15U’s Excited to Shine in LIVE Spotlight at Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest

The Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest might be the first opportunity most 15U players have had to play during the LIVE recruiting period.

“This is our second year playing in the Pitt Jam Fest. It’s always pretty good competition,” said Reggie Gardner, coach of a powerful DC Assault 15U squad. “We always use it as a gauge as to how your season’s going to go.”

“Everyone’s talented, really,” UPlay Toronto guard Koby McEwen said. “Our class is very deep, it’s good competition here.”

Now the 15U bracket is down to just eight teams. And while all eight have won their first three games–making it tough to say that any of them have done anything but play well–there’s always room for improvement, especially at this level.

“So far defensively we’ve played with a lot of intensity, we’ve probably gotten by on our athleticism,” Sports U coach Ed Jennings said. “I think the guys are starting to gel a little bit, but defensively is how we’re creating offense.”

There are plenty of great players to keep an eye out on as the top 15U teams in Pittsburgh battle it out for the Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest title. One such young phenom is Showtime All Stars guard Damon Harge. At just around 5-foot-5, Harge is the only member of the Class of 2018 playing two grade levels up–and not just playing, but starting.

“I’ve always played up, since I was little,” said Harge, who’s been playing at the high school level since sixth grade. “I think the difference is stronger and more athletic players.”

Also advancing to the round of eight are D.C. Assault, with a stacked lineup that includes 2016 DeMatha forward Joseph Hampton and Bishop McNamara forward Sam Green, plus 5-10 jet Alani Moore, another DeMatha player.

D.C. Assault isn’t the only big-name AAU program who’s advanced this far. New Jersey’s Sports U Izod is here, as is Canada’s CIA Bounce (playing under the name UPlay Toronto), New York’s New Heights, the Ohio Basketball Club and Team Philly round out a rather well-traveled bunch.

Saturday certainly brought plenty of excitement, but maybe not moreso than for Team Work (Ohio)’s Preston Bullock. The 5-foot-11 guard hit a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift Team Work past Team Loaded, setting off a pretty wild celebration considering there are three games left to win the title.

“I just got lucky,” Bullock said. “Just tried to get to the rim but I didn’t get a chance to, so I just pulled it.”

15Us Impress at Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest

The 15U players might be young, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any less talent on the courts at the Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest. Here’s some notes on a few players who impressed on Saturday:

–There’s a new breed of basketball players emerging that really don’t have a true position. The “tweener” wing isn’t quite a three, but isn’t quite a four either. Case Bouldin (2016/Team Nashville/Ravenwood) is certainly one such player, a 6-foot-4 wing who’s got some handles and can shoot but also clearly isn’t afraid to bang down low and go after the boards.

“He’s a shooter,” Team Nashville coach Brendan Powell said. “Can put it on the floor, get into the middle of the defense and break the defenses down. He’ll be a good mid-major shooter.”

Bouldin said he didn’t have any college interest at this point, but that’s likely to change–especially if he grows another inch or two. If he can make it to 6-7, he plays very similar to Peyton Aldridge (2014/Team Work/LaBrae), who has all sorts of mid-major offers.

–The most impressive player on the court in Ohio Basketball’s game against the DC Blue Demons was OBC’s Jarron Cumberland, a 6-5 shooting guard from Wilmington High School. Cumberland dropped 27 points on the Blue Demons in a come-from behind victory. That included two 3-pointers and a 11-of-12 performance from the free-throw line.

Watching him, it’s hard to believe that Trevon Duval (2017/Sports U/Sanford School) is still in 8th grade. A 6-foot-2 wing, Duval is a true slasher with an offensive game and body that belie the fact he’s still only in middle school. Capable of both attacking the basket and doing damage from the per

“(Trevon) is one of the most experienced kids we have, he understand the game and he’s athletic,” Sports U coach Ed Jennings said. “So when you put all three of those things together, you’re going to get a pretty good player and he’s showing that today.

“Right now, for his age, he’s a heck of a player right now.”

