Yags’ Point Forward - Thoughts from NPS
The 2016 National Prep Showcase featured one of the deepest talent pools in recent memory. And that pool of talent produced a sea of highlights that are currently making their way across the country via a boatload of other outstanding film crews. Here are the things that caught my attention over the weekend….
There are always a few dozen players at the National Prep Showcase that are on another level. They’re simply different and always give you a moment or two that can’t be recreated, regardless of how many games you attend.
Hasahn French, 6’7” Commonwealth – After a questionable double technical put him in early foul trouble against Hargrave on Friday, French came back with a vengeance on Sunday against Massanutten. The future St Louis Billiken put Commonwealth on his back for long stretches, led them to a huge 87-76 win over a very good Massanutten team and finished with 33 points (15-19 FG/1-2 3pt/2-4 FT), 21 rebounds and 8 blocks in the weekend’s best individual performance. French showed off both the range of his skillset and of his jump shot, proving that the jack-of-all-trades scouts saw with the PSA Cardinals this summer can also be the primary offensive weapon for a winning program.
Brandon Knapper, 6’1” Hargrave – Knapper turned Hargrave’s opener into his own personal showcase on Friday morning, dropping 31 points (10-18 FG), drilling 7-9 shots from downtown, dishing out 4 assists, grabbing 3 rebounds, and he even threw 2 steals into his stat line for good measure. Knapper backed it up with 24 points, hitting 5-8 from 3, in a 106-90 win over South Kent the following day. Bobby Huggins has a good one coming to West Virginia next season.
Simi Shittu, 6’10” Vermont – Shittu came as advertised, outside of the fact that very few people believed Vermont coach Alex Popp when he quietly advertised how comfortable he felt with Shittu as his team’s primary ball handler heading into the season. Shittu calmly handled those duties, giving scouts one more reason to cement his status as an elite prospect in the national Class of 2018. Shittu scored 23 points on 12 field goal attempts, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked 5 shots in VA’s battle against South Kent, while only turning the ball over twice. Shittu’s ceiling continues to get higher with each weapon he adds to his skillset and his basketball future is as bright as any prospect in America.
Kellan Grady, 6’5” & Andrew Platek, 6’4” Northfield-Mt Hermon – While the duo struggled in a flat-out ugly game against IMG on Saturday, they also managed to put on a clinic against Lee on Friday afternoon. The Davidson and North Carolina-commits combined for 35 points on an uber-efficient 15-23 from the field (5-7 3pt) to go along with 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 steals in a 73-56 win. Each put their stamp on the showcase’s highlight package, as Platek threw down a hammer dunk over a defender in transition and Grady put together a number of smooth finishes around the basket.
Sidney Wilson Jr, 6’7” Brewster – The rest of the nation better have gotten their money’s worth and hit Brewster while they were “down” last season. Because Jason Smith’s squad is loaded, featuring six players who are legitimate stars individually but have already bought into sacrificing personal stats for the greater good of the team. And they’re out for blood. We’ll focus on a younger prospect, who’s also new to the area after making a name for himself on the national level over the last few years. In Brewster’s two wins, Wilson Jr finished with 36 points (16-24 FG) and grabbed 10 boards while playing his role within the offense and defense to perfection. The 2018 forward is in the infancy of his prospect development but watching Wilson lead the break, fill lanes or finish in transition was a thing of beauty. On the other hand, watching Wilson track down would-be fast break layups, and turn them into a block on his stat sheet, was like watching a lion track down a gazelle. If you knew what to look for it was extremely exhilarating and graceful. But if you’re the type to take pity on the prey, it was inevitably violent and shocking. Personally, I loved it!
Players such as Hargrave’s Naji Marshall (Xavier), Antwan Walker (Georgetown) and Braxton Beverly (Ohio State) were known entities coming into this year’s showcase but, as is the case every year, a handful of prospects either announced their presence on the national scene with authority or proved themselves to be steals for the programs they’re already committed to.
