Notebook: Michigan targets excel at Nike Global Challenge

1003311_384082055026667_115311113_n[1]WASHINGTON — Four Michigan prospects were invited to and competed in the Nike Global Challenge at Trinity University Thursday through Saturday.

Two of them ended up champions, with a third a runner-up. And they all gained valuable experience competing with and against 40 of the top prospects in the country and four all-star U-19 international teams.

On Saturday, the USA West team featuring class of 2014 wing Kameron Chatman and class of 2015 big man Elijah Thomas (No. 5 in ESPN’s rankings) defeated the USA South team that included class of 2014 guard Devin Booker, 98-95 in the championship game.

“This is probably the closest to college basketball,” Chatman said afterward, “because everybody’s gonna be good. So it’s just a humbling experience.”

Booker, Michigan’s top priority in the class, had an up-and-down tournament. He scored nine points in just 16 minutes in the title game, but his team wouldn’t have made it that far if not for his 8-for-9 shooting performance and 21 points in Friday night’s shootout win over the Midwest. Booker went 5-of-6 from the FIBA 3-point line on Friday’s win.

Chatman and Thomas didn’t play a lot of minutes for a stacked West team, but made them count. They each contributed four points in the final.

Jordan Barnett was the fourth player watched closely on Wednesday and Thursday by John Beilein and on Friday by Lavall Jordan. The 6-foot-7 small forward hasn’t received an offer from the Wolverines, but he played well in limited minutes for an equally loaded Midwest team. In the third-place game Saturday, Barnett scored seven points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked a shot to help the Midwest clobber the East, 133-108.

“It was a really good experience,” Barnett said. “These are players that I’ve never gotten to play with, some of them I’ve never even seen play. It’s really good seeing the level of competition that there really is on the Nike circuit.”

The Michigan prospects didn’t just watch their teammates, though. They showed the dozens of head coaches present — Beilein, John Calipari, Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino and Roy Williams, to name a handful — what they can offer to a top-level program.

The 6-foot-4 Booker showed off his versatility throughout the tournament. On Friday, he drove from close to midcourt for a left-handed layup on one possession. A minute later, he drained a 3-pointer. Booker’s eight field goals in the semifinal win included five threes, two layups with his offhand, and an off-balance floater in the lane.

ESPN’s 16th-ranked prospect also demonstrated his defensive will, going up to pin a layup attempt by Tyus Jones (No. 3 in the Class of ‘14) off the backboard on a fast break.

“It was a block, it wasn’t a near block,” Booker said afterward. “That was like, what, Trey Burke and Peyton Siva?”

Chatman (No. 42 in ESPN’s rankings) deferred for most of the tournament to his teammates, and for good reason. Playing alongside dynamic scorers such as co-tournament MVP Stanley Johnson and Justin Jackson, he didn’t need to be a scorer.

The 6-foot-6 West Coast prospect who has an offer from Michigan picked his spots — showing his ability to rebound in traffic and defend multiple positions. And when he entered the championship game, he quickly showed that he can score when needed, draining a catch-and-shoot midrange jumper and then converting a layup in traffic off a nifty baseline give-and-go.

“There’s so many big-time players here, so on our team I gotta kind of change my role, just be a passer,” Chatman said. “It was good. I like winning. That’s all I care about. So I’m just happy to win.”

Chatman’s 6-foot-9 teammate Elijah Thomas showed, in spurts, why he’s so highly coveted in the Class of 2015 by Michigan and many others. He’s not just a big man, but one with a precocious feel for the game. Whenever he received the ball in the post, he had his eyes up, looking for a quick dish to a cutter or an open shooter. He also used an array of moves, including an 8-foot jump hook and a drop step.

Thomas has to improve his fitness and his footwork on defense, but he has two years to do so. For now, it’s easy for college coaches to salivate over his offensive skills and versatility. He scored four points on four field goal attempts in the championship game.

Speaking of versatility, Barnett played the three position on the Midwest team but said that Michigan assistant Lavall Jordan has told him he feels he has the skills to be a two guard at the next level.

During the three days, Barnett showed abilities that are seen at the two, the three and the four. In the third-place game, Barnett grabbed defensive rebounds on consecutive possessions against taller players. He also made a 3-pointer, ran the floor extremely well, and challenged almost every shot around the rim in a lopsided game.

“When it’s the fourth quarter, everyone’s tired from playing all these games, no one really wants to play defense,” Barnett said. “I felt like if I’m gonna be the only one out there playing defense, that’s what I gotta do.”

Overall, teams with Michigan prospects on them went 10-2 during the Global Challenge.

Jake Lloyd is a freelance sports journalist living in Washington D.C. Follow Jake on Twitter @jakelam2116.

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