Summer’s 30 Best Cagers We Saw

Note: Our preseason boys and girls statewide basketball coverage will lead up to the release of preseason state rankings in just a few weeks. Until then, we'll have two to three stories per week, featuring top teams, players and coaches. Subscribe to our site now and get the Rivals.com annual recruiting yearbook, which includes boys basketball and football, absolutely FREE. Call the Rivals.com membership services number today.
The following list and writeups are of the most impressive performers we saw on the 2006 spring and summer AAU circuit at least twice. This is not a list consisting of the top players in the state regardless of class or the order in which we feel California's best players would fall on the Student Sports Hot 100 or various national recruiting lists. Other top California players we saw at only one event or didn't see at all due to injury include:
Omondi Amoke (Oxnard); Duane Bagsby (Berkeley); Oscar Bellfield (Westchester, Los Angeles); Donnell Beverly (Leuzinger, Lawndale); Kamyron Brown (Mater Dei, Santa Ana); Jerry Brown (Sacred Heart Cathedral, San Francisco); Joe Burton (West Valley, Hemet); Chris Cunningham (Diamond Ranch, Pomona); Jarred DuBois (Westchester, Los Angeles); Luke Dupperon (North, Torrance); Gary Franklin (Mater Dei, Santa Ana); Kevin Green (Sacred Heart Cathedral, San Francisco); Jordan Hamilton (Dorsey, Los Angeles); JaShon Hampton (Fairfax, Los Angeles); Trevon Harmon (Pasadena); Justin Hawkins (Taft, Woodland Hills); Dijon Henry (Bakersfield); Terrance Jennings (Capitol Christian, Sacramento); Dominic Johnson (Sacred Heart Cathedral, San Francisco); Rob Jones (Riordan, San Francisco); Malcolm Lee (Rancho Verde, Moreno Valley); JayDee Luster (Hoover, San Diego); Stedman Merritt (Colony, Ontario); Craig Payne (Etiwanda, Rancho Cucamonga); Dwayne Polee Jr. (Westchester, Los Angeles); Tim Shelton (Clovis West, Fresno); Chace Stanback (Fairfax, Los Angeles); Julian "JuJu" Stone (Dos Pueblos, Goleta); Jacques Streeter (Fremont, Los Angeles); Chase Tapley (Sacramento); Xavier Thames (Pleasant Grove, Sacramento).

Article Continues Below
Here's the top 30 players we did see play at least twice:
1. James Harden (Artesia, Lakewood/Pump N Run Elite)
The 2006 CalHiSports.com State Junior Player of the Year has now elevated his game to the point where he should be a serious candidate for the McDonald's All-American Game and Roundball Classic next spring. The Arizona State commit is very confident in his abilities and is more athletic than one might think because he's so polished. As his overall game has gotten better, so has his explosiveness and that is rare among elite high school players. One of the key players on Artesia's run to a Div. III state crown last season, he scored 34 points in the Super 64 Open Championship while missing only one shot, 33 points later on the same day in the Las Vegas Prep Showcase against Houston Hoops and came back five days later to score 24 points in the championship game of yet another AAU tournament.
2. Renardo Sidney (Artesia, Lakewood/Southern California All-Stars)
Sidney has been receiving a lot of attention for his move from Mississippi to Southern California and the scrutiny will likely intensify if he's eligible to suit up for Artesia. The Pioneers received a lot of scrutiny last season on their way to a California Div. III state title and they will be the favorites to repeat if Sidney is indeed eligible. One of the best underclass prospects in the country, Sidney has a nice touch from the outside and can handle the ball quite well for a player his size. Sidney also has great timing and anticipation as a shot-blocker. He plays hard in spurts and benefited greatly from playing in the team concept that existed on the Southern California All-Stars. He does need to work on his intensity and it'll be interesting to see how he performs on a regular high school team, something we feel he does need contrary to what he and his father have been saying in recent months.
