by Danny Hazan 2/6/13
In the wake of national signing day, I became compelled to share a story with whoever cares to read it. But a little background information is necessary first.
I covered the NY2LA Sports Summer Jam presented by Under Armour last summer for Slam’s website.
The five-day club basketball extravaganza should be on the bucket list for any basketball junkie because of the collection of talent from around the country that competes in suburban Milwaukee.
For Slam, I went to find some feature stories on some of the players who are nationally ranked by all the scouting services and have scholarship offers from every major program at the Division I level. I also do my best to feature some kids who I feel are just as capable of playing at the high-DI level but are ‘under-the-radar’.
Prior to my trip I printed out all the top 100 lists from the various recruiting sites to give me a frame of reference of which kids to watch as there are hundreds of teams who compete on one of the six courts at Homestead High School. So as the tournament began, one of the first teams I watched was the Houston Defenders.
The Defenders featured guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison, who were both consensus top 10 players in the class of 2013. They were in the midst of a recruiting battle between Kentucky and Maryland, and the fact identical twins could be so good at basketball made it a no-brainer story to share with Slam’s readers.
But as I was watching them in their first game, someone else stood out to me.
Derrick Griffin, a 6-foot-7 forward, ran the floor faster and more relentlessly than any high schooler I’ve seen at his size and build. He possessed an explosive leaping ability and wowed onlookers with countless ferocious dunks throughout the entire tournament. I found him on the top 100 lists I had printed during that first game I watched of theirs, and learned he was committed to Texas A&M.
It wasn’t until a few days later at the tournament I found out he was one of the top rated high school football players in the nation, and committed to the Aggies as a receiver.
After I picked my jaw up off the floor following several minutes of imagining him on the football field absolutely devouring 5-10 defensive backs, I knew he’d be a perfect kid to feature in my story with the Harrisons. So I talked to him about being a standout in both sports, which sport he liked better and which he planned to play in college.
My story on the Houston Defenders can be found here: http://www.slamonline.com/online/college-hs/high-school/2012/07/andrew-aaron-harrison-twin-tempo/
As the summer ended, the school year started and my full-time job covering high school sports in the Central Suburban League for CSLinsider.com began I tried to keep tabs on all the guys I’ve covered from around the country from a distance.
I read about his dominance with his high school football team this fall, and have read some game reports on him killing on the hardwood this winter as well. I was interested to see if he’d play both sports at A&M, or just pick one.
I found out today he won’t be playing either one in College Station next year.
Griffin did not sign with A&M because he won’t qualify academically. In fact, they didn’t even send him a letter of intent to sign. At this point, he needs to graduate high school or earn a GED so he can go the junior college route – which will be an uphill battle according to reports I’ve read on A&M recruiting sties.
Obviously some responsibility falls on his shoulders, but the real failure here is not with Griffin but the administrators and educators who have overseen him throughout his academic career.
If a kid can’t graduate high school because of failing grades, how is he eligible to participate on the football and basketball team? I wonder if he was ever told he couldn’t play a sport until his grades reached a certain level? Speaking from a personal standpoint, I would have never changed my priorities or how hard I worked for school if I kept on getting to play – and being rewarded with all the accolades and notoriety that came with my performances.
This is a classic case of the adults in charge turning the other cheek so a phenomenal athlete can help them sell tickets. They couldn’t care less what happens to that athlete after they’re past high school age.
The importance of sports, and the priority levels it is held at, in society is for a different column written by someone else.
But if you are just a casual sports fan who sees ESPN dedicating programming to high school athletes who are supposed to be the NCAA’s next stars on signing day, I wanted to introduce you to a kid as talented as everyone you watched or read about but a reflection of the ugly side of high school and college sports.
It sucks because it’s a stark reminder of the reality that there are plenty of kids who don’t even play sports who slip through the cracks academically much like Griffin, and are just brushed aside.
However, Griffin was taken advantage of by his high school because of his unique ability to dominate a football and basketball game.
Lets see if his high school steps up for him when he needs it most.
by Danny Hazan
July 13, 2011
Mike Krzyzewski, Bill Self, Billy Donovan and John Calipari were just four of the many coaches on hand Wednesday at the NY2LA Sports Summer Jam in Mequon, Wisconsin as they followed highly coveted prospects Shabazz Muhammad, Mitch McGary and Perry Ellis.
Conveniently, the stars with their respective teams all played each other Wednesday, but it was Kansas’ Pray and Play Players’ 6-foot-4 shooting guard Buddy Hield who may have had the best day.
He already claims offers from Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas A&M, Utah State and Witchita State, with Kansas, Clemson, DePaul, Missouri and Boston College showing interest, but that list will surely grow after his performances the first two days at the Summer Jam.
Conscious of his current environment at Homestead High School, Hield tried to play how he knew he could and hoped the rest would take care of itself.
20 points, a vicious one-handed tip dunk and dagger step-back, corner pocket, three-pointer with two minutes left to put McGary and SYF away – and a team-high 16 in a three point loss to Texas PRO and Isaiah Austin – is pretty good evidence he accomplished his mission.
“I want to showcase my talents to all the coaches,” said Hield, who hopes to have a top five in September. “I came here trying to make a name for myself. I can do that by just playing hard, be competitive on the court and try to win every game we’re in.
“I do look in the stands but I try and block it out. I’m playing for my team and myself and I know I can’t get nervous and mess up. I do my best to keep on being myself. I’ve been being myself a lot lately.”
