Yags’ Point Forward - Down South Preview
A handful of local grassroots programs head down south this week to compete in their respective sneaker circuit’s premier events. Here’s a look at what each program has at stake and the players who can see their stock rise throughout the month of July.
Leo Papile’s program has become synonymous with Peach Jam, earning an invitation to the event every year since its inception in 1996. Over the course of 22 years, The BABC has come into the Nike EYBL tourney as heavy favorites, sneaky underdogs and every role in between. In 2011, Papile led a team that featured four future-NBA players (Nerlens Noel, Jake Layman, Wayne Selden and Georges Niang) to a Peach Jam Championship. Last year’s gritty squad used the Peach Jam to put the finishing touches on their prospect profiles, with five players who entered the season with undefined skillsets but finished as no-doubt D1 prospects with definitive roles that were highly valued by their future college coaches.
6’8” Villanova-bound sniper Cole Swider leads the 2017 team into battle against a wide-open pool that The BABC can do some damage against. While they only faced two of their pool opponents, the results should give The BABC nothing but confidence. Swider put together a 37-point Efficiency Clinic in a 67-60 win over Baltimore-based Team Takeover early in the EYBL season. They also carried a 6-point halftime lead against their pool’s perceived favorite, the Chris Paul-sponsored CP3 squad, before ultimately losing 73-68. CP3 is led by the future-UNC Tar Heel combo of Leaky Black and Coby White.
Dimon Carrigan has continued to build his reputation as one of the nation’s elite rim protectors and has garnered the attention of high-major programs in the process. Carrigan already has official visits lined up at UConn (Sept. 8th) and Houston (Sept. 23rd) while also being a priority recruit for the likes of Miami, Wichita State and Georgia Tech. Carrigan’s high school and future-Woodstock Academy sidekick Jakigh Dottin has also made a name for himself this spring.
Dottin, a 6’2” PG/Wing with a chiseled frame and tremendous understanding of how to shield off bigger defenders in the lane, averaged 12.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game in the EYBL regular season. Those numbers have only been matched by NC State point guard Markell Johnson over the last two seasons on the Nike circuit. However, Dottin hasn’t seen the offers flow in as freely as Carrigan or backcourt-mate Shandon Brown and is still one of the circuit’s most underrated players heading into Peach Jam.
Don’t be surprised if Brycen Goodine, who played with BABC’s 16U squad in the regular season, makes his presence felt at some point over the weekend as well. Goodine, a dynamic 6’3” PG/Wing and Swider’s teammate at St. Andrew’s, had a few cameo roles late in the season with the older squad but his performance over the last month may warrant some playing time.
The BABC’s first game is against RM5 Elite on Wednesday at 5pm.
CONNECTICUT BASKETBALL CLUB
The CBC 17U’s will be in Atlanta this week, competing in the Under Armour Association Finals. Unfortunately, they’ll be without 6’10” Filip Petrusev who is currently with the Serbian National Team preparing for the upcoming 18U European Campionships. Petrusev’s absence will allow a few of the CBC’s talented young prospects to step to the forefront.
Jaiden Delaire and Byron Breland spent the majority of the grassroots season in starring roles with the 16U squad but both will play important roles with CBC’s senior squad in Atlanta. Delaire averaged 15.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals while shooting 53.8% from the field, 42.1% from 3 and 73.8% from the line in the regular season. The 6’8” wing from Loomis Chaffee owns a versatile skillset and has already proven himself against older competition in the NEPSAC, making a jump into the 2019 national rankings seem inevitable.
Breland, a 6’4” wing, recently transferred from Hillhouse-New Haven as a 3-time/2-sport state champion and is headed to Hamden Hall as member of the 2019 class. Breland averaged 11.9 points while filling the stat sheet across the board. Mekhi Warren, a bouncy 6’5” wingspan big man and Breland’s former Hillhouse teammate, could also see some important playing time this weekend. Warren’s explosive athleticism and rugged swagger help him set the tone in the middle as a low-maintenance paint presence.
