All over Los Angeles County - Leave it to Dinos Trigonis, Director of the Pangos Sweet 16 live period event this past weekend, to provide players, parents, college coaches and media alike some opening night dramatics.
The final game of the first evening slate at Cerritos College on Friday pitted Trigonis' Belmont Shore squad against the newly-resurfaced H-Squad team, led by fabled grassroots firecracker Rick Isaacs.
The teams fought tooth-and-nail, as did the two coaches; the body language tense and the coaching just the same. But when the buzzer sounded, H-Squad prevailed, 55-53, capped by two clutch free throws from 2016 guard Ryan Beddeo.
Aside from the highly-anticipated coaching matchup described above, there was some good basketball to seen.
BTI All-Stars 17s, paced by 2015 unsigned senior guard Isaiah Brooks, defeated Fastbreak Sports 17s Blue, led by another unsigned senior, Ke'Jhan Feagin, 54-38 to take the Invitational Division championship.
Here's how the rest of the championship games played out:
Platinum Division: Middlebrooks Academy 57, Above & Beyond Elite 50
Premier Division: NIT 58, Infinite Ability 49
Diamond Division: OC Magic White 70, TPI 62
Select Division: Arizona Magic 16s 39, MOC Magic 28
Ruby Division: Solano Select 61, Long Beach Gold Elite 16s 57
Gold Division: Coastal Elite Orange 15s 60, AZ Stars 15s Elite 48
There were hundreds of teams spread across eight different locations, so getting to see each and every team proved to be an impossible task, but let's go through some of the top performers that I watched, by age group, from the event (in no order):
2016 PG Mikey Howell, Coastal Elite 17s - Howell might have been the best pure point guard I watched all weekend long. The shifty 6-foot-2 floor general made a killing when penetrating into the lane and kicking the ball out to his teammates for open looks. Howell was able to knock down a couple shots of his own, showed a bit of a float-game, but his vision and his quick first step were the most impressive parts of his game.
2015 G Isaiah Nichols, Belmont Shore - Nichols was one of many unsigned seniors playing in front of college coaches and was perhaps the best of them all. What stands out most about Nichols is his versatility. At 6-foot-5 with a strong 200-plus-pound frame, he showed the ability to bully smaller guards on the offensive end and effectively defend against them on the other end. Nichols was at his best when attacking in transition. He’s a good defensive rebounder, led the break and got to the basket at will.
2016 F/C Jayce Johnson, SCA Red Elite 17s - Johnson recorded double-digit rebounds in each of his games on the weekend. Those familiar with Southern California basketball know that the 6-foot-11 Johnson is one of the hardest working bigs around and doesn’t shy away from contact. His offensive package is starting to come along, he can finish with both hands around the rim and is starting put defenders in the rim with dunks.
2018 PG Spencer Freedman, SCA Red Elite 17s - It was more of the same from Freedman. High IQ point guard play, great passing, unselfishness, and the lefty-stroke from deep 3-point range. The 5-foot-11 sophomore-to-be is also becoming a tyrant in the pick-and-roll. He attacks the hedge if there is one, dropping a pocket pass to the screener rolling to the rim, and if the defense sinks, he kills it with a 3-ball.
2018 wing Wayne Arnold, SCA Red Elite 17s - The overly-used description that is “upside” cannot be used enough to describe Arnold. He has all the tools of a next-level perimeter player - jump shot, handle, effortless athleticism, length, court presence - all he needs is to do is continue to work on the craft and fine tune his game. Arnold is as gifted offensively as you’ll find for a player at this stage of his development, but the Compton Dominguez product showed some defensive prowess over the weekend with a couple of eye-popping chase-down style blocked shots.
2015 PG Ke’Jhan Feagin, Fastbreak Sports 17s Blue - Feagin’s team might have fallen in the Invitational Division championship game, but other than that, his weekend was nothing short of a success. The 6-foot-1 product of Long Beach Poly high school was known for his steadiness and defensive prowess throughout his prep career and gave more of the same over the weekend. Feagin is solid with the ball in his hands, made good decisions and provided top-notch leadership and effort throughout the event.
