Monday, July 22, 2013
Ollie, Crean check out Okonoboh in Pa.
By Adam Finkelstein
KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. -- On the heels of the invitation-only Summer Classic East event, the Hoop Group concluded the second week of the evaluation period with its Summer Jam Fest this past weekend. The Jam Fest welcomed a much larger field of players and presented us with a variety of intriguing storylines and a who’s who list of coaches in attendance to see ESPN 100 stars Goodluck Okonoboh, Kaleb Joseph and Abdul-Malik Abu.
Here’s what caught our eyes in Philly.
Don’t Tell Me, Show Me
When you’re in the same location for an extended period of time, there’s lots to be learned by simply watching which college coaches show up to watch which kids. Here’s who was watching the ESPN 100 prospects in action:
Goodluck Okonoboh (Boston/Wilbraham & Monson) – He had head coaches Tom Crean (Indiana), Billy Donovan (Florida), Mark Gottfreid (N.C. State) and Kevin Ollie (UConn) on hand earlier in the week along with assistant coach Nate James (Duke). The nation’s No. 4 center saw minutes in only one game in the second tournament of the week, but that didn’t stop UConn from following him throughout the week as assistant coach Glen Miller kept tabs.
Abdul-Malik Abu (Marblehead, Mass./Kimball Union Academy) – Abu arrived on Saturday night, so too did Ollie (UConn) and Ed Cooley (Providence) as both local programs are pulling out all the stops to land the talented forward. Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Abu’s recruitment, but there was no mistaking the timing of the three Saturday night arrivals.
ESPN 100 PG Kaleb Joseph is at his best when he's attacking and setting up teammates.
Kaleb Joseph (Nashua, N.H./Cushing Academy) – West Virginia made an early statement with Bob Huggins being courtside Wednesday night and associate head coach Larry Harrison staying through the day on Thursday. Boston College was also aggressive with head coach Steve Donahue watching each game on Wednesday and Thursday and then assistant coach Akbar Waheed checking in later in the week. Providence and Syracuse were the two schools that followed Joseph like a shadow all week long. Cooley was there both early and late in the week while assistant coaches Bob Simon and Andre Lafleur covered the middle. Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins covered Joseph on Wednesday and was joined by Jim Boeheim on Thursday. Assistant coach Gerry McNamara took over things on Friday.
Jared Terrell (Weymouth, Mass./Brewster Academy) – The three local schools – Boston College, Providence and UConn – coordinated their coverage across the board while Rhode Island appeared to be hunting a steal with head coach Danny Hurley and all three assistant coaches stopping in during the course of the week. Two other programs that were front and center throughout the week were St. John’s and Cincinnati, with assistant coaches Tony Chiles and Darren Savino, respectively, while Johnnies head coach Steve Lavin also came through for a day.
What a Difference One Abu Can Make
Just how much did Abu mean to his Expressions Elite team? Roughly 34 points.
Expressions lost to the Jersey Shore Warriors 61-35 in the quarterfinals of the Summer Classic East Thursday. Less than 72 hours later, they scored some retribution with a 50-42 win in the semifinals of the Summer Jam Fest.
The only difference in the two games was the presence of Abu, who was at the Nike Global Challenge earlier in the week but rejoined his Expressions team by Saturday night. While he didn’t literally score 34 points himself, the variance illustrates his total impact on the game, not just with his scoring and rebounding but with an incredibly high motor that forced his teammates to raise the level of their own intensity.
While Abu’s impact on the semifinals was undeniable, it was his last-second heroics that sealed the championship for Expressions. With just seconds to play, he broke a tie with a dunk through contact to earn an old-fashioned three-point play.
What makes it all the more impressive is that Abu was able to achieve all that while fasting for the Musliam holiday of Ramadan, marking the second consecutive year that he’s had to play through the challenge of only being able to eat and drink during the night hours.
24 in a Row
When the Jersey Shore Warriors fell to Expressions, it ended a streak of 24 straight wins that began back in June and included a pair of championships runs at The Showdown and the Summer Classic East.
