Sunday, June 2, 2024

Fraschilla impressing hoops observers

Jasper Johnson is in Buenos Aires, Argentina, this week with USA Basketball playing in the FIBA U18 AmeriCup along with 11 other talented USA players.

The former Woodford County High School standout who transferred to Link Academy (Branson, Mo.) for his junior season has over 20 scholarship offers including Kentucky, North Carolina, Auburn, Baylor, Kansas, Louisville and Texas A&M. 

ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla considers himself a “hoops junkie.” He’s a former head coach at Manhattan, St. John’s and New Mexico and had his first chance to watch Johnson in person at the USA tryout camp.

“He is not athletically as dynamic as (former UK guard/NBA star) De’Aaron Fox but his smooth lefty game does remind me of De’Aaron,” Fraschilla said. “A lot of guys are shooters but not many are makers. He scores so effortlessly and just has unique skills. I was really impressed with not only his outside shooting but also his ability to get to the basket and be a very creative scorer.

“To be a great scorer you have got to be able to get your own shot off and he has a knack for getting his shots. He’s not piggish at all. He didn’t look to take a shot every time he touched the ball on a team with very good future point guards. But to me, he is the best scoring guard they have. 

“When I coached a guy like Jasper, I always told my staff, ‘Let’s not over complicate this. He needs to score.’ He can really add to this team with all he does but there’s no doubt his strength is putting the ball in the basket.”

Fraschilla knows Johnson is in the “early stages of his physical maturity” just like other players on the USA team. Fraschilla said Johnson, who played football two years at Woodford County, could hold his own physically now.

“He is a very elusive player. He just knows how to get himself into the right places, especially driving

to the basket,” Fraschilla said. “FIBA play will be much more physical but you can’t be physical with somebody you can’t catch and he’s that fast and elusive.”

Johnson has not ruled out reclassifying and playing college basketball next season even though the more likely path could be for him to play in Overtime Elite next season before going to college.

“A lot of schools are recruiting him and I think he could handle playing at a high Power 5 school but if it was me I would have him spend a year at OTE,” the ESPN analyst said. “When he comes into college, he could be an instant impact scorer. If he reclassifies, rosters are relatively full already.

“But if he waits another year to play college basketball he is more likely to go where he’ll have a bigger role and opportunity for him. Right now a lot of teams are loaded in the backcourt and another year of experience before going to college could not hurt him. OTE is not high school but it could benefit him to use another year to further develop his team. If he stays in the class of 2025, his first college game won’t be for 18 months and he will be an instant impact player if he goes to the right place.”

Fraschilla said Johnson could improve his overall court vision and work on becoming an even better playmaker and defense. He will also get stronger in the next year.

“Right now it’s apparent he’s a scorer and there’s nothing wrong with that and those players are hard to find. Putting the ball in the basket is much easier said than done. A lot of guys who are highly ranked think they can score but they are not efficient scorers. What I like about him is how effortlessly he makes it look and you cannot teach that.”

Krysten Peek, YahooSports draft analyst and Rivals high school/college basketball writer, was also at the USA Trials and got to watch Johnson. 

“The biggest impression I’m leaving (the USA Trials) with is how consistent Jasper Johnson is as a perimeter shooter and how much more room he has to add to his overall game outside of being a catch-and-shoot shooter,” Peek said.

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Javeon Campbell did not know a lot of football history when Western Hills coach Simon Vanderpool persuaded him to join the football team last year but a lot of people know about him now. Not only has the 6-5, 260-pound defensive lineman been ranked as the state’s top player by one recruiting service, but he’s also now a top 200 player nationally.

If that’s not enough, he’s already been invited to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl after playing just one year of high school football.

“He is going to be better this year just because he is actually watching football now,” Vanderpool said. “We went to Auburn for a visit and they showed him Cam Newton’s Heisman Trophy and he had no clue who he was. At Alabama, he had no clue about (running back) Derrick Henry.”

Henry also won the Heisman Trophy and a national championship like Newton did. Both have also been successful NFL players.

“He really had not even watched football before,” Vanderpool said. “If you saw film of him last year he was just competing but he really did not know what he was doing.”

One current NFL player that Campbell does know is Wan’Dale Robinson, a record-setting performer at Western Hills and then Nebraska and Kentucky. He now plays with the New York Giants.

 “Wan’Dale, you see him in the NFL, but he is such an incredible young man,” the Western Hills coach said. “They have been talking. The last time Wan’Dale was in town he said to hook me up with Javeon because he wanted to help mentor him and help through the (recruiting) process any way he can.

“Wan’Dale came back for our alumni night last year and talked to the team. He is such an incredible human being himself and it has been special to see those two connect with each other. Being from the same schools is special but their personalities and how good they both are really makes it cool to see.”