TeShaun Hightower, 6’5” Mt Zion Prep – This young man has “High Major Steal” written all over him. Cut from the same cloth as UMass freshmen sensation DeJon Jarreau, Hightower has elite size for the point guard position and has all of the physical abilities coaches look for in their lead guard. Hightower is constantly in attack mode and doesn’t hesitate to give his opponents an earful after the fact. With a 6’8” wingspan, a frame that can easily carry another 25 pounds of muscle and a burgeoning skillset that allows him to score from all three levels (scored 17 points in each of Mt Zion’s games), Hightower is sure to see his recruitment explode after his performance in New Haven.
Jamarco Pickett, 6’8” Massanutten – The slender Ole Miss-commit is a natural scoring wing who is near unstoppable once he gets a couple to drop. Pickett brought his Massanutten squad back from a late 10-point deficit on Friday night against Putnam with an array of buckets from beyond the arch and at the rack, finishing with 22 points and 8 boards in an eventual loss. Despite getting into foul trouble against Commonwealth, Pickett was still able to finish with 14 points, including a pair of late treys to get his squad back in the mix. Pickett will be a force within the SEC for Andy Kennedy’s Ole Miss program.
Jalen Jordan, 6’3” NTSI – Jordan led Chris Chaney’s new program in scoring over the weekend in battles against Brewster and Tilton. Jordan is long, strong on both ends and has the ability to stretch the defense with a simplistic jumper that he repeats consistently. He also showed the ability to play on or off the ball, giving him added value as a versatile weapon. After averaging 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in front of dozens of college programs, Jordan is guaranteed to garner some added attention upon his return home.
NEW ENGLAND BREAKOUTS
Curtis Haywood II, 6’5” Brewster – If Shittu came as advertised, Haywood was even better than advertised in his New England event debut. Whether you’re an old school guy who loves players that exhibit the same tenacity on both ends of the floor or you’re an analytics driven cat who loves players that can spread the floor while filling up every line on the stat sheet, Curtis Haywood II is your guy. The uncommitted post grad averaged 18.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block in Brewster’s two wins over the weekend. On a team full of hungry pitbulls, Haywood plays like he’s starving but uses his 6’11” wingspan to ensure everyone in his pack gets fed first. Haywood would be a perfect fit within any Power-5 program, as it’s rare to find such toughness and grit attached to such a versatile and gifted offensive player.
Bobby Planutis, 6’7” Bridgton - With Planutis, Whit Lesure has a player to build his offense around. In return, Planutis will find out what it’s like to have high major talent focused on stopping him every night. At the end of the day, both Bridgton and Planutis will be better because of one another. Planutis was phenomenal in Bridgton’s game against Mt Zion Prep, a team that features size and athleticism across the board. Planutis scored 28 points (11-17 FG/2-2 3pt/4-5 FT) and hauled in 7 boards, earning every bit of what he put in the box score. With a 6’9” wingspan, broad shoulders on an athletic frame and enough strength to finish through contact at the rim, Planutis caught the eye of a lot of mid-major coaches this weekend.
Devante Jones, 6’1” Notre Dame Prep – The phrase “1-Man Show” is usually hyperbolic and lends no credence to the guys supporting a player when it’s applied to a player in a team sport. But when it comes to Notre Dame’s 1st half offensive output against Fork Union on Friday morning, it’s a pretty accurate description! Jones scored Notre Dame’s first 23 points of the game and it wasn’t until Zep Jasper’s trey with a little over 2 minutes left in the period that Jones had some company on the score sheet. The craziest part of the situation was the efficient manner in which Jones did his damage, hitting 9 of his 12 1st half shots, including 4-4 from beyond the arch. Jones finished the game with 31 points (12-17 FG/4-5 3pt/3-4 FT), 4 rebounds and 2 assists in a ND Prep win. Jones came back on Sunday and went a perfect 7-7 from the field (3-3 3pt/1-1 FT) en route to a tidy 18-point, 3-assist, 3-rebound performance in a win against Bridgton. For the weekend, DJ Jones scored 49 points by going 19-24 from the field including 7-8 from beyond the arch. That is the definition of efficiency!
