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Bendel's Best of the 2017 AAU Season: Guards (Part 1)

08/22/2017, 5:30pm EDT
By Phenom Hoop Report/Jeff Bendel

PHR Analyst Jeff Bendel dives into a group of guard prospects with intriguing ability and upside.

Just over four months ago Phenom Hoops opened the travel ball season in Greensboro, North Carolina. This event kicked off what would be an exciting summer full of breakouts and surprises, coming from all over the east coast. Next, we will look at some of the players that were the most memorable throughout the season. These players are in no particular order and have made the cut for a variety of different reasons, not necessarily just elite-level guys, though many are considered “elite.”    

Guards

The “Guards” category will always be the most abundant, mostly due to genetics, so it was extremely difficult to narrow this list to just ten. We were fortunate to see a vast array of unique guards that all brought something different, yet special, to the table. Due to length, this will be broken up into two parts, featuring five guards in each. 

6’3 ’18 Tomas Butkus (WNC Big Cats)

There were very few players that were as intriguing as Butkus, who exploded onto our radar at Spring Phenom 150 and has only generated more buzz since then. He’s one of the most exciting players to watch, always in fifth gear and looking to make opponents uncomfortable however possible. Butkus is an outright wizard with the ball; he has such an incredible feel for the game and the necessary vision to make extraordinary passes from unthinkable angles. Though he is tantalizing, there is no doubt in his ability to make the simple play too. Since Butkus might be a pass-first guard, his scoring ability often gets overlooked, but he is a really efficient three-level scorer. He can hit a variety of pull-ups from three or midrange while also displaying craftiness and touch around the rim. Butkus’ IQ-passing-scoring combination makes him nearly impossible to guard; he still controls the offense and makes great decisions with the ball while looking for his scoring within the flow. Arguably his best attribute is leadership, which he frequently displayed on both sides of the ball, vocally and by example. He has a strong, stocky frame and has a deceptively quick first step. Butkus is still under the radar, but that should change soon, as he possesses all the makings of a D1 player. 

6’1 ’21 Carter Whitt (Team Loaded NC)

Whitt is a prospect that has been on the Phenom radar for a while. We’ve watched him grow from Junior Phenom Camp to being the only eighth grader--other than Isaiah Todd--at our Top 80 Camp, to now getting recognized as one of the top 20 players at the prestigious CP3 Rising Stars Camp. This is while dominating his peers during AAU and high school play. However, this summer Whitt started out playing up with Team Loaded 15U, but quickly moved up another level to their 16U team. His game is so incredibly advanced and he has the ability to make all of his teammates better. Whitt has such a naturally calm demeanor; he’s impossible to fluster, though opponents often try. There’s no denying his IQ/vision combination, and now that he’s starting to show signs of quality athleticism, he’ll gradually become even more dangerous. Whitt’s instincts are on point, always looking for the smartest possible option, and almost never taking a bad shot or making a bad pass. His defensive and scoring abilities continue to improve; he’s only becoming more dominant and will certainly end up as a HM point guard. 

5’9 ’21 Jordan McPhatter (Team Charlotte)

The city of Charlotte has improved in nearly everything over the last ten to twenty years, including their AAU program, which is currently equipped with one of the most intriguing young point guards in the country. McPhatter, though just a rising freshman, has been a player we’ve been watching progress for a few years now. He’s as exciting as they come; everyone in the gym stays on the edge of their seat, anticipating what mind-shattering passing angle he’ll find next. His lack of size isn’t as big of a deal as most would assume, since he’s able to wiggle through traffic and make plays exceptionally well. McPhatter is a three-level scorer that typically doesn’t force shots, preferring to get points within the offensive flow. However, when the team needs a bucket, they’ll often look for McPhatter to take or create the shot. He’s flashy, but it’s an appropriate amount (and usually necessary), as he never surrenders a smart play trying to look cool. McPhatter simply possesses some of the best, most innate guard skills in the 2021 class. The way he navigates an offense is second nature; he gets into the paint easily and has a phenomenal understanding of the two-man game. McPhatter is a sound on-ball defender with quick hands; he’s very agile and knows how to force opponents into trouble. The young guard is set to enter his first season at Butler in Charlotte. Expect to hear about his rise of McPhatter before spring hits. 

6’3 ’20 Emory Lanier (B. Maze Elite)
As previously mentioned in Part 1, B. Maze Elite is a team full of promising prospects, and these final two players will join Akeem Odusipe on this list. Over the summer, Lanier solidified himself as an off-guard worthy of attention, both on and off the court. Offensively, he is a near-perfect compliment to any mix of players, as he doesn’t necessarily need the ball to hurt opponents. Already armed with a terrific IQ and feel for the game, Lanier seems to always be in the right place at the right time; he is a deadly scorer from all three levels and has the tendency to heat up in a hurry. Opponents send a ton of help to Odusipe and Jaden Springer, allowing Lanier to quietly rip them to shreds, as he has the ability to score 20+ with relative ease. Arguably, one of the most attractive assets to Lanier’s game is his long arms and frame; he looks likely to continue growing, which will make him the ideal size for an off-guard at the next level. It’s important to note that he is more than just a catch-and-shoot option, but rather a cold-blooded scorer. Lanier can efficiently knock down shots from anywhere inside or outside the arc; he’s very capable of creating for himself within three dribbles and isn’t afraid of playing through contact at the rim. Fouling Lanier is basically counter-productive, as he’s automatic from the free throw line. His length is disruptive on defense and he understands how to effectively bottle up his opponent; he will only continue to improve on that end of the floor. Though Lanier has always grown up around the game, he only just began playing truly organized (5-on-5) basketball over the last two to three years. It’s difficult to decide how many D1-quality players this team has, but Lanier is certainly one of them. 

6’4 ’20 Jaden Springer (B. Maze Elite)

Finishing up, we look at potentially the most tantalizing guard we saw throughout the summer in Springer. An alum of our camps and events in the past, there was little to no doubt in Springer’s ability to be atop his class as a HM prospect. He is so far beyond his years in nearly every category; his athleticism, mentality, physique, and his skill-set are all incredibly advanced. Scoring comes naturally to Springer, who can effortlessly net twenty or thirty points from all levels with ease. It simply doesn’t matter what type of defenders try to contain him, as they all fail time after time. This is likely due to the lack of holes within Springer’s game; he is a terrific shooter off the bounce or catch and will dominate teams if they allow him a path to the rim, where he will meet any defender chest-to-chest. Though he is already such a well-rounded player, his “hangtime” ability is something that sets him apart from similar prospects, as he can float in the air while opponents are on their way down. This is a really unique talent that Springer possesses, as it often nullifies defensive rotations or rim protectors from easy blocks. He is very crafty and finishes everything inside five feet, whether on dunks, floaters, layups, or runners, they all seem to never miss. Though much of the hype surrounding Springer is due to his scoring, it is apparent that he has every tool to hurt opponents with his passing. He’s already a plus-level defender, both on and off-ball, with the ability to get even better given his athletic gifts. As the overall anchor of B. Maze Elite, he led by example and was extremely humble after every contest. Springer is set to be one of the highly touted prospects in his class and will have his choice of schools in the coming years. 

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