|Mid-Ohio Pumas-8th Grade Champions|
By most accounts, the 2016 Buckeye Prep Invitational Tournament was a complete success! With 114 teams from around the country, including a number of storied programs and nationally ranked players, the competition at the 3-day event was tremendous. The event was held at 4 locations around Central Ohio and hosted teams in grades 3rd- 10th. Not only did many of Ohio’s top teams enter the event, teams from Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, West Virginia, New York and Illinois made the trip to Columbus. Also, you know your event is hot when guys like LeBron James (Video) , Larry Nance, Damon Jones and Scoonie Penn roll through to check out the action. Needless to say, there was a tremendous amount of buzz going the entire weekend. In terms of media, MHTV, D-Rich TV, Next Up Recruits and HWBD Hoops were in the house.
As we pointed out in our tournament preview piece late last week, in almost every division, several top 10 ranked teams attended the event. Some of those teams handled their business, and some stumbled. Moreover, there were a couple of teams that will make big jumps in our Power Rankings based on their performance this past weekend. Teams like All-Ohio Blue 2022, Another Level 2020, MGT Basketball (2021) and MVP Dynasty (2023) came to Columbus, upset some teams and improved their rankings. There were also a number of players who went from virtual unknowns to being placed highly on our top player lists. Guys like Gabe Cupps (2023), Joey Bettista (2022), Raymar Pryor (2020), AJ Leen (2022), Isaiah Campbell-Finch (2024), Evan Ipsaro (2023), Riley Woods (2023), Dominigue Aekins (2024), Jamison Dunham (2022) and Koy Beasley (2024). Ohio Shooting Star's Joey Bettista put 26 points up in a loss to All-Ohio Blue Prep (2022). In that same game, AJ Leen and Trey Dennis finished with 16 and 14 points, respectively. Dennis had another monster game against Ohio Varsity when he dropped 28 points in the 59-38 win. We have to admit, that All-Ohio Blue Prep surprised us with just how good they are. We have to give a shout out to the Akron Bobcat's Pete Nance, Larry's son, who has high major height and a huge upside. In fact, Ohio State has Nance in their sights already.
|Mayfield, Bates, Cupps, Campbell-Finch & Woods|
Of course we have to acknowledge the dominance of Clyde Jackson’s North Coast Blue Chips organization, as each of his 3 teams left home with championships and a boatload of hardware. Also, Sean Teague’s Team Teague organization returned to the event and was again a force to be reckoned with. We were also really impressed with WNY Arsenal (2021) who arrived in Columbus determined to make some noise, and they did just that. The Arsenal has some quality pieces like Jalen Bradberry, Mehki Starks and Willie Lightfoot. Indiana Elite/GameTime brought over a couple of quality teams and their 6th grade squad took down a very talented Toledo Wildcats (64-56) team in the championship game (triple overtime). Indiana Elite/GameTime’s 8th grade team had a lot of success as well, as they made it to the Final 4. The Illinois Truth had a nice looking team and found themselves in the 7th grade championship game. Michigan was well represented in the tournament with the Titans finishing second in the 10th grade division and Oakland Elite making the Final 4 of the 7th grade division. The local Probound Elite has assembled a nice looking squad with guys like Javon Garcia (6'2"/SG/Independence HS), William Mufum (6'1"/P/SG/2019/Northland HS), Josh Corbin (6'3"/SG/2019/Gahanna HS), Dorian Holloway (6'4"/WF/2019/Eastmore HS) and Naelle Simmons (6'6"/PF/2019/Beechcroft). In the championship against All-Ohio Blue, Garcia went for 18 points and Mufum finished with 17 points.
