Yags’ Point Forward - Previewing the HoopHall Classic
The best weekend on the high school basketball calendar is ready to get underway, as the 16th annual HoopHall Classic kicks off at Springfield College this weekend. Top programs from across the country will gather at “The Birthplace of Basketball” to pit dozens of the nation’s top high school prospects against one another in head-to-head matchups throughout the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
HoopHall always has a distinct local flavor and this year’s event is no different. Ten games featuring 15 New England programs, with eight of the top-10 prospects in New England’s 2017 class and four of the top-10 prospects in New England’s 2018 class, highlight this weekend’s regional docket.
Saturday, January 14th @ 12pm: Weaver (CT) vs Roselle Catholic (NJ)
Coach Reggie Hatchett leads his Weaver program back to the HoopHall for the second year in a row behind battle-hardened brothers, Chaylyn and Jaecee Martin. Last year, Weaver was tasked with handling a St Raymond’s (NYC) squad with Minnesota-commit Isaiah Washington leading the way and they did so in impressive fashion. Chaylyn Martin led the way with 28 points and 16 rebounds in an inspired performance en route to a 76-70 Weaver win. This year brings an even bigger and better opponent, both by reputation and literal size.
6’10” junior Naz Reid is one of the country’s top post prospects and seemingly adds to his well-rounded skillset each and every day. Ranked as the 10th best overall prospect in the 2018 class by ESPN (whose rankings we’ll refer to throughout), Reid has the size and skill to change a game by himself, but Roselle’s roster never calls for such responsibility, with heralded prospects in the backcourt as well as alongside Reid on the front line.
Temple-bound guard Nate Pierre-Louis is an athletic 6’4” senior looking to make his final season at Roselle a successful one. He’s joined in the senior class by 6’5” sharpshooter Raheem Carter who’s been a revelation for Roselle thus far. Roselle also has a talented sophomore looking to contribute in 6’5” wing Kahlil Whitney, who currently holds offers from Rutgers and St John’s.
Put the rosters side by side and Weaver enters yet another matchup playing their familiar role as underdogs. With a 7-1 record entering the weekend –their only loss coming to an exceptionally athletic St. Frances (MD) team, 71-60 at Guachos Gym in The Bronx a few weeks ago- this Weaver program is also used to winning and it’s a pedigree that helps them in matchups like this. Behind the Martin Brothers and an athletic frontcourt, Weaver will be as motivated as ever to ruin another big-time program’s weekend.
Saturday, January 14th @ 1:30pm: Notre Dame-West Haven (CT) vs Archbishop Molloy (NYC)
Tremont Waters has always been comfortable under the brightest lights during the course of his prep career. Waters now bring his Notre Dame squad to the big stage, looking for a signature win to propel his new program to the next level. Oddly enough, Waters faces off against a young point guard who has put together an impressive resume while garnering as much hype as he did as a prospect just a few years ago.
Cole Anthony, an explosive 6’2” guard and son of former NBA point guard Greg Anthony, has lived up to his reputation every step of the way to this point in his career and is looking to build on a rich family history at Molloy. The younger Anthony has two studs alongside him who are ready to take the proverbial next step as well.
7-foot junior big man Moses Brown, ranked 19th overall in the class of 2018, has steadily improved since exploding onto the prospect landscape a few years ago. Brown’s easy movements and fluid actions have scouts and coaches dreaming of his potential. As is the case with most young bigs, Brown is currently a dominant rim protector, volume rebounder and fantastic finisher around the basket.
6’6” junior wing Khalid Moore already holds offers from Louisville, Miami, Syracuse, Virginia and Rutgers, amongst others, but is the least known of the Molloy’s Big Three. After a phenomenal showing in a win against Christ the King last weekend, don’t be shocked if Moore takes his prospect profile to the next level by showing out in Springfield. Molloy also features an extremely tough and athletic supporting cast and has as bright a future as any team this year’s HoopHall.
Waters, a 5’10” point guard and Georgetown-commit, has the ability to carry his team for long stretches offensively on his scoring ability alone. Waters is at his best, however, when he’s facilitating for his teammates and picking his spots to attack opposing defenses from beyond the arch once they float toward the paint. ND-WH is far from a one-man show though.
