IRVINE, Ca. — There aren’t many “firsts” for me when it comes to basketball nowadays.
I’ve seen a little bit of everything, whether it was playing it in my youth and high school days, covering it for various newspapers, or scouting it for my own personal startup venture.
But Saturday at Beckman high school presented something I had yet to experience - my very first event coming to fruition.
The Hoops By Ugland Skills Summit was the product of a split second decision turned into late nights and early mornings of planning, thousands of emails sent and stressful days of waiting to hear back from sponsors, and months of hustling and uncertainty while trying to find the right gym to host the event.
This first happened to be one of the most rewarding experiences in my many years of playing and covering the sport.
We had high level coaches willing to impart wisdom without knowing if they were going to paid. We had no-ego kids in the gym who were coachable and hungry to get better. We had a strong contingent of media and college coaches willingly shared their knowledge. And we had two accomplished guest speakers who were happy to give back to the kids.
All fluff aside, the Hoops By Ugland Skills Summit went better than I ever imagined, and now on to some of the standouts.
Damien High’s Jarred Hyder was one of the top seniors at the event. The 6-foot-3 combo guard had his explosive scoring repertoire on display, knocking in a number of contested step-back 3-pointers and breaking defenders down off the dribble in isolation, getting to the basket where he finished with finesse.
Damien guard Jarred Hyder proved why he's considered one of SoCal's best seniors at the Hoops By Ugland Skills Summit. Photo credit: Dylan Stewart.
There was no tougher player in the gym than Noel Scott, a senior from Washington Prep in Los Angeles. The 6-foot-4 guard gave effort and energy on both ends of the floor, resulting in steals on one end and dunks on the other.
Scott’s high school and club teammate, Bilal Mike, was a menace to deal with in transition, getting downhill and putting defenders on their heels en route to a handful of power finishes and dunks in the paint.
Long Beach Poly senior Justin Rene came prepared to show off his best attributes: His ability to break defenders down in isolation and get into his two dribble pull-up or right-hand drive and finish.
The Riverside Notre Dame senior trio of Anthony Holland, Anton Mozga and Pierce Sterling didn’t disappoint. Holland, a 6-foot-4 senior, was scoring inside and out. Mozga, a 6-foot-5 senior, showed more pop in his legs with tons of two-handed dunks and Sterling, a 6-foot-1 lefty shooter, actually made it a point to get to the basket off the dribble and show he’s been working on his driving and finishing.
Most of you who read my stuff regularly know that the coverage wouldn’t be complete without some sleepers and the 2019 class presented one out of Orange County in Troy High’s Trevor Seesmann.
The 6-foot-3 shooting guard has good length for his size and is more athletic than he’s given credit for. Seesemann was knocking down the open catch-and-shoot trey opportunities, but he also attacked weak closeouts and got into the paint for high percentage buckets.
Another senior flying well under-the-radar is Dos Pueblos point guard Jaron Rillie, whose passing and court vision catches teammates off-guard and whose basketball IQ has him playing one step ahead of everybody else.
The class of 2020 representatives were paced by Bishop Montgomery’s Bradley Ezewiro, Culver City’s Keith Dinwiddie, Oak Park’s Clark Slajchert, Fairmont Prep’s Atin Wright, Archbishop Mitty’s Marcus Greene and Damien’s Austin Cook.
Ezewiro nearly pulled down every backboard in the gym with his monstrous two-hand slams. Dinwiddie scored at-will, whether it was a pull-up 3, mid-range jumper, or transition drive to the cup. Slajchert had onlookers dubbing him “white chocolate” with his advanced feel for the game and smooth scoring ability.
Atin Wright pulls up for a jumper during the skills portion of the Hoops By Ugland Skills Summit. Photo credit: Dylan Stewart.
Wright showed why he is considered one of the premier perimeter scorers in SoCal’s junior class. Greene was balancing playmaking for himself and others with precision. And Cook, who is known for his shooting prowess, made it a point to get to the basket and use his big body to finish through contact.
Thousand Oaks wing Justin Stanziano is a player to monitor over the next couple of seasons. The 6-foot-4 junior has a strong frame and welcomes physicality when driving and finishing through contact in the paint.
St. John Bosco point guard Joshua Camper comes from great basketball bloodlines and there’s no denying his high basketball IQ and ability to make others around him better.
Los Alamitos high point guard Kevin Kent used his speed to blow by defenders, but showed improved finishing ability over big men in the paint.
Cerritos High sophomore Alex Archer was one of the standouts in the 2021 contingent. The lanky 6-foot-3 guard is developing into a playmaking point guard, showcasing his unselfish drive and kick ability, while also getting off the ball in transition, kicking ahead to teammates streaking down the court.
Etiwanda wing Jahmai Mashack (right) showed improved mid-range shooting ability at the Hoops By Ugland Skills Summit. Photo credit: Dylan Stewart.
Etiwanda sophomore Jahmai Mashack showed why Eagles coach Dave Kleckner speaks so highly of him, as his versatility on both ends drew a lot of attention from coaches and scouts in the building. His Inland Empire brethren Isaiah Harris, a 5-11 point guard out of Citrus Hill, put his name on the radar as a crafty playmaker and scorer to keep an eye on.
AJ Burgin, a San Diego high school product, was another prospect to shed the “shooter” tag, though that’s not such a bad reputation to have. Burgin, a 6-foot-1 guard, took the challenge of defending the opponents top player in both of his games, and did that with success.
Jessie Campbell, Burgin’s classmate and fellow San Diego product, had a nose for the basketball, coming up with countless offensive rebounds based strictly on activity and wanting the ball more than others. Campbell has a lot of upside as a point guard prospect.
San Diego High guard AJ Burgin drives baseline at Saturday's Hoops By Ugland Skills Summit at Beckman high school. Photo credit: Dylan Stewart.
Another local sophomore standout was Everett May of Los Alamitos high school. The lanky 6-foot-4 wing can shoot it and score it with the best of ‘em and has a bright future so long as he keeps his focus in the right place and that’s developing out the rest of his game.
Of the incoming freshmen at the camp, Milwaukee-native and current Arizona resident De’Vontes Cobbs was the most outstanding. Cobbs, a super bouncy 6-foot-3 wing, caught fire in the final game of the day, dropping 40-plus points and doing so with every scoring opportunity in the book.
Jason Hart II, son of former NBA player and current USC assistant coach Jason Hart, was one of the better point guards in the event despite his incoming freshman status. The crafty left-hander headed to Dorsey High has the basketball IQ you'd expect from the son of a high level player and coach, but has the confidence to go with it.