Well, I guess I can cross Pittsburgh, PA off of my list of cities to visit. It felt like EVERYBODY in the basketball community had made the trip up to the Northern city this past weekend, and for a good reason too. The annual ‘Pitt Jam Fest,’ hosted by ‘The Hoop Group’ tipped off once again, featuring teams of different age divisions from all across the East Coast. Held at the grand David L. Lawrence Convention Center, I must admit that I’ve never seen such a scenery in an event like this one before. A total of 632 teams competed…with hundreds of college coaches in attendance. Throughout the weekend, a couple of coaches and I joked at one point that the environment could become a bit hectic if not managed properly, but everything nonetheless ran smoothly with plenty of hard-fought games taking place. As the ‘Virginia guy’ for scouting, I indeed had my eyes mainly centered on teams from the state; covering about ten Virginia-based programs total. Upon departing, I felt several guys helped their stock increase a bit with stellar play during the first live period of the spring. This progress should continue, heading into May and future weeks/months.
(VA) Standouts from the Weekend
Joseph Dagbe ’20 – NOVA Cavaliers-Fort 17u: In the games I watched on Saturday, Dagbe had one of the most impressive performances. He continued to stand out more and more as his team’s 8 a.m. game went on. Playing more of a combo guard role, the 5’10” junior displayed very good facilitating skills and had an extremely quick first step that resulted in numerous paint touches. The All Day Hoops 17u group simply couldn’t find an answer for Dagbe to keep him out of the lane; where he got the majority of his points. He knocked down a couple of jumpers as well… saving his best for last when he scored the game-winning shot off of a three-pointer with only a second on the clock. Excellent overall showing by the South Lakes High School (Reston, VA) product.
Aviwe Mahlong ’20 – Virginia Blaze 17u: Mahlong had notable moments during my coverage of the 2019 Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) state tournament but appears even more confident/improved nearly two months later. I remember taking note of how he could score inside for his high school varsity team, Eastern Mennonite High School (Harrisonburg, VA), but the 6’3” prospect looked much more guard-like this past weekend. His skills continue to make leaps and bounds; outside shooting and handling the ball, especially. I also appreciated his approach to talking on defense consistently, which some young players tend to disregard in travel ball. With Mahlong continuing to build upon his various skills and keep taking over a leadership role, he’s on pace to blow up this summer. College coaches need to check him out ASAP, if they haven’t already.
Jahme Ested ’20 – Team Richmond Garner Road Elite 17u: One of the top guards in Richmond, VA this past high school season, earning third team All-Metro and first team Region 5B honors, Ested continues to show his value as a physical ball-handler. He’s clearly still more of a scorer with the ball in his hands; using his strong frame and body control to attack the basket at all sorts of angles. I’m impressed mainly by watching how the 6’0” junior can finish over much taller opposing defenders. His craftiness in scoring around the rim is at an elite level and probably suits him best in his game currently. As he keeps showing a willingness/ability to create for others, his recruitment should rise greatly.
Trevor Bounds ’20 – Higher Level Premier 17u: Honestly, it’s kind of hard to determine what type of position the 6’5” Bounds plays since he can contribute in many areas. I wouldn’t say that he does exceptionally better at one position versus another, but his value proved conducive to Higher Level’s success during the weekend. If I had to pick an area, I’d say Bounds’ rebounding looked most valuable. He doesn’t have an imposing physical frame or anything, but showed outstanding effort and a great nose for the ball to attack the glass on both ends of the floor. Other elements of the junior’s game stood out as well: shooting from the perimeter, making unselfish decisions, and running the floor for transition points. Every team would want a guy like Bounds on the roster; he calmly accomplishes all of the little things that contribute to wins.
Christian McLeod ’20 – Team Loaded 804 17u: I deemed McLeod as an underrated piece of Life Christian Academy’s (Chester, VA) VISAA Division III state championship run last month. After seeing him perform again for Team Loaded 804 on Saturday, I continue to question why he isn’t getting a fair deal of recognition. McLeod checks off several boxes at his guard position. He has a good 6’3” frame, can shoot it from distance, handles well, and rarely gets sped up past his own pace of play. He checked in as a reserve during the team’s matchup against JB Hoops – Maddock 17u and immediately gave one of the biggest sparks. McLeod looked more like a shooter for Life Christian during the high school season, but had his playmaking skills functioning some of the best throughout his weekend performance. If he can continue to show that type of game, it’ll open more doors for him to potentially become a lead guard who primarily brings the ball up the floor. Life Christian may need him to take that role over next year, when acknowledging the graduation loss of Antonio ‘Spider’ Bridy ’19.