6’5” sophomore wing Connor Raines has shouldered some of the scoring load so far this season and 6’7” senior big man Jalanni White has provided an added punch inside on both ends. Tim Dawson, a 6’1” junior and Waters’ confidant both on and off the court, brings a sense of stability to the lineup and gives Waters someone to lean on when it comes time to share ball handling duties.
Notre Dame will definitely have its hands full against a talented Molloy outfit anxious to announce their arrival on the national stage. Then again, any time Tremont Waters steps onto the floor with weapons at his disposal and something to prove it’s extremely hard to bet against the young man.
Saturday, January 14th @ 6pm: Cambridge, Rindge & Latin (MA) vs Crossroads School (CA)
The defending Massachusetts D-1 state champions carry a 26-game winning streak into their 2017 HoopHall appearance but will also face their toughest test of the season when they square off against Crossroads.
Seniors Jakigh Dottin and Dimon Carrigan have been a successful as any duo in the New England state associations over the last two years and are the unquestioned leaders of the program. Dottin, a charismatic 6’1” point guard, is an explosive scorer from all three levels and brings the steady brand of veteran leadership that proves to be invaluable down the stretch in big games. Carrigan, a 6’8” post presence, is at his best roaming the lane, finishing around the rim on drop offs and put-backs while providing rim protection defensively. Fellow senior Daniel Rhymer, a chiseled 6’5” tone setter in the low blocks, is fresh off his first D-1 football offer from Rhode Island and give Carrigan the ability to hunt for weak side blocks and rebounds.
Cambridge also features one of my HoopHall Breakout nominees in 6’3” junior manimal Jonathan Cenescar. A power athlete who doesn’t back down from anybody when attacking the basket, Cenescar is a lot more skilled than people give him credit for and brings more finesse to the floor than even he would ever admit. Every time Cenescar steps on the court, you can almost hear the rim start crying and begging for its life to be spared. Some unassuming young man will get in Cenescar’s way this weekend and might find himself on the back of a milk carton come Tuesday.
Standing in Cambridge’s way this weekend will be a Crossroads team with plenty of name appeal and star power. Ira Lee, a 6’8” Arizona-commit and 68th best prospect in the 2017 class, is known for one of the best motors in high school basketball and he’s not even the biggest player on their frontline.
Shareef O’Neal, a 6’10” big man ranked 18th overall in the class of 2018 and son of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, carries quite the reputation around with him and has admirably began to live up to his surname over the last few years. O’Neal’s game has taken off over the last two seasons and at no point has the name on the back of his jersey done him any favors.
The younger O’Neal has a different style than Shaq, much more of an athletic attacker who can beat you from the perimeter if left open and far from the bully-ball banger that pops was in the 90’s and early-2000’s. Either way, the genetic gifts have made their way to Shareef and Crossroads opponents are the ones that have been paying for it.
While Shaq certainly got a taste of it during his time with the Celtics, the younger O’Neal is going to get his first taste of Boston toughness against Cambridge, Rindge and Latin this weekend.
Sunday, January 14 @ 9:00am: New Hampton vs Blair Academy (NJ)
The remaining games featuring New England teams will also include New England opponents or teams that have made their way to New England earlier in the season.
Nick Whitmore’s squad is in the unenviably position of welcoming Blair back to New England, a region where Joe Mantegna’s crew has made itself extremely comfortable in and has found a ton of success along the way. After defeating Vermont Academy in the National Prep Showcase to start the season, the talented and dynamic group of 6’5” Anthony Mack (Wyoming), 6’10” Deng Gak (Miami), 6’11” Zach Kent (Tennessee) and 6’4” Matt Turner (Santa Clara) came back and flexed their muscle against Cheshire Academy in the Zero Gravity/NERR Scholar Roundball Classic in December.
