Yags’ Point Forward - Final Touches on 2018 NPSI
The 2018 National Prep School Invitational took place at Rhode Island College, with 36 games over a 5-day stretch, featuring prep programs from North America, Finland, Italy, Ireland, Spain and other countries across the globe. Dozens of college programs and NBA scouts converged on RIC, with hopes of catching a glimpse of prospects who will contribute to their team’s future success.
Here are a few things I took away from both a prospect and team perspective this weekend:
TOP INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES
Max Zegarowski, Tilton - I always try to let things settle in for a few days after an event. It helps me to avoid a recency bias and allows me to find some context. But Zegarowski’s performance only become more impressive in the days following the NPSI. I originally thought Max went 9-14 from 3 (here’s a secret: I’ll wing it every once in a while on my highlights if I can’t get specific FG-FGA stats from a coaching staff) during his 33-point game against TRC Academy. As it turns out, Zegarowski went 9-11 from 3, drilling a handful of them during a pivotal 5-minute stretch that started around the 8:00 mark with the game tied. As defenders attempted to close in, Max simply floated further out and utilized his easy stroke to knock down dagger after dagger well beyond the arc. Tilton would eventually pull away from TRC and win 102-89, improving their record to 20-3 on the season.
Max’s level of production is much less surprising than his current level of recruitment though. At 6’7” with a 6’10” wingspan and a frame that can easily hold another 15-20lbs of good weight, Zegarowski has the size and strength to maintain his position in the post at the low/mid-major D1 level. Max also combines solid footwork and a high Hoops IQ to defend on the perimeter, as he did a few weeks ago when he was assigned to Cole Swider. All of these unique qualities in one package are usually owned by a prospect with a dozen offers from mid/high-major programs. Yet, Max somehow finds himself without a D1 scholarship offer at this point in his final prep season.
After Zegarowski scored 21 points, held his own against Swider defensively and helped lead Tilton to another win, St. Andrew’s coach Mike Hart had this to say: “Max has really proven himself athletically now. He usually covers the other team’s best offensive wing player. We all know he’s a lights-out shooter but now he’s putting the ball on the floor to create his own shot too. He’s a very dangerous two-way player.” And Hart’s sentiments are typical whenever Max’s name comes up in conversation with coaches from across the region. Many have mentioned how they game-planned for his Creighton-bound twin brother Marcus, only to get killed by Max at the end of the day. By season’s end, some intelligent D1 coach is going to scoop Max Zegarowski and be ecstatic with the type of player they secured so late in the process. Meanwhile, prep coaches throughout the NEPSAC will be ecstatic that they’ll never have to face him again after this season.
CRIMINALLY UNDERRATED 6'7" wing/big Max Zegarowski (@maxzegarowski23) was outrageously efficient, drilling 9-14 from 3 and scoring 33pts to go along with 9reb/4ast in @TiltonBVHoops 102-89 win over TRC Academy in the 2018 #NPSI New England finale... pic.twitter.com/rBrD4Syzso— Mike Yagmin (@MikeYagmiNERR) February 4, 2018
D.J. Mitchell, Notre Dame Prep – After exploding for 29 points in a 59-56 win over Covenant Prep on the event’s second night, Mitchell entered Saturday night’s matchup against Thetford as a marked man. And Thetford was a team that rolled into the NPSI with a 19-1 record, their only loss coming in overtime to Woodstock. None of that seemed to phase the versatile 6’4” playmaker who coach Ryan Hurd has referred to as “the best scorer I’ve ever had at ND Prep.” Mitchell only solidified Hurd’s statement with a 27-point, 7-rebound, 5-assist performance that included the game-winning 3 with three seconds left on the clock. Mitchell incorporates sudden, shifty and violent movements within his naturally smooth ball-handling abilities which constantly keeps defenders on their heels. His frame, which is still nowhere close to being entirely filled-out, is wide enough to help him finish through contact at the rim. Mitchell gets his jumper off quickly with a compact motion that he repeats consistently. It all forms a skillset that allowed Mitchell to average 28 points at the NPSI, right on pace with his season average so far at ND Prep.
Tre Mitchell, Woodstock Academy – As soon as it was announced that Mitchell would spend the remaining two years of his prep career at Woodstock, he was considered a cornerstone that coach Tony Bergeron could build around. After adjusting to the speed and strength of the prep level, Mitchell has arrived on the national scene over the last few months and become one of the most productive post players in prep basketball in the process. Mitchell’s development continued in front of our eyes at the NPSI, as he racked up 17 points and 20 rebounds against Orangeville followed with a 25-point, 11-rebound game against Athlete’s Institute. While he’s a throwback in the post, happy to bully his way to the basket and carve out space using his sizable posterior, Mitchell’s ability to become a mismatch nightmare is what makes him so appealing in today’s game. If you try to defend him with muscle, he comfortably extends and drains shots from the perimeter, which he’s doing at an impressive clip. At the NPSI, I began challenging coaches and scouts to find a more productive 17-year old post player at the highest level of prep school basketball. I’m still waiting for an answer.
