Yags’ Point Forward - Providence Jam Fest Recap
The Providence Jam Fest was held at Rhode Island College this past weekend, with The Hoop Group showcasing a handful of their HGSL programs alongside dozens of other prominent grassroots clubs from the northeast. It resulted in a ton of good basketball and an extremely competitive environment.
PLAYAZ TAKE 17U TITLE
The New England Playaz 17U squad has made one heck of a statement heading into the summer months, going a perfect 8-0 on the Adidas circuit and running through the competition last weekend, with a depleted roster, to win the Providence Jam Fest.
Northfield-Mt Hermon's 6'10" wing Nate Laszewski took home tournament MVP honors, mixing an already-established long distance arsenal with an evolving post game and a renewed willingness to mix it up on the boards. Laszewski is still far from a finished product physically, which makes him such an intriguing high-major prospect, but has added about 8-10 pounds of lean muscle since the end of the prep season. It's impossible not to get excited (or aggravated if you're an opposing coach) about the way Laszewski is beginning to use his physical gifts to affect the game on both ends. There wasn't a single possession during the Playaz final game with the DC Blue Devils where Laszewski didn't assert himself in the paint. Playing without NMH teammate Chuck Hannah, Brewster's Lukas Kisunas and Woodstock's Chris Doherty, the Playaz needed everything they could get out of Laszewski and the young man delivered.
Ethan Wright was the Playaz’ other big star on the weekend. The 6'2" Newton North product was versatile, resilient and efficient throughout the weekend. When Wright wasn't burying big shots from beyond the arc, he was slapping would-be layups off the glass defensively and turning 50-50 transition run outs into thunderous dunks.
Cardinal Hayes' (NY) 6'2" wing Tyrese Williams made the most of his playing time, showing off his powerful game on drives to the bucket and complimenting it with a silky outside stroke. Thayer Academy point guard Moses Flowers also continued his strong spring under the tough love of Coach John Carroll.
6'5" sophomore-to-be Malachi Hazelton got his first taste of 17U action over the weekend, looking the part physically while noticeably and naturally taking some time to adapt to the speed of each game. Once he did, Hazelton showed glimpses of just how good he can become and reminded everyone that he's still in the infancy of his prospect development.
DC BLUE DEVILS PASSING DOWN MORE THAN KNOWLEDGE
It's great when you can look over to the sidelines and see a former player trying to pass down some wisdom to a younger prospect. Whether it's Wabissa Bede with the Mass Rivals or Jermaine Samuels with Expressions, it's always refreshing. The DC Blue Devils are on a completely different level when it comes to the good version of Big Brother looking out.
Throughout the spring, TJ Thompson has made it a point to have last year's star trio of Geo Baker (Rutgers), Caleb Green (Holy Cross) and Tshiefu Ngalakundi (St Bonaventure) on the sidelines with the rest of this year's team. And it makes nothing but sense! Whenever you can point to players that have already put in the work in order to become what they are, it's a beautiful thing. When those players are also willing to give back, it's a no-brainer. It's obviously paying dividends too, as DC was seconds away from heading to the 17U finals.
5'10" point guard Ronnie Silva (Bradford Christian) is doing his best to fill Green's role this spring. Silva put together an extremely productive weekend, proving that he could both run the show for a winning program and seamlessly move over to the role of knock down shooter when he's asked to play off the ball. Silva is a crafty ball-handler and an annoying pest defensively, the type of player opponents overlook at the beginning of a game and ask one another how they allowed him to beat them at the end.
The Blue Devils gave the Playaz everything they could handle in the 17U semi-finals and came within a Chris Herren and-one bucket of beating the undefeated Adidas circuit squad. Regardless of where you look on the floor for DC, there's always a player battling for respect or trying to put a teammate in position to succeed. Thompson has a good thing going in NH and the loyalty he's always showed to his players is being returned by a great group of young men.
HUGE WEEKEND FOR METRO BOSTON PRODUCTS
Carl Pierre has flown under the radar for the majority of his career at BC High. That trend continued into the spring evaluation period with Metro Boston. Until it didn't. During the last live period, Pierre picked up serious interest and offers from Patriot League and Colonial Athletic Association programs for both this year and next. With Pierre's on-court production and long-term potential reaching new levels week after week, UMass decided to extend a scholarship offer to the 6'4" uber-athletic wing to join their 2017 Class on Monday night. He'll decide whether to head to college or to prep school later. For now, there's a lot more work to be done.
Pierre wasn't the only Metro Rider to help himself this weekend. 6'3" wing Nick Timberlake, a Braintree HS grad who recently announced his decision to attend Kimball Union for a PG year, was legitimately unstoppable at times on Saturday night. Metro and Mass Elite were locked in a tight battle midway through the second half when Timberlake decided to take matters into his own hands. Timberlake started with a transition layup and followed it with back-to-back dagger pull-ups, one from 3 and the other from 16-feet. Using his exceptional bounce and athleticism, Timberlake scored at all three levels and Metro's lead eventually became too big to overcome.
“TJ” Tyrone Weeks gave Metro another wing with an enticing length/strength combo moving forward and has the ability to put up a double-double without having a play called specifically for him. 6'10" big man Jarred Houston also performed well as Metro's man in the middle, frequently tossing back opponent's shots and rebounding at a higher level than he has in the past. As Jayden Depina works his way back to full health and Nelson Boachie-Yiadom returns to the lineup (academic commitment) over the next few weeks, Metro could become one of the most dangerous teams in the area. One thing is for sure: nobody is going to look forward to seeing them on their schedule!
DE SOUSA OUT TO PROVE YA WRONG
Malachi De Sousa had a solid '16-'17 season at South Kent but, depending on who caught him on which night, some scouts may not have come away without an understanding of just how he would affect the game on a nightly basis at the college level. I watched more than a handful of games myself and had the same question at times.