Blair features another one of my HoopHall Breakout nominees with 6’4” junior Junub Char, an explosive athlete with the heart of a lion and a predator’s mentality. Char is an attacking wing who also doubles as Blair’s primary ball handler for stretches at a clip and is equally as dangerous when operating from either position. Char already owns offers from St Louis and VCU but is one performance on the big stage from becoming a priority for every major program on the East Coast.
New Hampton answers with a different look than what Blair has seen from their previous two New England opponents, an offense predicated upon ball movement and player motion with open shots simply being created through the fluidity and balance of both. It all sounds like a peaceful Zen haiku right up until the moment Anthony Gaines (Northwestern) or Kimani Lawrence (Arizona State) gracefully cock back and put a defender’s wrist through the rim!
Kristers Zoriks (St Mary’s) is back from his hiatus with the Latvian National Team and combines with Shandon Brown to give New Hampton a ton of firepower in the backcourt. Brown has the ability to heat up and put points on the board in a hurry. That could also be said for about a half dozen other prospects in this particular game.
Sunday, January 14 @ 10:45am: Brewster Academy vs CBD-Montverde Academy
I’m not going to waste your time and pretend to know anything about Montverde’s Center for Basketball Development team. Not when this space can be used for a public service announcement to the rest of the programs around New England. So here it is….
Jason Smith is angry. He doesn’t care about the National Championships that are currently stacked 3-deep in his trophy case (I know it’s really 4 but I wanna see him really angry) or that his name is painted on a basketball court with a scenic view of a gorgeous New England lake. It was cool but that party ended a while ago.
The hangover that followed resulted in a 2016 season in which Brewster lost 6 games to AAA conference opponents. The fury and hellfire that followed those 6 losses is taking place right now. And Jason Smith is throwing a whole new type of party.
Good news. Every basketball program in New England is invited, free of charge!
Bad news. Brewster plans on turning you into their entertainment, 3-course meal and, eventually, the piñata that they insist on breaking before the night is over.
You’ll never be able to tell by looking at him but this is Jason Smith’s kind of party. This party results in Brewster outscoring their opponent by an average score of 115-67 on a nightly basis. This party results in some of the most beautifully aggressive basketball you’ll ever see at the NEPSAC level. This party started exactly one second after last season ended.
Unfortunately for the neighbors across New England, this party has no end in sight!
Sunday, January 14 @ 12:30pm: Putnam Science Academy vs Vermont Academy
A lot of people will say this matchup lost some of its mojo when Hamidou Diallo decided to enroll at Kentucky and spend the 2nd semester preparing himself for the rigors of the college game. Don’t listen to those people.
Vermont is coming into Springfield with a collective W-L record (6-6) that does anything but reflect the individual skill level of their players. Putnam comes into Springfield with a chip on their shoulder after losing to Cushing and on a mission to prove that their depth will ultimately overcome the loss of one particular player. Both teams come into the 2017 HoopHall with a lot to prove.
There might not be a deeper collection of mid- to high-major college prospects between two teams anywhere in this year’s HoopHall. The combined amount of individual talent is almost mindboggling.
Players that are already committed to Xavier, Butler, Louisville, VCU, Seton Hall, Jacksonville and Vermont.
Players who are still being actively recruited by the likes of Marquette, Colorado, Kansas State, St Louis, Iowa State, Oregon State, Syracuse, Arizona, Creighton, Indiana, Memphis, UConn, Miami, Oklahoma State, UCLA, Rutgers, Umass, Rhode Island and few dozen other programs from Power Five Conferences.
There’s more than enough talent to make this game entertaining.
Sunday, January 14 @ 5:45pm: Commonwealth vs Cushing
The two best leaders in New England square off on the national stage on Sunday. Cushing’s Wabissa Bede and Commonwealth’s Hasahn French blazed similar trails this past summer, proving themselves as invaluable assets to their respective AAU teams while playing prominent roles in their respective team’s championship games runs in the Adidas and Nike circuit respectively.
Bede ended up capturing the Adidas Gauntlet crown with his Mass Rivals squad and was one of the nation’s biggest risers over the last year. The Virginia Tech-commit has continued his winning ways so far this season, leading Cushing to upset wins over South Kent and Putnam Science in the process.