Buddy Boeheim, Brewster – The Syracuse-signee was scorching hot from the outset on the opening night of the NPSI. Boeheim nailed 3’s in every way possible during Brewster’s dominant win over Italy’s Stellazzurra squad - off screens, in transition, off the dribble, from loose balls, even on second attempts after offensive rebounds. You name it, Boeheim did it en route to 25 points and game MVP honors. The most impressive part of Boeheim’s long-range display was the fact that his mechanics were identical regardless of the situation. And it’s the biggest reason why I expect him to earn a role within the ‘Cuse rotation as soon as he arrives on campus.
Other Notable New England Performers:
Malachi de Sousa, South Kent – Underrated 6’7” Albany-signee scored 22 points, including a handful of key buckets down the stretch to lead SKS to a comeback victory over Worcester
Mitch Doherty, Worcester – The old school assassin can beat teams in a number of ways and he showcased all of them in his 27-point, 12-rebound, 4-assist gem against South Kent.
Kai Toews, Northfield-Mt Hermon – UNC-Wilmington-bound point guard averaged 17 points, scoring in a variety of ways including a thunderous two-hand dunk in transition, and ran the show with Noah Kirkwood nursing a deep calf contusion.
Dalano Banton, Redemption – 6’7” PG/wing displayed his entire repertoire, averaging 20 points in two games, and showing scouts what Western Kentucky is getting next season.
BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP
Nate Laszewski vs Cole Swider – Since 2007, there is a ridiculously high rate of success for prospects who are: 1) 6’8”-and-above, 2) considered elite shooters and 3) consensus top-100 prep prospects by the major media outlets. There simply aren’t many prospects who fit this criteria every year. Most players in this particular size range seem to develop their shooting prowess over time and even leave college with more value being wagered on their future potential as a shooter rather than their past production as one. In the cases of Laszewski and Swider, both have long track records to justify their status as elite shooters and their performances at the NPSI was just another example.
By the end of the first half, Laszewski had already drilled six 3’s and scored 22 points while leading Northfield-Mt Hermon to a 41-20 lead. On top of the deficit his team was facing, Swider was nearly unrecognizable for the opening 20 minutes. The Villanova-bound sniper didn’t look comfortable and even passed up a few open looks, finishing with just 4 points. It had the makings of a matchup that featured a lot of sizzle but produced very little steak. That changed as soon as the second half started though.
Swider immediately went to work, attacking the basket from every angle imaginable and imposing his will in transition when it seemed like nothing was even available. St. Andrew’s methodically chipped away at the NMH lead and, after seeing the ball go through the hoop on a handful of layups, Swider began finding his stroke from distance. Swider’s 28-point 2nd half outburst would bring his team within 6 at one point but Laszewski answered with a trey of his own to ultimately put the game away. When it was all said and done, Swider would win the personal battle and finish with 32 points but Laszewski went home with the win along with 30 points and 13 rebounds of his own.
Although the final score wasn’t indicative of the double-digit lead held by NMH throughout most of the game, Laszewski and Swider each had their share of moments in front of the RIC crowd. The duo further proved that they fit the three aforementioned characteristics that have accurately predicted success in the past. Only time will tell but my money is on both of these young men getting paid to play the game they love at some point in the near future.
Two of the nation’s ELITE SHOOTERS & top-30 prospects -IMHO- matched up at the 2018 #NPSI when @NMHbasketball took on @CoachMikeHart’s squad. Nate Laszewski (@natelaszewski) vs Cole Swider (@coleswider21) lived up to the hype. More @NERRHoops in Yags’ Point Forward on Thursday... pic.twitter.com/8UsvSo3zG2— Mike Yagmin (@MikeYagmiNERR) February 7, 2018
BREAKOUT PROSPECTS & POSSIBLE LATE STEALS
Cameron Shockley-Okeke, Milton Academy - I’ll readily admit that I had never noticed, nor had I even heard of, Shockley-Okeke prior to the NPSI. But the 6’6” wing grabbed my attention shortly after the opening tip when he caught a pass in transition and took flight to finish high above the rim in traffic. That single play set the tone for his team and forced me to stay locked in on his individual play from that point on. A lefty with good length, Shockley-Okeke also owns a strong frame and a solid stroke to go along with his above-average athleticism. Shockley-Okeke is eligible for a prep year but he has enough current ability to be considered a surefire D1 prospect and should be recruited as such moving forward. Shockley-Okeke finished with 29 points in Milton’s comeback win over New Hampton, scoring from all three levels and using his versatility to defend multiple positions on the floor.
Craig Thomson Jr., Notre Dame Prep – The 6’6” postgrad from Somerville, MA is the definition of a Wingspan Big Man. He uses his length to rip down boards and finish over bigger defenders at an alarming rate, consistently forcing opposing coaches to demand answers from their post players as to why they can’t win their individual battle. Thomson Jr. was a menace in ND’s two wins, creating extra possessions with his nose for the ball and putting points on the board when his team should’ve otherwise been stopped. Thomson Jr. is the type of player who silently changes the course of a game and a guy you want on your side in big games.