Jared Simmons and Jaecee Martin have guided the offense for the 17U’s throughout the spring and that doesn’t figure to change this week. Simmons comes in averaging 13.6 points per game in Association play while shooting 38% from beyond the arch. Martin is among the assist leaders across all sneaker circuits, dishing out 7.0 dimes a game to go along with 2.9 steals.
CBC starts pool play against CK2 Elite on Wednesday night at 7:30pm.
The 2017 version of Expressions is different from last season’s star-studded squad that featured four 5-star prospects at nearly every position. This year’s team doesn’t have a single consensus top-100 star or a 7-foot freak athlete patrolling the paint. They don’t have two high-flying 6’6” wings or a point guard with his choice of blue blood suitors. There’s one thing that this year’s crew will always have over their predecessors though: WINS.
Expressions heads back to Peach Jam after finishing the EYBL regular season with an 11-5 record, two more wins than they had at this time last year. Led by a cast of underrated players who refuse to back down and simply know how to get the job done, Expressions has gone from the team with the target on their back in ’16 to the team that nobody wants to play right now.
Marcus Zegarowski has answered the bell all year, taking the responsibility for his team’s losses and enforcing his will to ensure a different result the next time out. Behind Zegarowski’s 15.1 points, 4 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game, Expressions has lost back-to-back games only once this season. The 6’1” point guard is connecting on 44.8% (46-103) of his 3’s and has gathered offers from Arizona State, Rutgers, Creighton, Minnesota, Pitt, VCU and Seton Hall in the process.
Meanwhile, Dana Tate has been equally as dominant at times. The 6’7” manchild made an example out of taller post players at every turn, averaging 13 points and 6.1 rebounds while proving that powerful athletes with true basketball skills will dominate “guys with size” every time they take the floor. Holderness-product Philmon Gebrewhit has been Expressions utility knife, working inside and out at a high rate.
A handful of Expressions players have an opportunity to set the tone for their recruitment going forward as well. Joey Kasperzyk is the lone holdover from last year’s squad and, to no one’s surprise, has played the roles of emotional leader, tone-setter and clutch playmaker whenever asked. The explosive 6’2” PG/Wing looks to make some more noise before heading to Woodstock for a prep year. Noah Fernandes, a 6’1” point guard from Tabor, has made some of Expressions’ most clutch plays throughout the season and is joined by Max Zegarowski, a 6’5” marksman, in smaller Expressions lineups that can wreak havoc and force the ball down their opponent’s throat. All three will be called upon to make plays in order for Expressions to advance through pool play.
Expressions kicks off the July Live Period on Wednesday at 5pm vs the Oakland Soldiers.
It would be crazy for an outsider to expect similar success from the Mass Rivals in 2017 after last year’s perfect 22-0 record in July and subsequent run to two Adidas Championships. But for the players and coaches inside Vin Pastore’s program, expecting anything less has become unacceptable now that the blueprint has been drawn. Heading into the Gauntlet Finale in South Carolina, that blueprint is being followed closely.
AJ Reeves and David Duke provide the type of 1-2 punch necessary for a title run. After his impressive performance in the circuit’s first two sessions, Duke was chosen to represent the United States at Adidas EuroCamp and has been one of the hottest prospects in the country since. Reeves, fresh from his commitment to Providence, came out of the gate hot in circuit play and hit 45% of his 3’s while playing less than half of his team’s minutes. After setting the tone, Reeves sat back and watched as his teammate’s confidence rise alongside their prospect profiles. That 1-2 punch quickly become an un-guardable 3-4-5 combo flurry.