OTHER PREP SHOWCASE NEWS, NOTES & NONSENSE
- Anthony Mack and Deng Gak were nothing short of sensational late in Blair’s win over Vermont Academy in the showcase finale. As Adam Finkelstein so accurately stated on the day of Mack’s commitment to Wyoming, his process could accurately be defined as the “anatomy an impact Mid-Major player, not seduced by level in his recruiting process.” Mack is one of those players that coaches love having on their roster. Athletic, versatile, intelligent and a weapon on both ends. It was an absolute coup for Wyoming and reminds me of when they landed a player named Jason Straight out of Dunbar HS in Chicago back in 2001.
Straight was one of a few main characters in a documentary called “Chicago Hoops” back when I was in high school. It also featured Eddy Curry and Will Bynum. Straight ended up heading to Wyoming to get away from the noise of the city and to focus strictly on basketball. He became a 4-year starter, scored 1,550 career points and was one of the best players in Wyoming basketball history. To expect Mack to be that prodigious of a player is expecting a lot but based on his skillset and athleticism, we can expect Mack to be an integral part of the Cowboys program from the moment he steps on campus.
Gak, a 6’10” Miami-commit, looked so much more aggressive and functional as a post player against Vermont than he did this summer with the PSA Cardinals. While Gak still does the majority of his damage in the paint, there are signs of a developing mid-range game and his value as a prospect is much more apparent than it was just four months ago. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to see Blair again in March at the National Prep Championship.
- After a rough opening game against IMG, St Thomas More’s Maceo Jack made the most of his second chance to make a first impression on the college coaches in attendance on Saturday. Jack definitely impressed with 22-point, 4-rebound, 2-steal performance against a tough Fork Union squad. He specifically caught the eye of the George Washington coaching staff, who offered the 6’5” Jack shortly after the game.
- South Kent’s 2018 duo of 6’6” Malachi De Sousa and 6’3” Anthony Nelson guaranteed that their names will be mentioned alongside some of the top prospects in their class when the new rankings come out. Both were effective, efficient and influential in South Kent’s last-second win over Simi Shittu’s (2018’s top prospect) Vermont Acadmy squad. De Sousa scored 23 points (10-16 FG) and was also active defensively against VA’s big lineup. Nelson gave VA’s perimeter defenders fits, getting to the hoop at will and scoring 15 points (7-10 FG) to go along with 5 rebounds and 3 steals. I’d love to see De Sousa become more active on the boards, as he’s such a versatile athlete and almost unstoppable in the open floor. Meanwhile, once Nelson starts looking to create for open teammates after defenders pack the paint against him, South Kent will be rewarded with more open looks from the perimeter and Nelson will add to his assist count. Nelson already holds offers from St John’s, VCU and Rutgers, among others.
- IMG’s 6’10” big man Bruno Fernando, Maryland-commit, was one of five impact transfers from Montverde Academy over the summer, with Shittu being a second. The future-Terrapin has developed as a ball handler and looks much more comfortable operating on the perimeter, whether he was driving to the basket or squaring up to from distance. Fernando never ventured outside of the paint in previous games that I’ve caught and could be deadly if he adds a reliable face-up game. Fernando may have to fight the propensity to become too jumper-happy, like he did for a short time against Northfield-Mt Hermon. Fernando still averaged 17 points in his team’s two contests while playing about 26 minutes per game.
