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THE HOOP GROUP’S PITTSBURGH JAMFEST: DAY ONE
By Brian Batko
The Hoop Group Jamfest rolled into Pittsburgh Friday night with several intriguing 1st and 2nd round games in the 17 and under and 16 and under divisions. Many of the games were blowouts, as the elite teams were mostly matched up with the lower level squads for the early rounds, but there were still some high level players in action on Friday. Teams like Sports U/Team Izod’s 16U, Atlanta Xpress 17U, and DC Assault Gold 17U are littered with Division 1 prospects who put forth impressive performances, albeit in limited action.
Karl Towns (Sports U 16U, 2015, St. Joseph Metuchen) – Only a freshman, Towns was easily the most talented player on the floor in Sports U’s 65-38 win over Blaze (WV), grabbing any rebound he wanted to and clogging the lane with his 6’10” frame. While not the most physically imposing Sports U big man – that would be 6’8” 2014 power forward Quadri Moore – Towns showed why he’s going to be one of the hottest names in the 2015 class. He’s still very thin at this point but his perimeter skills are awfully promising for such a young post player. Offensively, especially on the low block, Towns is still somewhat raw. He was forced into a travel after one catch in the post and failed to get position in the halfcourt a couple times. The rising sophomore also needs to get much stronger, as he was fouled multiple times by much smaller players and was unable to finish inside. The good news on that front, though, is that Towns is an excellent free throw shooter, going 6-6 at the line with great form. His free throw shooting ability translates to the outside, as well, where he has a nice stroke from beyond the arc. Towns, who finished with a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds, went 1-3 from downtown, hitting one from a few feet behind the line. Defensively, his natural gifts make him an intimidating shot blocker, but he also has very active hands and was able to get a steal or two in trapping situations. Despite his aggressiveness, Towns does a pretty good job of avoiding fouls, which is encouraging for a young prospect. Competing with and against players a year older than him – and in front of Jamie Dixon (Pitt), Bill Carmody (Northwestern), and a slew of other college coaches – Towns proved himself a (literally) big name in the class of 2015.
Quadri Moore (Sports U 16U, 2014, Linden) – When you walk into the gym and see Quadri Moore on the floor, you might wonder why he’s chosen basketball over a tackle position on the offensive line. At 6’8”, Moore is a brute force that loves to bully opponents in the paint. Not a terrible athlete for his size, while Moore does do most of his work below the rim, he was able to get a couple tip-ins on Friday. A common weakness for players his size, Moore needs to get in better shape and improve his motor, but when he joins a college squad two years from now he should instantly become one of the strongest players on the team. He currently claims offers from a quartet of Big East schools – Providence, Georgetown, Seton Hall, and Cincinnati, with the latter two on hand Friday – and will surely see his recruitment pick-up if his overall game improves over the next two years.
Sports U 16U guards – While Towns and Moore patrol the key, the two bigs have some talented guards to work with. Wade Baldwin, Tarin Smith, and Elijah Brown all played well in Friday’s win. The three 2014 6’2” guards complement each other well, as Baldwin (Immaculata) and Smith (St. Anthony’s) are scorers who can knock down shots from the outside and finish in transition, and Brown (Imani Prep) is mainly a strong but very quick penetrator who likes to get into the lane and kick out. Smith led Sports U with 16 and Baldwin chipped in 9 but all three should be mid-major and potentially even ACC/Big East/Big Ten players to keep an eye on.
Jabari McGhee (Atlanta Xpress 17U, 2013, Monroe) – In the 17U division, Atlanta Xpress brought some southern flavor – and college coaches – to Pennsylvania, with 6’6” swingman Jabari McGhee leading the way. McGhee didn’t get an opportunity to put up gaudy numbers since Xpress got off to an extremely fast start and never looked back against Move UR Feet, but when he was on the court, he showed why he holds offers from Florida State, Georgia, Auburn, Mississippi, and Marshall. The most explosive athlete on the court by far, McGhee hauled down rebounds at will, sailed above the rim for alley-oops, and even hit a deep two from the corner just for good measure. But perhaps even more striking than his game was his attitude, describing himself as “pretty much just a hustle player.”
