiting services.
However, Franklin did make an important statement to Sooners Illustrated ($) about whether Oklahoma's early interest in him would make a difference:
A little, but it wouldn't be a major reason in my decision.
Conventional wisdom has held for some time that the only separation between the two schools could be the higher level of comfort with the Sooners due to the interest that they paid to Franklin for close to a year before the childhood favorite Longhorns entered the equation. His statement is definitely good news for the Longhorns, but this one is probably still too close to tell.