- If Albertus Magnus ever decides to replace their hoops, they should contact programs from across the country that rely heavily on outside shooting and auction off their current set of rims to the highest bidder. You would be hard-pressed to find a softer set of cylinders anywhere in America. 15 of the 19 games in this year’s showcase featured at least one team that shot 50% or better from the field. The annual rock fight that is ND Prep vs Fork Union didn’t disappoint, as the teams combined to shoot 36% (40-110) from the field in ND’s 58-53 win. The fact that this game also featured one of this year’s best individual shooting performances (DJ Jones 31 points on 12-17 FG) wasn’t nearly the strangest part. ND Prep and FUMA also combined to go 21-26 from the free throw line, good for an 81% clip. It was the highest combined Free Throw Percentage by two teams in this year’s NERR Prep Showcase. So the worst shooting performance by two teams also featured the best shooting performance by two teams.
Northfield-Mt Hermon had this year’s highest Team Shooting Percentage (58.9% on 33-56 FG) in their 76-53 win over Lee, highlighted by their dynamic backcourt of Grady and Platek hitting 65% (15-23) of their shots. They turned around less than 24 hours later and put together the weekend’s 3rd worst Team Shooting Percentage (37.9% on 22-58 FG), lowlighted by their dynamic backcourt of Grady and Platek hitting 33% (11-33) of their shots.
On November 4th, Steph Curry’s NBA-record streak of 157 consecutive games with at least one made 3-point field goal came to an end, as he went 0-10 from 3 against the Lakers. Three days later, on November 7th, Curry broke the NBA single-game record for 3’s made against the Pelicans, hitting 13-17 from beyond the arch.
It happens. Shooters shoot. Let it fly!
- New Hampton’s offense is already flowing in midseason form. Nick Whitmore’s crew averaged 83.5 points in their two wins over SPIRE and Sunrise Christian and will once again be a team nobody wants to play in AAA. Every member of New Hampton’s starting five averaged double figures with Anthony Gaines leading the way with 16.5 points. Gaines, who committed to Northwestern this fall, has a completely different level of confidence entering his senior season and he’s comfortable in the role of leader for Whitmore. National top-50 prospect and recent Arizona State-commit Kimani Lawrence showed off an improved jumper en route to averaging 14 points on the weekend. St Mary’s-commit Kristers Zoriks (10.5 ppg) hit some daggers late in the game against SPIRE while future-Dartmouth big man Walker Miller (11 ppg) provided a steady influence inside. The biggest addition to this year’s squad is Shandon Brown, a 5’9” dynamo who has proven to be a prolific scorer at every level he’s played.
Brown will fight the “undersized” label throughout his career, but the bottom line is that the young man picks his spots intelligently and can create space for himself off the bounce. But even though he’s shifty and features an explosive first step, Brown realizes that he can do the majority of his damage from distance where he doesn’t have to battle among the trees. When opponents went under a screen, Brown simply let it fly and buried seven 3’s in NH’s two wins. When his defender fought through or switched, he took what the defense gave him, trusted the offense and made the correct pass.
New Hampton’s offense flowed as freely as the Monster from my can throughout the weekend, while 6’8” post grad Jimmy Boeheim provided a similar jolt of energy off the bench. Boeheim plays an aggravating and tough style that is awesome to watch but obviously annoys the hell out of his opponents. (By the way, that’s what you’re supposed to do!) It’s not so surprising when you consider his bloodline but what is shocking is that more players don’t realize that they can have such an impact on the game and adopt a similar style. Those that do prove to be invaluable to their teams and always find themselves on the floor when the game is on the line!
- Pittsburgh-commit Terrell Brown has the present skill and size to become one of the most dominant players in the NEPSAC. Now that his outside shot is a legitimate weapon, opposing big men essentially have to pick their poison when defending Brown. Since he’s comfortable going over either shoulder with a jump hook and has good enough footwork to pivot to a secondary move along with the vision to find an open teammate on the perimeter, there’s absolutely no excuse for Brown not to dominate this season. In order to get the most out of his skillset and compete in the ACC in the future, Brown must become more aggressive on the boards and he knows it. Brown finished with 18 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in Tilton’s win.