Pooley’s Picks: New Jersey Tip-Off

Pooley’s Picks

2016 New Jersey Tip-Off Preview

Qualifications:  Sticking with the theme of high school events we have NEW JERSEY BASKETBALL BACK!  Nothing like the start of basketball season in NJ and nothing like the 2016 New Jersey Tip-Off.  This week we’ll have a little different approach to Pooley’s Picks.  No specific qualifications this week, just some pointers for people to watch out for during this event and really the rest of the season.

Picks are in no particular order. Please enjoy the fifth installment of Pooley’s Picks.

2016 New Jersey Tip Off

The 2016 New Jersey Tip-Off: Ten great match ups. 5 of the top 7 teams in NJ.

The Event: For years (17 to be exact), the Hoop Group has put on the NJ Tip-Off.  Each year, it features high-profile match ups and top-tier talent. The event itself is well run and the venues are always excellent.  The 2016 New Jersey Tip-Off will be very much the same.  First, Eric Kessler and Dave Fedor have a ton of experience running events, and more importantly a ton of knowledge of the teams.  When you get the best teams together to start the season it is important to have a great setup and planning.  This event will have that and more.


HC of Pope John at 2016 New Jersey Tip-Off, Vincent Johnson, while at Lehigh.

Vincent Johnson: Vincent was named the head coach of Pope John after former coach Jason Hasson left for Pennsylvania.  “Chico” as many know him, is a great coach with an unbelievable background in basketball.  More importantly, he is a good friend of mine and an excellent mentor to many young ball players.  The #1 thing I’m excited for at the 2016 New Jersey Tip-Off is to watch Coach Johnson in his head coaching debut.  Now, he has been matched up with Roselle Catholic, a staple at the top of the NJ rankings.  Don’t be surprised if Coach Johnson and his young, talented squad can keep it close.

2016 New Jersey Tip-Off participant Mike Morreale

2016 New Jersey Tip-Off participant Mike Morreale

Michael Morreale:  The 6’5″ 2017 senior is one of my favorites.  He is an excellent player, known both for his excellent athleticism and long range jumpers.  Entering his senior year, he’ll be a valuable asset for Coach Mergin Sina and the Knights.  Look for Mike to knock down a couple threes and convert on a jam or two.  More than that, look for Mike to make the big play at the end.  Defensively Mike is one of the best around, guarding point guards right on down to centers.  More importantly, he is a great kid and a great teammate.  No question that at the 2016 New Jersey Tip-Off everyone will enjoy watching Mike.



Blair v Linden: Earlier in the year, in the first installment of Pooley’s Picks I predicted the most productive players in New Jersey.  This match up features (admittedly) my biggest snub: Tavon Jones.  I can’t wait to watch Tavon in his first opportunity to prove me wrong.  The big guard can do it all and will have a huge test against one of my favorite backcourts on the east coast.  Let’s not forget the match up also features two great coaches: Phil Colicchio and Joe Mantegna.


Bergen Catholic v St. Benedict’s:  Mark Taylor’s team is led by impressive Syracuse commit Bourama Sidibe and fab frosh Noah Farrakhan.  Billy Armstrong’s team is led by two senior guards Gabe Stefanini (Columbia) and Taj Benning (Fairfield).  Something has to give here.  This is the most evenly matched game of the weekend, and one I really am excited to see.  Look for the X-factor, 6’8″ freshman Matt Zona, to jump onto the New Jersey seen.


Ja’Quaye James:  The small, heady PG will have his work cut out for him against Newark East Side.  First, the Red Raiders are one of the best defenses at the 2016 New Jersey Tip-Off.  Second, they are led by senior stopper Elijah Olaniyi and sophomore stud Anas Amos.  However, none of that matters to James, who has been taking on the country’s best for years.   Watch for some highlight reel excitement, some up-tempo basketball, and a lot of buckets from James.