David Duke has taken his individual game to the next level, giving Cushing a true second star and giving Bede the type of explosive wingman he’s done damage with throughout his career. Duke, a 6’3” guard with pogo stick bounce, is on the verge of becoming a high major priority on a national level and has already cemented his status as one of New England’s most sought after prospects in the class of 2018. Duke is a no-brainer HoopHall Breakout candidate on a national level heading into the weekend.
French’s summer didn’t end the way he wanted it to after a loss to MOKAN Elite in the Nike EYBL Peach Jam Finals but the 6’7” St. Louis-commit became an industry favorite with his selfless style and relentless motor. Heading into the weekend, French’s Commonwealth squad has experienced similar success and are widely considered one of the top teams both locally and nationally at this point in the season.
5’10” point guard Derrick Ellis, 6’1” sniper Shyheim Hicks and 6’2” pitbull Malik Pouncy lead a deep and talented backcourt that can go 7-deep, giving coach Tony Bergeron the option to attack opponents in waves with suffocating pressure that turns turnovers into points in bunches. 6’9” junior Arashma Parks, another HoopHall Breakout candidate, has turned the corner physically and is starting to see his production match his immense potential.
Something will have to give when two of New England’s most consistent and successful teammates meet this weekend in Springfield, in what has surprisingly turned into one of the most anticipated local matchup of the 2017 HoopHall.
Sunday, January 14 @ 7:30pm: MacDuffie vs Wilbraham & Monson
MacDuffie coach Jacque Rivera is one of the most passionate young coaches in New England and leads a program that is using the ’16-’17 as a baptism by fire for core group of players that have their sights set on rising to the top of their NEPSAC division before their time at MacDuffie is done. While Rivera’s team has predictably taken some lumps early in the season, his trio of young prospects have provided glimpses of why Rivera expects their future to be so bright.
6’7” sophomore Ismael Massoud is a dynamic young playmaker with a 6’11” wingspan who can wreak havoc on both ends of the court and turn the tides in his team’s favor in the blink of an eye. 6’6” forward Dana Tate has been the most consistent offensive weapon for Rivera’s team in the early going and is certain to see his 2018 prospect status rise with continued production. 6’5” fellow sophomore Dalano Banton came to MacDuffie via Canada this fall and has shown flashes of why Canadian scouting services are so excited about his future.
While the wins aren’t piling up, the struggles that these talented young prospects are battling through this season will ultimately prove pivotal to their development as players and their growth as a program.
Wilbraham coach Mike Mannix is juggling a similar set of circumstances within his program. Seniors Miles Lester and Dakota Wheeler are two of the only returning veterans and this season will eventually be judged by the steps taken by younger prospects like 6’3” sophomore Idan Tretout, a talented Brooklyn native who has a confidence well beyond his age with a shooting stroke to match.
Tretout is the type of player that can rattle off points in bunches either by attacking the rim or burying jumpers from a different area code. That type of game plays well in events like HoopHall, where a gym filled with fans that have never seen a young man before can into a raucous hometown crowd in an instant, regardless of the location of the opposing team. It’s a big reason why I consider Tretout another HoopHall Breakout candidate heading into his team’s matchup with MacDuffie.
MacDuffie and Wilbraham are both fighting desperately for a signature win to move their programs forward. There’s no better place for these programs to meet than at the 2017 HoopHall Classic.
Sunday, January 14 @ 9:15pm: Suffield Academy vs Northfield-Mt Hermon
John Carroll has built Northfield-Mt Hermon into one of the most successful programs in America and has done so with a unique collection of Ivy League standouts and high-major recruits that have gone on to leave their footprints across the college basketball landscape. NMH is one of the New England’s most talent-laden programs year in and year out, with this season being no exception.
NMH features a roster that, when healthy, is as deep as it is talented and can draw upon an unmatched plethora of experience, a rarity within the New England prep ranks. Led by the maniacal work ethic of North Carolina-bound sniper Andrew Platek , the toughness of Princeton-commit Jerome Desrosiers and Brown-bound big man Matt DeWolf, the confident demeanor of Tomas Murphy (Northeastern) and Kellan Grady’s (Davidson) explosive scoring ability, this year’s NMH squad can match up with anybody in America on paper and when they’re focused on the task at hand.
