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December 24, 2013

What We Learned: City of Palms Classic


THE RIVALS150: Class of 2014 - Class of 2015

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The City of Palms Classic was once again loaded with talent, and Rivals.com's Dan McDonald was on hand all week to take in the action. Here's a look at what he learned:

Simmons makes case for No. 1

Coming into the high school season, there didn't seem to be a consensus top prospect in the 2015 class. Malik Newman currently holds down the top spot in the 2015 Rivals150, but it's far from a certainty that he will stay there. Stephen Zimmerman, Ivan Rabb and Diamond Stone come in behind Newman and are hot on his trail. At the City of Palms, Montverde (Fla.) forward Ben Simmons put himself squarely in the mix for being considered the top prospect in the 2015 class.

Simmons simply is capable of dominating the game in just about every way possible. He scored in the post. He showed off his ability to knock down 3-pointers. He's capable of leading a break in transition. Defensively, he's a volume rebounder and his athletic ability makes him a solid rim protector. Simmons posted an impressive stat line (31 points and 13 rebounds) in an opening round win over Milton, including 20 points and 11 rebounds in the first half. Simmons followed up with another double-double in Montverde's win over Lincoln, finishing with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

If there is one weakness we noticed with Simmons that could prevent him from moving into the top spot it's the way he looked when matched up with a tougher, physical defender. Matched up with recent Seton Hall commit Desi Rodriguez, a physical 6-foot-5 forward built like a football player, Simmons didn't appear to be as aggressive.

Regardless, Simmons is an elite talent and will be a star at LSU.

Best point guard available?

Devonte Graham signed with Appalachian State last November as a member of their 2013 but did not end up enrolling at the school this year. Instead, he's spending a post-grad year at Brewster Academy (N.H,) and appears to be one of the better point guards in the country this year.

Matched up against Oldsmar Christian (Fla.), Graham's Brewster Academy team cruised to 30-point victory, and he played a huge part in their strong showing. The 6-foot-2 floor general finished the game with 15 points and 10 assists while turning the ball over only once. He's got great size for the point guard position and has added some muscle in the past year. He's a capable perimeter shooter and can also score going to the rim. He's the total package as a point guard.

Because Graham didn't enroll at Appalachian State and hasn't been released from his letter of intent, he won't be allowed to play at another Division I school next year unless he is eventually released. Graham's only options are to enroll at a school, sit out a year and have three years to play or go to junior college. Schools are not allowed to have contact with Graham, but a source told Rivals.com that as many as 10 schools have made it known they would take him and let him sit next year.

Giddens growing as shot-blocker

Wheeler (Ga.) center Daniel Giddens knows his role. Playing alongside fellow five-star junior Jaylen Brown and other Division I basketball prospects, Giddens doesn't need to do a ton of scoring. Wheeler coach Doug Lipscomb needs him to dominate in the paint, and that's exactly what he did at City of Palms.

Giddens, currently ranked 18th overall in the 2015 Rivals150, recorded 16 blocks in Wheeler's first two games at City of Palms and affected several more. At 6-foot-10, Giddens has always been a great athlete, but he's worked hard to improve his timing as a shot blocker, and it was on full display at City of Palms. The next step in Giddens development is to become a more consistent low-post player offensively, and he's making strides there too.

College coaches have taken notice of the improvement in Giddens' game. Indiana is the most recent joining a long list that includes Arizona, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Ohio State and more. Giddens recently took an unofficial visit to Ohio State.

Freshman to watch

St. John Bosco (Calif.) forward Billy Preston might be in a similar position as Ben Simmons in a couple years. Already about the same size as Simmons at 6-foot-8, 220 pounds, Preston looks to be a special talent who just might be among the most talented players in the country in the 2017 class.

Preston plays alongside several other talented prospects such as Tyler Dorsey, Daniel Hamilton and Vance Jackson, but there were times at City of Palms where Preston was the one making the big plays in crunch time. In close games against Providence (Fla.) and Greenforest Christian (Ga.), the freshman forward showed he could battle inside against post players and also step out and knock down jumpers from 3-point range.

Preston will likely be among the most highly recruited post players on the West Coast in the 2017 class. He's already collected a scholarship offer from the USC Trojans with many more likely to come in the not so distant future.


Dan McDonald is a contributing national basketball recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. You can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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