2016 G Colin Ferrier, Gamepoint 17s Select - If you watched any Trinity League basketball during the high school season, this name should ring a bell. Ferrier preps at Santa Margarita High and became known there for his picturesque jump shot. The 6-foot-3 prospect was definitely stroking that jumper from all over the court on the weekend. He hit from deep and mid-range, with the pull-up, off-the-dribble and on drive-and-kicks, as well.
2016 wing Eric Pierce, Gamepoint 17s Select - Pierce is one of those guys that really looks the part. He’s 6-foot-5, long, athletic, and has the game to match. Pierce was scoring from everywhere on Sunday, knocking down 3-pointers and elbow jumpers, attacking off the dribble and finishing some pretty one-handed dunks. While he projects as an off-guard, Pierce has enough of a handle at this time to initiate offense and take pressure off the lead-guard.
2016 G Ryan Beddeo, H-Squad - Beddeo will be a 2015 graduate out of West Ranch High in Valencia, but is planning a prep year at Brewster Academy, hence the listing as a 2016 prospect. Either way, Beddeo can play. He was steady all weekend long and is a deadly 3-point shooter when he’s on. Most know that if you’re going to play for Rick Isaacs, you better play hard, and Beddeo works his tail off. He gets on the ground for loose balls, sits down defensively and gets after it on both ends of the floor.
2016 F Nik Mains, Passion4Ball Elite 17s - At 6-foot-8, maybe a touch over 200 pounds, Mains, out of Pinnacle high school in Phoenix, is a long and slender forward who showed a smooth all-around offensive game. Not only can Mains spread the floor from behind the arc, but he was also effective at the high-post, knocking down the 15-footer or finding teammates for open looks.
2019 wing Isaiah Mobley, Compton Magic 15s - Mobley is the first of seven Compton Magic 15U players that played well in the Showcase Division this weekend. At 6-foot-7, Mobley can play just about any position on the court. He can handle the ball like a point guard, can work off the ball and wreak havoc on the wing and he threw in a couple of grown-man post moves that proved difficult to stop. Mobley has scary potential.
2020 F Ben Todd, Compton Magic 15s - It might be borderline ridiculous to talk about a 2020 prospect, but Ben Todd is worth it. Todd is a 6-foot-9 forward? I use a question mark because, on multiple occasions, Todd pulled down a defensive rebound, lost a defender with a through-the-legs dribble, and went coast-to-coast, finishing the break with some great looks to teammates for easy baskets. Todd is still in the early stages of his development, but if his smooth hook shot is any indication of what’s to come, he should be fun to monitor.
2017 G Justin McCall, Compton Magic 15s - McCall has that prototypical wing frame at 6-foot-4 with spectacular wingspan. McCall is a good shooter from anywhere on the floor, but especially from three.
2019 F Paul Bingaman, Compton Magic 15s - Bingaman is an absolute bruiser in the paint. He made a living this weekend on the offensive glass, snatching rebounds and finishing with either hand. He has a solid frame at 6-foot-5 and a great set of hands.
2019 PG Jordan Montgomery, Compton Magic 15s - Montgomery showed some flashes of being in that true point guard mold. At 5-foot-10, he’s a pass-first player with a steady handle. He sank a handful of 3-pointers on the weekend, too.
2019 F Solomon Davis, Compton Magic 15s - Davis was yet another Compton Magic forward with a great set of hands. The 6-foot-6 prospect caught every pass thrown his way, good or bad, and finishes strong in the paint with either hand.
2018 G Tae Lee, Compton Magic 15s - Lee is a solidly-built 6-foot-4 wing player who came alive on Sunday afternoon. He was burying shots from all over the floor and led his team to a blowout in its final game of the weekend.