Hield has relied on his athleticism and handle to get into the lane and finish with either hand over the Players’ first three games of the Summer Jam, and also knocked down three-pointers with consistency. While his release and unusually high arc may not be textbook, it’s a craft he’s spent plenty of time on this summer.
“I put six hours in the gym every day,” said Hield, who attends Sunrise Christian Academy. “I use my three-ball as my trick. So when they come out, I pump fake and take it to the basket and use my athletic abilities to finish with either hand.
“Offensively I want to score, so I always keep crashing the boards. I said ‘one of these days I’m going to get a tip dunk,’ and I finally got one (today). I like getting them because it makes the gym go crazy when I dunk on somebody.”
Ellis had difficulty getting in a rhythm in both games but still managed 14 points against SYF and 10 against Texas PRO, but still used his imposing 6-8 frame to be a presence on the offensive and defensive glass.
Raytown South’s 6-3 lighting quick, jumping jack Earl Peterson was also pivotal in the Players’ 64-60 victory over SYF with 13 points. Peterson has one offer from Oral Roberts, but is also hoping to add to that list as droves of coaches line the sidelines of his games.
“I know they’re there and I’m trying to play hard to get a scholarship,” Peterson said. “I see myself as a two in college because I’m a slasher. But I can also spot up and shoot. I just have to keep working on my jumper.”
Texas PRO beat Dream Vision 56-35 behind 12 points from Austin and 10 from Danuel House. Muhammad led the way for Dream Vision with 17. Dream Vision also fell to Mo-Kan 70-69 after watching it’s five point halftime lead evaporate almost immediately.
Mo-Kan 7-footer Willie Cauley (Olathe NW High School) had 12 points and was disruptive defensively in the paint. He already holds offers from Alabama, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, USC and Wyoming. Cauley’s high school teammate, 6-5 slasher Shavon Shields led the way with 16.
January gets hot in July
Before getting on a plane in Los Angeles to head to Milwaukee for the Summer Jam, ICAN All-Stars’ 6-7 wing Anthony January gave UTEP a verbal commitment July 9 and shifted his focus to embracing the opportunity to travel across the country.
“It’s way different out here,” January said. “Now that I’m committed I wanted to come out and have fun and do my thing. I feel more comfortable now.”
January looked more than comfortable Wednesday morning against DTA and dropped 25 points in a variety of ways.
“It’s a lot of fun and I like it a lot,” said January of testing himself against some of the nation’s top talent he doesn’t see out in Los Angeles. “I’ve been working on my jumper a lot because it hasn’t been falling too much lately. But I feel comfortable shooting.”
As he continued to hurt DTA, January’s defenders began to get more talkative. The normally soft-spoken shooting guard capped his performance by talking back to a chattering defender, as he sized him up off the bounce, and pulled the trigger on a deep three mid-sentence.
However, it didn’t play out exactly how he had planned after the shot hit every part of the rim before dropping through.
“When I pulled up, I felt it. It didn’t go in like I wanted too, but it fell, so you know?” January said with a sly grin.
He listed UCLA, San Diego State, Seton Hall, Colorado, Nevada and UNLV as potential suitors before giving Tim Floyd and UTEP his verbal pledge.
Highly Touted 2013 Guards
2013 standout 6-5 combo guard Chris Thomas and the Colorado Hawks didn’t get off to the start they had hoped at the Summer Jam but started to get back on track Wednesday before tournament play begins Thursday.
“We just came from Indianapolis, and the first game we lost which was kind of rough because we didn’t have any legs,” Thomas said. “We couldn’t run or anything. Today we came out well and won by 20.”
Thomas’ 11 points helped pace a 53-37 win over Team Jennings on the heels of a 48-32 loss to Terry Porter Elite Tuesday night. Despite being a year younger than most of his opponents, the opposition usually has extra motivation because of Thomas’ lofty rankings by the national scouting services.
“They’re coming after me,” Thomas said. “Coaches go box and one on me. But it’s good because I play through it and I just want to play against the hardest competition.”
He listed offers from Kentucky, Arizona, Missouri, Colorado, Xavier and Tennessee among others and had all those schools and then some tracking him Wednesday. Even though he plays a lot of point guard in the high school season with Westwind, he likes playing off the ball better.
“I’m comfortable playing point guard, but sometimes I’ll go two,” Thomas said. “I do feel better playing two-guard though because as a one you have to deal with a lot.”
Another nationally ranked 2013 guard at the Summer Jam, D.C. Assault’s Nate Britt, also notices the extra attention from opponents. But unlike Thomas, the 6-2 lefty wants to handle the point.
“As long as I’m playing hard I know I have nothing to worry about,” Britt said. “Trying to win is the main goal, so as long as I’m striving for that I’ll be good. I consider myself a true point guard, so I like being able to make plays and be on the ball and make most of the decisions on the court.”
With a growing offer list that includes Arizona, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Georgetown, Virginia, Rutgers and Seton Hall, Britt mentioned UVA, Georgetwon and Villanova have been coming the hardest. However, as he continues to extend the range on his already smooth midrange shot, he doesn’t plan on figuring anything out about his college future too soon.
“After July I’m going to really start hitting the weights before we start high school again,” Britt said. “It’s also when I want to start talking with my family about where I want to go to school and stuff.”
by Danny Hazan
July 12, 2011
Typically 6-foot-10 forward Mitch McGary and the SYF Players out of Indiana make mince meet out of their pool play opponents in various tournaments over the summer.