As loaded as the event was, there were a handful of players that really separated themselves from the pack with. Possibly the best performance we saw all weekend was logged in by Emoni Bates (6’4”/WF/2022/Ypsilanti, MI). In the 6th grade championship against the MBA Furry, Bates took over the game, finishing with a game-high 24 points in a triple overtime thriller (Video)! In another highly contested game versus a talented Indian Elite/GameTime, Bates broke out with a game-high 31 points. Bates had another 24 points versus the MBA Fury Elite when he matched up with fellow Michigan standout Genesis Kemp. Kemp finished with 17 points in the match up. In an earlier game against Team Teague, Bates exploded for 27 points. We had heard great things about Bates' talent, but his performance this past weekend solidified a top 5 national ranking in our minds. Bates does it all; he knocks down deep treys, he slashes to the cup, he rebounds at a high rate, he initiates the break, he handles the ball, he can defend multiple positions, he protects the rim and he steps up in big moments. Long, athletic and skilled; Bates’ upside potential is as great as anyone we have seen in this class. I know it’s super early, but we wouldn’t be supervised to see Bates playing in the McDonalds All-American game in a few years! Moreover, we have to think that Tom Izzo (Michigan State) and John Beilein (Michigan) are already tracking this kid’s progress! Speaking of talented Michigan kids with significant upside, Genesis Kemp (6’3”/C/2022/Grand Rapids, MI) fits that bill. Long and athletic with an elite motor best describes his game. Team Teague's Chrishon McCray finished with 17 points in that game.
Northland’s N’Keely Elmore (5’9”/PG/2019/Columbus) had a big weekend and put up gaudy numbers over the course of the 3-day tournament. In one game we watched he scored 26 points. Not only is he quick as heck, Elmore has developed a jump shoot and deep range. This weekend he consistently knocked down threes. Elmore is a special talent. Seth Wilson (6'0"/PG/2021), one of the top 7th graders in country, solidified his rep this weekend as he led his NEO Tru Game squad to the 7th grade championship. As proof of his production, in the semi-final game against a very talented WNY Arsenal, Wilson exploded for a game-high 27 points. In the championship game, Wilson added another 17 points to his scoring total. Maliki Branham was the second leading scorer with 12 points. In that same game, Mehki Starks (5'1"/SG/WF/2021/Niagara Falls, NY) got hot and almost single handedly sparked a comeback, finishing with a team-high 16 points. Starks was as quick from baseline to baseline as anybody we saw all weekend, and he was relentless to the cup where he finished more times than not. A supreme athlete and competitor was Starks. Jalen Bradberry added 13 points in the loss to Tru Game.
Chris Mayfield was a stud this weekend and led his 2020 Mid-Ohio Pumas to a title. Mayfield consistently put up big numbers, including a 23 point outburst against the VCC Warriors. Mayfield is a consensus top 5 player in his class in Ohio. Marty Finta's All-Ohio Red 2021 team may have under achieved this weekend, but Brent Walker (6'5"/C/2021/Huber Heights) did his part, as he led his team in scoring and rebounding. Walker finished with 19 points against Dayton Metro. Walker is only going to get better, which should be a frighting proposition for teams in that division.
|Mayfield, Wilson, Kemp, Bradberry, Battista, Johnson, Dennis, Woodard & Gallagher|
He’s a bit younger, but Gabe Cupps (5'2"SG/2023/Centerville) put on a show this weekend. With a team full of nationally ranked players, including Chicago’s Khoi Thurman and LeBron James Jr., Cupps was the best player on the floor for the North Coast Blue Chips at times. Cupps’ skill set, IQ and poise are off the charts. Cupps’ father is the head coach at Centerville High School and it shows in Cupps’ game. There may me some players who are bigger, stronger and more athletic, but they’re not more skilled than Cupps in our opinion. Oh yea, he took home MVP honors as well. Of course we can’t disrespect LBJ’s son, as he is an absolute monster. In fact, we saw him change the course of a game after sitting most of the first half against a talented MWA Elite squad in foul trouble. Although MWA Elite was winning most of the opening half, LeBron Jr. sparked a comeback with a steal and a layup in the same possession. From there, the Blue Chips went on to win going away in a game that could have resulted in an upset. Much respect to Chicago's Khoi Thurman as well, as his game is clearly next level. Highly skilled with a mature game, Thurman is playing at a different level than most of his opponents. Also, his vision and passing skills are next level. Thurman scored 11 points in the championship game. We plan to keep an eye on Rodney Gallagher (5’5”/SG/2023/Uniontown, PA). He has good size, finishes well around the basket and rebounds at a high level. In the 5th grade championship game, Gallagher Finished with a game-high 17 points, and from what we saw, Gallagher has a chance to be big time. Michigan’s Jahkary Towns is another good one and should make a high school varsity squad early with continued growth and development. He has the ball on a string and a hand full of nice dribble moves. Team Teague's Mike Davis came up big in the 5th grade championship game to the tune of 20 points! Davis' older brother plays for the Butler Bulldogs, and the younger Davis could be joining his brother at the D-I level one day.