Rivals’ 2019 prospect duo of 6’8” Akok Akok and 6’ Alex Rivera have made phenomenal use of their time in Adidas play so far and own two of the top-5 Offensive Ratings on the circuit. Akok has been a low-touch/high-volume producer, hitting 54.8% (23-42) of his 3’s and blocking 21.9% of the shots that opponents’ have taken while he’s on the floor. Those numbers are absurd, even in an 8-game sample.
Rivera has hit 45% (32-71) of his 3’s while playing the most minutes on the team. While the three aforementioned players, along with Taelon Martin, have been participating in elite camps over the last six weeks, Rivera has been back in the lab perfecting his stroke. He’ll have fresh legs and an inflated chip on his shoulder in Spartanburg.
The one thing the Rivals value more than most grassroots programs is their depth. With Brown-commit David Mitchell alongside fellow D1 recruits Jovan Jones, Jimmy Yfantapolous and Ousmane Diop to round out his rotation, the pieces for another July run are certainly at Pastore’s disposal.
Rivals’ 8-0 record heading into the Finale earned them a bye. They will face the winner of the EG10 vs Atlanta Celtics game on Thursday at 4:40pm.
NEW ENGLAND PLAYAZ
After losing a Sweet 16 heartbreaker to Virginia’s Team Loaded last year, the Playaz reloaded and look determined to remain on their collision course with Rivals in 2017. They’ll have to navigate through a few landmines in bracket play but if their early season results are any sign of things to come, the Playaz have to be considered a legit contender heading into Spartanburg.
The way Playaz head coach John Carroll has challenged and utilized Nate Laszewski this spring may serve as one of the pivotal points in the Northfield-Mt Hermon product’s prep career. Known mostly for his smooth shooting stroke and ability to score in bunches from the perimeter after his junior season, Carroll demanded that Laszewski start to assert himself in the post and become the type of rebounder his size and ball skills suggest he could be. Laszewski responded by giving the Playaz another formidable paint presence on both ends of the floor without missing a beat offensively (43.5% from 3, 137.9 Offensive Rating) and logged the most minutes on the roster.
The added help has given Chuck Hannah, a 6’7” wingspan big man and one of the most undervalued players in the nation, the ability to work freely on the block or drag a mismatch out to the perimeter. With a bouncy 6’8” Chris Doherty back at full health, supplying muscle and efficiency inside, Hannah is now allowed to showcase his versatile skillset in appropriate situations.
With roles expanding and versatile players at every spot on the floor, 6’2” PG/Wing Ethan Wright has been able to play to his strengths. Wright commits to hard drives knowing he’ll either score, get fouled, have someone open on the perimeter as the defense crashes, or a trio of rebounders preparing for a put-back. If an opponent tries to pressure the perimeter, Hannah and Doherty are there to seal off their opponents in the post with their strength and use their superior position to get an easy bucket.
A team’s most decorated player decides to strengthen his game in an area that made him uncomfortable in the past because he trusts his coach and wants to see his team succeed. Yet, by doing the unselfish work, he also becomes a better individual player, earns scholarship offers from ACC programs, builds his confidence and his teammates are consistently put in better positions to succeed. Everyone gets rewarded with victories. When I add it all up, it leads me to believe that this John Carroll guy might just know a little something about the game of basketball!
The Playaz 8-0 regular season record earned them a bye in the Finale. They will face the winner of the Pump-n-Run and Team (Demarre) Carroll game on Thursday at 3:20pm.
OTHER NEW ENGLAND PRODUCTS HEADING SOUTH
Expressions’ 16U squad is the only New England-based program appearing the Peach Jam. After a season in which 8 of their 12 games were decided by six points or less (4-4 record), this Expressions outfit is uniquely prepared for high intensity situations. The dynamic skillsets of 6’4” wing Rivaldo Soares and 6’7” wing Dyondre Dominguez give Expressions two nightmare matchups on the perimeter. Both are as comfortable creating offense for others as they are slashing to the rim for their own and scoring from the deep. Daman Tate’s experience as St. Sebastian’s primary offensive weapon this past season has helped him on the EYBL stage. Tate’s mix of future potential and current production earned him an offer from Rhode Island in late-June. Preston Santos, a 6’6” wing from Brooks, is starting to see his prodigious genetic gifts translate into production as well. Santos, also a URI-recruit, has the potential to own an elite length/strength combination by the time his prep days are over in 2019. If this group can find their rhythm in pool play, they’ll be as dangerous as anyone come the weeken.