But Tuesday in its first game of NY2LA Sports’ Summer Jam in Mequon, Wisconsin, SYF found itself locked up with widely regarded top prospect 6-6- guard Shabazz Muhammad and club circuit powerhouse Dream Vision from Las Vegas.
With the bleachers packed at Homestead High School, one side full of family and fans while the other was overflowing with head or assistant coaches from basically every major and mid-major Division I program, Muhammad led Dream Vision to a 68-57 victory.
McGary, who soared in national rankings after a breakout Spring, admitted he isn’t used to losing first time out in tournaments.
“This has been pretty different because usually we’re in a pool where we’re the best team,” McGary said. “But here it’s there team or our team. Shabazz and I are pretty cool. It’s always a pretty good matchup between me and him but we play different positions. Sometimes I’ll guard him, but I depend on (Glenn Robinson III) stopping him. But if he gets by, I’ll help out.”
McGary (20 points) blocked Muhammad’s first two poster attempts during the first half, in which he also scored 12 points including a bucket from each level on the court. However, after SYF’s Adonis Filer helped spark a comeback to trim Dream Vision’s 35-24 halftime lead to four points, Muhammad’s teammates began to extend the lead.
6-1 sharpshooter from Torrey Pines High School, Joe Rahon, buried a pair of three pointers before Muhammad finally gave the fans the poster they were waiting for with 7 minutes, 40 seconds remaining and Dream Vision an insurmountable 54-40 lead.
Despite a slow start, Muhammad finished with 27 points and assured dunking on McGary was nothing personal.
“It was really fun,” Muhammad said. “I really like Mitch. He’s a good guy and I talk to him all the time. But I try to dunk on somebody every chance I get. It’s going to be a foul or the ref won’t call it. But after a certain point you will get the dunk. So I try stay aggressive and when I have that mindset I can have a good game.”
Like Muhammad, McGary also plays hard every possession and doesn’t let one play affect his game.
“He kind of caught me turned around when I jumped, but he had already finished,” McGary said. “I’m always hustling back on D so I’m usually not too worried about getting dunked on. I just try to block shots and prevent them from scoring.”
With Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA, North Carolina, Texas, Texas A & M, Oklahoma, Marquette, Maryland, Boston College, Kansas State, Georgia Tech and Arizona among several others represented Dream Vision 7-footer Robert Upshaw (San Joaquin Memorial) was a solid presence inside and displayed an ability to finish with either hand around the cup. Findlay Prep standout Winston Shepard had a hard time getting in a rhythm offensively but was disruptive defensively and active on the glass.
SYF’s only has one player committed to college, as Robinson verballed to Michigan last Fall, and while McGary continues to rake in offers he still hopes to help his teammates pick up more looks as well.
“Overall I like to have fun,” McGary said. “But when it comes down to being strictly business, I know I have to get to work. In AAU, I try to get my teammates involved a lot. I don’t want to be a ball hog and show out because we’re all trying to go out there and go to the best school possible. Even if some college coaches aren’t there to look at them, I let them kind of show out so the other coaches can see them.”
Things won’t get easier for SYF Wednesday as they have matchups with Team Loaded and Kansas Pray and Play Players featuring Perry Ellis.
Dream Vision will lock up with Mo-Kan Elite before playing Texas PRO and Baylor-bound Isaiah Austin. Wednesday’s final day of pool play will allow Muhammad to continue to refine his perimeter skills to go with his highly advanced post game – something he’s been focused on all summer.
“I’ve been really working on my guard play,” Muhammad said. “I’m working on my ball handling, jump shot and just being aggressive with the ball. I’m getting more acquainted with the ball (in my hands) and getting my jump shot off. I’ve been working on a lot of jump shots because I know in college I’m going to be a two-guard.”
Texas PRO dispatched Mo-Kan Elite 66-54 behind 12 points apiece from Austin and Danuel House. Team Loaded edged the Pray and Play Players 75-69 in a back and forth battle. Besides Ellis who had Kansas, Kansas State, Duke and North Carolina among others watching intentely, Buddy Hield played had a big game with 17 first half points and 28 unofficially.
The D.C. Assault led by 2013 combo guard Nate Britt and 2012 6-9 smooth small forward Jordan Goodman almost got stunned by the Wisconsin Swing, but 2013 Arlington Country Day Junior Etou’s steal and pass ahead to Jamal Lewis for a layup with two seconds left in overtime ensured a 70-68 victory.
The Swing will be a dangerous team for anyone in the field to face moving forward as they have four bonafide mid to high major prospects with 6-2 guard Zak Showalter (Germantwon) and 6-6 Austin Arians (Madison Edgewood) in 2012 and 6-7 Nick Fuller (Sun Prarie) and 6-9 Luke Fischer (Germantown) in 2013, mixed in with a bunch of other low DI/high DII who play together and don’t make too many mistakes.
The Summer Jam will conclude Friday.
by Danny Hazan
July 14, 2011
Forsyth Country Day 2012 point guard Tyler Lewis wasn’t in Mequon, Wisconsin the first two days of the NY2LA Sports Summer Jam to spend time with his family.
His arrival Thursday showed just how much the 6-foot North Carolina State-commit means to Team Loaded and why he’s considered one of the best point guards in the country.
Playing with a heavy heart following the death of his grandfather, Lewis propelled his squad to a pair of wins in the 17-and-under Platinum playoffs. His 26 points, 13 assist performance in a 74-71 come from behind win over Net Gain advanced his team to the elite eight Friday where they’ll match up with Texas PRO featuring 6-11 Baylor-commit Isaiah Austin.
