Thursday, October 23, 2014

AAU Makes Sweeping Changes


For as many years as I can remember, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) has allowed teams to have at least 3 grade exceptions per team. Well, that long-standing practice has apparently changed, and will have a significant impact on travel basketball.  According to a very reliable source, at their annual board meeting in Fort Lauderdale, FL last week, the AAU changed their rules to prohibit any grade exceptions in ages 7-14 effective immediately. 

As we all know, the key to placing high at the AAU Nationals is often about the number and quality of a team’s grade exceptions.  With this new model, teams will be forced to refigure, as kids are forced to play on teams based on their age.  Any many cases, teams will lose their best 3 players who will now be forced to find teams in their own age. The specific details of the rule changes are not yet known, but any way you cut it, the face of middle school basketball will change forever.

Undoubtedly, the impetus for such a dramatic change could be directly related to the number of cheating scandals AAU experienced this past summer. Those of us who follow travel basketball closely know the players, organizations and situations that could be responsible for AAU’s dramatic shift in policy.  If you think about it, hundreds of teams participate in AAU Nationals every year, and of those hundreds of teams, about a quarter of those teams are the truly elite, have quality grade exceptions, and have a realistic chance of winning it all. Consequently, AAU was faced with allowing a few teams at the very top to negatively affect the majority of the “middle of the road” type teams who are really generating most of the revenue.


We will all wait to see the ramification of the rule changes and time will only tell how teams and organizations will respond. Programs like the National Youth basketball League (NYBL) could be part of the answer for many teams, as their bylaws place no restrictions on grade exceptions.  For many parents, who have tired of all the hype and exposure given to the so called grade exceptions, this news will be a God send, and will help even the playing field for their child. Hold on folks, things are about to get really interesting!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tier 1 Middle School Showcase-Recap

Sydney Curry, DJ Dials, Josiah Hutchens, Devontae. Blanton & Zeb Jackson
With the start of the middle school basketball season only a few short weeks away, players are still taking advantage of fall leagues and showcases to work on their game and to prepare for the season.  On Saturday, Quincy Simpson held his annual Tier 1 Middle School Showcase at Lima Senior High School in Lima, Ohio. Although the numbers were down a bit from last year (about 100), there were still some quality players in the gym. The event kicked off with about 3 hours of skills and drills, followed by 3 rounds of games and culminated with all-star games later in the day.

The best player we saw all day was Sydney Curry (6’5/ PF/C/ Indiana/ 2019).  Yes we are talking about the Sydney Curry who had several big time performances with George Hill in the National Youth Basketball League (NYBL) this past season.  In Lima on Saturday, Curry was a man among boys and had no challengers in the low post.  Big, strong and physical in the post, Curry put up big numbers around the basket. As strong as Curry is, he has a super soft touch around the cup.  He’s not just a superb lost post scorer, Curry passed the ball well for a big, and reminds us of Kevin Love with his ability to deliver outlet passes on a dime.  If that wasn't enough, Curry can also step out side and hit the jumper if left open.  It's no wonder that the King James coaching staff was all over Curry and his mother at the event, the kid's a real talent!

Curry wasn’t the only star at the event, as David “DJ” Dials (5’6 /PG /South Euclid /2019) showed up and reminded folks why some consider him to be one of the top 2-3 lead guards in the state in his class.  Not only can Dials get you buckets, his ability to create for teammates is significant. In Lima, Dials put his team on his back several times and kept them in games. Dials has the rock on a string and uses his elite handle and dribble moves to break down defenders to get into the paint to get his drive and dish game off, or to create space for his own shot.  At the end of the day, it’s unfortunate that the rest of the county has seen so little of dials’ talent! There were a few "under the radar" guys who made some noise on Saturday as well, including:  Josiah Hutchens (5'11/ WF Sidney /2019); Braylon Mitchell (5'7/ P/SG /Reynoldsburg /2019); Anthony Mazzeo (5'7 /PG /Massillon); Jaleel King (6'0/ W/PF /Gahanna/ 2019); Ryan Martin (5'7 /SG/ Ayersville 2091); Tahleik Walker (5'4 /SG/ Pickerington /2020) and Sol Hines (5'8/ SG/ Reynoldsburg /2019), all of whom had some good moments on Saturday.

