WASHINGTON, DC — John Beilein flew back to the United States from Russia on Tuesday and was back on the recruiting trail Wednesday evening. Beilein had a chance to watch some of his top recruiting targets at the Nike Global Challenge in the nation’s Capital as the second of three July evaluation periods tipped off.
On the court below him at Trinity University in Northeast DC, Kameron Chatman guarded Devin Booker. The pair of class of 2014 players that Michigan is hotly pursuing matched up often during a scrimmage between Chatman’s USA South team and Booker’s USA West squad the night before the official start of the Nike Global Challenge.
Chatman, Booker and Michigan targets Jordan Barnett (USA Midwest, ‘14) and Elijah Thomas (West, ‘15) are participating in the eight-team international tournament that features the top 40 players from Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) and top U-19 players from Brazil, Canada, France and Pan Africa.
Pool play begins Thursday morning and runs for two days, with the championship game Saturday afternoon. But Beilein and dozens of other colleges coaches — including, among others, John Calipari, Scott Drew, Sean Miller, Steve Alford, Frank Haith, Johnny Dawkins, and assistants Hubert Davis of North Carolina and Steve Steve Wojciechowski of Duke — were on hand for the scrimmages Wednesday night.
Beilein, fresh off coaching Team USA during the World University Games in Russia and signing an extension through the 2018-19 season, sat 11 rows up in the half-empty bleachers, often leaning back and looking relaxed.
Devin Booker looked at ease playing with his USA South teammates, not forcing anything and making plays throughout the scrimmage when he received the ball. On one possession, the 6-foot-4 guard identified that 5-foot-10 Lourawls Nairn was matched up on him, sealed the defender, and received an entry pass for an easy layup. On another possession, Booker cut to the free-throw line, received the ball, and quickly, eyes up, whipped a pass to a cutting teammate on the baseline.
Booker was just as efficient in transition, twice making the right play — a fundamental bounce pass — to teammates JaKeenan Gant and D’Angelo Russell for dunks.
But a play that Beilein might praise the most — even though it wouldn’t happen in a real game — was when at the end of the first 15-minute period, an alert Booker realized that the running clock was winding down and hustled to grab the ball that had gone out of bounds off the West and inbound it to a teammate for a scoring opportunity.
Kameron Chatman played unselfishly, but was quiet during the three scrimmages. The 6-foot-6 wing scored two points, badly misfiring on his pair of outside jumpers. Chatman did grab a handful of defensive rebounds and score on a nice putback, but overall his impact on the games was minimal.
A player on Chatman’s team who played more aggressively was 2015 target Elijah Thomas. The 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward was active in calling for the ball in the post, but struggled to finish against mostly players a year older than him. On one possession, he dribbled when he should have gone straight up and the ball got stripped out of bounds. On his next opportunity, Thomas bricked a left-handed jump hook.
Thomas wasn’t at his best during Wednesday’s scrimmages, but he showed off the versatility that has helped him already gain 16 college offers. On one defensive possession, the Dallas, Tex. product stripped Alex Owens at midcourt and dribbled all the way to the basket for a left-handed layup.
Jordan Barnett’s Midwest team played against the East squad earlier that evening. Barnett was a late add to the Midwest roster and the opportunity gave John Beilein a first chance to watch the 6-foot-7, 180-pound wing in action.
Barnett visited Michigan in early June and was told that Beilein would have to watch him before an offer could be extended. Playing in the same event as two of Michigan’s top class of 2014 targets, Beilein should have ample opportunity to watch him throughout the weekend.
I only caught some of Barnett’s scrimmage, but one play toward the end demonstrated why the wing could receive a Michigan offer. Barnett received a pass just outside the left elbow, took a quick dribble, jump-stopped, and double-clutched to avoid a defender before finishing a floater off the glass.
Assistant coach Dane Fife of Michigan State, one of seven schools that have offered Barnett, sat in the front row to watch the St. Louis product.
Jake Lloyd is a freelance sports journalist living in Washington D.C.