Sweating In LeBron’s Shadow, Talor Battle Hopes To Impress
Talor Battle looks tired.
“They’re working us hard, man,” Battle tells me during a break at the LeBron James Skill Academy in Akron, Oh., where he and 19 other top returning college players have spent the past few days. The Nike-run camp exists primarily as a showcase for top high school talent, and about 70 of the best prep players in the country are in town for the week. The college portion of the camp is more selective, with invites limited to 20 guys who are expected to be All-American candidates next season — and possible NBA draft picks in 2011 or beyond.
It’s one of the main events of a busy summer hoop schedule, and one I’ve attended the past four years in a semi-professional capacity: I still do some freelance work for Slam, where I worked before joining The Penn Stater, and this annual trip to Akron is a chance to see a lot of the guys I might soon be writing about and also catch up with some old friends. Coming back this summer meant a chance to stand and gawk at the ongoing LeBron James free-agent circus (LeBron-generated hype being a topic I’m pretty familiar with) and, better yet, a chance to see a Nittany Lion basketball player run with some of the nation’s best.
Penn State hoop fans are familiar with Battle’s story: This spring, after three terrific seasons individually (a run dampened by the team’s struggles last year), the Nittany Lions’ star guard declared for the NBA draft. It was mostly an exploratory move, and as expected, he removed his name before the NCAA-mandated deadline and will return to Penn State for his senior year. He’ll be joined next season by his younger half-brother, Taran Buie, who I saw as a high schooler at LeBron Camp last year. I’m working on a feature on Battle and Buie for the Sept/Oct issue of The Penn Stater. They’ve got a pretty compelling story.
For now, I was excited to see Battle test himself with and against terrific competition, and in front of an audience of NBA scouts—the very guys whose opinions will help determine whether Battle gets drafted next year. Working out alongside guys like Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler—fresh off a national championship at Duke—Battle came in with a pretty clear idea of how he can impress the scouts. The past three days were all about doing it.
“A lot of guys come in here and want to shoot, but that’s not what [the scouts] want to see,” Battle says. “They know we can score. I’m trying to do the other things, look to pass and show I can lead a team. I think I’m doing well.”
Battle is probably a shade under the 6-foot at which he’s listed in the camp media notes, and as such, he knows his possible NBA future lies in being a point guard — a guy who distributes the ball and hits open shots, as opposed to the much bigger players who can create shots of their own against NBA defenders. The camp set up gave him plenty of chances to prove his ability, as coaches ran Battle and the others through intense drills that tested all aspects of their game. In one, the players started by the three-point arc, dribbled around a trash can doubling as a defender, passed to a teammate, ran to the corner, got the ball back and shot a long jumper. Another drill required them to shoot a runner over a coach standing on a folding chair. Yet another forced them to alternate floating jumpers off their right and left feet, aiming for a clean swish on one rotation, then trying to bank the ball on the next.
For all the players present, it was alternately great training and an intense audition. For Battle—the smallest player in the group, representing a school with the lowest basketball profile—it’s something more.
“It’s exposure for me, but not only for me—for my team, my program,” Battle says. “Penn State doesn’t usually send guys to a camp like this.”
Ryan Jones, senior editor