Friday, September 25, 2015

DMV Product Pratapas Heating Up

Much of the second half of Elev8's 2015 fall league game played out in frenetic, video game fashion.

The final 12 minutes featured an intriguing duel between 6-foot-7 Rhode Island-commit Leroy Butts and defensive-minded guard Rodney Culver, now a burgeoning mid-major prospect.

Entrenched in a sheer battle, the two were constantly one-upping each other. The dizzying in-house competition was ratcheted up.

At Grandview Prep in Boca Raton, Fla., all eyes were pasted on Elev8's top-profile recruits.

During one sequence, Butts pulled off a nifty spin move and netted a shallow jumper, a pair of defenders draped all over him.

On the ensuing possession, Culver carved into the teeth of the defense, finishing an acrobatic move at the rim.

Energized by the second half subplot, the left-handed Butts dropped 30 points on the full repertoire of feathery 18-footers, short-range shots, drives, stickbacks, and free throws.

Culver, who was recently offered by Coastal Carolina and IPFW, turned in an efficient account of himself.

He piled up 23 points, exploding after a quiet first half.

Ultimately, the sharpshooting of Trystan Pratapas kick-started the offensive fireworks.

Pratapas' unlimited range and identical, unwavering form snapped hordes of spectators into left.

It jolted them into focus, following the game's sloppy, lackadaisical start.

After dropping 29 points in his fall league debut,  the 6-foot-5, 190-pound Pratapas again registered his presence from beyond the arc.

The D.C. area sniper wedged a trio of 3-pointers in between a nifty floater, scoring 11 of his team's first 13 points.

Pratapas drew several comparisons during the early shooting display. With a few "Dan Majerle" and "Chris Mullin" (Pratapas is a lefty) shout outs floating across the gym, likening Pratapas' to former Elev8 guard Caleb Tanner seemed most logical.

Tanner, a quick-strike 3-point threat on last year's squad, is now at Radford. He carved his niche as a quick kick-out option, a bench sparkplug relied upon to drain shots in a hurry.

"He'll have a unique role, just like Caleb did," said Elev8 Director of Player Development/NBA trainer Cody Toppert, a left-handed 3-point ace himself at Cornell.

"People fall in love with the romanticism of 'the athlete' or the 'high upside.' There are certain trigger words people just tend to gravitate toward. The reality of it is there are not a lot of guys in the game these days who can just flat out make shots. Trystan is a specialist. He makes smart decisions within his game, which allows him to play at the high levels with the big dogs."

A high academic kid, Elev8's coaches would rather not pigeonhole Pratapas as strictly a shooter, or put labels like "academic All-American" or "cerebral shooter" on him yet. They envision him as a scorer, a guy who just gets buckets.

Toppert and head coach Chad Meyers both got a kick out of Pratapas' demeanor during open gyms this summer.

With NBA talent such as Earl Clark, Tyler Johnson, and DeJuan Blair on the court, Pratapas performed with nary a trace of star struck trepidation. He was out there spotting up, calling for the rock when open.

He approached it as if it were just another day with CIA Bounce, where he made himself known through an adroit lefty shooting touch. As a key guard on CIA Bounce's 15U team, Pratapas lit up foes to the tune of 25 points per game.

He's got a unique ability to sidestep the shooting funks, those ugly stretches capable of derailing inconsistent shooters.

Pratapas has also never shied away from a challenge, garnering respect on some of the DMV's toughest basketball proving grounds.

"Tristan can play at the Division-I level and he can do so because of his ability to shoot," Toppert said.

"Yet, his intermediate game is really poised. He does a great job of maintaining his poise in the lane. He's got a little floater and some crafty finishes in the lane. This adds another dynamic to what he does."

Guarding mid-major level athletes on a regular basis will help him improve defensively.

Whoever invests four years in this academically-elite recruit, they'll be getting a veritable knock down specialist with a trustworthy basketball IQ.

"I really like Davidson, Air Force is recruiting me right now, Georgia Southern, Dartmouth, Cornell, and a few others," said Pratapas, who holds a 4.0 GPA and scored a 1800 on his three-part SAT, 1180 with his two-part.

"My dream school would be Davidson, to follow into Steph Curry's footsteps and because they play in the A-10 which is such a power conference. I just think it would be a perfect school for me. I'm just completely open right now."

At Georgetown Prep, Pratapas was tasked with supplying a bulk of the offense. Now bordered by a torrent of Division-I talent at Elev8, Pratapas will have the freedom to work on refining all aspects of his game.

The jump from one level to the next has been anything but a quantum leap. Pratapas has played on some of the DMV's toughest basketball proving grounds and shot through pressure cookers throughout the AAU circuit.

"He's done a commendable job of seamlessly transitioning to playing at higher levels," Toppert said.

"This is because of very solid decision making. He's very under control. That's what allows him to play at 'higher levels.' He goes above and beyond, he does all the unrequired work."

Shooter's Touch

A popular joke at Elev8 is that Ganon Baker's young son, Kalel, has a basketball as his one and only toy.

Baker, the professional basketball skills coach and executive director of Elev8/Ganon Baker Basketball, still possesses an impressive handle at 40+. His son is often traipsing the sidelines, dribbling and watching his father coach, train, and ref.

As a four-year old, Pratapas (like Kalel) saved his parents trips to Toys R' Us. He became enamored with a Fischer Price net. Since age four, he was working on his shooting form.

"I would just shoot and shoot and shoot," Pratapas recalls. "When we'd go to like a hotel, I would just get a wad of paper or get bars of soap from the bathroom and start shooting it in the trash can. It's always kind of been a part of my life. I can't imagine myself without it."

When he got older and started playing competitively, Pratapas began studying film on the game's most reputable shooters.

"Reggie Miller I looked up to a lot," Pratapas recalls. "Now it's more like Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, those kind of guys. Guys that really make a living shooting the basketball."

Elev8 will need Pratapas to make his living shooting the basketball. Similar to the aforementioned Tanner, he'll have the opportunity to emerge as a steady floor-spreading shooter.

 Just as Tanner provided kick out shots when the defensive pressure on Kobie Eubanks was amplified, Pratapas' shooting will provide balance on a deeper team in 2015-16.

No player will shoulder the same offensive burden as Eubanks did last year. Elev8 has an inside-outside look to it this season, with new emphasis on a potent running game.

"He's a student of the game," Toppert said. "The kid wants to learn. He wants to get better everyday. One thing that he's continuing to learn is defensively, how to defend the high-major athlete. That's something that I think will continue to evolve over the year. You can't have a harder worker. He epitomizes everything that Elev8 is about."