Players take advantage of live period tune-up
GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — Last weekend’s SoCal Hoop Review at Next Level Sports Complex proved to be a pretty good tune-up for travel ball teams heading into the first live viewing period of the spring. Many of Southern California’s top travel programs, including Cal Supreme’s Nike EYBL teams, Earl Watson Elite’s Under Armour Association squads and Gamepoint’s adidas Gauntlet crews, participated in the two-day event in Garden Grove at near or full-strength. Saturday night pitted the 17U squads of Cal Supreme and Earl Watson Elite against one another and that turned out to be one hellacious match-up. The game was packed with the physical play and jaw-jacking one would expect when two local programs on different circuits come together in showcase style. It was also packed with upwards of 18 potential Division I college basketball players - an embarrassment of riches, really. Earl Watson Elite took the 84-69 victory over Cal Supreme behind strong performances from class of 2017 power forward Ira Lee, 2017 California-commit Jemarl Baker and fellow junior Juhwan Harris-Dyson. As far as individual assessments went for EWE: Lee plays with as high of a motor as you’ll find in the country. His energy on both ends of the floor is infections, he crashes the glass on both ends of the floor which leads to easy put-back buckets or a quick outlet and an easy look in transition. Lee mentioned that he’s been working on his perimeter skill-set and he did knock down a couple of face-up 18-footers. Baker’s ability to shoot the basketball is downright refreshing. In a day-and-age when players spend all their time working on dribble moves or dunking for the mixtape men lined up on the baseline, Baker has that old-school, throwback two-guard feel. He can hit from 3-point range both off the catch and bounce, but he is also capable of draining a two-dribble mid-range pull-up. Harris-Dyson plays with a similar energy to that of Lee. The most impressive part of his game over the weekend was his dedication to the defensive end. Harris-Dyson uses his speed and length to get into passing lanes for steals, but he’s also a tremendous rebounder for his position. Offensively, Harris-Dyson is a spectacular slasher and finisher in traffic and through contact. The only pieces left to add to his game are a consistent perimeter jumper and ball-skills to be able to create that shot himself. For Cal Supreme, I came away very impressed by 2017 Santa Ana Mater Dei wing Justice Sueing. The junior showcased his smoothness on offense with a pretty pull-up 15 footer and threw down a heck of a one-handed dunk going full-steam down the middle of the lane. I’ve covered Bishop Montgomery junior Ethan Thompson at length on the site and he was good as always for Cal Supreme. Thompson is the ultimate two-way player on the high school level. He can score at all three levels - hits the 3, has a good mid-range package with a pull-up and a floater, but he’s an underrated athlete who isn’t afraid to put someone in the basket. But his defense is what is really impressive. He has a high IQ on his help on drives and recovering to close out to 3-point shooters and is a lock-down on-ball defensive player. Brandon McCoy, a junior out of Cathedral Catholic in San Diego, was another guy who had good moments for Cal Supreme. His size, length and athleticism are imposing on the defensive end and defensive glass, but his ability to get up and down the floor quickly is what stood out. McCoy is damn-near unstoppable on the high school level when he’s got his motor running full bore. What will make McCoy completely unstoppable is better shot selection (shot a lot of 3-pointers), continued development of his post footwork and a little more patience on the block to survey the best course of action. The guard-duo of 2019 Cassius Stanley (Harvard-Westake) and 2018 Brandon Williams (Crespi) was impressive, as well. Stanley is a big-time athlete with an improving jumper and ball-skills, while Williams is an established scorer who is learning how to read defenses and make high IQ passes. On Sunday, I zoned in on Gamepoint 17U Elite and Big Ballers VXT. After watching Gamepoint, I came away very impressed with the progression of 2018 Gamepoint forward Warren Washington (Escondido HS) and 2018 guard Jalen Flanagan (El Camino HS).
Gamepoint's Warren Washington (above) brought an improved perimeter skill-set into the live period warmup.
Washington is pushing 6-feet-10 now. When you combine that with mobility, fluidity and an improving perimeter skill-set, you have the definition of an “intriguing prospect.” Washington said he’s been hitting the weight room hard in order to add strength to his long and lanky frame. Flanagan has always been a smooth guard who can handle it and shoot it - especially from mid-range. But his transition dunk over a couple Cal Supreme guys brought to light a whole different layer of his game - the ability to attack the rim and finish in traffic. 2018 point guard Taurus Samuels didn’t have his best weekend as far as shot-making went, but what stood out was that he was able to create good looks for himself. Sometimes they just don’t fall and that’s OK. Samuels is one of the better decision-makers you’ll find at the PG position in Southern California. His ball-hawking perimeter defense was another aspect of his game that has gotten better. Nate Matthews, a 2017 guard out of Edison High in Huntington Beach, put his best foot forward before an ankle injury sidelined him Sunday morning. Matthews is an elite on-ball defender who can really shoot it off the catch from 3. The Gamepoint guys have him running the point for them and the evolution of that skill-set will be a crucial factor in what level Matthews projects at. The Big Ballers a.k.a. Chino Hills high school might’ve been the most interesting team to watch this weekend. This was the first time in a long while that the squad was without the best point guard in the country in Lonzo Ball, and while the absence of Zo wasn’t felt much on the offensive end, there were some glaring deficiencies on the defensive size as far as rebound and contesting shots at the rim went. Lonzo aside, LiAngelo Ball was his normal self. He hit plenty of deep 3’s and displayed his advanced post footwork and 15-foot bank shot. LaMelo Ball has a ridiculous feel for the game. Plain and simple. He creates space with the dribble which allows him to get his shot off with ease. He has tremendous vision and timing on his passes and is one of the more crafty finishers around the rim that you’ll find. The most fascinating part of the Big Ballers was the maturation of the game of 2017 forward Elizjah Scott. Scott is known for his high-flying dunks and beastly rebounds, but he’s taken on more of a scoring role and was hitting the corner trey-ball with consistency. There were a couple of standouts on the 16U level, as well, led by 2018 forward Miles Norris of Earl Watson Elite 16U UAA and Chula Vista Mater Dei Catholic. Norris is ridiculously skilled for a guy with his size and length. He was knocking down 3-pointers and getting to the rack off the bounce, but the most striking part of Norris’ weekend was how smooth he was in transition. Sophomores Riley Battin (Oak Park), Wes Slajchert (Oak Park), Wayne Arnold (Compton Dominguez) and Christian Swint (Compton) all had good moments for EWE 16s, as well. Tevian Jones, a forward out of Chandler high school in Arizona, was unconscious from the perimeter for Cal Supreme’s 16U EYBL squad. Jones is all of 6-feet-5 and a stellar athlete who can finish above the rim in transition.