|King James Shooting-#1 Ranking 8th Grade Team|
Although the AAU season is really only about 4 weeks old, several middle school travel teams have already started to separate themselves from the pack, and the AAU landscape is just starting to become a littler clearer. Having scouted several major events recently, including the Nike Grassroots, Buckeye Prep Invitational and Bearcat Classic, I’m a little more comfortable publishing my initial rankings of the top middle school teams in the state. As a disclaimer, I have not seen a couple of teams in each respective class a whole lot, so there is still a slight margin of error. However, with the King James Classic scheduled to tip off next week the picture may become a little clearer.
Let’s start with the 8th grade division. Right now, I’m giving the #1 nod to the King James Shooting Stars. They won the Nike Grassroots tournament that hosted several of the state’s top teams, and in the championship game, they squeaked by All-Ohio Red despite having amassed an early, double digit lead. They also won their own tournament in Cincinnati a few weeks ago. King James’ roster is loaded with top 30 talent, including Tommy Schmock (one of the top 2-3 PGs in the state), Jaylen Harris (arguably the top kid in his class along with Logan Hill) and Kelvin Calhoun II (one of the top bigs in Ohio). The # 2 spot is really close, but I have to go with Dayton’s Next Level. They lost in the semi-finals of the Grassroots, but they beat a very good M.A.T.T.S. Mustangs team in the championship game of the Buckeye Prep Invitational. Next Level has several top 30 players of their own including: Danny Davis, L’ Christian Smith, Ethan Bradds and Ryan Proffit.
All-Ohio Red is in at the 3rd spot. Red has not claimed a title yet, but they have been in the hunt. Besides Logan Hill, All-Ohio’s best players may reside outside of the state, with both Paris Ford and Kenny Robinson driving in from Pittsburgh to run with Red. It’s hard to rank OBC 4th with all of the talent they have on that team; plus the fact they finished so high at the AAU Nationals last year. However, at this point in the season, no one has really seen them play. They passed on 2 of the biggest tournaments of the season so far, so it’s hard to gage exactly where they are right now. With that said, they did have a great showing at the OBBL last weekend, and actually played up a grade. That goes a long ways, but until they match up against one of the top 3 teams in the state, it’s tough to say just how good they are this season. Their top 30 players include: Tyrell Ajain (arguably the top floor general in the class), Dylan Dupler, Jaden Sayles (a big with serious upside), Antwon Smith Jr., Tyler Knetch and Trey Pugh. No disrespect to OBC, but if you care where you are ranked in the state, your schedule has to include tournaments where you are likely to play the other top teams. I have to assume they will play in the King James Classic; if so, they could move up with a good showing.
|Queen City Prophets-# 1 Ranked 7th Grade Team|
There should be little debate relative to the top spot in the 7th grade division, as the Queen City Prophets (QCP) has owned the division so far this season, with 3 tournament victories that I know about. A virtual unknown last season, QCP has added possibly the top point guard in the class in Kane Cooper, plus the top big in the class in EJ Williams (who has really gotten better); then throw in the sleeper of the year in Middletown’s Xavier Peters, and you have a dominate force. Right behind QCP is Murphy AC who has played the bride’s maiden to QCP twice this year so far. Like QCP, Murphy AC is athletic, brings a lot of pressure, and likes to get up and down the court. However, until they solve the EJ Williams puzzle and find a way to contain Cooper and Peters, they might be spending a lot of time at number 2! Murphy AC’s top 30 guys include: Jerry Higgins, Coryon Rice, Dwayne Cohill Jr., Tyree Harris, Yael Hill and Derrick Veasley Jr.
I saw a lot of SMAC U this past weekend, and I really like the way that team is constructed with Cooper Crawford, Anthony Johnson, Luke Brand and others, but the # 3 spot goes to the Columbus-based Excel for now. The team is not full of high risers, nor do they have a roster full height, but those guys know how to play basketball. I thought they were on the verge of getting blown out against Murphy AC in the Grassroots, but they refused to quit, and fought their way back into the game late. Their top 30 representatives include: Isaiah Speelman & Dane Godwin, but guys like Braden Norris and Matt Allacco (5th grade) are very good.
Although the Ohio Hoopsters are ranked fifth in our initial rankings, that could change very quickly with the return of Ty Wiley and the addition of Jabari Perkins from OBC. Once they match-up with the top 3 teams in the class, the landscape may change. This weekend could usher in that change, as the Hoopsters and Excel are both in the same tournament. Stay tuned for a report on that game if it happens! For the record, King James is loaded with top 30 talent, but they lost to the Hoopsters in the Grassroots, so they can’t be ranked above them. I hope to watch them again in their tournament in a few weeks.
|All-Ohio Red-#1 6th Grade Team|
The 6th grade class is on lock, and is likely to be so until well into high school. All-Ohio Red is not only the clear number one team in the state, but arguably the country. Session #2 of the NYBL may crown the early favorite for the national championship, but the Ohio crown was solidified right after All-Ohio Red and Purple joined forces during the off season. Red’s nonstarters would form the second best team in the state with no problem. For this team to get pushed in Ohio, they would need to play up in the 7th and maybe 8th grade divisions on a regular basis. I know there is a lot of debate about this team, but I would suggest that people just relax and enjoy the show this team puts on every time they take the court. Potential top 30 players include: Jordan Mitchell, Gerard Reynolds, Jerome Francis III, Chris’Seon Stringer, Jaidon Lipscomb, Chris Payne and DeMarco Bradley Jr.
In a distant second is SMAC Showtime. I’m not sure #1 and #2 will ever meet up this year, but it really doesn’t matter, does it? Mike Bekeja and Pittsburgh’s Kyi Wright are the stars, but there is a great supporting cast on this team. Dayton Elite, formally known as Salvation Army, grabs the third spot. Having recently lost to SMAC just last weekend, there’s not much debate between #2 and #3. Kendall Matthews, Jaren Smith and Noree Uloho will all be top 30 players once we publish our list later this year.
Below is a link to our complete rankings. I know the comment section will blow up as soon as we drop this list, so allow me to say this first; if you want your team to be ranked and considered as one of the top teams in the state, you have to play in tournaments that feature the top teams! For the coaches and directors reading this article, like the NCAA tournament, you are judged by whom you play and who you beat. If you have not beaten, let alone played, anybody ranked above you, you can’t expect to be ranked higher. In addition, if your team does not participate in more competitive tournaments, then you can’t complain about a lack of exposure. Win/loss records are great for you coaches, but if you compile them against inferior talent they don’t really mean much; more importantly, your kids are probably not developing at the rate they could be if they played against the best. If you are a parent and your team isn’t playing in the top events, then voice your concerns to the coach. On May 31-June 1st, in conjunction with the NYBL Finals here in Columbus, Buckeye Prep will be hosting the “Summer Showdown.” If you want a shot at the top middle school AAU teams in the region they will be there! You have to play the best to be the best! Let the debate begin!