Yags’ Point Forward - Early Stock Risers
New England prep programs are now getting into the heart of their schedules and, with most of the region’s top prospects committed to their future college programs, the focus has turned to team success. It’s more about defining roles within the given system than showcasing individual talent and the players who adjust accordingly will see their stock continue to rise.
Programs from outside of New England have also created some early buzz, which is great for the overall health of prep basketball. More legitimate programs, designed to truly develop players on the court and in the classroom, are popping up throughout the country and they are a welcomed sight for any competitor. Programs like Hargrave, Massanutten, Fork Union and IMG have ensured that our region’s programs never become complacent and have always created opportunities for young prospects across the country.
Our neighbors to the North have also realized the benefit of these programs and introduced their players to the process, playing a huge role in the expansion and establishment of some early-season showcases in New England. Coaches in our area better keep their collective heads on a swivel because Canada is clearly invested and developing talent at a rapid rate.
Put it all together and it equals high-level basketball being played more often in more areas of North America. It’s making the talent pool larger and allowing everyone to cast the net wider thanever before. As long as it continues to do so, I’ll welcome it with open arms.
ZERO GRAVITY PREP CLASSIC @ ST. ANDREW’S
A ton of intriguing matchups took place during the long weekend at St. Andrew’s and it allowed us to get a glimpse into more than just an individual prospect’s skillset. Like anything else in life, basketball is more about work ethic, sacrifice, will power and leadership as it is about measurables and stat production. Nobody showed a greater mix of all those things at the ZG Prep Classic than New Hampton junior Mika Adams-Woods during his matchup with the host team and Cole Swider.
Clearly enraged after a first half that included a celebration of Swider’s 2,000th prep point, Adams-Woods came out of the locker room like a man possessed. He took over defensive responsibilities on Swider and refused to give an inch for the remainder of the game. While “limiting” Swider for a half often means containing him to a little over ten points, Adams-Woods made sure every bucket was earned. Instead of focusing solely on what would be a full-time job for most players, Adams-Woods made his presence felt offensively as well.
After hitting the game-tying bucket on a strong drive at the end of regulation, Adams-Woods hit a go-ahead three with just under 30 seconds remaining in OT and followed it up by using his 6’8” wingspan to block Swider’s pull-up during the ensuing St. Andrew’s possession. Brandon Kolek’s clutch fade-away triple would eventually give Swider’s squad the win but Adams-Woods had already earned the respect of everyone in the gym at that point.
Along with his PHENOMENAL 2nd half defense on Cole Swider to keep @NickJWhitmore's New Hampton squad close, Mika Adams-Woods hit the game-tying bucket to end of regulation & go-ahead 3 late in OT. 6'3" sniper Mason Webb also played a HUGE role at 2017 @ZeroGravityBB Prep Classic pic.twitter.com/Ejan5y4gBv— Mike Yagmin (@MikeYagmiNERR) December 3, 2017
Adams-Woods has the ability to run an offense like a true point guard when called upon, can defend anybody on the perimeter using his phenomenal length/strength combo and is unfazed by big moments or hostile environments. His versatility continued to shine during the Coaches vs. Cancer Scholar Roundball Classic at Babson and will undoubtedly have college programs visiting New Hampton all season.
COACHES VS. CANCER SCHOLAR ROUNDBALL CLASSIC
At 6’4”, he owns great size as a primary ball-handler or even on the wing in today’s game. He finishes well above the rim in transition and has shown the ability to rise over defenders in the lane in half-court sets. His jumper is reliable and he’s used it to take over games at both the prep and AAU levels. His ball skills and athleticism allow him to consistently gather rebounds in the lane and start the break. He’s a former college coach’s son. His vision and fundamental understanding of the game ensures that he always makes the right play, whether that means pushing it up the floor for a hockey assist or waiting a split second for his big man to settle into a sweet spot before threading the needle. His low-maintenance personality and competitive demeanor almost guarantees he’ll continue to develop every aspect of his game during his college career.
When you apply all of these traits to one prospect, you would assume we’re talking about a player who’s being recruited at the mid/high-major level or, at the very least, is a known commodity in the region’s scouting circles. But somehow, Nick Timberlake has managed to slip through the cracks. Until now.
Despite multiple 40+ point performances at Braintree HS and impressive showings on the AAU circuit with Metro Boston, Timberlake arrived at KUA with offers from Boston University, Niagara and Hartford.
I arrived just before halftime of KUA’s matchup with Phillips-Andover on Saturday and got my first look at Timberlake since August. The first thing I noticed was the muscle he’s added to his sturdy frame and started to worry that it would affect his bounce. Before I could even finish the thought or break out the iPad, Timberlake got loose in transition and threw down a thunderous two-hand dunk to dispel those notions. And more of the same followed. Timberlake showed every bit of his aforementioned skillset to finish with 11 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals in the second half alone, during KUA’s runaway victory.
