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Guys, I’m gonna be honest here. I’m really excited. I just watched the Nike Basketball Academy championship game on ESPNU, featuring Syracuse commit Darius Bazley, and about the best thing I can say is that it’s really fun to watch a talented kid who is still nowhere near as good as he could be.

And let me make this clear: Darius Bazley is already very good. Leave aside the fact that, yes, he absolutely needs to add a little muscle to be able to compete in the ACC, and his outside shot needs some work. But given the level of skill he occasionally flashes for being a 6-foot-9 pogo stick… well, like I said: I’m really excited.

I haven’t seen a box score yet, and I’m not sure one will surface online, but I also didn’t want to wait on one before getting my thoughts out. This is the first full game I’ve gotten to see for Bazley, the Cincinnati native who committed to the Orange earlier this summer. And I hate to sound like Jay Bilas on draft night here, but Bazley’s upside is pretty ridiculous.

And of course, you probably already knew this, even if you’ve never watched him play. I mean, there’s a reason he’s rocketed up the rankings over the summer, all the way to No. 12 in the Scout top 100. The best thing about watching Bazley is the realization that he still hasn’t put it all together, yet he’s already this good.

Like I said, there are some things Bazley has to work on. He’s got a little bit of a funky release on his jumper, and he’s not consistent yet stretching the floor. He can knock it down out to three point range, but that’s not his game. Bazley also looked a little sloppy with the ball a couple times tonight, with a couple careless turnovers and his handle occasionally looking slightly shaky.

But for the most part, his handle exceeded what I anticipated. For a 6-foot-9 forward (who, while people want him to be a small forward, is still very much a power forward, at least for now), he’s got a nice skillset that’s clearly rapidly advancing. He handles the ball very well for his size, and he sees the floor well and – perhaps most impressively in an all-star setting like this – is very unselfish, frequently looking to dish to teammates in a better position to score.

Bazley’s quickness and explosiveness, combined with his above average handle, enable him to blow past bigger defenders on the perimeter and get to the bucket off the bounce, where he’s an aggressive finisher.

Defensively, Bazley appears to be ready to be a dominant force on the wing of Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. He’s long, he’s athletic, he’s fast, and he covers a ton of ground in a short period of time. Add in the fact that he’s a very good shot blocker, who manages to challenge shots without creating contact, and you’ve got a guy who has the chance to be a terror defensively. But just as impressive was his ability to shade toward the ball handler in help defense situations, and quickly recover to his own man either on a direct pass or as the ball was rotated around the perimeter. Bazley doesn’t lose sight of his man, and he very quickly recovers to good defensive position. He was super active, which, again, is unusual and impressive in an all-star game.

Overall, it was a strong showing from the Syracuse commit. ESPN’s Paul Biancardi closed the game declaring that Bazley was one of the two best NBA prospects on the floor tonight, and just thinking about how good he could be if and when he puts it all together, it’s hard to argue. Bazley hasn’t come close to his ceiling yet, and that’s a very exciting thought for Orange fans.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • Louis King was also in the game, and it was a bit of a tale of two halves for the 6-foot-7 wing. For much of the first half, King looked like the best player on the floor. He can handle the ball, he’s a terrific passer, and he can score at all three levels. The second half, however, saw King disappear a bit. Still, he was impressive, and if Syracuse is able to land him, he’ll be an immediate contributor. He’s got great size, he’s a good athlete, and he can play the 2 or the 3, and could even potentially run the point in a pinch (he spent parts of tonight’s game bringing the ball up the floor).
  • Cole Swider is a good player. He’s still mostly a shooter but he can finish inside, as well. The rep on him was that he was simply a shot-maker, and he lived up to that billing tonight. The rest of his game still needs a little work, but it’s clear that he’s going to be an impact player for Villanova.
  • Cormac Ryan was a guy Syracuse never got involved with, because it was made clear early on that he was looking for an elite academic situation (he wound up at Stanford). But he’s got one of the purest shooting strokes I’ve seen in awhile.
  • I don’t know where Keldon Johnson will end up, and his 28 points were pretty quiet other than a few thunderous dunks, but good grief – that kid looks physically ready to be an NBA shooting guard right now. He’s a physical specimen out there on the court and would look completely natural playing tight end, as well. Reminds me a little bit of Corey Maggette at the same stage. He’s going to be a problem for opposing teams at the next level.

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Jeff is a 2003 graduate of Syracuse University, and has been published on various websites including Cracked.com, Spike.com, TheSportster.com, Gunaxin.com, and TopTenz.net, among others. His work was featured in the New York Times bestselling book You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News. He’s got a wife, and a toddler he’s brainwashing to love Syracuse. Jeff’s a pretty great guy, overall, and would never steal your car. Follow him on Twitter: @jekelish