Yags’ Point Forward - Prep Championship Thoughts
Hargrave Military Academy won their second National Prep Championship this week, wrapping up another fantastic season in the prep ranks and cementing Hargrave's already-sterling reputation within the basketball industry. Here are some other takeaways from this week's action:
De'Riante Jenkins' Development Is Impressive
From a personal stat line and team success perspective, there wasn't a vast difference between Jenkins' performance earlier in the season at the National Prep Showcase and his performance while leading Hargrave to a title this week. He was dominant on both occasions and has proven to be a dynamic, above-the-rim finisher who is also sensational when forced to take tough shots or create with the clock winding down. What is completely different though is his attitude and demeanor while doing so.
Questions swirled among coaches and scouts in November as to whether Jenkins had the work ethic and necessary motor to capitalize on his considerable physical abilities and if his attitude and body language would negatively impact his team. At times very early in the season, Jenkins only perpetuated those concerns. To say Jenkins put all of those concerns to rest throughout the season and during Hargrave's title run is an understatement.
Under the tutelage of A.W. Hamilton, Jenkins essentially tied cement boots to those concerns this week and, in old school New Haven fashion, left them at the bottom of the Quinnipiac River for good.
The young man showed maturity, a willingness to be coached, poise in crucial spots, and leadership ability beyond his years as the season wore on. The way his teammates positively responded to his actions was evidence that those previous concerns are a long way from resurfacing, making De'Riante Jenkins' future at VCU even that much brighter.
Batts Will Be a Late Steal
Batts combines a calm demeanor, phenomenal basketball IQ, crafty ball skills, and a smooth jumper with football toughness and sneaky speed to form one of the better all-around point guard packages that is currently still on the market. His game-winning fadeaway against Putnam Science gave St Thomas More a berth in the title game but also showed how large of a role he was given in the STM offense, while being surrounded by teammates with much higher recruiting profiles.
The 6'0 floor general is one of those rare players who you don't have to worry about and who will immediately embody the positive qualities a coach wants to instill in his program. A number of D1 coaches at Albertus Magnus witnessed just that, after Batts came back from a dislocated finger early against PSA only to break his their hearts late with the game-winner.
Wherever he lands, expect Julian Batts to remain a leader and find ways to win.
NMH Has Scary Talent Returning
John Carroll's crew will undoubtedly miss the leadership qualities and basketball skills of departing seniors Ian Sistare and AJ Brodeur next season. That said, NMH returns some of the most dangerous shooters in the prep ranks and their offense will once again revolve around their ability to kill teams from beyond the arch. The presence of Kellan Grady, Andrew Platek, and Nate Laszewski all but guarantees that.
Grady's development throughout the season has given college scouts a reason to be very excited for what the future holds for the 6'4" point guard. Adjusting to running the point full time for the first time this year, Grady provided glimpses of an all-around game that could develop into one of 2017's most exciting and lethal all-around packages.
Platek also became more comfortable as the year went on and took his production to new heights down the stretch when NMH's games meant the most. Blending intelligence, elite anticipation skills, and above average athleticism, Platek is disruptive defensively and consistently gets into passing lanes. His ability to finish above the rim, both in transition and traffic, forces defenders to stay honest and opens the door for Platek to beat them from 3.
Laszewski took the potential he flashed throughout the regular season and turned it into matching production during the postseason. His six 1st Half 3's against South Kent during the AAA semi's set the stage for his performance against STM in the title game, when he connected on seven more 3's. After hitting five treys this weekend, Laszewski seems poised for a breakout summer and a larger role in the NMH offense next season. He'll need to prove he can create shots for himself and must attack off the bounce with more regularity to keep defenders from crowding him, but the talent to do all of that is most certainly there.
Ayala Will Be A Perfect Running Mate For Diallo
Eric Ayala entered Putnam's semifinal game against STM quietly enough, replacing Tyreek Perkins for an expected breather. What happened next was anything but expected. With familiar names like Diallo, Diarra, Phiri, Spellman, and Vital on the floor, it was the sophomore Ayala who dictated the pace of the game for the remainder of the half. Scoring from all three levels on the strength of an explosive crossover, tight footwork, and improving jump shot, Ayala scored 15 points and proved that he not only deserved to be on the floor but that his name belonged directly beside that talented group of prospects with high-major skill sets.
As a big point guard with a strong frame and tight handle, Ayala has a chance to be the rarest of breeds, as a player who can calmly control a game's tempo with dependable ball security, create for his teammates or score on his own by attacking the lane with regularity, and hit open 3's when defenders try to pack the lane, all while being able to defend three different positions on the floor.
Combining Ayala's ever-improving game with the elite level athleticism and explosive abilities of Hamidou Diallo, to go along with the toughness and talent jof Jayheim Cornwall, Tyreek Perkins, and Kevin Smith, may give Putnam Science one of the deepest and most explosive back courts in the country next season.
New England Has Toughness and Character To Be Proud Of
When breaking down a player's abilities, it's easy to get wrapped up in size, length, build, and all of the sexy counting numbers that usually go along with an elite player's game. But as any coach will tell you, talent and potential only begin to define a player. Without toughness, character, and an unbreakable will, a prospect can only go so far.
Those attributes become more apparent as you see players for the second, third, or fifteenth time around. There were a certain group of prideful and passionate players in New England this year that made me think, "I'd want him with me in a burning building, when the situation is about to get dicey." Here they are:
Ian Sistare, Northfield-Mt Hermon - The young man doesn't back down from anybody and creates an environment within the NMH program that transcends basketball. When you look at your teammate as your brother, the rest has a way of figuring itself out.
Julian Batts, St Thomas More - As the late Stuart Scott would say, "He's as cool as the other side of the pillow." Regardless of the situation, Batts never looks overwhelmed. Hard work breeds confidence and confidence breeds the mentality needed to overcome obstacles.
Saul Phiri, Putnam Science Academy - Like Sistare, opponents hate playing against Phiri because he's a constant thorn in their side. But it's always done in a calculated manner to improve his team's chances of winning and his teammates know Phiri always has their back.