“It was a tough decision,” said Lewis about making the trip to Milwaukee. “I felt like I needed to be with the family, but at the same time I didn’t want to let my team down. I ended up leaving my last tournament early so I could go see my grandpa and he ended up passing away. I came out here in time for bracket play, so hopefully we can come home with the championship. Whenever I’m on the court it helps me get my mind off of it a whole lot. But basically I’m playing for him and for the team too.”
His tight handle and slick passes have been well documented, but his ability to put the ball in the hole driving to the basket is what got him going Thursday.
Lewis’ uncommitted teammates are lucky to have him back as well because he spent most of the sweet sixteen game against Net Gain knifing through the lane and setting them up with open layups.
“It feels good to get my teammates involved,” Lewis said. “That’s my main strength out there on the court, which is my passing ability and IQ. So I feel like if I’m doing my thing, they’ll look good to impress the coaches. But most importantly I just love to win, and I try to do what’s best for my team to win.”
The winner of Team Loaded and Texas Pro will advance to face the winner of SYF and Kingdom Hoops in the final four. The other side of the bracket features matchups between Dream Vision and the Wisconsin Playmakers, who upset Kansas’ Pray and Play Players in overtime, and Mo-Kan Elite and Kansas City 76’ers.
While the 17’s Platinum bracket is setup for an exciting finish, tournament play began with an explosion in the 15’s bracket at 8:00 a.m. Thursday.
Team D-Rose’s 6-2 lefty guard Joseph Stamps went off for 63 points in an 84-68 win over Terry Porter Elite.
“It feels great, I can’t stop smiling,” a gleaming Stamps said. “I was energized and ready to play. I came out there and just got going. My teammates set me screens and I got a bunch of threes, layups, fast break points and free throws. I missed a lot of free throws though. I could have had 70. I just have to stay humble and not try to do too much (next game). This doesn’t really mean anything, I just have to keep playing how I play.”
After starting the season on varsity at Curie in Chicago, Stamps went down to the sophomore level because of a glut of upper classmen guards on the Condors varsity roster. However, as Stamps continues to improve his right hand, he’s also scheduled to join fellow 2014 Team D-Rose teammate Cliff Alexander on varsity this winter.
Alexander, a 6-9 power forward, made a name for himself in Chicago as a freshman on Curie’s varsity team and has since picked up offers from Illinois, DePaul, Florida State and Tennessee with several other high majors beginning to show interest.
Against the Las Vegas Prospects in the sweet sixteen, Alexander carried Team D-Rose with his dominant defensive presence to a 68-61 victory and date with the Wisconsin Blizzard in the elite eight.
In the 16′s Platinum bracket, The Illinois Wolves featuring future Illini point guard Jalen James will tangle with the Wisconsin Playmakers led by 6-3 shooting guard Matt Thomas, who has offers from Minnesota, Iowa State, Creighton and Wisconsin-Green Bay as of now – and had Bo Ryan watching both his games Thursday. Other elite eight matchups include DTA Spartans and Dream Vision, Sports U Team IZOD and Mo-Kan, and Dorian’s Pride against Kingdom Hoops.
by Danny Hazan
July 16, 2011
When running through a list of high school hoops hotbeds, one may rattle off 10 different states before considering Wisconsin.
But these days that would be a gross oversight, and if the classes of 2013 and 2014 are any indication, the state formerly known nationally for it’s cheese and Brett Favre will have a new reputation among basketball fans.
The NY2LA Sports Summer Jam, which concluded Friday, attracted coaches from every major program in college basketball because it gave them a chance to see some of the country’s top uncommitted prospects including Rivals.com’s No. 1 Shabazz Muhammad and No. 5 Mitch McGary compete in Mequon, Wisconsin.
However, the coaches from big programs across the country most likely left with several 2012, 2013 and 2014 Wisconsin prospects on their radar.
While the highest rated 2013 prospect from the state, La Crosse Aquinas point guard Bronson Koenig, wasn’t in attendance another 6-foot-3 combo guard emerged as a highly coveted prospect.
Onalaska’s Matt Thomas already held offers from Minnesota, Iowa State, Creighton, Northern Iowa and Wisconsin-Green Bay, but after displaying arguably the sweetest stroke at the Summer Jam he’s since picked up an offer from Boston College and Marquette.
Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan and an assistant, along with many more including assistants from Notre Dame and Marquette, spent Thursday tracking Thomas and it won’t be a surprise if they all begin to put on the press.
Despite coming from a relatively small school of 800 students, Thomas wasn’t remotely deterred by all the eyes on him. Following impressive freshman and sophomore campaigns on varsity, the attention is nothing new.
“I try to play it like any other game because I get quite of bit of coverage with my high school, so (I’m used to it),” said Thomas, who runs with the Wisconsin Playmakers on the club circuit.
While Thomas is virtually automatic from behind the three-point line if he catches the rock with any space, he showed the ability to create off the bounce and continues to try to prove he is not a one-trick pony.
“I can play both positions and don’t really feel more comfortable with one or the other,” Thomas said. “When I was growing up I was more of a point, but now I’m starting to be more of a two. I’m still working on my ball handling and getting to the rim, and not just shooting.”
