Monday, February 1, 2016

Stars Shine at League Playoffs

Shaker Heights-TNBA 6th Grade Winter League Champs
On Sunday, we took a trip up to Cleveland to scout the TNBA Winter League playoffs, in order to get a better look at northeast Ohio talent.  As suspected, we were pleased at the level of talent and were able to unearth a few hidden gems.  In terms of the league results, in the 6th grade division, Shakers Heights defeated a scrappy Garfield Heights squad 41-54. The 5th grade championship featured a matchup between Shaker Heights and Twinsburg.  Shaker Heights would later get the 43-32 victory.  The 4th grade championship game was a dog fight between Garfield Heights and 4th Quarter Basketball Club.  In the end, Garfield Heights would take home the championship hardware with a 28-18 win.

As is the case with any championship run, star players earn their reputations and role players rise to the occasion.   In the matchup between Shaker Heights and Garfield Heights in the 6th grade championship game, no one was better that Sunny Johnson Jr. (5’2”/PG/2022/Garfield Heights) and Danny Young Jr. (5’4”/PG/2022/Shaker Heights), both of whom  paced their respective squads with double digit scoring.  Of course we were well aware of Johnson’s talent as he is nationally ranked and one of the top 3 players on our Top 6th grader list.  As did the entire day, Johnson was difficult to keep out of the lane.  In a man to man situation, Johnson is a problem!  He can shoot it from deep if you play off of him or he can use his elite handle to defeat his defender and get into the paint where his skill set gives him several options.  Although an early zone slowed him down, Johnson eventually did what he does, got buckets.  Although we featured Young’s game in an earlier piece, needless to say, he was the man, and almost singlehandedly willed his team to the title.

Most often, in order for a team to win a championship, role players have to step up.  For Shaker Heights, 3 guys did just that.  Jalen Brown (5’3”/SG/2022/Shaker Heights), Lashawn Singleton (5’6”/C/2022/Shaker Heights) and John Henderson (5’1”/SG/2022/Nordonia) each made significant contributions in the win. We were really impressed with Brown, who did some impressive things in the championship game.  He’s the kind of kid who may not get a lot of attention early, but will one day end up a stud.  We plan to keep an eye on him.  Singleton is a quality big man who is strong, aggressive with solid footwork and a soft touch around the basket. Henderson hit some really big shots in crunch time of the championship game and proved he has game as well.
Johnson, Young, Tatum, Brown, Singleton, Popoola, Henderson, Fletcher & Hill
Garfield Heights had a couple of players who held supporting roles as well.  The more we watched Tavian Tatum (5’10”/C/2022/Garfield Heights) play, the more impressed we became with his talent.  Tatum is long, lean and rebounds at a high rate.  We first thought his best attribute was protecting the rim, as Tatum blocked a boatload of shots, however, he also demonstrated the ability to step away from the basket and hit the 15 footer.  We think Tatum has a good chance to be a long term post prospect going forward.  We also caught glimpses of Akin Popoola (4’11”/SG/2022/Cleveland Heights) and believe he is a player to watch done the road.

Although we had not seen nor heard of him before we walked into the gym, the positive comments about his game were quickly confirmed after watching Clayton Cunningham (5’4”/PG/2023) and his TNBA team.  Cunningham is a wizard with the rock and understands how to create scoring opportunities for himself or his teammates.   Although he’s only a 5th grader, Cunningham is already proficient at scoring off the pick and roll or finding open teammates.  Cunningham’s game is a bit more mature than other players his age, and he even has a nice little euro step he employs to get all the way to the basket.  In addition, Cunningham has a good feel for the game and plays with good pace.  Cunningham is always in attack mode as he probes the defense for a crease, and when he finds one, it’s straight to the cup for a score or dime.  He wasn’t on our top player list before, but he was by the time we left Cleveland!  Cunningham has a chance to be a good one.
Shaker Heights-TNBA 5th Grade Champions
Quimet Smith’s 5th grade Shaker Heights squad is absolutely loaded with talent.  A review of the score sheet of the 5th grade championship game reflects that 3 players finished with double digit scoring.  Kelly Smith (WF/2023/Shaker Heights), Cody Head (W/PF/2023/Shaker Heights) and Pat Williams (4’6”/PG/2023/Shaker Heights) all finished with 12 points in the final game. We can’t forget about Jayvion Moore (5’4”/C/2023/Maple Heights), the team’s leading rebounder and rim protector.  We had heard that Moore was a stud, but his play on Sunday confirmed that for us. Between the 4 of them, that Shaker Heights team is a monster.  Look for all 4 of these guys to make our 2023 Watch list when we release it next week.

Speaking of very talented 5th grade squads, you have to add Damon Stringer’s 2023 Cleveland Heights team to the list.  In fact, Stringer’s team is so good, they reached the league semi-finals playing up against 6th grade teams.  Although they ran into a buzz saw against a loaded Shaker Heights team (lost 47-17), the team boast some of the state’s top 5th graders.  Included among those players are LA Hayes (5’4”/PG/2023/Cleveland Heights), Adisa Desh” Molton II (4’9”/PG/2023/Lyndhurst), Andre Wheeler Jr.  (4’9”/PG/2023/South Euclid) and Dorjan Flowers (4’0”/PG/2023/Cleveland Heights). 

Hayes, Cunningham, Molton, Flowers, Wheeler, Smith, Head, Moore & Williams
We were well aware of Hayes and Molton, as both players attended our September elite showcase, and not only did they get all-star game nods, they went on to secure MVP honors and were both ranked in the top five in our post event rankings.  We were really impressed with Hayes’ motor, aggressiveness to the cup and his willingness to defend.  What’s most impressive is the fact that he competed against older guys and more than held his own.  Molton, Wheeler and Flowers are all dynamic guards who can handle to rock and can knock down shots from the perimeter.  All three are super quick and play hard.  Right now, we consider both Hayes and Molton to be among the elite in the class, and could be potential top 10 prospects when we release our 2023 Watch List next week.  In addition, both players are positioned well to make one or our All-State Teams and receive a spot in the prestigious Ohio North vs South All-Star Game in September.

Although he is one of the youngest players in the gym, Marcus Johnson (4'8"/PG/2026/Garfield Heights) has talent beyond his years.  An absolute pit bull, Johnson is non-stop both offensively and defensively.   Highly skilled with an elite motor, Johnson is simply smarter than any other player on the floor.  He can score at multiple levels and he’s a ball hawk on defense. Johnson is ranked among the best nationally for a reason; the kid can flat out play!  Finally, below is a list of some of the other standout performers we saw on Sunday.  Among the players on this list are some young guys who could command a lot of attention in the future.  Finally, many of these players can be seen at our upcoming March 12th elite showcase.

Johnson, Salters, Belcher, Edmonds & Wright
Other Standout Performers:

Israel Fletcher (2022); David Miller (2022); Dushawn Hill (2022); Mikael Hill (2022)
Herald Reece (2022); Nigel Wright (2023); Justin Belcher Jr. (2023); Yahir Hill (2024); Brayon Salters (2024); Arnell Edmonds (2024); Allen Mallory (2024); Mason Dawkins (2025); and Bird Young (2023).

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