|Maxie, Johnson, May, Starks, Smith, Wheeler|
Speaking of special players, Isaiah Campbell-Finch (4’6”/PG/2024/Columbus) is only a 4th grader, but he’s playing up with the 5th grade Ohio Hoopsters and is a star in the making. Campbell-Finch has a tight handle, plays with composure, and scores in traffic including a nice floater. Campbell is the primary scorer on his squad and he put up big numbers over the weekend. The 2023 Cincinnati Royals has plenty of talent, but Riley Woods (4’9”/P/SG/2023/Cincinnati) and Evan Ipsaro (4’11”/PG/2023/Cincinnati) caught our eye. Woods finishes well at the rim, knocks downs three pointers and also serves as a play maker. He scored 19 points in a game we saw and has stardom written all over him. Ipsaro’s ball handling skills are exceptional as he blew by defenders with ease. Garvin Clarke (5’10”SG/2020/Euclid) was up to his old tricks; dominating and putting up big numbers. In crunch time, Clarke takes over in just about every phase of the game, and he is clearly one of the top 2 PGs in the state. Case in point, in a tight game against All-Ohio Blue, Clarke went off for a game-high 22 points in the loss. His partner in crime, big Nic Ferguson (6’3”/C/2020/Shaker Heights) is also one of the primary scorers on the team and does his damage in the paint. In that same All-Ohio Blue game, Ferguson dropped a gaudy 25 points. He’s not playing above the rim, but he’s strong inside and finishes at a high clip. He even stepped outside a few times and knocked down 3-balls. A great duo! We got another look at Carter Gray (6'2"/WF/202020/Ardcanum) and his consistent play has us thinking top 20 statewide for this kid. Skilled and fearless are just a few of his strengths. Gray had 18 points against the Rebels. The Bedford Raiders' Chris Livingston (5'8"/WF/2022/Akron) put in work this weekend. Case in point, Livingston erupted for 28 points against Hardwork Basketball. Oh yea, Livingston is a 6th grader playing up in the 7th grade division! In that same game, Hardworks' Makail Cottingham (5'7"/SG/Parma/2021) led his team with 20 points.
All-Ohio Red’s Davion Bridges (5’0”/SG/2023) is one to watch going forward. MWA Elite 2023 has a solid core of studs including Cody Head, Andre Wheeler Jr. (4’7”/PG/2023/Cleveland), Desh Molton, Caleb Walker (5’2”/SG/2023/South Euclid) and Javion Moore. He’s not gotten a lot of ink from us just yet, but Brandon Rose (5’4”/C/2023/Cleveland) could end up being pretty good as well. For most of a half, MWA gave the North Coast Blue Chips all they could handle. In fact, most people expected a rematch in the championship game, but Team Teague did not get that memo. Even with the loss, MWA Elite is still among the best 5th grade teams in the state. Toledo's Jerry Easter ran with the Gulf Coast Blue Chips this weekend and proved why his national reputation is so significant. In the championship game versus All-Ohio Red, Easter went off for a game-high 20 points. In an earlier game against MVP Dynasty Black, Easter added another 24 points to his weekend total. John Mobley Jr. was on that same team and finished with 8 point on his way to MVP honors. Both of these young players are among the elite in the nation in the class of 2024. DeZhon Hall and Ja'thon Bond came up big for the 3rd grade North Coast Blue Chips, finishing with 14 and 12 points, respectively. Leroy Blyden contributed 11 points in the 53-23 win over Hardwork Basketball. We may have been under appreciating EBA Hoops' Jalen Wenger (5'6"/WF/2022/Dalton) who exploded for a tournament-high 37 points versus Another Level, then followed that up with a 35-point game against All-Ohio Blue Prep, followed by another 24 points against Team Teague. We have Wenger listed among our top 6th graders, but his performance this weekend suggests we need to take a closer look at him going forward. We will!
