Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chicago Elite Classic - 2014 (Day 2)



The third edition of the Chicago Elite Classic took place over a two day span this past weekend at the University of Illinois-Chicago. While the event did not have the star wattage like it did in the past (Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Stanley Johnson, Cliff Alexander, Tyler Ulis, Stephen Zimmerman, Chase Jeter, etc) there were many high major division one players in attendance. 

Top Player:

Rawle Alkins, 6’5”, G/F, Christ the King (NY), 2016
The next New York superstar? Rawle Alkins certainly played like it on Saturday night. He dominated all parts of the game as he led Christ the King to an 87-56 blowout over the local St. Rita squad. Both Catholic schools battled hard in the first quarter, but Alkins helped turn the game into a blowout with a 28 point, seven assist, six rebound, and five steal performance. The powerful wing scored in a variety of ways. He buried deep three’s (finishing with four on the night), threw down powerful dunks, and finished with contact in the lane. Minus a brief stretch in the second quarter when Alkins got a bit out of control, he was a man amongst boys. He finished 11-16 from the floor and fed teammates on the break and in the half-court set for easy baskets. Built like Lance Stephenson, Alkins had no problem showing off his New York style when matched up with Kentucky bound guard Charles Matthews. Catching the ball on the left wing, Alkins gave Matthews a few moves before ducking his right shoulder and finishing in the lane. Alkins is currently ranked No. 31 in the junior class by Scout.com, but his stock is set to rise.

Top Team:

Simeon (IL)
Simeon, a Chicago public league power lost in sectional play last year after winning four straight Illinois state championships with Jabari Parker. The Wolverines were young last year, but now the team returns in full and looks to reclaim its title as the top team in the state. As one of the two hosts (Whitney Young was the other) of the tournament Simeon played in the Saturday nightcap against big man Elijah Thomas and Lancaster, one of the top teams from Texas. It was a competitive game for three quarters, but the overwhelming depth of Simeon wore Lancaster down and ran away in the fourth quarter with an 87-72 victory. Simeon starts three seniors headed to Big 10 schools in DJ Williams (Illinois), Ed Morrow (Nebraska), and Isaiah Moss (Iowa) in addition to two talented juniors in Zach Norvell and Ben Coupet. Off the bench, Simeon first brought a “platoon” of five younger players in with talented freshman Kezo Brown running the show in a smooth and steady fashion. Simeon will face some tough competition in the future in Morgan Park (IL) and Bishop Gorman (NV), but they passed their first test with ease in the Classic.

Standout Performers:

Ed Morrow, 6’7”, PF, Simeon (IL), 2015, Nebraska
A “no frills” big man, Simeon’s power forward Ed Morrow stole the show despite facing the more highly touted Elijah Thomas. The future Cornhusker finished with 22 points, five rebounds, and five blocks. He showed a solid pair of hands down low and threw down numerous two hand dunks throughout the game. More than just a dunker, Morrow also impressed with his mid-range game. Last year Morrow held future top draft pick Jahlil Okafor in check and this year he did the same with Thomas. Morrow is only rated as a three-star recruit, but he will have an impact at Nebraska as soon as he steps on campus. In a few years, observers will wonder where the respect was for Simeon’s big man.

Zach Norvell, 6’3”, SG, Simeon (IL), 2016
The smooth shooting lefty guard started the game off by hitting a three and stayed hot throughout finishing with 18 points. Norvell did damage last year as a sophomore and is Simeon’s main threat from the perimeter. He never went on his own personal scoring run as Norvell managed to score consistently throughout the game. In addition to his 18 points, he also added six rebounds and four assists. 

Frank Jackson, 6’3”, G, Lone Peak (UT), 2016
The 2014-15 version of Lone Peak looked just a tad different than the last Lone Peak squad that came out to Chicago for the Classic. In 2012, Lone Peak featured three stars in Nick Emery, TJ Haws, and Eric Mika. This year, junior guard Frank Jackson ran the show with some help from sophomore Christian Popoola. In a close overtime loss, Jackson finished with 28 points and seven rebounds. He was able to power his way to the basket with his size and strength and also hit several three’s after a slow start in the first quarter. Jackson de-committed from BYU in November and is a hot prospect due to his size and ball skills. 

Other Notes:

Massachusetts bound, Luwane Pipkins struggled with his outside shot all game against Lone Peak but still had the confidence to drain the game winning three point shot from the right corner. He scored 14 points on 4-17 shooting and never got in a rhythm, but he did hit the most important shot of the game. 

