Jeffries, Lewis, many others impress in Memorial Weekend hoops tournaments
GARDEN GROVE and ORANGE, Calif. — We’ve been waiting so long and it finally happened: Southern California was the beneficiary of not one, but TWO solid club basketball tournaments on the same weekend. And after some of the hoops I’ve seen this spring, the back-and-forth between Orange Lutheran high school for the Compton Magic Memorial Day Classic and The MAP Sports Facility for Under Armour Association III in Garden Grove was a welcome gas tank-draining, borderline starvation expedition. Let’s start closest to my house with UAAIII with 17U’s and working down to some 15U’s: I spent parts of Saturday and most of Sunday at watching cats from all over the country hoop at the The MAP where normally I’m the one getting shots up on the ICE-O court with elite trainer Shea Frazee. There was another guy getting shots up on Saturday night, making a whole lot of ‘em, and that was 2017 Earl Watson Elite guard Jemarl Baker. Baker, a California-commit, controlled the head-to-head matchup with consensus five-star guard Trevon Duval of WER1 with his shooting ability. Baker got hot early from behind-the-arc and rode that wave into the second half, knocking down jumpers from every spot on the floor to the tune of 34 points and the much-coveted win. Class of 2018 point guard Spencer Freedman and 2017 power forward Ira Lee each had a big hand in helping Earl Watson Elite to victory, as well. Freedman knocked down a pair of clutch and timely 3-pointers, then jumped into a passing lane for a steal which resulted in a foul and two ice-cold free throws. Lee is your consummate hustle guy. His gas pedal is pushed to the floor and unrelenting. He defends multiple positions, sprints the floor in transition, rebounds both ends of the floor, can finish with both hands around the rim and never scolds or looks down upon his teammates. Duval struggled in the first half due to the fantastic defensive work of 2017 wing Juhwan Harris-Dyson, but was able to get into a flow in the second half. Duval has the basketball on string, is quick with the ball in transition, super shifty in traffic, explodes out of the triple-threat and finishes over and through contact with the best of the best. Let’s stay in California for a bit, but move North to the Bay. Splash City 17s 2017 guard combo of Jade Smith and Damari Milstead compliment each other with a finesse and power approach, respectively. Darrin Person, a bruising and beastly 2017 power forward, put in a strong two days of work. Person is an absolute workhorse who welcomes and feeds off of contact. A good chunk of my time at Under Armour was spent wondering how anyone can list 2017 Indy Hoosiers point guard Paul Scruggs is a shooting guard. Scruggs is a natural leader, unselfish by nature and controlled the tempo of each game I watched him play in. At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds with a vast wingspan, Scruggs might’ve been the most college-ready guard in the gym all weekend long. He’s seemingly always in control and can get to the rack and score whenever he feels it’s necessary. Scruggs’ teammate, Kris Wilkes, was another impressive prospect on that Indy Hoosiers squad. Wilkes plays with a ton of energy on both ends - blocking shots and switching out onto guards defensively, which leads to fast break opportunities and finishes suited to go straight to the highlight-reel. Speaking of impressive guards, New Heights (NY) 2017 quartet of Isaiah Washington, Keith Williams, Sidney Wilson and Saquan Singleton was superb. Washington is the true point guard of the bunch - gritty, pass-first and tough, while Williams, Wilson and Singleton have the size and feel of combo guards. Six-foot-11 center Moses Brown is another player to monitor on that New Heights crew. Brown is still a raw prospect in every sense of the term, but does have a good set of hands and strong grasp on the importance of sealing deep post position for a rising junior. Another big man who showed flashes of brilliance was 2017 Florida Vipers power forward Raiquan Gray. At 6-8, 235 pounds, Gray is a load in the paint to begin with and is a problem when you add in his footwork and soft hands. Sticking with the big man theme, 6-foot-10 Team Thad (TN) center Austin Wiley had a lot of strong moments. Wiley has a wide body and uses it to his advantage, getting deep post position and finishing with either hand. Let’s move to the South where Louisiana Elite’s Joshua Anderson and Cedric Russell come together as a formidable duo. Both Anderson and Russell are elite scoring guards who can fill it up from anywhere. Back to the Midwest and KC Run GMC (KS) where D’Shawn Schwartz showed off his high motor and defensive versatility. Much like the above-mentioned Lee and Wilkes, Schwartz doesn’t take plays off, defends, rebounds and runs the floor with purpose. Rounding out the stellar guard play over the weekend is the aptly-named 2017 Jalek Felton of Team Felton (NC) and 2018 Javonte Smart of Team BeastMode (TX) Felton is a long, lanky and lightning quick guard who can score it and pass it in equal quantities. He might have been the quickest guard, end-to-end, in the building. Smart has an imposing combination of size, speed and skill. At 6-4 and 185 pounds, Smart has the instincts of a true point guard and the shot-making ability of a pure two. 16U There was a very intriguing collection of big men in the 16U age bracket at Under Armour, led by 2018 Sports U (NJ) center Nazreon Reid. Reid is all of 6-feet-10 and and 225 pounds with touch around the rim and face-up game to boot. Louis King was another standout for Sports U. He’s a legitimate wing at 6-feet-9 who gets to rim off the bounce and can knock down the open 3-ball. Point guard Jahvon Quinerly had good moments for Sports U, as well. He’s a heady and high IQ PG who plays with great pace, patience and poise. Decorian “DJ” Jeffries of Team Thad (TN) was one of the more fascinating prospects in the gym last weekend. At 6-7, 200 pounds, he can play inside-out and does so with a ton of hustle. Jeffries was swatting shots away at the rim, then sprinting the floor for an easy deuce.