The PSA Cardinals head back to Peach Jam with a few New England prospects playing important roles in their success. Isaiah Mucius, a 6’8” future-Brewster wing, has experienced an up-and-down season in the EYBL but put together a few of his best games in the last session. A consensus top-100 prospect in 2018, Mucius has averaged 6.7 points and 3.5 rebounds for PSA. Jose Perez, a wing from Putnam Science, has been one of PSA’s rocks throughout the season. Perez does the little things necessary for his team to experience sustained success. Perez is a threat to score from all 3 levels and, despite averaging 7.2 points, has made some of PSA’s biggest plays this season.
Putnam’s Eric Ayala leads his WE-R1 squad into the Under Armour event after picking up a recent offer from Ohio State . Ayala is averaging 12.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists in UA play.
The Albany City Rocks feature two New England prep products who should play important roles for their programs this winter. Buddy Boeheim, son of Hall of Fame Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, will head to Brewster this fall after finishing the regular season with the 5th best Offensive Rating (136.4) among regulars on the three sneaker circuits. Davis Franks, a 6’7” wing from Northfield-Mt Hermon, has battled the injury bug during the EYBL season but should be back at 100% for Peach Jam.
South Kent’s 6’4” point guard Anthony Nelson leads a confident NY Lightning into Peach Jam after averaging 10.1 points, 5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and getting offered by Seton Hall and San Diego in late-June.
Vermont’s Simi Shittu has been one of the EYBL’s most dominant stars, averaging 20.1 points and 10.2 rebounds during the regular season. This might sound crazy to say about a top-10 player in 2018 but Shittu is still underrated in my opinion. Marvin Bagley Jr. (25.8pts/14.9reb), Bol Bol (24.1pts/10.0reb) and fellow Canadian star RJ Barrett (28pts/10.8reb) were the only other EYBL players to average 20-points and 10-rebounds. None of the nation’s other consensus top-10 players did it on their respective sneaker circuit either. While Bol’s efficiency and shooting percentages were off the charts, he had the benefit of being surrounded by other top-20 prospects on a 13-3 Cal Supreme team. The fact that the trio of Bagley, Barrett and Shittu must improve their jumpers to reach their full potential is inarguable. But while Bagley (54.6% FG/23.2% 3pt/63.2% FT) and Barrett (43.5% FG/31.2% 3pt/58.2% FT) have spent the last few months cementing their case as the #1 overall prospects in ’18 and ’19, despite their shooting woes, Shittu (58.5% FG/38.1% 3pt/55.9% FT) seems to have stagnated in the national rankings. Shittu owned a better FG% and 3pt% than both Bagley and Barrett over the course of the season. Shittu’s averages of 3.0 assists and 1.2 steals are also the most amongst the group of uber-elite prospects, including Bol. Shittu also led his team to an 8-8 record against the same EYBL competition that Bagley (2-13 in 15 GPs) and Barrett (1-7 in 8 GPs) combined to go 3-20 against. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to make the claim that Shittu is a better prospect than Bagley or Barrett. It’s rare to find a 6’10” Big/Wing/PG with elite athleticism, freakish footwork and the ability to make his teammates better. There’s no chance Simi Shittu finishes outside of the top-5 in my 2018 Rankings. For whatever that’s worth….I don’t like the chances of Bagley’s 2-14 Cal Phamily team escaping pool play, so Shittu’s only chance for a head-to-head with one of them comes against Bol in Peach Jam’s primetime matchup on Wednesday at 8pm.