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Kenner League Day 2 in Review: Greg Whittington on the Rise, Markel Starks and Henry Sims Debut, Greivis Vasquez Ruins Everything

One weekend of Kenner complete! Back pain still only minimal, perhaps I built up some immunity last year.  Let's get right to it...

In the first game, It was Aaron Bowen as the solo Hoya with Nate Lubick and Hollis Thompson still out of town. What Bowen is doing on the court quite often looks smooth: step back, pull-up three, strong drive reverse, etc. -- but more often than not, especially to start the game, the ball was nowhere near going in. A bad start for Aaron hit a low point when a jump shot slipped out of his hands, went five feet behind him and led to an easy fast break the other way.

He finally drained a deep three late in the second half (it does look so good when it goes in), his first made jump shot of Kenner. Despite that, his confidence around the perimeter was shaky; a couple times he passed up an open jump shot in mid-air, weakly dumping it off to a teammate.

 

Day 2 in Review after The Jump:

There's good news too. Greivis Vasquez arrived late and suited up for Team Turner and on his first shot, a floater down the lane, Bowen came from the weakside and rejected it with authority. Aaron was most effective as a weak side/ center field type defender. He also made a few nice slicing drives to the hoop and had a characteristic put-back or two (he dives in after almost every shot in hopes of a put-back). With his perimeter game looking as shaky as it is, he's going to earn his time by going to the basket. There is one aspect of Bowen's game hints that he might have more success in an organized setting: he has shown some adeptness for the backdoor cut. He had a few nice cuts to the basket after feeding post players inside. There certainly is a chance for him to claw his way into minutes as a role player. Also, it shouldn't be overlooked that he took a charge – one of the rarest feats a player can accomplish at Kenner League.

 

 

The Tombs featured the same group of Hoyas as Saturday: Jeff Green, Jabril Trawick, Greg Whittington, and Mikael Hopkins. The match-up was as much as you can hope for from KL. The opponent, Boss Auto played the perfect anonymous villain from any sports movie – a townie team dressed in black uniforms, they played intense defense that was at times downright dirty, and had some serious size and athleticism. The big surprise of the day was Whittington (I'm still working up to calling him just "Greg"); he opening the day with a three pointer and, perhaps that jolted his confidence, played much more consistently than Saturday. He moved better within the offense: multiple times cutting into the lane to bail out trapped teammates and giving himself a nice chip shot basket. He's far more effective starting at the perimeter and moving in – once his back is to the basket, he's not much of a threat. He made a smooth drive from the wing and again impressed with his handle, taking a breakaway himself coast to coast and drawing a foul at the rim. He also had a great sequence in the second half: Jeff Green missed an off-balance runner and Whittington soared in for a monster put-back jam.  Then Whittington picked off the inbounds pass and stroked a three. The flush crowd, only for the Tombs game of course, was mightily impressed and showered with him appreciation accordingly.

 

Jabril again showed his ability to attack, but was under much heavier pressure and wasn't quite as dominant. But a chippy matchup with a guard about his height did bring out the edge – he got bumped and pushed much more but he just kept coming. He had many more turnovers this game, including a back to back double dribble then carry, but he showed poise under the press – the errors were mostly him trying to do too much going to the basket than struggling to get it up the floor.

 

Here's a sequence that typified the type energy Trawick (which today rhymed with Chipwich according the KL announcer) brings. He knocked a ball loose on defense, but before he had complete control over it, it was stolen back and went for an easy lay-up. Instead of just letting it go, Jabril raced toward the hoop and swatted the ball from inside the hoop before it could go through the cylinder. It reminded me vaguely of story about Patrick Ewing in the NCAA finals intentionally goaltending the first few shots. The message seemed something along the lines of -- you may have bested me this time, but it's not going to happen again and I sure as hell am not going to give you the sanctification of seeing the ball go through the hoop (I think his post-game tweet at least lends credence to the more than standard intensity of the scrimmage).

 

More substantially, Jabril did an incredible job getting to the line, where he was 11-13. If he doesn't lead the team in fouls drawn per 40 minutes next year, I'll be shocked. It's what allows him to succeed without a dependable jumper and his size and leaping ability make it easier for him to draw fouls than a more minute wrecking ball like Chris Wright. And while a lot of Jabril's success can be contributed to aggressiveness driving to the hoops combined with his hops, but you cannot overlook his knack for drawing contact. On one play, he drove to the block, pulled back, got his defender up in the air with a great pump fake and forced the contact.