While Pipkins struggled for Bogan, senior 5’9” guard Tom Johnson picked up the slack scoring 15 points. 

Rawle Alkins was the star for Christ the King, but Tyrone Cohen was also impressive scoring 22 points. The 6’3” junior guard scored from inside and outside the arc and also ran the floor with ease on the fast break. 

Kentucky bound Charles Matthews scored 16 points for St. Rita in a loss, but struggled with his shot shooting below 40% for the game. In the second half he connected on two three’s from the right wing, but missed a handful of others and never really impacted the game as expected. When Matthews is able to step into his jump shot and elevate properly his shot looks good, but more often than not the ball either falls short or is all over the rim.

Elijah Thomas was the attraction for Lancaster, but he struggled to impact the game and was saddled with foul trouble throughout. Point guard Deon Barrett used his speed to get to the basket and kick out to teammates on the wing. 5’7” guard Dominique Fobbs came off the bench and hit 7 out 10 three’s on the game. Also, senior guard Antwon Portley showcased a nice skill-set hitting several three’s and using his length to finish down low.

Friday, November 28, 2014

National Prep Sportlight: Christian Vital



One week ago the National Prep Showcase tournament kicked off on Friday morning and in the third game of the day, 6’1” guard Christian Vital proved to be one of the top performers. The three-star guard from Queens Village, NY came off the bench for St. Thomas Moore (CT) and made an immediate impact against a talented Elev-8 Sports Institute team. In an 81-71 win, Vital finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds and went 6-12 from the field. His quickness and scoring abilities changed the course of the game and the fiery guard was an impact on both sides of the ball. 
Junior guard Christian Vital

“I think I played well,” said Vital. “They had larger leads at times, but I think we did a really good job keeping our heads and getting back into it.” 

When Vital came into the game he promptly hit a high arcing three from the left wing. He added in another three in the first half before he began attacking on both sides of the ball. 

“My strengths are, well, I think I score the ball pretty well,” said Vital. “I think Coach knows that, which is why I am that spark off the bench and I just play hard. Coach tells me that I’m from New York so you gotta be a dog. That’s why I try to guard the best player. I took on number 30 who was hot at one point and then number 4 later in the game. I try to be the best player on offense and guard the best player on defense so that I can be versatile.”

As Vital noted he took on certain defensive responsibilities throughout the course of the game. When he came in, he was assigned the task of 6’0” sharp shooter J.T. Escobar who is headed to Ole Miss and scored 62 points in a scrimmage against Oak Hill. Vital stayed in his face and forced Escobar into a 2-8 performance from the three point line. Being from New York, Vital also liked to talk a bit of trash and frustrated his opponent, Jamal Gregory

“That’s why we won,” said Vital. “I was in the game with 2 minutes left and I wasn’t. So it just shows you I know how to keep my head.”

As for schools, numerous coaches have taken notice of Vital’s skills. 

“In the past few weeks Duquesne and Fordham have offered me, VCU has offered, St. Peter’s, Manhattan, and a lot of local schools. Basically the whole A-10 is recruiting me right now. Providence was out there and I took an unofficial visit there earlier in the school year. One of the assistants was out there today and saw me play pretty well so they might start picking it up.”

Saturday, November 22, 2014

National Prep Showcase: Day 1



Each year the National Prep Showcase brings in the high school basketball season. A three day tournament held at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT brings many of the top prep powers together. College coaches gather in hope of finding an unknown prospect and talented players try to get that next offer. The 2014 kicked off with an overtime game won by Notre Dame Prep and continued with six more games throughout the day. 

Top Players:

Danjel Purifoy, 6’7”, SF, Hargrave Military Academy, 2015, Auburn
Purifoy was a man amongst boys in his first game of the Prep Showcase. Known for his physical strength and slashing abilities, Purifoy played to these attributes early on. With a powerful right hand dribble, Purifoy attacked the basket consistently. In the second half, he hit back to back deep three’s showing a new look to his game. Next year Purifoy will head to Auburn and there is no doubt that he will be an impact player from the get go. He finished with 29 points and 8 rebounds on 10-19 shooting and 4-7 from three.

Tremont Waters, 5’10”, PG, South Kent School, 2017
Waters put his name on the map at this tournament last year with clutch shooting. This year, South Kent School belonged to the older and more confident Waters. Despite just being a diminutive sophomore, Waters controlled the ball and the game for South Kent. Not the quickest of guards, Waters uses hesitation dribbles and constant pace changes to get into the lane for lay-ups or assists. In the first half he hit a three but also had a propensity to force shots at times with his increased role. He finished 1-7 from behind the arc and was a bit careless at times getting called for a carry in the second half. For the game Waters finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 7 turnovers on 6-19 shooting.