Decorian "DJ" Jeffries (above) had a strong weekend at UAA III in Garden Grove.
Six-foot-9, class of 2018 center Koran Moore of Baltimore United was another big man who showed off an impressive combination of size, mobility and touch. His face-up game isn’t as polished as Reid’s, but he’s just as effective in the painted-area. DC Premier brought a deep crew to Garden Grove led by big men Jermaine Harris (2018) and Makhi Mitchell (2019). That duo was nearly unstoppable with high-low action and windshield wiper-like rebounding on both ends. Mitchell’s twin brother, Makhel, isn’t as far along in his development as his sibling, but he’s got a few inherent tools you cannot teach - good hands and feet. The guard tandem of Derquan Washington and Donovan Toatley was very effective for DC Premier, as well. Washington has an unorthodox shooting motion but it goes in, a lot, so who cares? Toatley is more the bully of the two, attacking the basket and finishing with a floater or pull-up, then getting back and playing some lockdown defense. Two of the best 2019 players you’ll find in the country were in this age bracket and on the same side in Team Rio’s Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine. The best way to describe Lewis to those familiar with Southern California basketball is a 6-foot-5 hyrbrid of Ernie Sears frame and fluidity along with the explosiveness of Cassius Stanley.
Scottie Lewis (above) added to his vast collection of highlight reel finishes at UAA III.
Add in the fact that Lewis can knockdown perimeter jumpers, defends and plays with a high motor and you’ve got yourself a player. Antoine is as smooth as they come with long strides and a feathery touch. The local squad, Earl Watson Elite, had its usual suspects doing work. Class of 2018 shooting guard Wayne "Wonder Years" Arnold was on fire from the perimeter all weekend. His one and two-dribble pull-up game is tough to match. Six-foot-9 forward Miles Norris had some good moments, but is still working on keeping his production at a high level on a more consistent basis. 15U I didn’t get to see as much of the 15s as I would have liked, but 6-foot-4 Martell Winters of Young Legends (WI) has all the makings of big-time player in the future. Class of 2019 Jaden Delaire (Connecticut Basketball Club), Jordan Toles (Baltimore United), Marvin Price (DC Blue Devils) and Keion Brooks (Indy Hoosiers) were all impressive on the 15U level. Now we can switch shoe circuits and move 20 miles east to Orange Lutheran high to breakdown what I saw at the Compton Magic Memorial Classic. The first thing you’ll notice at any event the Big Ballers are in, there’s still a show even without Zo. Class of 2019 guard LaMelo Ball is an absolute freak, everyone should know that by now, while LiAngelo Ball keeps getting better on the block and Elizjah Scott continues to diversify his game. The most intriguing addition to both Big Ballers and Chino Hills high school is 2019 guard Phaquon Davis. Davis can get hot from 3-point range in a hurry and is a bulldog defensively. Orlando Robinson of the Las Vegas Knicks impressed me on Saturday morning. The 6-foot-8 rising junior is a throwback big who has great awareness in the post and a knack for using the glass. The 2017 Dream Vision duo of Sebastian Much (JSerra) and Evan Battey (Villa Park) are both extremely skilled and high IQ players. Sharpshooters Dawson Baker (Capo Valley) and Blake Burzell (Laguna Beach) had the South Orange County flow going for Dream Vision 16s, knocking down pretty jumpers from 3-point range. Exum Elite (UT) 17s Emmanuel Akot is a true jack-of-all-trades. He’s a fluid athlete at 6-6 and uses his length to clean the offensive and defensive glass while putting his versatile offensive game to work.
Class of 2018 G/F Matt Bradley led Team Eleate to an upset win over Compton Magic and a Final Four appearance in the 16U bracket. Bradley is a complete beast on both ends of the floor. He knocks down perimeter shots and uses his strength to overwhelm opponents and get to the basket. UCLA-bound point guard Jaylen Hands is still smooth as ever, ripping cross-overs and getting to the rack like the Reverend Jim Jones taught him. 2017 power forward Jalen Hill showed a desire to be a defensive presence, altering and blocking shots at the rim. 2018 small forward Timmy “The Tool Man” Allen does it all. High motor, skilled, athletic and likes to mix it up. Still, though, the most intriguing long-term prospect is Compton Magic and Chino Hills center Onyeka Okongwu. All you need to know is he has the natural “it factor.”