Hun vs Union Catholic:  Just a solid match up.  Union Catholic is tough and physical, Hun is tough and physical.  Guard play from both schools will be the difference in the game.  Hun will try to keep Jordan Pierce of the offensive boards and Union Catholic will need to keep Tyler Washington and Desmond Cambridge away from the rim. Freshman guard Niels Lane, who got a lot of minutes at PSA Cardinals Showcase just two weeks ago, is another X-factor.


Calistus Anyichie 2016 New Jersey Tip-Off commit

Calistus Anyichie 2016 New Jersey Tip-Off commit

St. Mary’s Elizabeth Bigs: Certainly not a group the casual fan would talk about, but I think that’s about to change.  Both bigs, Calistus Anyichie and Casmir Ochiaka, have big upside and great coaching.  Perhaps a little underrated right now, I’m looking for them to have a breakout 2016 New Jersey Tip-Off.  As the season continues, look for colleges to start taking notice as well.

Jabri Abdur-Rahim: First of all, it’s not often you get to see a freshman play major minutes in a High School game.  Second of all, it’s less often you get to see a top player nationally impact a game.  Finally, both of those two will come together for the 2016 New Jersey Tip-Off, as Abdur-Rahim will do his best to live up to the hype.


Samba Diallo:  Will BLOW UP this season.  Been hearing his name a lot lately in some basketball circles.  Samba has started coming into his own. First, look for this kid to have his first big game of the year at the 2016 New Jersey Tip-Off.  Then, look for him to finish his sophomore year with all of the offers.  The big lefty can do it all, and legitimately play 4 different positions.


Special Guest this week, Event Director Eric Kessler:

2016 Pitt Jam Fest Day Two Recap


A full slate of games in the heart of the live recruiting period gave plenty of memorable moments in downtown Pittsburgh.

With a full day of basketball in the rearview mirror, let’s take a look back at just some of the expansive action that took place at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center:

TTG Elite survive and advance

The Pittsburgh-based program is on its way to the 17U Platinum quarterfinals with a pair of wins Saturday. The first came in a 65-53 victory over Cecil Kirk where Brennan Jackson posted 10 points in the first half.

The second contest ended in heart-pounding fashion. The game against the Ohio Unity needed an extra frame to decide a winner after Ohio Unity hit three free throws with less than a second remaining to tie the game.

A Shawndale Jones contested layup with seconds on the clock to give TTG Elite a 53-51 victory. They’ll play for a chance to crack the Final Four when they play the DC Blue Devils at 9:15 a.m. on Sunday.

Blue Devils dominate

Speaking of the Blue Devils, they showed college coaches and fans alike why the program is a forced to be reckoned with.

The 17U Blue Devils started off the day with a standing room-only crowd watching their game with the Uncommon Bulls (VA). That contest turned into a blowout as the Blue Devils cruised to a 61-41 victory in a matchup littered with Division I talent.

DC got a bigger scare when they faced Team Final Black (PA) in the following round. The Blue Devils built a big lead, but a three-point barrage from Team Final Black made it a tightly-contested game. The Blue Devils were able to hold off long enough to secure a 59-56 win.

Tshiefu Ngalakulondi impressed throughout the day, putting his length and scoring ability on display with a number of high-impact dunks. Suk Mathon did his share in the post, playing well against Uncommon Bulls’ Simon Ejike-Obinna.

NJ Playaz Red scrap to wins

It wasn’t an easy day for the 16U NJ Playaz, but they made the most of their opportunities and continue into 16U Platinum championship bracket through Saturday.

The Playaz started off their day with a close 63-61 victory over Early Risers (NY) and found themselves in another grinding battle against TNBA West Ohio. Anas Amos hit a game-tying layup with 6.6 seconds in regulation, then a Playaz three-pointer with less than a minute all but secured the decision in a 57-53 overtime effort.

Jalen Carey displayed why he is considered a top 50 prospect in the 2018 class, displaying a smooth shot and plenty of athleticism that has plenty of high-majors pining for the 6-foot-2 New Jersey guard.

