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KU guard Johnson shows some flash on PIT opening night

By Rob Reheuser, for NBA.com
Posted Apr 11, 2013 11:33 AM

PORTSMOUTH, Va. -- Talk to any jeweler or prospective husband in the market for a diamond, and you'll quickly hear about the four C's -- cut, color, clarity and carat.

Ask any NBA general manager or scout about a diamond in the rough, and the answer is a lot less defined.

Truth is, talent comes in all forms, shapes and sizes, and is often found at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, which tipped off for the 61st time Wednesday evening in front of a district of key decision makers from all 30 NBA teams.

There are many words to describe Elijah Johnson, fresh from four seasons at Kansas. Athlete. Combo. Competitor.

Perhaps the best word is "present" because, depending on who you believe, he almost wasn't, due to a miscommunication over his invitation. Only Johnson, his college coaches, his father, and members of the PIT Executive Committee are privy to what went down, but it's a moot point. His play will or won't do the talking.

It wasn't an overly gregarious performance for the former Jayhawk in the opening game of Wednesday night's session, though his team, K&D Rounds Landscaping, made a loud statement with a 91-67 win over Norfolk Sports Club. Johnson finished with seven points, eight rebounds and three assists. But he also threw in several eye-popping athletic moves to remind everyone what he's working with from a physical standpoint. You're simply not going to find a more athletic guard in this year's field, and you'd be hard-pressed to find many in this year's NBA Draft.

The issue for Johnson is position and feel. Much of his time at Kansas was spent playing off the ball, and for good reason. He's not a point guard. That's not to say he's selfish or shot happy, as many combos disguised as point guards tend to be. Johnson is mostly faithful to the team concept and gives good effort. But he doesn't think or see the game like a true point guard. He's a little careless with his passes. He's a touch lazy with his dribble. The skills and overall feel haven't yet meshed with the physical gifts, though he earns points for showing up and competing this week.

BYU's Brandon Davies competed and then some for K&D Rounds, finishing with 16 points, eight rebounds and a team-high five assists. And not just your run-of-the-mill assists. Davies was a whirling dervish in the lane, consistently drawing multiple defenders, and smartly finding open teammates.

Not known as the grittiest player to ever come down the pike -- he was bothered by contact at times and committed several turnovers -- Davies carries some intrigue given his size (6-foot-9) and overall polish. He rode shotgun to Jimmer Fredette his first two seasons at BYU -- his sophomore campaign was famously interrupted by his breaking the honor code -- then stepped into the driver's seat for his final two seasons. Scouts have always liked the talent. More performances like this one will make them like it even more.

Iowa State's Will Clyburn led Norfolk Sports Club with 25 points. Notre Dame's Jack Cooley added 13 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.

Clyburn started off slow, and tweaked his ankle several minutes into the game, but recovered to turn in one of the better individual performances of the evening. He carried his team in the second half, and kept the score from being a lot worse than it was. An All Big-12 Second Team selection this past season, Clyburn looks the part, with terrific size (6-7), fluidity and versatility. He puts the ball on the floor with ease. He averaged 6.9 rebounds this past season, so he's not afraid to stick his nose in traffic. He has many of the attributes NBA teams look for in wings.

In one evening, Clyburn likely moved ahead of several seniors who either pulled out of the PIT at the last minute or declined the invitation altogether. That's how it sometimes works. With only so much time to evaluate prospects before the draft, the PIT is a chance to be seen up close, not just by scouts, but by general managers. In recent years, some agents have done their best to convince kids not to play here, which in many ways is akin to telling a recent college graduate not to show up for an interview. It's almost illogical to turn down a chance to impress, if not for this year's Draft, but for down the line.

Brian Roberts played in the 2008 PIT, spent several seasons playing in the top league in Germany, and this year was signed by the New Orleans Hornets. He's averaging 6.9 points and 2.6 assists in 16.2 minutes per game. Despite the fact New Orleans used the 10th overall selection in the 2012 NBA Draft to select Austin Rivers, Roberts rather easily beat him out before Rivers suffered a season-ending injury. There's no doubt someone with the Hornets kept his resume on file based on how well he played here.

The second game of Wednesday wasn't as well played -- the two teams combined for 40 turnovers -- but was a lot more competitive, as Portsmouth Partnership, behind 29 points and 11 rebounds from Delaware's Jamelle Hagins, defeated Mike Duman Auto Sales 90-89.

In the age of advanced metrics, it's still fairly simple to measure effort for a 6-foot-9 forward. Grab a box score, count how many offensive rebounds he had and how many steals he came up with. For Hagins, the numbers were five and three. He also shot 12-for-19, doing all of his damage around the basket. Hagins attempted two 3-pointers in four seasons at Delaware, so he's clearly a player who knows where his strengths lie. He's a bit undersized and has no left hand, but you can't teach effort, and he brings it.

Davidson's Jake Cohen added 16 points for Portsmouth Partnership, while Kent State's Chris Evans finished with 13 points and eight rebounds (four offensive).

Evans spent two seasons in junior college before making his way to Kent State, eventually becoming a Mid-American Conference First Team selection as a senior, averaging 16.3 points and 7.8 rebounds. It's clear Evans is a pretty serious athlete who's still figuring out how to play. His game was a mixed bag of shots he should never take and athletic plays not many others in the field can make.

Tennessee State's Robert Covington led Mike Duman with 21 points. Southern Mississippi's Dwayne Davis added 17 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals.

Unlike Evans, Covington has a very smooth perimeter stroke and isn't shy about getting shots up. He also finished with zero assists and four turnovers, and doesn't appear overly comfortable putting the ball on the floor. He did finish with eight rebounds and a game-high four steals, showing off his athleticism.

Davis, who played at two junior colleges before arriving at Southern Mississippi, sat out the 2011-12 season as an academic non-qualifier, saved his best for last, averaging 16.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists on his way to earning All-Conference USA First Team honors this year.

A native of Philadelphia, Davis has that old school game that was no doubt honed on the playgrounds in Philly. He has a quick release on his jumper -- he made two 3-pointers -- and likes to back in smaller guards and shoot turnarounds and fadeaways. Not the most impressive physical specimen, Davis is just a basketball player who should fare pretty well in this tournament and beyond.

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