One of the biggest surprises of the day was the growth and progression of Devontae Blanton (6’1/ WF /Cleveland /2020).  Blanton is not only long, agile and athletic, he showed a lot of skill and ability to finish at a high rate around the cup.  Blanton also can handle the rock in the open court and is productive in transition. The brother of former Michigan State star Delvon Roe, Blanton has the genetics and upside to follow in his older brother’s footsteps.  It’s early, but college coaches might want to make a note of Blanton’s potential.  Toledo's Zeb Jackson (5'4 /PG /2020) was on his game on Saturday. Jackson has total command of the rock and knows how to separate from defenders in order to get his shot.  A killer crossover is his primary weapon, but he has a number of dribble moves at his disposal to create offense.  Fianl analysis, Jackson's national rep was well deserved from what we saw in Lima.

The Tier 1 event always seems to attract a lot good young talent, and this year was no exception. West Lake’s Seth Wilson (5’8 /PG /2021) rolled thorough and played up in the 7th/8th division.  Wilson is widely considered to be one of the top 5 players in the class of 2021 and his play on Saturday proved that his success translates at the higher grade level.  In his class, Wilson is a big guard who uses his size and strength to get to the rack. Against the older kids, Wilson’s poise, IQ and playmaking ability were on display.  Oh, Wilson still got to the cup and scored, but his understanding of the game and savvy were more evident.  Finally, we were very impressed with the way Wilson handled himself against the older kids; he was not at all intimidated.
 
K. Buford, S. Wilson, K. Luster, S. Jones, B. Williams & J Mobley,  
Another day, another gym and another standout performance by John Mobley Jr. (4’7/ PG/ Columbus /2024).  From here on out, when we refer to Mobley we will use the nickname “The Show.”  Why you ask, because the kid puts on a show every time we see him play, and we see him a lot. Mobley’s handle is ridiculous, as is his IQ and play making ability.  Unlike some, Mobley uses his elite handle effectively, and is very productive either getting his shot or getting a teammate a good look.  "The Show" is also exciting to watch, as most fans are simply amazed at the kid’s skill set and swag at such a young age.  If he does not get caught up in the madness that can be youth basketball, Mobley has a chance to be really good. Remember the name,  John "The Show" Mobley Jr. is the real deal!

Despite what some might think, we love to write about new kids when their performance warrants recognition.  Kobe Buford (5’7/ PF/C /Dublin /2021) has caught our eye a couple of times in the last couple of weeks.  In Lima, Buford displayed great low post footwork and a soft touch around the basket. Because you never know if kids will continue to grow, the fact he has good shot mechanics and can handle the ball on the perimeter will only enhance his game. He didn’t really have much competition in the post on Saturday, but it was still clear the kid has game.  It should be noted that Buford took home MVP honors after a great all-star game performance.

We are really starting to love Kahlil Luster’s (4’5/ PG /Lima /2022) game.  He’s diminutive,  but like they say, “good things come in small packages.”  Luster is another guard with an elite handle;   however, he rarely over dribbles and clearly understands how to use his gift to find open teammates or to create scoring opportunities for himself.  Luster rarely turns the rock over by playing with it, and he consentingly makes the right decision with the ball.  Luster knows what he’s doing out there, and represents the type of PG other players want to play with.  He got busy at the Buckeye Prep Elite Showcase last month and he logged in another top performance on Saturday. 

Sean Jones (4’9 /PG /Columbus /2022) had another good day and did nothing to hurt his state and national rep.  We haven’t highlighted him before, but Bryce Williams (4’8 /PG /Fishers, IN /2022),  had a lot of fans at the event, as several people approached us about the kid’s talent. From what I saw, they were right. Williams shoots the ball well, has good fundementals and knows how to run a team.  Williams has good vision and the ability to deliver the ball on time and on target.  Definitely a player to watch going forward.  I have to give a shout out to Quincy Clark (5’0/ PG /Gahanna /2021).  Clark showed a nice skill set, poise and a high basketball IQ.  From what I saw, Tony Stiab’s Gahanna Lincoln Golden Lions could have another quality PG heading to the program in a couple of year. It’s no secret we love Gahanna kids!  All-in-all, the Tier 1 Middle School Showcase represented a great day of basketball.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Kennedy's Stock on the Rise

