By Joe Henricksen
With Rick Pitino looking on closely, the Louisville coach just might have had visions of another Terrence Williams, Pitino's first-round NBA draft pick a month ago out of Louisville, dancing in his head while watching Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear. The 6-5 Blackshear was that good this past week in Las Vegas while playing with the Mac Irvin Fire.
Pitino wasn't alone as the likes of Kansas coach Bill Self, North Carolina's Roy Williams and several other high-major programs were front and center for a lot of the Fire action that was certainly centered on Blackshear.
While the City/Suburban Hoops Report still has Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams in the top spot in the Class of 2011, Blackshear is certainly right there with him at 1B in the junior class. After having some ups and downs over the past eight months, including sitting out half the year with the transfer from Curie to Morgan Park and then battling a nagging back injury, Blackshear played arguably his best, most consistent basketball while in Las Vegas.
Blackshear's development still has a ways to go. He needs to establish a more effective jump shot, both his mid-range jumper and from beyond the arc. He lacks the great shooting stroke he will need to play on the perimeter at the highest level. He also must tighten up his ballhandling skills. However, those are skills that can be vastly improved on over the next two or three years. The physical attributes he brings and upside are what makes Blackshear special right now as a college prospect.
Always recognized as an athletic specimen with great size and strength, this past week in Las Vegas he took a big step in the consistency department. Blackshear's aggressiveness in getting to the basket, using his strength and athleticism to finish at the rim and simply making plays time and time again put him at a different level. He has the strength to finish and was terrific rebounding the basketball from his position while playing extremely hard from tip to buzzer. He was motivated and a difference-maker on a consistent basis. The Hoops Report loved his assertiveness and attitude.
The Mac Irvin Fire 17s would certainly have liked to have advanced a little deeper in tournament play while in Vegas, but the talent the Fire faced, both in pool play and tournament play, was top-notch. A lot of credit goes to the Fire for the energy they brought in some high-profile games against some high-quality competition.
After a lackluster performance in their first game while in Las Vegas, the Fire followed up the game with an immediate practice later that night. What followed was perhaps the best basketball the Fire have played this summer. The Fire were impressive in some closely contested battles in the StarVision Center Stage Tournament. Arguably the best, most intense and physical game took place against Seattle Rotary Friday night, which included an energetic crowd and some intensity between the two teams as the Fire lost a heartbreaker. The Fire's run ended in a loss to a sound Dallas Heroes team in the quarterfinals.
The Mac Irvin Fire then headed to Arizona to play in the Desert Duel Tournament, a tournament in which they won a year ago. The Fire crushed Carolina Cobra 84-45 in the opening round and dominated D.C. Assault 64-46 to advance to the semifinals in Phoenix, where it will face -- you guessed it, the Dallas Heroes in a rematch Tuesday morning. A second Mac Irvin Fire team lost its opening round game Monday but bounced back and beat Friends of Hoop in the consolation bracket.
Check back later for a City/Suburban Hoops Report recap of the action that took place throughout Las Vegas all last week.