The Playaz compete in the quarterfinals against Erick Green Premiere at 8 a.m. on Sunday.

Middlesex creates Magic en route to quarterfinals

The Middlesex Magic had a path to the 17U Platinum quarterfinals that was far from a given.

The Massachusetts-based program was given all it could handle in the third round against TNBA West Vega (OH), but pulled away with a hard-fought 45-41 win.

The road didn’t get any easier with a matchup against Team Takeover Black 16U, one of the more athletic programs in the entire field. A back-and-forth affair that had plenty of physical moments ended in the Magic’s favor by way of a 59-55 triumph. Brendan Hoban tallied 18 points and 6 assists in the win; the 6’2 guard has had quite the weekend.

Cormac Ryan impressed throughout the day, scoring in bunches. The 6-foot-5 guard connected on four three-pointers in the Magic’s first game and posted 22 points in the win.

Middlesex will get the chance to battle its way to the championship, starting with a 9:15 a.m. Sunday tipoff against WV Wildcats Select.

#PittJamFest Championship Recap

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The Pittsburgh Jam Fest has become one of the biggest events of the Spring live period. Playing host to over 350 teams, the Pitt Jam Fest sees teams from all across the country come and compete in front of hundreds of college coaches for a chance to win a championship. Eight teams left Pittsburgh with a great achievement to add to their program’s resume. Let’s break down the winners in each division.

Open Bracket:

Anyone who saw Northeast Basketball Club at the Spring Jam Fest, knew they were a talented club. After losing on a buzzer beater to the powerhouse Canaries Basketball Academy, Northeast came into Pitt with a more focused mindset. After two wins, they had an Elite Eight match up against the NY Panthers, a final four team in the Spring Jam Fest. In what was a great game, Northeast held off the Panthers and won an exciting game by 3. They would carry that momentum over and take a commanding win over Athlete’s Plus.

The best part about Northeast’s performance this weekend was the fact that they had different leading scorers in most of their games. In the Final Four, Marlon Taylor led the way with 23 and in the final it was Shakur Juiston, who had 27. Asem Johnson was also a double digit scorer in every game this weekend, providing key baskets whenever his team needed them.

Open NorthEast Basketball Club

17u Platinum Bracket:

The West Virginia Wildcats flexed their muscles in the most dense bracket of the 2015 Pittsburgh Jam Fest. The Wildcats showed their dominance, winning every game by double digits. They ended up having one of the most diverse schedules, playing, and beating, teams from New York, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Minnesota on their way to a championship.

West Virginia’s roster is filled with Division I prospects, including WVU commits Brandon Knapper and Chase Harler.  In the championship game, the Cats jumped out to an early lead on Team Loaded 757 and never relinquished it. Thanks to the big play inside of Maceij Bender and the court leadership of Knapper, West Virginia had no problem holding off Team Loaded for a Pitt Jam Fest championship.


17u Steel:

At the same time the West Virginia (Gold) team was winning their championship, West Virginia (Blue) was having equal success in the 17U Steel bracket. After knocking off a string of teams from the Maryland and New York area, this West Virginia team saw themselves in a final versus Indiana Faith.

Thanks to the play inside by Thomas Cole and the outside shooting from Luke Dyer, West Virginia made winning look easy this past weekend. Congratulations to the West Virginia Wildcats Blue team on winning the 17u Steel Division!

17u Steel West Virginia Wildcats

17u Gold:

The 17u Gold bracket saw four teams go 2-0 in pool play on Saturday, setting up some semifinal match ups that were worth talking about.

After going 2-0 on Saturday, the Rockland Rockets went into Sunday with the expectation of winning a championship. If they wanted to win it all though, they would have to get past a Common Bond (MI) team that was riding a lot of momentum after two big blow out wins Saturday.  Rockland was going to need to play a great game to beat the Michigan team, and they did, hanging on and winning a close one 66-59. They would then go on to top JSL Hoops and win the 17u championship. Rockland was led by Kevin Jefferson, who had two 30 point scoring efforts on Saturday, making shot after shot after shot from the outside. Congratulations to the Rockland Rockets!