Injuries have played a roll in NMH’s inconsistency and Carroll will finally have his entire roster at his disposal this weekend. The potential of this group is still unknown but is also downright scary, when you consider the possibility of adding 6’9” Nate Laszewski, 6’7” Chuck Hannah, 6’2” Kai Toews, 6’3” Calvin Whipple and 6’9” Maxwell Lorca-Lloyd to the aforementioned five veterans.
This weekend’s version of Northfield-Mt Hermon may provide the most accurate depiction of what we can expect from Carroll’s squad moving forward, a possibility that will be exponentially more exciting for those in attendance than it will for NMH’s opponents the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, Jeff Depelteau is motivated to mirror NMH’s success and build a powerhouse of his own in NEPSAC’s A-division. Depelteau believes there is enough talent on his ’16-’17 Suffield roster to make a strong run come March and is trying to use this season as the foundation for his program moving forward. He’ll have an extremely accurate barometer to measure himself against after this weekend.
Suffield has an experienced group led by seniors Tyreek Scott-Grayson, a 6’5” lefty wing with a smooth stroke and underrated athleticism, and Garrett Stephenson, a 6’7” post player who gave BABC productive minutes off the bench over the summer. Combined with the senior guard tandem of 6’2” Bryce Butler and 6’1” Griffin Kornaker and a handful of talented young prospects battling for rotation minutes off the bench, Suffield’s time to win is now and they’re hoping to use their appearance at HoopHall as a springboard to a successful campaign and a long postseason run.
Going toe-to-toe with such a talented team may be an extremely ambitious proposition but it’s a challenge that Suffield has to face in order to move their program to the next level.
Monday, January 16 @ 7:00pm: Hillhouse-New Haven (CT) vs Springfield Central (MA)
In the 2017 HoopHall finale, two inner-city programs with rich histories and winning traditions battle one another. Springfield should have the crowd on their side as the national media and out of town fans clear usually clear out at this point in the night. Personally, I’m not going anywhere as long as my guy Joe Kasperzyk is walking into a gym along with teammates Byron Breland III and Christian Adams, in a game with New England bragging rights on the line. It’s guaranteed entertainment.
Kasperzyk has been leading the Hillhouse charge for the better parts of two seasons. After winning the 2016 LL state title, Kasperzyk’s crew is the odds on favorite to repeat this year and put together a statement a 71-64 win over Cardinal Hayes, who was NYC’s top-ranked AA at the time. A 6’2” senior PG/Wing who spent the summer playing with Expressions on the Nike circuit, Kasperzyk showed off the entire repertoire with a 29-point/5-rebound/4-assist night in the win over Cardinal Hayes and is just as likely to rise up and finish above the rim in traffic as he is to drill deep dagger 3’s from beyond the arch. Kasperzyk’s teammates would follow him through the gates of hell if there was a battle to won.
Breland III is an ultra-athletic 6’4” wing, who doubled as a free safety on Hillhouse’s state championship football team, and (IMHO) is currently the most underrated prospect in New England. Expect that to change soon, as Breland continues showcasing his skills in big spots and strings together more games to put alongside the 21-point/7-rebound performance vs Hayes which included four backbreaking 3’s down the stretch.
Adams is the 6’5” embodiment of consistency, as evidence by his efficient 12-point/12-rebound double-double down in NYC. The son of a firefighter who displays the requisite grit, heart and toughness that you would expect from his genetics, Adams flashed an improved 3-point stroke in Hillhouse’s opener and one of the most versatile players in the CIAC.
Both Adams and Breland come into HoopHall averaging a double-double. But if that wasn’t enough, Hillhouse also features 5’10” point guard Tyler Douglas who recorded a 12-point/17-assist/11-steal triple double in Hillhouse’s win over North Haven at the beginning of the week.
Let the traffic figure itself out, hang around and enjoy the show because the 2017 HoopHall finale won’t disappoint.