Isaiah Kennedy
The old adage, "keep working hard, someone will notice you," can be attributed to the recent rise of Isaiah Kennedy (5'8 P/SG Beavercreek 2020).  Only 1 year ago Kennedy was balling in virtual obscurity in the Dayton, Ohio area, but 1 year later some media have him ranked  among the top 50 players in the country in the class of 2020 (Prolific Performance #46).  In Ohio, Kennedy is easily top 10 good. It's no accident, Kennedy has taken his talent on the road  and has logged in impressive performances in several elite events.  Not only did he lock down Top 5 Award honors at the Buckeye Prep Elite Showcase last month, he put in work at the Future Phenom Camp in D.C. a few months ago, and has performed well in several local Nike events locally, and was a standout out at Quincy Simpson's Tier 1 Middle School Showcase last October.

Kennedy has a nice frame and good size for a PG, but because he is more of a scoring threat than a playmaker right now, Kennedy can slide to the 2 and still be productive. We've seen him have some success with his shot, but his claim to fame is his ability to use his size and strength to bully his way to the basket.  Most big guards struggle with their handle, but that's not a problem for Kennedy.  He does not necessarily have the rock on the string, but he is too strong to get ripped on a consistent basis. If he continues to grow and to hone his skill set, Kennedy could be a good looking guard prospect going forward.

You can catch Kennedy in action in the National Youth Basketball League (NYBL) next year, as he will be running with the King James Shooting Stars, where he will be teamed with Grant Huffman (5'8 SG Aurora) and Devonte Blanton (5'9 WF Cleveland). With the added competition in the NYBL, Kennedy will have the opportunity to compete against the nations's best, which will only accelerate his development. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Jackson Shines on the Big Stage

Hunter Jackson
Once you have an opportunity to perform on the big stage, you had better take advantage it. Hunter Jackson (5'9 WG Indiana 2020) did just that recently while participating in the NYBL All-Star Weekend and Buckeye Prep Elite Showcase.  Jackson's opportunity came during the waining minutes of the 2020 NYBL vs The Nation all-star game when he scored 6 points with under a minute left in the game to lift his team to a 37-34 victory (see highlight video).  Jackson's combination of skill, strength and aggressiveness was the difference in the win.  For the game, Jackson was the second leading scorer behind Donovan Billings (14 points) with 10 points.

Jackson has been on big stages before and has excelled.  In fact, most evaluators have him ranked in the top 20 nationally (Prolific Performance #15).  Jackson shoots well off the bounce, can employ a nice looking floater, has an elite handle, and uses his strength to finish at the cup with contact.  He's not just a scorer, as evidenced in the above video. Jackson is a problem defensively, as his on-baIl pressure is intense. Bottom line, Jackson is tough as nails! In the showcase portion of the event Jackson played up in the 8th grade division and was still one of the better players on his squad. As a member of George Hill, Jackson has earned his rep ballin against the best teams in the country.  If his performance in Columbus last month proved anything,  it's that Jackson has a bright future if he continues to work hard and develop.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Jeremiah Keene Still Under the Radar

Jeremiah Keene
By now, many of Ohio's elite 8th graders have been featured on this and other websites on numerous occasions.  However, because it is still very early for players in the class of 2019, there are still a number of very talented guys who are still flying under the radar and who have not yet been discovered. Columbus, Ohio has always produced great basketball talent, and Jeremiah Keene (5'11 PG Columbus) should be considered among the best in Central Ohio right now. A crafty lead guard with a tight handle and a nice mid-range and 3-point shot, Keene had not emerged on the national stage until his standout performance at the recent Buckeye Prep Elite Showcase last month.

Although he ran with the Ohio Hoopsters and competed among the country's elite in the National Youth Basketball League (NYBL) this past season, it was not until his all-star selection and Top 5 Award winning performance in September that the basketball community finally started to recognise his true talent.  Keene serves as the engine and the primary distributor for the Hoopsters, and not only can he shoot the rock, he gets ample paint touches on his drives, and is an able and willing passer. He may not be a household name just yet, but with continued growth and development, Keene has a chance to be playing college basketball in a few years.  Jeremiah Keene, welcome to the big stage!