Other Standout Performers:
Mason Lydic (2018), Elliott Tirbaso (2018), Pete Nance (2018), Nate Ward (2018), N’Keely Elmore (2019), Kaleb Martin (2019), Javon Garcia (2019), William Mufum (2019), Jarmong Hogg (2019), Kadar Gardner (2019), Cade Stover (2019), William Jeffress (2021), Garvin Clarke (2020), Nick Ferguson (2020), Nijal Pack (2020), Caleb Walker (2023), John Louden (2022), Cody Head (2023), Andre Wheeler Jr. (2023), Brandon Rose (2023), Matt Allocco (2020), Jason Morton (2020), CJ Anthony (2020), Marcus Johnson (2020), Justin Golson (2020), Larry Stephens III (2020), Phill Alston (2020), Sammy Anderson Jr. (2020), Jeff Tolliver (2020), Mick Wallace (2020), Jayden Taylor (2021), Anthony Maxie (2021), K. Johnson (2021), Willie Lightfoot (2021), Rob Thompson (2021), John Bradberry (2021), Malaki Branham (2021), Gabe Finta (2021), Trey Woodard (2021), Brent Walker (2021), Isaiah May (2021), Tayshawn Comer (20222), Peter More (2022), Genesis Kemp (2022), Emoni Bates (2022), Dominigue Aekins (2024), Nino Nesbit (2024), Koy Beasley (2024), Jaiden Arnold (2024), AJ Leen (2022), Ray Greene (2022), Joey Bettista (2022), Trey Dennis (2022), Roddy Gayle (2021), Jamahi Lewis (2021), Obie Bronston (2023), Ramar Prior (2022), Trevor Smith (2021), Brendon Sullivan (2021), Keyshawn Devlin, Caleb Dove (2021), Henry Hinkle (2021), Jerimiah Thompson (2021), Pete Mue (2022), Demarko Craig (2022), Chris Livingston (2022), Jamison Dunham (2022), Jelen Wenger (2022), Tayshawn Carter (2022), Dris Lawson (2021), Tayshawn Mayfield (2022), Jerry Saunders (2022), Alex Williams (2021), Carter Grey (2021), Roland Rowe (2020), Isaiah Davis (2020), Quincy Clark (2021), Aydan Hamilton (2024), Makail Cottingham (2021), Tyler Hayner (2023), Enauell Lighty (2021), Jamere Sheron (2021), Randy Harris (2021), Brian Ottrix (2021), Josh Riffle (2021), Canaan Dye (2021), Jerry Easter (2024), John Mobley Jr. (2024), Marcus Johnson (2026), Amareon Parker (2021), Julian Sullinger (2021).
We could not have been more pleased with the level of talent amassed for this tournament as we had great teams and elite individual talent. We also had media, great story lines and serious buzz in every gym. In addition, we hope you will agree that no other tournament has as in depth a post event report witch features a high number of players than we do here at Buckeye Prep! This is what we do!! Our next tournament, Summer Showdown, is scheduled for June 17-19th at Otterbein University. Although it will be smaller in numbers, the competition will be even more fierce, as we will hand pick the top teams we want to invite, based on their performance this spring and summer. Congratulations to the teams and players who won our championships!