Clyde Volker ’20 – NOVA Cavaliers-Fort 17u: Aside from his teammate, Dagbe, Volker provided some of the NOVA Cavs’ most needed buckets in crunch time of their Saturday morning thriller against All Days Hoops 17u. At 6’4,” he showed a way of putting points on the board from mainly inside the perimeter. Volker plays as a small forward with notable strength who can put the ball on the floor for straight-line drives. His attacking style satisfied the most in that he never wasted any dribbles going East/West. It was always in a straight-line for Volker to try and get from point A to point B. The rest of his scoring came from his tough offensive rebounding and spotting up for midrange jumpers. His shooting looked solid but, if he can improve the release to a quicker rate and expand his range, he’ll become more dangerous in that area. Volker’s handle should continue to see its development also.
Mac Macdonald ’21 – Team Richmond Garner Road 16u: Similarly to McLeod, I saw Macdonald mainly as a spot-up shooting threat for Collegiate School (Henrico, VA) throughout his sophomore campaign. Now, however, the 6’2” guard can undoubtedly create his own offense off of the bounce with a steady handle and ability to size up defenders. He may have had this in his game all along, but it especially appeared evident in the few times I watched Team Richmond Garner Road 16u play on Friday and Saturday. Macdonald also looked as one of the team’s best in making timely shots. In the team’s first tournament game, a win over Mid Ohio Pumas Gilliand 16u, he sealed things with a baseline finish and made free throws. The next day, I can recall him bringing his squad back to take a lead by going on his own personal scoring run. That confidence and increased scoring prowess by Macdonald should only continue to get better as his summer days pass by.
Demitri Gardner ’21 – Virginia Blaze 17u: Playing up as a 2021 prospect, Gardner has a big role in acting as a do-it-all guy for Virginia Blaze 17u. He was one of the more complete wings I saw and always had an impact on the court, regardless of which area he contributed in. Gardner’s a strong rebounder who can take it coast-to-coast at times as a one-man fast break. Whenever he made up his mind to push towards the rim at full throttle, opponents had a hard time containing the 6’5” sophomore and typically ended up fouling. His motor impressed at all times, which often led to his success on getting stick backs from offensive rebounding. When acknowledging that Gardner can also shoot the ball well, it goes to show what I mean by how he has a balanced game. If he continues to add in a deadly pull-up jumper and separation game… oh boy. Definitely one in his recruiting class that looked poised for a breakout summer.
Tyler Smith ’21 – Virginia Grind Elite 16u: Smith had a nice performance on Saturday that showed me he should continue as a reliable presence in his Northern Virginia-based program. His shooting touch may initially stand out before all else, but the 6’2” guard brings quite a few intangibles to the floor. I liked how he constantly moved around the perimeter off of the ball to get open for his shots; signaling to his teammates when he became open. Also, Smith demonstrated good communication when playing. Whether it involved him calling out assignments on defense, telling others where to go, or trying to get his guys hyped up, I always felt he was talking some of the most on the court. Rebounding also appeared as a big part of his game; a trait that stands out more in a guard. He has a pretty slim frame right now, with potential to build into a solid ‘basketball body.’ With some more added work, I feel he can become an acknowledged talent at Forest Park High School (Woodbridge, VA).
William Woodard ’22 – Team Push 15u: I don’t think I saw any underclassmen with a greater knack for blocking shots than Woodard. At 6’4” already, and most likely growing, he has great length as a forward with instincts that make him a defensive specimen. One could start to see opposing players, on the scoring end, become more aware of Woodard’s presence when trying to score in the lane during Team Push’s Saturday afternoon contest against RDC Lakers 15u. In my eyes, the freshman played with the most hustle and earned the majority of his team’s winning plays. Offensively, he covers a great deal of ground and has the chance to soon become an effective slasher. First, however, he must continue to work on his footwork; making sure he doesn’t travel in his first step.
Great event put on by ‘The Hoop Group.’ I’m hoping to attend another one of their tournaments in a couple of weeks!