3. Drew Gordon (Mitty, San Jose/Oakland Soldiers)
An impressive physical specimen, Gordon followed up a spectacular sophomore season at Mitty by being one of two players selected ABCD Underclass Player of the Week. We also think he was the top overall prospect at the 2006 Pangos All-American Camp. His overall post game is not as refined as Oregon's Kevin Love (the top player on the West Coast), but he has a chance to be a better player down the line if he can develop a consistent mid-range jumper and play aggressively every possession on defense. He also has to improve his footwork on the defensive end. Drew was the CalHiSports.com State Sophomore Athlete of the Year for 2005-06 because he also made it to the CIF state track meet in the discus and shot.
4. Jamelle Horne (San Diego/EBO)
Horne may not be as big a name on the prep level as fellow San Diego natives JayDee Luster and Tyrone Shelley, but he's now considered a top 25 national recruit in the Class of 2007. He is active and always near the ball and just needs to improve his consistency shooting the ball to complete his game.
5. Jrue Holiday (Campbell Hall, North Hollywood/Double Pump Elite)
An extremely unselfish player, the younger Holiday brother is definitely one of the top prospects in the national 2008 class. A sweet-looking jumper complements a solid all-around game. A combo guard with the savvy of a pass-only point guard, he also drives to the bucket well and doesn't get enough credit for his defensive skills.
6. Wendell McKines (Richmond/Oakland Soldiers)
This undersized bruiser had a great summer, as he was selected to participate in the Senior All-Star Game at the ABCD Camp and was easily one of the top players at the Pangos All-American camp. In fact, we felt he was the most impressive player at the Pangos Camp, but obviously not the best prospect because of his size as a forward. He even impressed New York super scout Tom Konchalski, who feels McKines is at worst a high mid-major prospect. McKines reminds many of former Dominguez of Compton standout Jason Thomas and NFL linebacker Willie McGinest as a prep player and like those two did he needs to improve his overall ball handling and shooting.
7. Troy Gillenwater (Stoneridge Prep, Simi Valley/H-Town)
Rick Isaacs' most impressive overall player this summer, Gillenwater is a throwback in his style of play. He has good post moves and knows how to create space with his wide body. Not extremely athletic, Gillenwater makes up for what he lacks in athleticism with strength and coordination.
8. Daniel Hackett (St. John Bosco, Bellflower/USC/Southern California All-Stars)
Hackett made news by enrolling a year early at USC, following in the footsteps of Agoura baseball player Robert Stock and current USC quarterback John David Booty. It's not too big of a deal because Hackett is one year older than his graduating class and he is a fine student. He often pressed when we saw him this summer, trying to do too much or trying too hard. Once he settled down and found his role on the SCA team, his play was quite solid. He is a good defender and knows how to make and finish plays in traffic. His offense needs refining, but his skill level is high and considering he probably will get a lot of minutes in the Pac-10 this year, while he could still be in high school, that says something about him.
9. Austin Day (Woodbridge, Irvine/Pump N Run Elite)
Day has face-up skills that few players his size, if any, in the country possess. He can handle the ball with ease, has a solid shooting stroke and is an underrated shot blocker. The major drawbacks in his game right now are his lack of strength and toughness underneath the boards against players more physical, not necessarily bigger. His dad, Darren, was a former player at UCLA and the MVP of the 1979 McDonald's All-American Game.
10. Jerime Anderson (Canyon, Anaheim/Double Pump Elite)
The more you watch Anderson, the more he wears on you. Even in an AAU setting, he doesn't force action and the fundamentals in his game stand out over players who might be getting more touches or looking to score first. The recent UCLA commit has a nice stroke from the outside, but must get more aggressive in his man-to-man defense in order to play at the level his future college coach (Ben Howland) would like.
11. Larry Drew Jr. (Taft, Woodland Hills/Pump N Run Elite)
One of the best pure ball-handlers we saw all summer, Drew is great at drawing and dishing or finishing himself. For a player with his size and frame, he's a solid finisher around the basket. Drew is also great at changing direction and doesn't get rattled or change his mode of attack even against tough pressure defense. Drew's father played in the NBA so it's no surprise the younger Drew has great instincts.