Aside from Koenig and Thomas, the 2013 class includes several other players with big offers already including Milwaukee Dominican’s 6-3 guard Duane Wison (Marquette), Germantown’s 6-9 forward Luke Fischer (Indiana, Marquette, Drake, Creighton), 6-7 wing Nick Fuller (Marquette), Berlin’s 6-9 Toby Hegner (Iowa State, Marquette) and Milwaukee native Deonte Burton who preps at Brewster Academy and could end up as the best of the bunch.
Summer Jam event organizer, and CEO of NY2LA Sports, Antonio Curro has been involved in the Wisconsin grassroots scene for nearly a decade and the class of 2013 stands out to him as the best.
“I would say the 2013 class in the state of Wisconsin is the deepest class, in terms of upper mid to high major talent in the Midwest,” Curro said. “It goes nine to 10 deep. Obviously there are a lot of high major schools looking at them. I’d probably say it’s the deepest pool of high major talent we’ve had in this state in years that I can remember.”
Not to be outdone, the state’s class of 2014 represented at the Summer Jam also proved to be evidence for Wisconsin’s claim as a ‘basketball-state’ through and through. Most of them all played for the Milwaukee Running Rebels, and attend Hamilton during the school year.
Kevon Looney, a wiry and athletic 6-7 small forward, already has a good feel offensively and defensively and has received the most interest so far. Looney hasn’t begun to think about college and is just focused on getting better. As it stands now, he has the tools to turn into a five-star caliber type recruit.
“I got offers from Wisconsin and Marquette and they’re showing the most interest,” Looney said. “I got letters from Georgetown and some from Iowa, but that’s about it so far. I’m going to think about all that stuff later. I am just trying to improve my three point range, get stronger and faster and in better shape so I can play longer.”
The Running Rebels won the NY2LA Next Level Invitational 17’s Platinum division on July 9. The fact that most of the team is made up by 2013, 2014 and even one 2015 kid did not matter. While 2012 former Iowa State-commitment Elgin Cook and 2011 6-7 perimeter threat Darnell Harris are huge parts of their success, the underclassmen are just as important.
The diminutive, but equally electric, 2014 5-7 point guard Demontrae Jefferson ran the show along with 2015 point guard Brandon Key. Both exhibited advanced handle to go with jet-like quickness. Key still has some work to do on his perimeter game – what 14 year old doesn’t? – but Jefferson knocked down shots all tournament.
His four consecutive first-half three pointers set the tone for the Running Rebels 65-60 victory over the Eric Gordon All-Stars which featured Purdue-bound point guard Ronnie Johnson and highly coveted combo guard D.J. Ballentine. Jefferson finished with 21 points, and a second attempt at a transition play where he’d jump up and put the ball between his legs before scooping a lob.
Even though Cook’s dunk rimmed out, the confidence and joy Jefferson exuded on the court was clear to everyone watching the game.
(Note: despite that miss, Cook made the gym explode on numerous occasions with a lot of dunks and the posterization of the tournament that can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?
“I just want to have fun,” said Jefferson, who along with Key could be part of Hamilton’s backcourt next season. “If I’m irritated, I’m not going to have a good game and people aren’t going to respect me. I take it serious but I like to have fun with it.
“We were looking forward to playing (Dream Vision). Honestly, (rankings) don’t mean anything. It’s all about the defenders. We aren’t scared of anybody. It’s going to be a fight, always. If we hit first, that’s it. If they hit us first and we don’t hit back then we lost the fight.”
The Rebels got solid contributions from a pair of 6-5, 2014, Hamilton products Jerrell Savage and David Burrell. Hamilton fell to eventual state champion Madison Memorial last season in the semifinals, but only Cook, Savage and Looney played on that team.
Jefferson is eager to get the chance to join his club teammates on varsity, along with the incoming freshman Key.
“This isn’t the firs time we’ve played together,” Jefferson said. “We’ve been playing together since fifth grade. Now that he’s coming to Hamilton, that’s a lot more pressure off me. When I’m tired he can go and get it, and when he’s tired I can go get it. We both can score, pass and make plays. Having Kevon at the three is like automatic points. He’s making Brandon and me look good.”
Curro also stated that the longevity many of the kids in the classes of 2013 and 2014 have had together on the club circuit has contributed to the influx of high major talent from Wisconsin.
“This is the sixth or seventh year of us, in terms of what we’ve done,” Curro said. “There’s a process to that. The kids in the ’13 and ’14 class are really the ones that are kind of our biggest thumb print. We’ve had the most time with them since they were nine years old with camps, tournaments and everything – they’ve grown up through it. You’re starting to see the results because the ’13 class is taking off now. Obviously it’s hard work on their end, but we’ve given them that venue and opportunity. The ’14 class is equally as talented.
“It’s not surprising to me. It’s definitely not a football or hockey state. As long as I’m here, I will do everything I can to help it be as major of a player in basketball as it can, along with the other states and kids I deal with. I want to see nothing but good things for these kids.”
Led by Brookfield Central’s 6-1 point guard Riley LaChance, Ray Allen Select coasted to the 15-and-under Platinum championship. LaChance is a high level shooter, with a great feel for the game as a point guard, but Ray Allen Select was stacked with skilled players and played with more cohesion than any of their competitors.
Thomas, who’s Playmakers fell in the semifinals, has been playing with his teammates from all over the state for several years and embraces the few months he gets to share the same bench with them.
“It’s fun because we’ve been playing together since sixth or seventh grade,” Thomas said. “So we’ve gotten to know each other real well and it’s fun every Spring and Summer to get back and play together.”