17u Gold Rockland Rockets

16u Platinum:

The Jersey Shore Warriors won their second Jam Fest Championships in as many attempts this Spring. Coming in as a top seed after winning the Spring Jam Fest, the Warriors faced a tough test on their road to a second championship of the Spring. They had to beat several well established programs including the NJ Roadrunners and Team Loaded 757 just to get to the Final Four. There they met a hot Minnesota Fury team, and ended their four game win streak, setting up a final game versus Team Melo.

The championship match was everything  we expected it to be: a gritty back and forth battle with neither team backing down. Team Melo had great length and size. They were being led by the great play of Andre Rafus and Chris Orlina, two big, long wings who shoot the basketball well. The championship game that came down to the final minutes, the Warriors got timely hoops from Sam Iorio and Taylor Funk to give them a lead. Talek Williams was very solid all weekend at the guard spot for the Warriors, who one again showed balanced team play every game. Funk was the game MVP with 13 points in the final.

16u Platinum Jersey Shore Warriors

16u Steel:

The 16u Steel Division final consisted of two teams who came out of the center of their brackets to advance to a championship game. Upstate Basketball Club and PG Bulls each put together a four game win streak to get themselves in position for a championship. When the two met Sunday afternoon though, it was the PG Bulls squad from Maryland that would get the best of Upstate and be crowned champions, but it did not come easy. This championship game would be one of the best of the weekend!

After leading by eight at the break, Upstate came back and would actually take a 53-52 lead late in the second half. However, 40 minutes would not be enough and this game would see some overtime. The extra period was all PG Bulls. with under 10 seconds remaining, Upstate tied the game with a three and we looked like double OT was a real possibility; the Bulls had other ideas. They took the inbound, took the ball the length of the floor and layed it in at the buzzer for a win and 16u Steel trophy!




Buckeye Prep came, saw and conquered in Pittsburgh this weekend, and that’s saying something with how loaded the 15u bracket was. By the end of the day Saturday, we were looking at an Elite Eight that consisted of teams such as Baltimore’s Finest, Team Sizzle, Michigan Gators Elite, Erick Green Premier, Wiz Kids Basketball, Canada Elite and Team Felton, along with Prep.

Of these eight, Canada Elite and Buckeye Prep would meet in the final, and deservedly so. Both teams put together great weekends of basketball, beating some tough competition along the way. IN the championship game, it would be Buckeye Prep who would stand tall, using a big second half run to move past Canada Elite and take home the trophy. Dane Goodwin was a big reason for the second half run. The Ohio State commit could not miss and Canada Elite had no answer for him.

15u Buckeye Prep


The 14u bracket may have had one of the most exciting final fours of every division in Pittsburgh. Match ups between the New Jersey Playaz and Rise High as well as Team Ennis and Team Takeover Orange made for exciting semifinal  games. Both games provided packed and raucous crowds, and provided a lot of excitement. NJ Playaz and Team Takeover would meet in the final.

In the final, we saw a back and forth affair between two very good teams. The Playaz were able to gain a little separation before the half, leading 38-30. Takeover came out firing in the second, and would go up by as much as 6. Heru Bligen was huge for Takeover offensively. There was no quit in the Playaz though, and they would tie the game with 3 minutes to play, and take a lead with for good shortly after. They would hold on for a 62-61 win. Raejon Figures was a big time scorer for them and Anas Amos was MVP, being an all around great playmaker for his team when they needed him.

14u NJ Playaz

A special thanks to all of our teams, coaches and parents for making this weekend so successful. Congratulations to all eight teams on their fantastic weekends! The next Jam Fest will be in Rhode Island for the Providence Jam Fest. Look forward to seeing what the New England area has in store for us!