12. Malik Story (Artesia, Lakewood/Southern California All-Stars)
Story, like Daniel Hackett, was an unsung hero for the top AAU team in the country. Like his Artesia teammate James Harden, Story is extremely confident on the court and rarely takes a bad shot or forces the action. Story is also a dead spot-up shooter and knows how to get to the open spot on the court, but must improve at creating his own offense.
13. Drew Viney (Villa Park/Pump N Run Elite)
Viney is an underrated rebounder and shoots extremely well for a player his size. Steady but not spectacular, Viney often makes clutch plays and shots. A top 100 national prospect, Viney should thrive in the Pac-10 as he is much more impressive in a structured setting than he is on the AAU circuit.
14. Roberto Nelson (Santa Barbara/H-Squad)
Nelson doesn't have the God-given ability of some of the other top prospects in the National Class of 2009, but he works hard to improve and has many savvy skills. Didn't play much for H-Squad, but overall had a fine summer that was highlighted by a stellar performance at the ABCD Camp Underclass All-Star game. Nelson finishes in traffic and has a pretty pull-up jumper in the key that many players five years older don't possess. He also is good at floating shots over taller defenders and has good instincts to know where rebounds are coming off the rim.
15. Darnell Gant (Crenshaw, Los Angeles/Rising Stars of America)
The latest in a long line of standout Cougars, Gant has improved his jumper over the last two years and is beginning to fill out his lanky frame. Gant has good footwork and also delivers sharp, crisp passes, too. He injured his shoulder at the ABCD camp and we didn't see him late in the summer. Darnell hopes to lead the Cougars to a fine season, which will be the last for retiring coaching legend Willie West.
16. Matt Simpkins (Capitol Christian, Sacramento/H-Squad)
Quiet off the court, Simpkins has a good work ethic and a competitive spirit on the court. He had a solid summer and greatly improved his standing in the national Class of 2008.
17. Tyrone Shelley (Crawford, San Diego/Team San Diego)
A prolific scorer, Shelley runs the floor hard and gets himself in position to shoot the ball before most defenders can react properly or get into good defensive position. Shelley likes to drive the lane for buckets and has the strength to finish. He's a coup for mid-major Pepperdine University.
18. Taylor King (Mater Dei, Santa Ana/Southern California All-Stars)
King played much better overall towards the end of the summer and was another who shined within the team aspect of the Southern California All-Stars. King's shot selection was much better in Las Vegas and he also put the ball on the floor and finished plays. Still, King struggles when he fires from too deep and would benefit more from becoming more of a natural post player because he is a good rebounder. He has fallen on various national lists in the last year, but could thrive under Coach K at Duke playing with other talented players.
19. Justin Holiday (Campbell Hall, North Hollywood/Double Pump Elite)
A great interior passer, Justin also knows how to draw contact and finish plays. That skill will also be used to his advantage more on the next level when he gains some bulk and strength. His skill level is quite high he just hasn't hit is peak yet, which may be a good thing for the University of Washington.
20. Rome Draper (Etiwanda, Rancho Cucamonga/Compton Magic 15's)
A versatile guard with a good-looking stroke, Draper can handle the ball quite well, but also has a solid post-up game for a player his size. One of the best shooters in the 2009 class, all he needs is consistency and he'll be one of the best recruits on the West Coast in two seasons.
21. Quinton Watkins (Dominguez, Compton/H-Squad)
Watkins has improved his jumper over the past year and his aggressiveness and defensive skills never take a night off. He finishes well, too, but like most young players must improve his off hand tremendously. We had a chance to talk to some younger players who hope to play for the Dons' varsity at a Pangos event at Long Beach City College and they told us nobody on the team works harder in practice. That's the stuff we always like to hear about the team's best player.
22. Renaldo Woolridge (Harvard-Westlake, North Hollywood/Double Pump Elite)
This 6-foot-8 junior-to-be is a good shot-blocker and has a solid range on his shot, but is not nearly as active on the court as his father, former NBA standout Orlando Woolridge. The younger Woolridge needs to work on his overall game to better compliment his good shooting skills.