 

Hopkins was more of a mixed bag – he was pushed today by a Boss Auto's bulky center who matched his height and must've had 40 pounds on him and he didn't always push back. Hopkins made some fine defensive plays, including a super athletic rejection of a fading away baby-hook shot he had no business being near. But he seemed to disappear for stretches as well (he didn't score in the first half), and it wasn't until he hit back to back jumpers are the top of the key did he snap out of it. Also noteworthy was that Whittington and Hopkins formed a potent team downlow. Usually Greg (trying it out) was coming on the help side and they combined for a couple of ferocious blocks.

 

Clark and Wright teamed up Team Takeover, and frankly, this team is brutal to watch. Whatever you think about Clark already, that's exactly how he is. It's not the same rooting for Chris and it mostly brings back painful memories (Kenner is about the boundless and yet untainted future) and then sprinkle in some awful neon orange jerseys. Jason and Chris ran a good uptempo game, I picked up some (undocumented) grape fruitsnacks from the concessions stands, and it actually ended up being an fairly exciting finish. Jason and Chris contributed to some clutch defense stops, which is good because Jason missed a free throw that would've sealed the game.

 

Mercifully, Markel Starks and Henry Sims took the stage for DCX for the closing act. Markel was looking for his jumper early, but it wasn't falling (you'll have to search elsewhere for Markel's box, HoyaSinceBirth's laptop died at the half). Even as it took awhile for his shot to warm up, Markel was in complete control of the offense. The pullups he were getting were uncontested, he showed none of his tendency to over-penetrate as he did last year, and got into the lane whenever he wanted. Particularly encouraging were his mid-range shot selection. Off a pick and roll with Sims, the defense shaded towards Hank and Markel took it all the way in for a floater. He made pull-up jumpers around the foul line when moving both to his right and his left. He also flashed his superb ball handling skills, weaving through traffic, including one euro-hop that helped him emerge from a pack of defenders for an easy lay-in. Once his jumper started to straighten out, he even hit a three from the corner in transition – a shot that seemed to elude him for most of last season. Hopefully, hopefully, JT3 gives Markel the freeodm to create on offense, because time and time he again broke down the defense, got into the lane and make a smart decision – often to a big for a layup. Defensively, he wasn't as sharp, especially on ball, but he did manage to poke away a few balls.

 

Now for Henry Sims – you probably shouldn't even read the the following recap. In fact, I'd probably encourage you not to because it will undoubtedly lead to unfulfilled expectations. At least you've been warned: Henry looked good!  He started the game making two mid-range jumpers – one spot up and one after he faced up. He made a couple of nice post moves – baby hooks and a fade away jumper from the post. The most encouraging fact was that he not scoring by overpowering a weaker and unrealistic opponent – most of his scoring was as he faded away from the basket. You don't want to encourage weak moves in a big man, but it doesn't seem like Hank will ever have the strength to pull off more traditional post moves. And of course, he was good for one sensational dunk. After a three point clanged high in the hair, he caught it well above the rim and emphatically threw it down. Defensively, he constantly harassing anyone near the hoops and did a fine job of tracking down rebounds as well. 

 

The HoyaSinceBirth Boxscore:

Bowen 4-9 2PT 1-2 3PT 2-4 FT 13 PTS

Jabril 5-10 2PT 0-1 3PT 11-13 FT 21 PTS 5 RBD 2 AST 2 STL 8 TO

Hopkins 4-4 2PT 1-2 3PT 4-5 FT 15 PTS 9 RBD 2 BLKS

Whittington 5-8 2PT 2-6 3PT 3-4 FT 19 PTS 9 RBD

Clark 7-11 2 PT 1-2 3PT 2-4 FT 19 PTS 5 RBD 7 AST 3 STL 2 TO

 

That's all for first weekend. Big thanks to Otto Porter, Hollis Thompson, Tyler Adams and Moses Ayegba for keeping the excitement up for next weekend.

Stay Casual, my friends.

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