Aug. 3 Pro-Am Highlights and Analysis

Vander Blue went off in the fourth quarter, rattling off about six gym-shaking dunks when Jamil Wilson’s team decided to leave the “scantron” bubbles unfilled instead of going with straight C’s as most vanquished test takers do. Alas, you will have to take my word for it as my camera decided to malfunction during the show. Midwest Ballers picked up my slack, so you shall have to wait for them to upload the highlight reel footage.

As for the players themselves, Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan were the most impressive Marquette players on the night. Neither was particularly fantastic, but both did enough to stand out from their peers.

Blue’s shot is as streaky as they come. I would hazard to say it’s better than last year, but not by much. He just seems to force everything from beyond 15 feet. When he releases the ball, it doesn’t glide off his fingertips, but rather catapults off his hand.

One other problem is the timing of his release. For good shooters (Thomas, Jake) the release comes in synchronization with the jump. By that I mean the arm is cocked and begins to unload as the player is rising. Watch Thomas put up a three.

See how the release is one fluid motion? There is no wasted energy. It is efficient and allows him to get the ball up quickly, even with a man in his face. Now watch Vander hoist a jumper.

Notice how his release motion doesn’t begin until he’s near the apex of his jump? Instead of getting his whole body into the shot, it’s all arms and wrist. This requires much more effort and causes him to be very inefficient. When Vander misses, his shot clanks rather than rolls.

I don’t mean to be picky—after all he probably dropped 40 in the game— but he has so much athleticism, and is such a great defender and rebounder that seeing him improve that awkward jumper can take him from very good to elite.

As for Junior, his first quarter had me giddy. It wasn’t just the made jump shots, though those are never a bad thing, but rather the way he commanded his team. It’s no secret Cadougan is a soft spoken guy off the court, and the past three years that has manifested itself on the court. As one of the two seniors this year, he will have to pick up a lot of Jae Crowder’s leadership role. It won’t be enough to limit turnovers and increase his percentage from behind the arc, for Marquette to reach its full potential Cadougan will have to be the verbal floor general.

Enter Friday night. The pro-am has been Junior’s playground the past two years garnering MVP honors in both. But this year he’s been much more vocal. The first quarter of the game was as masterful a performance—from a leadership sense—as I’ve seen from a player. He called for the ball, and received it, every single possession, setting up the offense and actually running plays. This is unheard of in this free-for-all atmosphere. It got to the point where every time his teammates grabbed a rebound, the first action would be to locate Junior and give him the rock. Front-court, back-court, full-court, it did not matter. That ball was his. This is a good sign. Junior gets it. When I left for the main gym after a quarter, his team possessed a comfortable double-digit lead. (How they ended up losing by 20, I can’t even begin to explain.

As for all those other pesky things like shooting and dribbling, Cadougan was quite good at the start, not so much later on. Two buckets in particular stand out.

I’m not so concerned with the pull-up aspect of this triple, but rather how fluid his shot and form were. As a 21 percent 3-point shooter for his career, Cadougan is not even close to being a threat from long range. He’s not going to become a good shooter overnight, but even raising his average to a respectable 30 percent will work wonders, giving him more opportunities to drive to the basket as defenders won’t be able to sag as much.

The leaner is something Junior hasn’t done much of, but should he add it to his arsenal, it will make Chris’, Jamil’s and Davante’s life much easier by drawing the big out from under the rim and giving them a bit more space to rebound. Again, one shot in one game does not an arsenal make, but it’s better than not seeing it at all.

(Here are two more highlights that didn’t fit the narrative but are still nice.)

As for the others, Jake Thomas had a nice little dunk contest with himself near the end of his game against Junior’s team. He and Derrick Wilson have built a nice little rapport this summer. Speaking of Wilson, he still has leagues to go offensively—finishing in traffic and shooting any kind of shot come to mind— but he is a terrific option to have as a back-up. Unselfish and quite athletic, he will continue to get his minutes this season.

Davante Gardner did his little point guard thing, hoisting a myriad of bad threes and dribble-drives that won’t ever see the light of day at the Bradley Center but thoroughly entertained the crowd nonetheless. I would link the video clips but they are simply too good to pass up.

He told me last year his favorite player was Dirk. Can you tell?

He looked nimble and graceful in that sequence, two things rarely said about Ox.

Jamil again did his thing, spending the last five minutes of his team’s 30-point blowout trying to get two more assists to get his triple double and getting quite frustrated in the process, as his team missed bunny after bunny (no Lockett again).  He had some nice dunks (click on the picture to see the video) and generally stayed in first gear, content to let the others chuck away.

And just in case it wasn’t clear from last time I wrote about Jamil, he as smooth a player as I’ve ever seen. Every movement is fluid and graceful. Even at top speed his form is impeccable. Not to mention his passing is crisp and innovative. He’s good, real good.

There was no Steve Taylor, Lockett or Ferguson tonight and as the last games are this weekend, it looks doubtful for an evaluation of them. The finals are Sunday at the Al. If you still haven’t made it out to one you are doing yourself a disservice. It’s free and after Sunday, you won’t get a report of game or scrimmage action until October at the earliest.

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