At the heart of the Warriors success is a style that college coaches can appreciate, especially during this time of year when the quality of play seems to worsen by the day. The Warriors, guided by longtime head coach Tony Sagona, not only play hard, but they share the ball, run sets and work for good shots.
Consequently, they aren’t only more fun to watch, they’re easier to evaluate because their brand of basketball more closely resembles the college game than virtually any other team in the field.
While a variety of individual prospects have benefitted from their collective success, perhaps none have more so than Dominique Uhl (Point Pleasant Beach, N.J./Point Pleasant Beach), who has seen his recruitment go to the high-major level with recent offers from Boston College, Temple, Penn State, and Iowa, among others.
Score One for the Home Team
The greater Philadelphia area has turned into a popular spot for events during the evaluation period, with the Reebok Breakout Classic followed by the Showdown in week one and the Hoop Group Summer Classic East followed by the Summer Jam Fest. The City of Brotherly Love has a proud basketball tradition, and up until Sunday, no local teams had been able to defend their turf by keeping any of the recent championships at home. Team Philly’s U16 squad brought an end to that trend Sunday when it took the Summer Jam Fest championship.
Penn State commit Michael Watkins (Philadelphia/Imhotep Charter) is the team’s top overall prospect with his size, athleticism, mobility and shot-blocking instincts, but Sean Lloyd (Philadelphia, Pa./Haverford School) was the most impactful player at this event. The 6-foot-4 swingman is tough, physical and absolutely relentless in attacking the basket. He proved at last week’s Reebok camp that he’s capable of being successful with that style of play -- even against older and more talented competition -- and this week there simply wasn’t anyone who was capable or willing to get in his way as attacked the rim like a dump truck heading downhill.
Big Man Market
One of the emerging themes this week was the search for frontcourt talent. The 2014 class isn’t an especially deep one in the Northeast, and that is putting a premium on frontcourt talent, especially for true five men.
It’s created a market where coaches are following big men, just waiting for them to give them a reason to offer. Some of the prospects who are benefiting as a result are the likes of Team Adidas’ Satchel Pierce (Akron, Ohio/Kiski), Philly Ballhawks’ Rashaan Armstead-Holloway (Elmer, N.J./Schalik) and Connecticut Select’s Chaise Daniels (Meriden, Conn./Putnam Science Academy).
Another big who played his way into increased recruitment this week was Sem Kroon (Riverside, Conn./Northfield Mount Hermon). Kroon is extremely high on school’s list for his academics and was already being pursued by a variety of Ivy and Patriot League schools. He is bound to see more recruitment following his showing on the court this week.
Mid-Major Stock Risers
Kroon wasn’t the only prospect to take his recruitment to new levels this week. In fact, there are a few new mid-major darlings after five days in Philadelphia. Kroon’s Rhode Island Hawks teammate Mike Leblanc (Dover, N.H./New Hampton) stood out as a good-sized forward with a smooth skill-set and deep shooting range. A couple of other guys who emerged with their ability to score the ball from long range were D.C. Warriors swingman Andrew Robinson (Silver Spring, Md./Silver Spring) and Mid-Atlantic Select forward Zach Thomas (Ljamsville, Md./Oakdale).
Coaches looking to add toughness to their frontline next season were all taken by Mass Rivals power forward Mike Auger (Hopkinton, N.H./New Hampton), who emerged as an unexpected star for the Rivals this week while bringing unmatched tenacity and aggressiveness.
Eye on the Underclassmen
New Height’s sniper Matt Ryan (Cortlandt Manor, N.Y./Iona Prep) wasn’t even at his best this week, but that didn’t stop him from continuing to rack up new high-major offers. Meanwhile, N.C. State became the latest school to offer Expressions Elite forward Aaron Falzon (Newton, Mass./Northfield Mount Hermon), a standout stretch forward in the rising junior class.
D.C. Warriors big man Sylvester Ogbonda (Fort Washington, Md./National Christian) was one of the top young post prospects given his physical upside and defensive instincts, while Mid-Atlantic Select swingman C.J. Keyser (Silver Springs, Md./Patterson Mill) caught everyone’s attention with some explosive displays of athleticism and also stood out as one of the best perimeter defenders in the field.