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February 17, 2013

Beach Blast: Nigerians steal the show

MORE: Beach Blast Friday

The second day of the IMG Academy Beach Blast Basketball Showcase included just as much action as the first, with the newcomers to the event stealing the show with their array of talented prospects.

In addition, several players from the host team, Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy, performed well, giving the showcase an all-around mix of talent from the freshman class through postgrad prospects. Here's a look at who stood out the most on Saturday.

Finding the Covenant

Due to travel delays, Marietta (Ga.) Covenant Christian was not able to participate in the Beach Blast on Friday. However, beginning with the first time slot on Saturday morning, it made its presence felt in a major way.

Covenant Christian features a blend of Georgia prospects mixed with Nigerians, combining for one of the most talented squads in the Peach State this season. The top two prospects on the team on Saturday were 2013 Tulsa commit Emmanuel Ezechinonso and 2014 power forward Christian Mekowulu.

Ezechinonso has been known around the recruiting world for some time from his experiences on the AAU circuit with the Atlanta Celtics as one of the biggest prospects in the class of 2013. At 6-foot-11, and with the upper-body build of a future NFL player, Ezechinonso has been by far the most physically intimidating prospect in Bradenton this week. The brute-like center uses that intimidation to his benefit, blocking shots in the lane and using his strength to move guys out of the paint to go after rebounds.

The Nigeria native is still raw on the offensive end, but with his size and power he's able to muscle in layups or two-handed dunks near the basket, and plays with a high motor, allowing him to get his hands on more rebounds than his opponent. Playing for head coach Danny Manning next year at Tulsa should give Ezechinonso a chance to develop into a very good big man, as Manning is known from his time as a player and as an assistant coach at Kansas as one of the most knowledgeable teachers of interior play.

Just a junior, Mekowulu is almost as imposing as his teammate, as he stands 6-foot-9 and has wide shoulders. However, moreso than Ezechinonso, Mekowulu is a very good athlete who can explode vertically off the floor. A good floor-runner who likes to play around the rim as much as possible, Mekowulu is also a little further along than his senior teammate in the skill department. The power forward was very impressive in showing the ability to catch it in the short corner and his spin way to the basket, finishing with soft touch on his hook shots.

Mekowulu clearly needs time to develop more confidence offensively, and still looks like he is lacking in experience compared to his American teammates, but the junior clearly has the talent to be a major player at the college level.

Fundamental Academy

One of the most impressive prospects Rivals.com saw Saturday stood just 5-foot-5 and is just a freshman, but can he pass the basketball. That player is IMG Academy's 2016 point guard, Loren Christian Jackson.

The son of the post-graduate team's coach at IMG, Jackson plays like most kids who grow up with their father's learning basketball: he's a high-IQ prospect. The freshman has a unique understanding at his age of how to use the pick-and-roll to create offense for his teammates, squeezing bounce passes in at just right the times through gaps to rack up assist after assist. Despite his size, Jackson is also a very good scorer because he has the two things that are quintessential for smaller guards, speed and shooting ability.

When he's in top gear, Jackson can be a blur on the court, but he does a good job of staying under control while doing so. As a shooter, Jackson is very consistent from both long-range and the foul line, where he converted 15 of 16.

Apart from their freshman star, IMG Academy also had two other players turn in strong performances Saturday. First up was Lexington (Ky.) native Darius Lewis, a 6-foot-11 center. Attracting interest from several mid-major programs on Saturday, Lewis was at his best in a matchup with Covenant Christian, until a sprained knee left him hobbled for the remainder of the event.

Still, Lewis' improved conditioning and toughness down low have coaches buzzing that he could be a sought-after commodity in the late signing period. He's not the most skilled, and is just a slightly above-average athlete, but you simply can't teach the size, strength or effort that Lewis displayed on Saturday, all things that college coaches will covet.

The third and final standout from IMG was 6-foot-5 wing Austin Pauga, a 2014 prospect originally from Napperville (Ill.). Pagua is a super-skilled wing guard who can handle the ball against pressure, score craftily around the basket, shoot it from deep and is a really good passer as well. The junior isn't an overly good athlete, but he understands how to use fakes and change paces to get by defenders, which should be enough to get the job done at the next level.

While he hasn't received any formal offers yet at the Division I level, IMG Academy coaches rave about Pauga's potential, especially given his production in the brief amount of time he has spent in Florida since transferring down to IMG in January.

Bayou Boy

We'll have to wait another two seasons to see 6-foot-4 post-grad wing Joshua Robinson play at the college level. However, given his performance on Saturday, it'll be worth the wait. The wing from Houston (Texas) Beacon Prep was electrifying on Saturday, scoring at will en route to a 25-point performance against Bradenton (Fla.) Faith Baptist Christian Academy.

Robinson, who will spend the next two seasons at the junior college level, is excellent at creating his shots off the dribble, and has the range out to the 3-point line to give the defense fits with his shooting ability. A natural scorer who finds ways to put it in the basket when he gets around the rim, coaches from Beacon Prep rave that when Robinson is healthy (he just returned from a month off while he was home in his native Shreveport, La.) the wing is as good as any prep school prospect on the Southern post-grad circuit.

Even though he will be attending junior college first, coaches from Beacon Prep report that Robinson has begun to attract attention from all over the SEC and Big 12, including LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. After only playing sporadically at his high school in Louisiana, Robinson is still mostly an unknown, but could easily become one of the top scorers in junior college hoops over the next two seasons.

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