So with all the talent spread across the classes of 2013 and 2014, many of which hasn’t been mentioned in this story, the high school hoops scene in Wisconsin figures to be played at as high of a level as any other state in the country this Winter.
I’d mention four star recruits and future Tar Heel J.P. Tokoto and future Badger Sam Dekker from the class of 2012, Madison Memorial’s Junior Lomomba (offers from Baylor, Marquette, Minnesota), 6-8 forward and Northern Illinois-commit Sam Mader or Division I sleeper prospects like Austin Arians (Madison Edgewood), Zak Showalter (Germantown), Arroyo Edwards (Milwaukee King), Matt Van Scyoc (Green Lake), Riley Bambenek (Galesville Ettrick Trempaleau) and Luke Heller (D.C. Everest) to name just a few of many – but hopefully you catch my drift.
His reputation on the summer circuit usually succeeds him.
His stature blends in with the average onlooker. He won’t draw any attention to himself with jaw-dropping displays of athleticism during pre-game layup lines like many of his teammates and competitors.
As quick as most of the opposition dismisses him based on his appearance prior to the tip, Lowell (IN) 6-foot-2 skinny, baby-faced and lights out combo guard Austin Richie is even quicker in making them reassess their initial judgment.
“Obviously I always like being the underdog, but I know I can play with any of these guys,” Richie said. “I just go out like ‘this is what I’ve trained and worked for’ and just do my thing for the most part. But when they underestimate me, and I go out and do that it’s fun.”
During the high school season, the opposition knows what a handful Richie can be.
As a junior he averaged 28.8 points per game, good enough to rank him second among all players in the state of Indiana, and got his buckets from everywhere on the court. He also led the state in free-throw shooting percentage as a sophomore with a scorching 95-percent clip. With the rare combination of a silky smooth and quick release, Richie has proven to be a deadly three-point shooter off the catch or off the dribble. If the defense runs him off the arc, he’s got a nice mid-range pull up or a variety of floaters up his sleeve.
“He’s definitely a scorer,” Lowell coach Mike Magley said. “He can score off the pass, off the dribble, coming off screens – there’s a lot of ways he can score.”
The easiest look for him is sometimes the hardest.
“I feel more consistent with the ball in my hands and shooting off the dribble, because that’s what I’ve been required to do on my high school team,” Richie said. “I’m going to be honest, the toughest shot for me to hit is a spot shot.”
“I just don’t get to shoot that shot a lot. Defense doesn’t give me too much breathing room, but also sometimes I let it affect the mental aspect of it. Obviously I’m still a better than average spot shooter though,” he added.
Despite lacking a devastating crossover dribble to create some space, or elite level quickness, his natural instincts with the ball and good court vision allow him to be a steady distributor. However, every so often he’ll snap a no-look or behind the back pass off or leave his defender lunging for nothing with a quick spin move off the bounce.
Normally, all the aforementioned numbers and skills are paired with high school student-athletes already committed to a college after considering several other scholarship offers. Through June, Valparaiso and IUPUI are his only offers.
With the critical July evaluation period open to NCAA coaches just about to start, it’s likely he will be surprising more than his opposition who may be judging a book by it’s cover and garner plenty more offers.
“I’m trying more and more not to get stressed out about stuff like that,” said Richie, who also has Missouri State, Richmond, LaFayette, Portland and Northern Iowa interested. “It can get pretty stressful with a recruit like me who isn’t ‘the high major’ or getting a lot of hype. I’m just always striving to do my best. At the end of the day there’s more to life than basketball, all you can worry about is yourself and going out and doing your best.”
Richie’s junior season earned him All-conference and honorable mention all state honors and included a 50-point explosion against Hammond, and a 41 point performance in a win against Kankakee Valley in which he broke his hand before half-time (he scored 25 after the break). However his personal accomplishments were clouded by an early exit in the post season with a first round loss to Munster.
“We lost two games early, but then we got on the right track,” he explained. “When our football players go into the flow of everything, we won a few gaems in a row. We were just getting into a good rhythm, then I broke my hand midway through the season with some of our biggest games against Munster and Merrillville coming up, and they just smacked us. “
“Then I made it back for the last five games including the Sectional. We finished off pretty strong, but we still had Munster first round and lost.”
Besides an improvement in the win-loss column, Richie anticipates a spike in his all-around game – much like the one he saw between two years ago and this past season.
“Personally, I think it’s night and day from my sophomore season to junior season,” Richie said. “Obviously a lot of defense is effort, but I’ve been building some strength, speed and agility. I’ve been working out with my trainer for about a year and half now, and he’s got me doing some good stuff. So, I think next year it will be the same thing with more improvement.”
His tireless training and relentlessness on the court are two traits that have been a fixture in his young career, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise based on who he’s grown up around.
“I’m extremely competitive in everything I do, it’s not even funny,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve been like that since I was younger, especially growing up with my two older brothers. They kicked my butt.”
Older brothers Nate and Aaron played collegiately at Drake and IPFW, respectively. Following them off the court, and on, has had an immense impact on Austin.
“They’ve helped me build strong character and set really good examples for me as a human being,” Richie said. “But a lot of that is learned through basketball, especially strong character and stuff like that. I would not be where I am today without my brothers or my dad helping me out.”
As he prepares for the critical July evaluation period on the club circuit with northwest Indiana based CAPS All-Stars, coached by his brother Nate, that includes at least four different tournaments attended by every big time program in the country – Austin Richie is determined to let his play do his talking.