CRIMINALLY UNDERRATED 6'3" PG/Wing Nick Timberlake (@NickTimberlake) was EVERYWHERE in the 2nd half! Rebounding, dishing, finishing above the rim & leading @kuahoops to a W at @ZeroGravityBB Scholar Roundball Classic. Eze Dike-Nwagbara & Enoch Cheeks played huge roles as well... pic.twitter.com/4gj6UnaojW— Mike Yagmin (@MikeYagmiNERR) December 10, 2017
After a 37-point outburst toward the end of last week against Exeter and a dominant showing at Babson, more offers should be flowing Timberlake’s way in the near future. If they don’t, one of the three programs who are already in the mix are going to get an absolute steal!
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
It’s easy to focus on younger players and move past top prospects in the year’s graduating class once they’ve signed with their future college program. But this is usually the most important part of a top prospect’s prep career. This is when we get a better idea if a prospect can become a leader for a winning college program or if they are better suited to be a secondary piece at the next level. A handful of 2018’s top prospects have made things crystal clear by taking their game to new heights so far this season:
Simisola Shittu, Vermont Academy (Vanderbilt) – There are players, there are prospects and there are Performers. Players run up and down the floor in a supporting role and acquiesce to the prospects on their team. Prospects are depended upon to impact a game’s outcome and can play at the next level. Performers recognize that everyone in the gym is there to see them, make sure they consistently use every facet of their elite skillset, impose their will on every outcome and embrace their role from start to finish. Simi Shittu is a Performer in every sense of the word. In the three Vermont games I’ve caught so far this season, Shittu has averaged 29 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. He’s been involved in the featured matchup all three times and has delivered with efficiency and intensity every time out. Shittu knows his strengths but is also extremely aware of his weaknesses and has worked hard enough to improve them to the point that opponents still have to respect them. Shittu is the epitome of a leader who is prepared to act in that role at the next level. The rest of these guys have earned the “Performer” label throughout their career and early in the season as well….
Simi Shittu (@LanX_Sims) took center stage once again, showing off his dynamic repertoire and improving jumper in @VTAcademyHoops 76-64 win at 2017 @ZeroGravityBB Scholar Roundball Classic. The future @VandyMBB star finished his dominant performance with 33pts/11rebs/6ast... pic.twitter.com/OXsLZxTBkL— Mike Yagmin (@MikeYagmiNERR) December 11, 2017
Cole Swider, St. Andrew’s (Villanova) – It’s not easy for one of the nation’s best shooters to surpass expectations heading into his final prep season but Swider has managed to do just that. After opening with a 39-point outburst, Swider hasn’t slowed down one bit. Swider has averaged 38 points per game by putting on a personal 5-game shooting clinic and leading St. Andrew’s to a 4-1 record. The 6’8” wing is scorching the nets at 62% from the field, 51% from 3 and 91% from the foul line. Those numbers are absurd!
David Duke, Cushing (Providence) – After watching the first half of Cushing’s season opener, I hit Wabissa Bede with a text, “Duke obviously took notes over the last few years. He’s a real leader now….” and followed it with a video:
David Duke (@Duuukkeee) was well on his way to a triple-double while Matt Cross (@matthewcross35) may have already racked up a double-double and @CushingHoops takes a 52-20 lead into the half... pic.twitter.com/W5is6sezvn— Mike Yagmin (@MikeYagmiNERR) November 29, 2017
The thing I was most interested in seeing from Duke in that opening game was how he’d react to being Cushing’s unquestioned leader on and off the floor. It’s easy to allow a force of nature like Bede to run the show and focus solely on personal improvement. But when that leader leaves, weaknesses usually get exposed. Duke has obviously made it his personal mission to lead Cushing to a repeat of last year’s team success while making sure opponents have nothing to expose within his own game. He’s added about 5-7lbs of muscle to his explosive frame, improved his jump shot to the point that it’s a legitimate weapon and is focused on getting more out of his younger teammates than others believe is there. Duke has succeeded so far and has been electric in Cushing’s 4-0 start to the season.
Nate Laszewski, Northfield-Mt Hermon (Notre Dame) – While Laszewski is surrounded by the most talent in this group, his NMH squad is just as dependent on him to produce in order to win. In their lone loss of the season to Massanutten, Laszewski put up an unusual clunker from beyond the arch and his team went reeling. In NMH’s other ten games however, Laszewski has been nothing short of spectacular. The versatile 6’10” marksman kicked off his final prep campaign by dropping eight 3threes and scoring 29 points at the Prep Showcase, followed by a 24-point showing at St. Andrew’s and an uber-efficient 21-point performance at Babson this past weekend. Laszewski’s value can’t be measured by stats alone though, as his mere presence beyond the arch forces defenders to gravitate his way and opens things up for the rest of the NMH roster. It’s helped NMH to start the season 10-1.