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Georgia Amoore had an All-American career at Virginia Tech where she had a school record 656 assists in four seasons and also is in the school’s top five in games started, points, field goals made and 3-pointers made. 

The point guard was a third team Associated Press All-American in 2023-24 and was projected as a likely high draft pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft. However, Amoore wanted to play another year of college basketball and when Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks took the job at Kentucky, she was ready to make the move with him.

“I could have left, gone home (to Australia), gone pro. It was a big decision to make and I had a lot to consider,” she said. “I am an international student getting to experience living overseas and I want to milk the most out of it. School has all the resources I need to prepare myself to go pro. At the end of my time at Kentucky I will have to give up the college lifestyle but not until then.”

Amoore helped Virginia Tech make the 2023 Final Four and had chances to play against SEC teams the past few years. She wanted to test herself against the best league in the nation. She had 25 points against LSU last season. She played against Tennessee and LSU a year earlier in the NCAA tourney. She held Tech beat Missouri and Kentucky.

“Those games were high motor. We had a lot of fun. I think going into my professional career (coming to Kentucky) was the best step because these girls are some athletes. It’s a whole new brand of basketball.”

* * *

The Bluegrass Signature Series — part of the Grind Session — will make several stops in Kentucky during the 2024-25 basketball season and bring some of the nation’s best high school age players to the Bluegrass.

Games will be played Dec. 5-9 at Calloway County and Dec. 12-14 at Christian County. Louisville Male will host the Bluegrass Signature Series Jan. 2-4 before the series goes to McCracken County Jan. 9-12.

“We are honored to be a part of the Bluegrass Signature Series. The opportunities it provides our fans, communities and programs are unmatched,” said Kerry Stovall, former head coach at Christian County who won a state championship in 2011 and now the district activities director. “We are excited to see what the future holds as we together bring great basketball across the state of Kentucky.”

Coach Tim Haworth of Male said his school is “super excited” to be part of the Bluegrass Signature Series.

“We pride ourselves on playing the best competition nationwide and this gives us a great opportunity once again,” Haworth said. 

Calloway coach Brad Cleaver also thinks the event will be good for his community and players.

“This showcase event will bring together some of the best talent in the country to some of the most passionate basketball communities in Kentucky,” Cleaver said. “I look forward to seeing the growth of this event and the impact that it will have on our schools and our great city.”

* * *

Kentucky fan Terry Hall of Louisville played basketball and baseball at Shelby County with former UK basketball standout Mike Casey, who was Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 1966 when he led Shelby to the state championship.

Casey signed to play for Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp and was UK’s leading scorer as a sophomore when he averaged 20.1 points per game playing with Dan Issel and Mike Pratt. He was even featured on a Sports Illustrated cover.

He averaged 19.1 points per game as a junior but missed the 1969-70 season after suffering a broken leg in a car accident. He returned for the 1970-71 season after Issel and Pratt graduated and finished his UK career with 1,535 points along with 558 rebounds and 260 assists. He shot 48.2 percent from the field in his career.

Issel, UK’s all-time leading scorer, called Casey “one of the best players ever to play at Kentucky.”

Hall certainly agrees.

“Mike's hoops game reminded me of a shorter version of Larry Bird. I've seen every UK player since the 1958 Rupp's Runs and I would still put him in my top 15 Wildcats,” Hall said. “Not honoring him with a jersey hanging in Rupp Arena is a gross oversight.”

Hall shared that thought when recently wishing a “heavenly birthday” to his former teammate who passed away in 2009 and many others believe Casey’s jersey should also be hanging in Rupp Arena. That was a sentiment Pratt voiced numerous times before his own passing.

Hall said Casey was also a terrific shortstop and left-handed line drive hitter.

“My first memories of Mike was when I was in the seventh grade at Cropper (elementary school) playing Mike's Simpsonville team. He played on the front of their 2-3 zone and he was so tall and long I couldn't get my shot off,” Hall said. “The next summer he and his Pony League came to Cropper. Before the game I was warming up when Mike came over and we had our first conversation.”

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Quote of the Week:“I’m pretty forthcoming. If someone’s out, I’ll say they’re out. I’m on board. We have so many other issues now. That’s a mouse turd there,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops to Action Network’s Brett McMurphy on SEC requiring player availability reports during the season.

Quote of the Week 2: “Campus is beautiful and the facilities are second to none. I expected them to have the best facilities but it still exceeded my expectations,” Fairleigh Dickinson transfer Ansley Almonor on UK basketball facilities during the Loyal BBN Fans YouTube Show. 

Quote of the Week 3: “His growth trajectory is incredible. He is an elite level shooter, is increasingly dangerous off the bounce and at the rim and has the potential to become a big-time playmaker. He guards with length and balance and understands how important it is to build strong relationships with his teammates,” Kentucky coach Mark Pope on BYU transfer Jaxson Robinson.