“When I was younger I sat down and made a list of goals for myself, and I set ten of them,” Richie said. “I put them in my dresser and I’ll look at them from time to time. Things like being an Indiana all-star, winning a state championship, play division-one basketball, and things of that sort are things I always thought were obtainable and still obtainable. So from an early age those are what I’ve strived for and am still striving for.”
By the time Richie concludes his final summer showcasing his ability on the court all over the country in front of potential future college coaches, and his final season playing high school hoops in the Hoosier state, it’s a safe bet he will be able to cross a few more things off the checklist in his dresser.
“I think he’s very capable of being a D1 player,” Magley said. “He’s got the work ethic, the grades, and the ability. I think he’s going to be a fine catch for somebody.”
UPDATE: Since being published, Richie picked up scholarship offers from Bucknell, Lafayette, Hartford, Appalachian State, and Portland after a strong showing in his first tournament of July in Indianapolis.
He followed that up with another great performance in Highland, IN over a three-day stretch, with plenty of college coaches looking on. His 35 points, and 30-foot tiebreaking and game winning three-pointer at the buzzer in the championship game against Baylor probably left a last impression on whatever coaches and fellow competitors were still around to see him go to work.
After playing his first season of AAU with Ft. Sooy No Limit, during the summer of 2003, Justin Cerasoli cemented his status as a top 100 player in the country.
Thanks to his strong performance on the AAU circuit alongside backcourt running mate Shaun Livingtson, Cerasoli secured an invite to the prestigious ABCD All American camp. His peers at the camp such as Dwight Howard, Sebastian Telfair, Josh Smith, and a slew of other highly rated players were shoe-ins to the camp’s all-star game because of their names, not their performance during the camp. Cerasoli separated himself from the other hundred camp participants to earn a final spot in the camp’s all-star game thanks to his strong play. With that, came a bunch of scholarship offers from big-time programs from all over the country.
What seems like a typical story of any top 100 recruit is anything but for Justin Cerasoli. Cerasoli, a 6-foot-5 point guard who possesses great handle and excellent court vision, started his high school career at Providence St. Mel in Chicago. He started attending the small private school as a sixth grader. At that point, St. Mel had one of the better basketball teams in the city under head coach Billy Garrett. By the time Cerasoli started high school, Garrett had gone onto the college ranks at Seton Hall.
After his sophomore year at St. Mel, Justin transferred to West Aurora to go to school with a lot of kids he grew up with. As a senior, Cerasoli helped lead his team to an appearance in the 2004 Class AA elite eight in Peoria. Current New Orleans Hornet Julian Wright, and his Homewood Flossmoor Vikings, defeated West Aurora in the semi-finals. After a third place finish downstate, Cerasol chose to play collegiately for Garrett at Seton Hall over several other offers from prestigious programs.
“I was an All-American coming out of high school,” Cerasoli explained. “I played in the EA Sports Roundball Classic. I had a lot of schools after me. I ended up choosing Seton Hall. They weren’t on my list originally, but they made me a lot of promises about playing there. Plus, my old high school coach Billy Garrett was there and he was the one recruiting me.”
Cerasoli’s AAU teammate, Shaun Livingston, entered the NBA draft after their senior year of high school, along with several other players Cerasoli competed with that previous summer. Cerasoli, like many kids who grow up with a love for basketball, also had NBA aspirations. Admittedly, he entered college with the wrong mindset.
“A lot of my peers went straight from high school to the NBA,” Cerasoli said. “Honestly, my focus going into Seton Hall wasn’t right. I went in with the mindset of probably pulling a one-and-done because the coaches had promised me a lot of playing time. Had they told me the truth on how they would’ve played me, I probably wouldn’t have ended up there.”
Since it was his first time being away from home for an extended period of time, and away from his family and friends, Justin had a difficult time handling the new experience.
“I can say that I didn’t really know how to handle a lot of situations,” Cerasoli said. “It just wasn’t a good fit for me over there because I had felt like I had been tricked into going to Seton Hall. It was a good learning experience though.”
All was not lost for Justin during his freshman season. He was able to contribute to the team and had several good games. His minor successes gave him the opportunity to transfer to Mississippi the following season to play in the SEC. He felt comfortable with their coaching staff, Rob Barnes and Tracy Dildy, because they had recruited him out of high school.
Per NCAA transfer rules, Justin would have to sit out a year before he could gain eligibility. It seemed as if he had a fresh start playing in a major conference.
Between the time he arrived on campus, to the time he gained eligibility, much had changed. The coaching staff that recruited Cerasoli was fired, and Andy Kennedy was brought in as the replacement. On top of that, he broke his wrist during the summer prior to the season he would be eligible.
“We had a new coach come in, and I broke my wrist going into the school year. I wasn’t able to condition or lift weights with the team. I basically went straight out of the cast onto the basketball court. I played a few games, but I just wasn’t ready,” Cerasoli explained.
Soon after the start of the season, Justin sat down with coach Andy Kennedy. They came to a mutual understanding that it would be best to part ways. Kennedy, who Cerasoli still has great respect for as a person and coach, needed to be able to bring in players he recruited. Justin headed back to his home in Chicago discouraged, and unsure of his future.
“When I left Ole’ Miss, I was really done with basketball,” he said. “I was already looking for jobs, and stuff like that. My pops spoke with some people, and the opportunity at Loyola came about.”
With two years of eligibility remaining, Justin Cerasoli had reservations about playing at Loyola. Family support, and his unwavering love for the game of basketball ultimately were the reasons he chose to play for Loyola. However, just like his previous two stops, Loyola gave him an entirely new learning experience.
