|NEO Shooting Stars-8th Grade Grassroots Champions|
It was a busy weekend for Ohio-based travel basketball teams as a number of ranked teams faced off in various tournaments around the state. Consequently, there have been a significant shake up in our initial Power Rankings. As a result of winning the Nike Grassroots tournament in Columbus on Sunday, Malcolm Walters’ NEO 2020 team has ascended to the top of our rankings with a 61-56 win over the Family in the championship game. With their win, NEO 2020 is now considered the #1 team in the state.
Walters’ squad is big, physical and is difficult guard. Almost every player on the team looks like they have set up shop in the weight room. Their not just big, they are skilled and well coached. If you want to beat them, you had better defend and be prepared to match their physicality. The game we saw, Isaiah Kennedy (5’11”/PG/Beavercreek) showed why he has established a national reputation, as he played better than we had seen him the last couple of times. A big physical lead guard who has figured out he’s bigger and stronger then his defenders. Several times he lowered his shoulder and powered his way to the basket. NEO may have lost Montori Foster Jr. who went over to OBC, but Kenny McElrath (5’11”/P/SG/Twinsburg) may have filled the void nicely. An elite motor and a willingness to secure 50/50 balls will win you a few games. He’s not just a hustle guy; he can also score the rock. Case in point, against the Ohio Bulldogs, a top 10 ranked team, both McElrath and Kennedy finished with team-high 12 points. It should be noted that DeDevante Blanton (6'4"/WF/Nordonia) had a big weekend which he parlayed into MVP honors. Blanton has stretched out and bulked up and just looks like a division I athlete. Clearly his ball skills have improved which he will need if plans to stay on the wing.
In that same division were the Mid-Ohio Pumas Black, who lost to The Family in the semi-finals, Ohio Bulldogs, Rebels Basketball, Dayton Swish and All-Ohio Red, all of whom were ranked. Walters’ squad was powered by Devantea Blanton, Isaiah Kennedy, Darion Henry, Grant Huffman and Kenny McEllrath. All but McEllrath made the event’s all-tournament team. We had the opportunity to take in some of the 8th grade action at Reynoldsburg High School on Saturday. While we were there, we caught a few standouts.
|Garvin Clarke-PG 2020|
We had heard rumors that there was an elite 8th grade guard in northeast Ohio that reminded you of a young Terry Rozier (Louisville/NBA). Well, they were right, Garvin Clarke (5’9”/PG/Cleveland) appears to be the real deal. Good size for his position, strong, athletic, smart and poised under pressure are only a few of his strengths. Clarke ran his Rebels Basketball squad like a varsity starter. He limited his turnovers, scored when he needed to and consistently made plays for his teammates. He made great decisions with the rock and got to every spot on the floor he wanted to. We could write another paragraph about what we saw with Clarke, but we want to see him again before we give him the full Buckeye Prep Treatment!
His team seemed to struggle a bit, but Carter Gray (6’2”/WF/Springfield) didn’t seem to have any problems putting up big numbers. The game we saw him, Gray went off for 25 points and made it seem easy. Gray has good length and is a volume scorer. He can score at all three levels and has a real good nose for the ball. Definitely worth tracking. Michigan’s Earnie Saunders (6’2”/WF/Flint) is a freak athlete who plays above the rim and is always in search of an oop. Saunders lit it up at the Buckeye Prep Elite Showcase last September and he’s poised to get some major shoe company love when he laces it up at the UA Next Combine Series Midwest in May. We also really like CJ Anthony (5’11”/PG/Columbus) who can also light up the scoreboard. He’s at his best attacking the cup, but when he’s feeling his shot his Bulldogs squad is tough to beat.
|Clark, Saunders, Kennedy, Zeb Jackson, McElrath, Anthony, Exon, Gray & Robinson|
The Dayton Swish has a few pieces in Zierin Exon (6’3”/C/Springfield), a rebounding machine and Keo’te Highhley (5’5/SG/WF/Dayton), both of whom logged in sold performances while we were there. Other than Amarin Robinson (5’6”/PG/Akron) we didn’t get the chance to secure information about the multiple young prospects on Akron Wolfpack’s team. Robinson was a speedy and crafty guard with an elite handle and an attackers mentality. We were surprised at how good the Wolfpack was, and the fact they went toe to toe with a top 10 Rebels Basketball team convinced us they need to be on the board. We hope the coach reaches out to us, as the Wolfpack has several prospects that deserve some exposure! Until he re-appeared at the Buckeye Prep Elite Showcase after a 3 year hiatus, we had lost sight of Zeb Jackson (5'8"/PG/Toledo). He still looked good last week, and he was seen putting in work with All-Ohio Red over the weekend. Jackson remains highly skilled and difficult to stay in front of. His team may not be elite at the moment, but Jackson's talent is still evident.
In the 7th grade division, The Family edged out All-Ohio Purple in the championship game. With All-Ohio Purple’s win over NEO Tru Game on Sunday, Purple has taken over the #1 spot in our Power Rankings. Because we have been unable to connect with Purple’s coaching staff, we don’t have any information about their roster nor their standout players. Return our calls coach; your guys deserve the recognition!
There is a new #1 in the 6th grade division. All-Ohio Red’s win over the Toledo Wildcats vaults them into the #1 spot. The pool play game represented a rematch, as Toledo defeated All-Ohio Red at the Power League in Detroit earlier this year. Of course, All-Ohio was without the services of Sean Jones and Paul McMillian IV, but a win is a win. The Wildcats finished the weekend 4-1, with wins over SMAC Premier (58-42), All-Ohio NE (46-36), All-Ohio Green (67-9) and NEO Shooting Stars (48-40). The leading scorers for the Wildcats over the weekend were Nate Houston II, Emoni Bates and Jordan Kynard.
|All-Ohio Red 2023-5th Grade Champions|
Drew Lavender’s 2023 All-Ohio Red squad was the last team standing, as they won the 5th grade division crown. With their victory over Maumee Bay Turf, Red moves up 1 spot in our Power Rankings from 4th to 3rd. For the record, the Ohio Rebels won the 2nd grade division; All-Ohio Red took the 4th grade title and All-Ohio Red 2019 won the 9h grade division championship.
All in all, it was a great unofficial start to the 2016 AAU season. As always, we would love to feature more teams and players, but we need coaches and parents to value the exposure and to make the effort to document and send us information. Next up is the Buckeye Prep Invitational Tournament April 1-3rd, where a majority of the top 10 ranked teams in the state will put their reputation on the line to play the best!