“If you need somebody to ‘D’ up, that’s me. If you need somebody to get a rebound, that’s me,” McGhee said. Adding that he’s working on his shooting and offensive game, McGhee said he sees himself as a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist type of player who will play the wing in college but possibly even as an undersized four depending on where a team needs him. While McGhee said he’d love to hear from some of the bluebloods of college hoops like Syracuse, UCLA, or UConn, he plans on making a decision sometime before his senior season.
Quinton Stephens (Atlanta Xpress 17U, 2013, Marist) – Like McGhee, Stephens didn’t get much of a chance to show off his game on Friday as the Xpress reserves saw most of the minutes, but it’s obvious why the 6’8” forward is being courted by Georgia Tech, Georgia, Clemson, Tennessee, and Auburn. Long and skilled but very skinny, the versatile Stephens has the potential to become a very solid ACC or SEC player if he continues to hone his ball-handling and live in the weight room.
Trayvon Reed (Atlanta Xpress 17U, 2014, Shiloh) – The young’n of the uber-talented Xpress group, Reed is a legit 7-footer who will be one of the most sought after posts in 2014. Like many of his teammates, the rising junior has offers from local schools like Georgia Tech, Georgia, and Auburn but Alabama, Miami, and Georgetown have offered as well. Reed needs to add a great deal of weight and strength in order to bang in the post, and in addition a refined offensive skillset, but you can’t teach size and Reed certainly already has that.
Tony Bagtas (Atlanta Xpress 17U, 2013, Westlake) – A plucky 6’0” point guard, Bagtas won’t blow anyone away with his size or athleticism, but he’s a heck of a floor general. Distributing the ball to McGhee, Stephens, Reed, and others, Bagtas makes everything go for this Xpress team. The senior-to-be can even get some buckets for himself in the midrange and from beyond the arc. LaSalle, Murray State, Rice, Georgia Southern, and Kennesaw State have offered Bagtas thus far and whichever mid or low-major program brings him in will have themselves a steady ball handler who knows how to run a team.
Kris Jenkins (DC Assault Gold 17U, 2013, Gonzaga) – Jenkins didn’t do much Friday night (3 points on 1-1 from the field) in a rather painless 62-37 victory over Virginia Elite for DC Assault but he did offer an update on his fast-rising, “overwhelming” recruitment. The 6-5 burly forward has heard from Villanova, Seton Hall, Clemson, Pittsburgh, and a host of others (check back later today for a full Jenkins recruitment article on NBE).
“It’s a great experience but it can get tough sometimes,” Jenkins said of the process. “I’m very humbled by the experience.”
He doesn’t have any visits planned just yet but when he does decide to make a decision – most likely in the fall – Jenkins will be looking for a school with strong academics that can help him get to the NBA.
Ahmad Fields (DC Assault Gold 17U, 2013, Blue Ridge) – A relentless 6’5” wing, Fields is at his best in transition where he can use his length and athleticism to get baskets. He was a large part of DC Assault’s balanced scoring attack on Friday, scoring 8 points with 6 of those coming in the first half when the game was much tighter. Fields said he’s currently working on getting stronger and putting a lot of time in lifting weights while also trying to get better with his right hand. As far as his recruitment goes, Fields said he has offers from Washington, St. John’s, Saint Joseph’s, Providence, DePaul, Southern California, George Washington, and Towson and that he plans to make a decision around the beginning of next school year in September.
Obinna “Obi” Oleka (DC Assault Gold 17U, 2013) – Formerly a member of the 2012 class, Oleka said he plans to take a prep year at South Kent (CT). Oleka displayed a great motor on Friday and was downright tenacious with the ball in his hand, showing off some nifty offensive moves in addition to powering his way into the lane. Finishing the play was a problem for the 6’7” four man, though, and a big reason why he only finished with 4 points. Nonetheless, Oleka looks and plays much older than he is and did not take any plays off. Given that he’s reclassifying to the 2013 class, Oleka said has no timeframe for his college decision but said that Washington, St. Bonaventure, Drexel, Oregon, North Carolina State, and Providence are all in the picture.