Yags’ Point Forward - First Prep Impressions
Open Gyms are in full swing now that the '16-'17 school year is underway. Coaches are proudly showcasing their new talent. Players are refreshed, a few weeks removed from the grind that is their summer schedule, and looking to prove they are prepared to make up for the loss of last year's graduates. College coaches line the sidelines and sell their program as the pressure to land their top recruits only intensifies as the days roll on.
It all blends together to create interesting and exciting environments inside prep school gyms throughout New England.
The NERR staff has already crossed the six states, getting our first look at how some familiar names have grown (some literally) and how other prospects (including some New England natives) are adjusting to their new stomping grounds. Here are some things I noticed during the first week of Open Gyms along with my first impression of some newcomers to our region:
PUTNAM SCIENCE ACADEMY
Tom Espinosa's squad welcomes back two of New England's elite prospects and looks primed to make another run at the National Prep Championship in March. Hamidou Diallo and Eric Ayala each had tremendous summers and are playing with a different level of confidence.
Diallo realizes that improving his jump shot will keep defenders honest and force them to push up on him, at which point he can unleash his athleticism and allow special things to happen. Improved shot selection, consistent balance, and slowing the game down mentally will be some of his goals moving forward. Diallo's work ethic has never been questioned and the rewards for time invested may currently be at an all-time high. It would be foolish to doubt this young man, ever!
Ayala's national reputation might not have been the only thing that's grown over the last year. The floor general stands an easy 6'4"+ and is armed with a 6'8" wingspan, elite measurements for the point guard position. The most undervalued aspect of Ayala's game is his ability to produce alongside some of the nation's top players without forcing anything or using possessions at a rate that would negatively affect his team. It's a trait that obviously comes naturally to Ayala and it will only become more valuable as the level of talent around him rises. UConn coach Kevin Ollie built quite a playing career on a similar foundation.
Another member of the Putnam team who experienced success this summer was Akok Akok, formerly of Manchester West (NH), who spent this summer with the Mass Rivals. The 6'8" Akok has all the makings of a new age stretch-4, in every sense of the word. With a wingspan of 7'1", Akok is already an adept shot blocker and comfortably floats out to the corners, hitting 3's in catch-&-shoot scenarios.
Akok received offers from Rutgers, DePaul, UMass and Washington State during his first week at Putnam.
KEY NEWCOMER: 6'10" Malik Ondigo comes to Putnam via El Mirage, Arizona and could immediately become one of New England's premier big men. Our region has a wealth of high level wings and we also happen to be rich in point guards but the class of 2017 is devoid of an old school big man. Ondigo's offensive game is still too raw to expect dominance out the gate but by season's end Espinosa may have quite a weapon at his disposal.
Known for their relentless pressure and physical toughness, Tony Bergeron can now add "experienced" to the list of his team's attributes. Commonwealth's core group of contributors has returned and will once again be led by 6'7" pitbull Hasahn French.
After impacting the game in ways that aren't always reflected in the box score with the PSA Cardinals this summer, French will transition back to being the primary offensive weapon for Commonwealth. French showcased his improved range, burying open and contested 15-foot jumpers off the dribble. He also looked comfortable pushing the ball up the floor and leading the break when necessary. At one point French corralled a rebound, dribbled out past mid court and used his off-hand to hit Jordan Hardwick with a 40- bounce pass for an easy dunk.
French recently announced that he'll decide between Minnesota, Marquette, St Louis, UMass, UNLV and VCU.
Arashma Parks continues to benefit from going head to head with French in practice every day too. Defending French out on the wing has forced Parks' feet to get quicker and banging with him on the boards has prepared Parks for the most physical style of play he could encounter.
On one play during CA's open gym, the two battled for a rebound while Parks went to the ground. French naturally refused to let go of the ball and, with all his body weight falling freely, landed directly on Parks' ribs. The sequence, which would've left most prep players salty once they regained their breath, calmly ended with the two helping one another off the floor and moving on to the next play. Parks has become accustomed to physical post play and understands that it's a lot more fun to initiate contact than to be on the receiving end of it.
KEY NEWCOMER: Jonathan Duvivier scored over 1,000 points during his career at Brockton (MA). Bergeron is now looking for him to transition to an instant-offense role off the bench for Commonwealth. Duvivier is a 6'4" wing with a clean stroke and the ability to create for others off the bounce. He may find himself with a ton of open looks as opponents focus their defensive efforts on French and Parks in the post and sniper Shyheim Hicks on the opposite wing.
NORTHFIELD MOUNT HERMON
If you saw NMH bury opponent after opponent with a barrage of 3's en route to an AAA championship last season, it might be hard to imagine John Carroll's team having even more perimeter firepower. But that's the case with this year's NMH squad, led by a trio of elite shooters that have another year of experience under their belt.
Kellan Grady, who now measures in at a shade under 6'6", and Andrew Platek are already committed to their future programs and are wisely using the fall to get 100% healthy. Nate Laszewski was his usual dead-eye self during the fall's first few workouts before an ankle sprain sidelined him for the time being. Their absence only gave other guys an opportunity to light it up in front of college coaches over the last few weeks.
Calvin Whipple has always possessed one of the sweeter strokes in the area and is now shooting the ball with more confidence and consistency than ever before. Watching the ball go through the net over and over again will do that for a shooter. Whipple earned offers from Stony Brook and Binghamton as a result.
NMH isn't just a bunch of long distance shooters though. Jerome Desrosiers and Chuck Hannah ensured that the intensity of their pickup games never dipped below a certain level and are two unselfish, yet extremely skilled, studs that would be welcomed at any program.
KEY NEWCOMER: Davis Franks gives NMH a 6'7" playmaker who makes intelligent decisions with the ball in his hands and can beat opponents both inside and out. After an injury-plagued junior season at the Collegiate School (NYC), Franks reclassified to the class of 2018 and should see his recruitment build momentum as the season progresses.