On Saturday night though, I witnessed just how competitive and impactful De Sousa can be when his Castle Athletics squad had their collective back against the wall and he single-handedly changed the outcome of the game. And, man, was it impressive!
After WrightWay Skills point guard Noah Kamba broke down and demoralized a handful of De Sousa's teammates on a series of highlight reel one-on-one moves, De Sousa took it upon himself to defend the shifty 6-foot sensation in the second half. WrightWay's last five possessions of the first half, when Kamba scored 12 consecutive points on 5-5 from the field and turned the gym into his own personal playground, noticeably ate away at De Sousa. You could almost feel his competitive fire about to erupt if he didn't deal with the issue personally.
Using his 6'7" frame, slick lateral athleticism and a little bit of street savvy, De Sousa engulfed Kamba whenever he had the ball and refused to let it get back into Kamba's hands once it was out. Kamba even started to hear about it from De Sousa as it got deeper into the second half, the outcome started to become apparent and the score got out of reach. Nothing personal, just business. And the young floor general will undoubtedly be a better player because of it!
Offensively, De Sousa did it all for Castle. On multiple occasions, De Sousa would grab a strong defensive board, lead the break and either finish himself or find an open teammate for an easy bucket. De Sousa easily finished with 20+ points, 10+ boards and a handful of assists while leading his team to victory.
If that version of De Sousa comes to play on a consistent basis in the NEPSAC, alongside a growing Anthony Nelson and the battle-tested Maurice Works, Coach Bill Barton is going to leave the South Kent gym on the winning end more often than not next season. He still won't crack a smile but De Sousa & Co. are there to win games not work miracles!
OTHER NEWS & NOTES FROM PROVIDENCE:
Alex Rivera and Akok Akok were both tremendous once again for the Mass Rivals, who were playing without the services of top-50 national prospects (IMHO) David Duke and AJ Reeves. Rivera, generously listed at 6'1", owns genuine bounce that is becoming more functional in all aspects of his game and allows him to play far bigger than even the 6'1" fib. Sometimes it's hard to judge whether or not a guy is putting max effort into his jumper, especially when their success is predicated on rising high off the floor every time. But the consistency of Rivera's release point, combined with the fact that he easily throws down two-handed dunks in layup lines, gives me every reason to believe he's rising naturally time after time. Meanwhile, Akok strengthens his case every time he steps on the floor, as far as his rise up the 2019 national rankings is concerned. Akok is an elite shot-blocker, efficient scorer, easy athlete and a gifted shooter. The next step is adding a move or two off the bounce when defenders overplay him on the perimeter. And if Akok's previous improvements tell us anything about the future, it's a new wrinkle we could end up seeing real soon.
Duke and Reeves both used the weekend to stay off their feet and prepare for a long summer ahead. Along with Akok, both were invited to the NBAPA Top-100 Camp last week and will surely earn themselves with invitations to other elite positional and individual showcases this summer.
Charles Coleman played in his first event since being offered by UConn last week. A 7-foot blue chip recruit in the Class of 2019, Coleman's jumper is freakishly consistent and his shot is true. There are times when Coleman's discomfort simply from growing pains is obviously visible and doesn't allow him to play for extensive minutes in back-to-back games, which should be expected from a player of his size at the age of 16. Watching Coleman's development over the last 9 months has been jaw-dropping at times and, when you think about how far ahead Coleman is of other elite bigs at the same age, it's almost scary.
Speaking of 9 months, I caught up with Rivals 6'9" big man Ousmane Diop over the weekend to discuss his development and his next step. "Big Uzi" would ideally like to head to a D1 program next season, where he can continue his education and keep improving his game. After coming over from Africa in September, Diop sat out the season at Sacred Heart-Waterbury (not his decision) and is facing a basketball baptism by fire at the grassroots level right now. He used his winter wisely by getting stronger in the weight room and sharpening his skills on the court. But there's simply no substitute for game experience when it comes to adjusting to American basketball and Diop understands that. Diop, who can speak 5 different languages, is almost too smart for his own good at times and is also his own biggest critic. He understands what needs to be done and just needs repetitions to perfect it. A prep year is still an option and could boost his stock even further. Toward the end of our conversation, I thought about how far he's come in such a short time and summed it all up by telling him, "Uzi, you've been here for less than 9 months, bro. People can't make babies in that time, never mind game-ready D1 basketball players!" Like the big man has done since the first time I met him, Diop responded with a big smile, a big hug and a big thank you. "Big Uzi" has a big future ahead of him, both on and off the court.
Christian Hinckson, who will spend a prep year at Tilton next season after graduating from John Bowne in NYC, put in some impressive work on Saturday before spraining his ankle in the night's last game and wisely resting on Sunday. Hinckson comes from the same HS program and is being mentored by the same man (NYPD Detective & NYC's Finest Hoops owner Rob Diaz) as NBA Draft hopeful Hamidou Diallo. The versatile 6'7" wing owns a 6'11" wingspan, an ever-improving skillset and will be a welcomed addition to the Tilton lineup alongside The Zegarowski Bros this fall. Hinckson's NJ-based squad, The Firm, actually split the 17U title with the Playaz after it was mutually agreed upon that playing an entire NCAA Tournament over the course of two days wasn't a good idea for their already-depleted rosters.
I may have missed it originally but one of the sneaky good prep pick-ups was Proctor's addition of New Day's Mykel Derring, formerly of Brighton HS. Aside from his smooth stroke, tight handle and his ability to score in bunches, I always appreciated the way the 6' point guard with high-scoring tendencies handled himself on the grassroots circuit as a leader in his local program.