|King James Shooting stars-8th Grade Champions|
On Sunday, I made my way up to the Cleveland area to cover SMAC’s Grand Nationals. The 3-day event hosted 57 boys teams in grades 4th-varsity, including 17 girls teams from 6-8th grades. The tournament sites included John Carroll University, Gilmore Academy and Garfield Heights HS.
In the 8th grade division, a loaded King James Shooting Stars team cruised through the tournament on their way to the title. It’s important to note, the Shooting Stars have expanded their roster by adding DB Hoops Jackson’s top players. Specifically, Joining Tervell Beck, Anthony Christian and Derek Funderburk on the King James squad are Willie Jackson, Keith Griffin and Ronald Jones Jr.; 3 of the state’s top players. On championship Sunday, King James crushed a James Manns-led Hope All-Stars 60-31 in the semi-finals. The championship game pitted King James against SMAC Primetime. Other than the Shooting Stars, SMAC was one of the bigger teams in the tournament, boasting a front line that featured 6’7 Omari Spellman from North Royalton and 6’8 Mark Kostelac from Richmond Heights.
The game got off to a slow start, as neither team scored a bucket until the 12:14 mark. Faced with a King James team loaded with height and athleticism, SMAC countered with a 2-3 zone. Despite the zone, King James raced out to a 7-2 start by the 9:25 mark then made a run which ran their lead to 17-3 with 7:53 left in the opening period. Very early in the contest it was obvious that King James’ length was giving the SMAC guards problems defensively. With about 3:50 left in the period, the gamesmanship started, as King James spread the floor and held the ball, hoping to draw SMAC out of their zone. Although they were down 23-12, the SMAC coaching staffed refused to come out and engage King James as the clock ran down 1:80. King James then called a time out, and with 35 seconds left in the half, King James initiated their offense. After Yavari Hall (6’2 SF from Warrensville), missed on a jumper, and SMAC’s Deven Stover did the same on the other end, Willie Jackson received an outlet pass and finished with a breakaway dunk to put his team ahead up 25-12 at the half.
Despite some “trickeration” from the SMAC coaching staff (they set up defensively on the wrong side of the court), King James sniffed out the deception and inbounded the ball on the correct side of the court before, Keith Griffin hit a jumper to open the second period. Although SMAC would make several runs to cut the lead to single digits, King James would eventually step on the gas for good to extend the lead. By the end of the game, and despite a 14 point effort from Deven Stover, King James would claim the title with a 45-35 win.
|Keith Griffin-Player of the Game|
I don't know how many points he had (individual stats were not kept), but my player of the game was Keith Griffin, a 5’10 PG from Shaker Heights, who was clearly the engine for his team. Griffin scored when open, distributed the rock to his teammates and provided a steady hand to his team during adversity. This is the first time I’ve seen Griffin, but his play was as good as advertised. Griffin proved he could shoot the rock as he knocked down multiple treys. In addition, he handles the ball well, has no problems getting into the paint where he can employ a nice looking floater or find a cutting teammate. I think it’s safe to say, Griffin’s name needs to be mentioned along with the other elite PGs in the state. I was also really impressed with the play of Ronald Jones, who was the 7th man off the King James bench. Although he is a bit undersized for his position, Jones is strong, aggressive and finishes well with contact. Willie Jackson did some nice things in the game, and Derek Funderburk was productively defensively. Because of his slender frame, Funderburk played more on the perimeter rather than posting up and banging down low. Yavari Hall was first off the bench, and contributed just enough to confirm the reports I had received about his talent. Tervell Beck showed glimpse of his potential as did Anthony Christian. If the coaches can coral these kids and mold them into a focused, team-oriented team, the sky is the limit!
|Omari Spellman-Worth Watching|
Keep an eye out for 6’7 Omari Spellman; this kid has a ton of potential. Already blessed with good height, the 226 pound center also has skill, athleticism, good feet, a soft touch and blocks a ton of shots. In this evaluator’s opinion, Spellman projects well as a long-term college level post player. His SMAC teammate, Mark Kostelac, is not as far along as Spellman in terms of his skill set, and does not possess the same athleticism, but at 6’8 and only a rising freshman, he has a chance to play at least some small college basketball if he continues to develop. Finally, both Deven Stover and Justin Layne play big roles for SMAC Primetime.
My good friend Reggie Stover helped me out by watching some guys, and he informed me that ICC Truth out of Rochester, New York has a couple of players worth spotlighting. Melvin Grayson, a 6’3 PF from Rochester has a great low post game, is very skilled around the basket and plays physical on both ends of the court. Tyreik Snow, a 6’4 center from Rochester has a high motor and is relentless around the cup. Only 14, Snow is a high volume rebounder with super potential.
In the Varsity division, a few players from Team Elyria caught my eye, including Lou Cheers (6’5 WF Loraine) and Andre Phillips (6’0 PG Loraine). Other guys with potential on that team include Jason Moore (6’1 combo Oberlin) and Tyler Ridell (6’0 SG Eleryia). Later I will be posting a story about some of the results from the lower divisions.