The culture of the program at a division-one program like Loyola is much different than those in the major conferences. The adjustment Justin had to make fitting into that program was tough.
“That really showed me a different side of basketball,” Cerasoli said. “The whole mindset is different when you go to a low-major school. The emphasis on basketball is different. Coming from two schools from big conferences, where the focus is all about winning basketball games, that wasn’t the case at Loyola. At Loyola it was about playing hard, and working harder than the next guy.
“We could lose a game and it’d be O.K. if we had a week of good practices. That was different for me. Because of that me and my coach didn’t always see eye to eye. We had a good relationship and everything, but we had differences because that was something that was new to me. It was fun for me though for the simple fact that I love to play basketball.”
Justin ended up having a subpar junior and senior year by his own standards. He averaged about 13 points per game, and led the team in steals. After finishing up his collegiate career at Loyola, Cerasoli has kept training to reach his dream. Right now, he’s looking at options to play overseas or in the NBA’s developmental league.
The path, former high school All-American, Justin Cerasoli’s career has taken is not the one he expected. However, it gave him a chance to learn from all the different environments he played in. Whether it was his first and only summer on the AAU circuit, sitting behind a point guard solely because the kid played his high school ball for a coach who has a lot of pull in the state the college is located, or playing for a school with little national exposure, Justin took something out of each experience.
Ideally every player with several scholarship offers would want to pick one school, have a successful career and a shot at playing professionally. Realistically, that is not always the case. Cerasoli’s experience taught him a lot about how things can work, and offered a little advice to those who might be in a similar position he was in as a senior in high school; someone who wanted to play a lot right away.
“I never really understood the politics that came with college basketball. I always thought my talent would get me where I needed to go. I would just tell anyone to do their research, and look at the guys ahead of them. Also try and get as good a feel for the coach as possible in that short period of time. It’s really all a crap-shoot at the end of the day,” said Cerasoli.
Leo’s class of 2010 combo guard, Isaac Smith III, is one of the most underrated players in the city of Chicago. The 6’2” guard will be depended upon to take over the leadership role of the Lion squad that made it to the 3A final four last season. With all-state guard James Pointer graduated, Smith may be asked to handle the point guard duties a lot. He hasn’t run the point for much of his high school career, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t ready.
“I just have step up and be a leader now. I’m used to him (Pointer) being the leader, but now I just have to work hard in practice with the younger players and play strong,” Smith explained.
Smith’s strong work ethic includes daily workouts in the gym over the summer. He started training with Steve Pratt, of Full Package Athletics, in the Spring of 2008. Since then, his offensive game has improved from being primarily a slasher to a capable shooter and distributor.
Currently playing with Pratt’s Chicago Elite travel team, Smith displayed great passing ability in the open court during the first part of the summer circuit. While he is still streaky from three-point range, he has great lift and rotation on his jumper. He also has the ability to be a lock down defender due to his speed and long arms. College coaches started to take notice of Smith’s play at the Chicago Summer Classic in early July. If Smith can prove he can handle the point this upcoming winter for Leo, plenty of division one colleges will be knocking on his door.
Carbondale’s Bruce Barron, 6’3’’, is making a name for himself as one of the best point guards in the state. Barron attends Brehm Prep in downstate Illinois and plays for the Illinois Titans over the summer. With ideal size, speed, and strength for a point guard, Barron combines that with an excellent feel for the position and a versatile skill set.
Besides coach Aaron Lee at Brehm, Barron has had another great teacher starting at an early age. Barron credits his older brother Justin Dentmon for the motivation to keep getting better. Last spring, Dentmon finished a successful collegiate career in the Pac-10 where he started at point guard for Washington.
“I grew up watching my brother play basketball. I saw him make it, and put it in my head that I was going to do the same thing he did. I wanted to follow in his footsteps, but be better than he was,” Barron said.
Even though they haven’t played one on one as much as they used to. Barron still admits he has some work to do.
“We played a couple times, and I beat him once. But when it comes down to it, I say he’ll beat me,” Barron said with a laugh.
Barron explained he was working on doing a better job attacking the basket this summer, and not relying on his outside shot too much. During the Chicago Summer Classic, in front of hundreds of college coaches, Barron got into the lane at will. He had plenty of weapons to distribute the ball too. The Illinois Titans start two wings over 6’5’’ who can shoot the lights out, and 6’6’’ James Siakam who finishes everything around the rim.
Before the spring, a fan wouldn’t have been able to find Bruce Barron’s name on any of the website’s that rank players in the state. After the club circuit concludes in August, a fan won’t be able to find a list where he isn’t in the top 10.
Seemingly every summer a player from the state of Illinois emerges from being unknown to a high division-one college prospect. Players such as Bobby Frasor and Iman Shumpert went from local standouts, to being recruited by the top programs in college basketball after strong performances on the club basketball circuit. This spring has provided fans with a good look at how deep the 2010 and 2011 classes are in the state of Illinois.
Below are some names of players scouting services, rankings websites, and fans should all start paying closer attention too. As the summer progresses, this list is sure to expand.
Charles McKinney, 6’2”, Maine East (Full Package Athletics)
Kashaune McKinney, 6’3”, Rich East (Illinois Wolverines)
Bruce Barron, 6’3”, Brehm Prep (Illinois Titans)
Isaac Smith III, 6’2”, Leo (Chicago Elite)
Duje Dukan, 6’8”, Deerfield (Chicago Elite)