23. Justin Cobbs (Bishop Montgomery, Torrance/NIKE California Hoops)
Cobbs is a student of the game and plays like a prep veteran despite his Class of 2009 status. Reminds us some of former Westchester, Inglewood and Syracuse guard Jason Hart in his mannerisms on the court although he's probably not as good as an athlete as Hart. Cobbs has a good overall feel for the game and is a deft passer from all angles, but suffers from poor shot selection at times.
24. Dane Suttle (Westchester, Los Angeles/Rising Stars of America)
Suttle surprised with an all-state type season as a junior, but he's still not physically developed and his best days are in front of him. Not particularly strong or aggressive, Suttle is a great slasher to the basket and knows how to get his points in a variety of ways. He also has a good basketball IQ and has no particular weaknesses in his game. Westchester should have a fine squad this season with veterans such as Suttle and Jarred DuBois plus newcomers Oscar Bellfield (Taft, Woodland Hills) and freshman Dwayne Polee Jr, the son of the 1981 CalHiSports.com State Player of the Year from Manual Arts.
25. Aaron Moore (Dominguez, Compton/H-Squad)
Coming into the prep ranks, Moore was considered one of the top 20 players in his class nationally, but he's not quite on that level right now as his athleticism is no longer growing at the same fast rate as his body. His post game will continue to blossom as he gets stronger, but his toughness on the boards must improve. Still one of the better players in the 2009 class, Moore also runs the floor hard but must develop more ball skills to be a true combo forward.
26. Jesse Woodard (Centennial, Compton/ Compton Magic)
It seems like Woodard has been around for 10 years as he made an impact as a ninth-grader for the Apaches. Three years ago, Woodard was a highly-regarded prospect in the Class of 2007, but he has been slowed by injuries. A confident player, Woodard shoots well but doesn't have a high athletic ceiling for a player his size.
27. Demar Derozan (Compton/P. Miller All-Stars)
As a freshman for the Tarbabes, Derozan was in the running for state freshman of the year, an honor given in 2005 to Brandon Jennings (then of Dominguez, now at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia). Two years later, Derozan is not quite on that level as he has not developed a consistent perimeter game to compliment his eye-popping jumping ability. A true wing player, we didn't see Derozan much early in the summer, but we did catch him at a Pangos event later in the summer and his game looked the same; explosive around the basket and not enough reps handling the ball, making passes or pulling up for jumpers.
28. Genesis Maciel (Centennial, Compton/Compton Magic)
We remember Maciel running around as a five-year old while his older brother Bito was playing for South Gate High School and L.A. Harbor College in the mid 1990's. Maciel is a few inches taller than his brother and has better post moves, but doesn't have as good a touch from the outside. He's improving his shooting range, but his overall upside is limited unless he improves his explosiveness. Still, he's a player that always goes hard and you know exactly what your going get from him as he rarely forces bad shots or plays outside of his abilities.
29. Demetrius Walker (Fontana/Team California)
Walker has fallen on many national recruiting lists (for instance, he's No. 215 in HoopScoop's Class of 2009 rankings) from his No.1 perch as a middle-school player. Does Walker have some talent? Yes he does, but he's not growing much, is not a point guard, and has a woeful perimeter game for a wing player his size. Walker is a victim of the basketball hype machine that surrounds many young players who excel in various AAU youth settings but are just solid players once they reach high school age. Does he have a future in college basketball? Yes. (Although we feel he has even better potential in football if he ever took up the sport). Was he as good as Schea Cotton, Tyson Chandler or Allen Hunter as an eight-grader? No.
30. Jon Reed (Peninsula, Rolling Hills Estates/Rising Stars of America)
Already a two-time all-state underclass pick by CalHiSports.com, Reed is a good shooter with a solid skill set. In order to move up on various recruiting lists, however, he must improve moving without the ball and work on his lateral quickness.
Corrections or comments? Email mark@studentsports.com or ronnie@studentsports.com.