–Physically, Devon Goodman (2016/Team Philly/Germantown Academy) looks the least like a Division I player of all seven mentioned here. He’s only about 5-foot-8 and not very muscular–but when he steps out on the court, he certainly plays like he belongs. He barely played his freshman season at Germantown Academy, as the Patriots had seven seniors on its Pennsylvania Independent Schools’ state title run. Goodman knocked down three treys en route to a game-high 23 points in Team Philly’s win over the Ohio Hoopsters that sent them into the Sweet 16.

–At 6-foot-6 and well north of 200 pounds, Joseph Hampton (2016/DC Assault/DeMatha Catholic) is a big man with some definite skill. Not content to be a true post player, he’s got ball skills somewhat similar to Iona’s David Laury, though clearly not anywhere near as polished.

“Joe’s a versatile and talented kid–inside, outside, can go inside and post up, can shoot the 3 very well and can defend as well,” said DC Assault coach Reginald Gardner, who added that Hampton was hearing from Maryland and Xavier.

–Canadian AAU basketball has made a big mark on the AAU scene over the last few years. Top prospects like Andrew Wiggins and Tyler Ennis, both from the Great White North, have people searching for the next top Canuck. It might just be Koby McEwen (2016/UPlay Toronto/Wasatch Academy). A 6-foot-3 combo guard, McEwen scored at will

“I’m sort of a combo guard, one and two,” he said. ” I can do everything, I can rebound, pass, score.”

McEwan goes to school in the United States, at Utah’s Wasatch Academy. There, serving as the starting point guard, he was named all-state in the 2A classification after averaging 13.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.8 steals per game in leading his team to the state title.

–If he can match his dad in height, Nick Ward (2016/NOVA Village/Gahanna) has a very good chance to end up playing among the highest levels of collegiate basketball. Ward’s father, a D-II All-American, was 6-foot-9, but if the younger Ward gets there he’s almost assuredly going to play mid-high major. He said he’s gotten a few letters from Detroit and Lafayette, but like many kids his age his recruitment is still in its infant stages.

Josh Verlin is the founder/editor at CityofBasketballLove.com, covering Philadelphia-area high school + collegiate basketball.

17U Recruiting Roundup: Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest Day 1

2013 UA Pitt Jam Fest
Kelly Kline | Under Armour

Here’s some news and notes from the 17U recruiting scene at the Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest’s opening night on Friday, April 19:
–It’s sometimes a little too easy to overlook Troy Harper when he plays for Neumann-Goretti, a South Philadelphia high school powerhouse. After all, he’s on the same team as stud 2014 Ja’Quan Newton, high-major 2015 point guard Lamarr Kimble and Towson-bound senior John Davis.

But the 6-foot-1 Team Philly 17U guard is very athletic and a solid 3-point shooter, and that’s gotten the attention of a number of schools. Harper’s current list of offers includes Boston U, Niagara, Towson, Manhattan, Campbell and Robert Morris; he also claimed interest from Florida Atlantic, Drexel, and Albany.

“I see myself more as a point guard at the next level,” he said. “I can play off the ball a little bit, (but) it’s not really what I like to do.”

Peyton_aldridge_teamworkPeyton Aldridge can do a little bit of everything, and he showed it on Friday night. The 6-foot-7 wing forward from LaBrae High School dropped 25 points in Team Work (Ohio)’s second-round victory over E1T1 Flash (Fl.), playing hard on both ends of the court in front of a cadre of coaches from conferences ranging from the America East to the Big South.

“I would say I’m very versatile,” he said. “I’ve got the height so I can go down inside but I feel like I can also step out and handle the ball, pass the ball some.”

With offers from “most of the MAC schools”, including Akron, Ohio, Toledo, and Miami; plus Cleveland State, Youngstown State, Davidson, Boston College, and William & Mary, Aldridge clearly has quite a few schools to choose from. He said he might commit sometime around August, but doesn’t currently have any leaders or concrete plans yet.

–Ohio Basketball Club’s Austin Grimes is one of a few current seniors playing in the 17U Division; unsigned seniors are permitted to do so in the April recruiting period. And while the 6-foot-3, 200-pound guard does a lot of things well on the court, his recruitment has been heavily hit by some coaching changes.

“I’m guessing I’ve got Florida-Gulf Coast and Upstate,” he said when asked about his offers. “Most of the schools that I’ve had, the coaches got fired or are going on to other schools so my recruitment’s went down lately.”