Notre Dame pledge Nate Laszewski (@natelaszewski) showed off his ELITE SHOOTING STROKE, dropping 29 points with eight 3's in @NMHbasketball's win over Sunrise in the 2017 @NERRHoops Prep Showcase. Future-Harvard wing Noah Kirkwood chipped in w/ 16pts... pic.twitter.com/840BuaW6h7— Mike Yagmin (@MikeYagmiNERR) November 18, 2017
OTHER EARLY-SEASON STOCK RISERS
I’ve already gone in-depth about the breakout performances of Putnam’s Kyle Lofton and 2019 prospects like Woodstock big man Tre Mitchell, MacDuffie wing James Bouknight (both of whom were recently offered by UConn) and NMH’s Max Lorca during the Prep Showcase. They’ve all continued to put together impressive seasons and gain the offers that come with it, so we’ll focus on some other uncommitted 2018 prospects along with ’19 and ’20 risers here:
Jose Perez, Putnam Science ‘18 – Along with Lofton, the 6’6” do-it-all wing has been a welcomed veteran presence for a young Putnam squad. Perez has averaged 17.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3 assists per game while guiding the Mustangs to an 11-2 record so far. He’s become a threat from beyond the arch and is finally starting to garner the mid-major attention he deserves. Kent State recently offered while Fordham, Coppin State and a handful of others are expressing interest.
Luis Rodriguez, Woodstock ’18 – His toughness and work ethic have never been questioned but the skill level and tenacity as a defender that Rodriguez has shown since arriving at Woodstock has opened a lot of eyes. The 6’6” wing is as physical on the perimeter as he’s allowed to be from game to game and does a fantastic job of gauging an official’s leniency, or lack thereof. UMass and San Jose State offered early while Illinois recognized his value recently and extended an offer. Rodriguez has been a major component to Woodstock’s undefeated start and rise to #1 in all the national prep polls.
D.J. Mitchell, Notre Dame Prep ‘18 – Mitchell’s ability to score at all three levels and explode for a quick dozen at any given moment makes ND Prep a dangerous team on any given night. Make that, every given night! When coach Ryan Hurd tells me, “I’ve NEVER had a kid who is such an automatic bucket like DJ,” it tends to hold some weight. Mitchell is averaging 31 points through ND Prep’s first 8 games and hasn’t scored less than 24 points in any game so far. Consistent high-level production, that’s exactly what Mitchell brings to the table.
James Lee, Springfield Commonwealth ’19 – You can’t put a lot of stock into lay-up line dunk contests but if you’re going to a Springfield Commonwealth game this season, you might as well get there a little early because Lee puts on a show. At 6’2”, Lee’s dunk mix is as deep and jaw-dropping as anyone in the region. If that was the beginning and end up Lee’s value, he wouldn’t be on this list though. Lee is also a dynamic threat as a primary ball-handler, with vision and creativity to spare and an ever-improving jump shot that already forces opponents to play honest defense. Whether he’s using it to sky for rebounds, throw down a hammer dunk in traffic or disrupt passing lanes, his elite athleticism is fully functional on the floor and is the foundation of a skillset that makes Lee one of the more intriguing prospects in 2019.
Tyler Burton, Marianapolis ’19 – “That young man could be a high-major prospect one day.” That’s what I told Burton’s Mass Elite coach almost two years ago at an NERR event at Conn College. Since then, Burton has grown to a true 6’5”, become a reliable double-double machine at Marianapolis and is one of the bright young prospects in the Mass Rivals stable. Burton picked up an offer from UMass to begin the month then opened the season with 21 points and 12 rebounds in a win over Thayer. He headed to the ZG Prep Classic the next night, where his impressive 21-point, 14-rebound performance vs. Tabor earned rave reviews from everyone in attendance. Burton is well on his way to becoming one New England’s most sought after prospects in 2019 and has already achieved one of the toughest feats imaginable: making me look smart!
Matt Cross, Cushing ’20 – A compound fracture of the tibia-&-fibula, suffered while playing football last December, sidelined Cross for the entire ’16-’17 high school hoops season. Yet, prior to the one-year anniversary of the injury, Cross played a major role in winning an AAU National Championship with The BABC and earned himself a scholarship offer from UConn. The kid simply has “it”, the thing we all look for in prospects but can’t necessarily define. Cross plays the game with intensity, passion and a deeper understanding of where his teammates and opponents are going to be at any given time. Combine it with a 6’10” wingspan, one of the prettiest shooting strokes around, the willingness to battle anyone anywhere and it’s easy to explain why Cross has become a legitimate wingman for David Duke to lean on at Cushing so far this season.