Trey Grundy, 6’8”, PF, Hargrave, 2015, UNC Wilmington
A strong and powerful forward, the UNC Wilmington commit put together a strong game with 21 points and 8 rebounds on 9-13 shooting. Grundy finished down low and also attacked the basket off the dribble from the high post. He was often over-shadowed in AAU play and that trend continues on a talented Hargrave team, but on Friday Grundy was a dominant force around the basket.  

Omari Spellman, 6’8”, PF, MacDuffie, 2016
A Kennedy Meeks look alike, Spellman put up 21 points and 8 rebounds in a losing effort. Looking slimmer than when he was at the Global Challenge, Spellman beat his man off the dribble several times in the low post for baskets. While his three point shot was off, his soft touch was on display when his coach selected him to shoot any technical fouls that came up throughout the course of the game. Spellman still gets winded a little too easy and just like Meeks, will need to continue to work on his body.

Kealen Ives, 5’9”, PG, Putnam Science Academy, 2015, Rider
In all of the Friday games, Ives was the best coach on the floor. He quickly picked up the opponents half-court and out-of-bounds sets and instructed his teammates where to go. He also stepped up his scoring in the second half with several crucial late baskets to push his team to a victory. Ives hit several pull-up jump shots from 15 feet and also added in a three off the dribble finishing with 14 points, 5 assists, and 0 turnovers. 

Andrew Robinson, 6’6”, SG, Putnam Science Academy, 2015, Quinnipiac
Robinson was lighting up the arc in the second to last game. He hit three first half three’s against IMG Academy and then added two more in the second half. Robinson preferred letting it fly from the wings and had range several feet beyond the arc. In addition, Robinson showed a great vertical when spotting up for the deep outside shots. He also proved much more than a shooter with athleticism and a quick first step to get to the basket. 

Quadree Smith, 6’7”, PF, IMG Academy, 2015
Smith used to play for Paul VI in Fairfax, VA and was a steadily improving big man on a talented team. Despite being undersized for his position, Smith has always used his body well to create space and has soft hands and light feet around the basket. Smith came off the bench for IMG and was a difference maker finishing with a monster double-double of 21 points and 14 rebounds.

Left Wanting More:

Steven Enoch, 6’8”, PF, St. Thomas Moore, 2015, UCONN
Talented big man Steven Enoch blew up in the spring and summer and didn’t take long committing to his hometown UConn Huskies once the offer came. In his early afternoon game, Enoch started the game with a pretty three from the right wing. Showing good body control and agility it looked like Enoch was set to dominate throughout the game. Unfortunately foul trouble and a shortness of breath hampered his ability. Not in tip top shape, Enoch was forced to come out for continuous breathers when he wasn’t in foul trouble. He certainly has the size and skill to dominate, but Enoch did not perform up to his high potential on Friday. He’ll have another shot as St. Thomas Moore has the first game of the morning on Saturday. 

Biggest Mismatch:

Northfield Mount Hermon vs. Lee Academy
The fifth of seven games was over just a few minutes in. Northfield Mount Hermon jumped to a quick 15-2 lead which was stretched to a 41-16 halftime lead. It didn’t matter that senior forward Josh Sharma (Stanford) was out with a fractured wrist as the four out one in offense flowed seamlessly. Northwestern bound Aaron Falzon rained three’s from well beyond the NBA arc and the two powerful guard in senior Jashanti Allen and senior Dequon Ervin penetrated at will. 6’10” Collin McManus (Penn) also got into the action with a fundamental left hand hook shot. 

Other Notes:

Leroy Butts, from the DC area has landed at Elev8te prep in Florida after stints at Bishop O’Connell (VA) and Riverdale Baptist (MD). In the first half, Butts hit a nice one footed fade-away over a smaller defender but was relatively quiet after that. Butts lives in the mid-range and while he caught several passes in the high post he didn’t affect the game as expected. 

Future Ole Miss guard JT Esobar isn’t afraid to let the outside shots fly. The 6’0” guard from Florida scored 18 points in a losing effort and was more than just an outside shooter as he crashed the boards on numerous possessions. 

Junior guard Christian Vital from South Kent finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds and was the spark plug off the bench in a win. His defensive intensity also frustrated the opposing guards. 

Kamau Stokes from Fork Union Military Academy led the way on Day 1 with 33 points on 9-14 shooting.