With just two big AAU tournaments in the April live period, Grimes knows his chance of impressing college coaches is really running short: “That’s why I’m out here now, trying to get some more schools to look at me because all the schools had a different situation.”

–If you’re going to call yourself a tough basketball player, it certainly helps to play most of a game with a bandaged head. That’s exactly what Matt Klinewski did in Team Speed (N.J.)’s first-round game, when he took a hard foul in the first half and played the whole second with a gauze and tape around his cranium.

“I play scrappy, as you can tell by the cut on my head,” he said. ““Fast break, jump stop, two kids came on me, got elbowed in the head.”

A 6-foot-7 forward who plays somewhere in the 3/4 range, Klinewski hits the boards really well and can score around the basket but also likes to pick-and-pop, with range out to the 3-point line. He has offers from New Hampshire and Binghamton (plus Siena before a coaching change); “I’ve got all the Patriot League and Ivy League looking at me,” he added, plus Davidson and Sacred Heart were both poking around.

Josh Verlin is the founder/editor at CityofBasketballLove.com, covering Philadelphia-area high school + collegiate basketball. He’ll be covering the 17U scene at the Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest.

Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest 17U Tips-Off LIVE period

2013 UA Pitt Jam Fest
Kelly Kline | Under Armour

If there’s anybody out there who thinks there’s an “off” season in basketball, the Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest proves them wrong.
Hundreds of AAU teams and just as many collegiate coaches descended on western Pennsylvania on Friday night as the first “live” period of the 2013 AAU kicked off in grand style.

“It’s a great experience, great atmosphere, coaches everywhere so players can be seen,” said Peyton Aldridge, who plays with the Team Work 17Us. “Great teams are here playing, it’s just a great setup.”

Team Work certainly did work on Friday night as the vast majority of the 17U teams got into bracket play. The Ohio program won both of its games, defeating the NY Gauchos and Florida Flash to set up a 3rd-round matchup with Team Charlotte (NC) on Saturday.

matt_klinewski_teamspeedA total of 15 other 17U teams won both their games on opening night, including teams from Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Jersey, Maryland, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, South Carolina and the District of Columbia.

With each team guaranteed to play at least three games, every player will certainly have a chance to put out their best effort with some of the top college coaches in the game sitting courtside. John Thompson III (Georgetown), Tom Crean (Indiana), Mark Turgeon (Maryland) and Jim Larranaga (Miami) were just some of the many notable faces.

(Bracket madness: for updated brackets, click here)

And playing well in this field is certainly no easy task. The amount of talent on the courts lends itself to a high quality of play, and forces everybody to bring their “A” game.

“Just playing against better competition makes me better,” said Victor Dorsey, whose Ohio Basketball Club also won both of its openers; they’ll play Baltimore’s Finest. “You don’t always get to see that competition in high school basketball.”

“I think the talent level is good, it’s pretty high, good competition all over,” Team Philly 17U guard Rashann London said. “I think it definitely helps us out, makes us better in the long run.”

Even though it was just day one, there was plenty of drama in the 17U (current high school juniors) division. The action closed late at S. Fayette High School, where East Coast Fusion-Lemcke (Va.) and King of the Court (Ohio) played to a wild finish, with ECF-Lemcke’s Aaron Young making a pair of free throws with one second left to give his team a 70-69 victory.

DC Assault-Farrington also needed double overtime, to beat Team Philly in a 80-78 thriller. Other close second-round games were Cecil Kirk (Md.) squeaking by Southern Kings (Ga.) 55-54, Maryland 3D’s 65-62 win over East Coast Fusion-Dalton (Va.) and Team Loaded (Va.)’s 60-57 victory over NJ Roadrunners.

Things really pick up on Saturday, with games starting early in the morning and continuing to late at night. And while all 150+ 17U squads play at least one game, by the time the courts are silent those numbers will have been trimmed dramatically as Sunday’s final approaches.

And for the athletes who will are entering their final year of high school basketball, the spotlight now shines brightest on them.

Time to see who shines back.

Josh Verlin is the founder/editor at CityofBasketballLove.com, covering Philadelphia-area high school + collegiate basketball. He’ll be covering the 17U scene at the Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest.