Finally… I can check it off the list that I attended the annual ‘DC National Hoopfest.’ I’ve heard SO much about this event for the last several years but never had the opportunity to go and watch due to my own college basketball career. This past Saturday, it felt pretty surreal to walk into the historic Wooten gymnasium on DeMatha Catholic High School’s campus and prepare for media coverage. I never would’ve imagined being able to participate in this event for the first time as a scout; the all-access notion made me look to it even more. Known for bringing in elite high school teams with top players from around the country each year, Saturday sure didn’t disappoint in that regard. By the time the evening came around, the gym became so filled up to the point of standing room only. Security even had to turn away people at the door. I don’t recall ever seeing that many people in a high school gym before. An ample number of college coaches included themselves in the bunch; notables like Roy Williams and Tom Crean made appearances. Back to the players/teams. I saw a lot from the talent on the floor all day long; both good and bad. Just a heads up, due to my scheduling, I could only make it to Day 2 (12/8) of the event. So, all of my opinions are based solely off of this past Saturday.
Rock Creek Christian – 93
Cesar Chavez Public Charter School – 56
Roman Catholic HS – 72
Archbishop Carroll HS – 63
Nicolet HS – 62
St. John’s HS – 60
Sunrise Christian Academy – 65
Holy Spirit Preparatory School – 53
Montverde Academy – 57
Paul VI Catholic HS – 50
IMG Academy – 75
DeMatha Catholic HS – 68
What Stood Out:
- After losing their starting back court of Jeremy Roach ’20 and Ant Harris ’19 (both in the top 100 of their respective classes) to devastating knee injuries, Paul VI proved to audiences on Saturday evening that they’re still a top-tier program to be reckoned with. The Panthers won the first half over #1 nationally-ranked Montverde Academy in Game 5; 30-20. The players can thank Josiah Freeman’s ’20 electric shooting as a big reason for that; he scored 20 of his game-high 24 points in the first two quarters. Paul VI didn’t play too deep into their bench, and it seemed like fatigue may have affected them at one point in the third quarter. Regardless, the Panthers showed some serious fight in their game, refusing to back down at any point. Led by a quick-witted coaching staff, I expect them to continue in holding their ranking as one of the top 15 teams in the county.
- I don’t think any other team completed more AND-1 finishes than Rock Creek. A team full of speedy guards, paint touches came at a rapid rate for the squad all game long. Cesar Chavez simply didn’t have an answer in keeping Rock Creek’s players out of the lane. They showed the most comfort when executing as a transition team, so their half-court play will need a bit more work. If they can improve upon their team shooting to go along with their ability to get at the rim… watch out.
- In more of a contrast to Rock Creek, Roman Catholic displayed more of a half-court game in their win against Archbishop Carroll. The Cahillites have some strong perimeter players on the roster who can all power their way to the rim and secure possessions with rebounds. I’m not sure what type of weightlifting program the team may or may not partake in, but their solid physical frames stood out once they stepped on the floor and helped them in many areas during Game 2. On the defensive end, the team’s front court set the tempo by not allowing anything easy at the rim. Roman Catholic finished with a seven team blocks; Archbishop had zero.
What Needs Some Work
- Whatever the Montverde coaching staff said to their players at halftime obviously worked, as the team came out of the break to spark a 15-0 run. This resembles a trait of a team so highly-ranked; able to turn it on and get going when needed. Still, I felt the Eagles played too lethargic in the first half and other later spurts. When a group has a #1 ranking on their name, they must realize how every other opponent will give it their all to garner bragging rights and make a statement. Montverde has already checked off ‘the eye test’ on the list; they contain all the necessary physical tools to assert their dominance. But, talent only gets one so far; we’ve all heard it before. Playing hard on a more consistent basis will need to emerge as the next step of improvement.
- The biggest need for Holy Spirit involves improving their team shooting efficiency. It may have just been a bad day from the perimeter, but, regardless, I noticed how the team did well in moving the ball to find proper open looks… they just couldn’t knock them down. The Cougars finished only 37.5% from the field and 20% from three-point land. It’s still early in the season and I have no doubt that Holy Spirit will make strides as the weeks continue on. Obviously, some teams do not rely on outside shooting since they have athletes that can get to the rim so well. However, in the Cougars’ case, since they seek spot-up opportunities consistently, they’ll have to take advantage when the easy looks arrive.
- When watching IMG Academy dominate in South Carolina at the ‘Battle at the Rock’ showcase (presented by Phenom Hoop Report) last weekend, they did best in turning their defense into offense. The immensely talented squad achieved fast break points at such a rapid rate that it pretty much became breathtaking. In the final game of this past Saturday night, however, they found themselves slowed down by DeMatha’s stifling defense and struggled to score early on; trailing by three once the game reached halftime. IMG’s frontcourt duo of Jeremiah Robinson-Earl ‘19 and Armando Bacot, Jr. ‘19 should always give the team a presence on both sides of the ball near the rim. Still, the group will need to continue in working on reacting and executing quicker from the perimeter when defenses don’t allow a fast break or straight-line drive to the basket.
Saturday’s Top Performers (My 5)
Jalen Duren ’22 – Roman Catholic: This guy’s only a freshman… and had the biggest impact out of any other frontcourt player in Game 2. The 6’9” power forward played with a lot of heart and focus to efficiently score inside the paint, go after rebounds, and make opponents second-guess before taking a shot with him nearby. Duren’s two-way presence already makes him a force and he has some speed that makes him hard to beat down the floor. Crazy thing is, he still has several years left of high school to keep improving down the line.. He scored 15 points, grabbed eight boards, and came up with four blocks in his team’s W.
Jalen Johnson ’20 – Nicolet HS: A five-star prospect in the 2020 class, Johnson showed just that and more in Nicolet’s exhilarating 62-60 win over St. John’s. In my opinion, he had the best stat line of the day: 28 points, 15 rebounds, and eight assists. It doesn’t get more complete than that. Standing at 6’9,” he plays as a ‘point-forward’ and reminds me of Philadelphia 76ers’ guard, Ben Simmons, in a big way. However, I’d say Johnson proved more as an outside threat compared to Simmons. He had complete control all game in doing whatever he wanted with the ball. His unselfishness and tremendous court vision makes him a threat in finding open teammates quickly. Still, whenever Johnson decided to take over offensively, nothing could prevent him from doing so. His size advantage over St. Johns’ guards was simply too much, as he repeatedly posted them up to knock down short jumpers. I left the gym that night feeling that I, without question, saw a future NBA draft lottery pick in Johnson.
Jordan Turner ’19 – Sunrise Christian: I really liked Turner’s game. He has the complete package and size as a 6’8 scoring wing. His offensive production took no time to get going and he played a large part in putting Holy Spirit in a hole early on during Game 4. Turner shot well from the perimeter, not outstanding or anything, but gave opponents trouble from various different parts of the floor. He moved off-ball really well to get dunks and drew contact effectively. His percentage at the free throw ended as a notable 6-7. I definitely see the ingredients of a potential ‘3&D’ guy once he gets to the Baylor Bears program next season, but he has other skills with the ball that make him even more of a deadly threat outside of just shooting. He played every minute of the contest ended up totaling a game-high 30 points, along with eight rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
Knasir ‘Dug’ McDaniel ’22 – Paul VI: I think it’s safe to say nobody else throughout Saturday electrified the gym more than the Panthers young floor general. Did this come as a surprise to me? Honestly, nope. I saw that same type of fearlessness in McDaniel during my attendance at one his school’s preseason practices. He simply has that ‘it factor.’ The shifty guard came off of the bench against Montverde and got everybody on their feet with his handle, vision, and pestering defense that made Montverde’s guards pick up their dribble. McDaniel played far from a perfect game, but his fervent nature really gave Paul VI a spark in that first half that transitioned into the taking a ten-point lead. He had five points, seven assists, and two steals in 20 minutes. The next day, after his team’s win against Nicolet, McDaniel received game co-MVP honors and picked up an offer from Wake Forest. I’m sure we can expect many more high-majors to start pursuing him soon; he made a statement loud and clear this past weekend.
Jaden Springer ’20 – IMG: After a forgettable first two quarters, something obviously clicked for Springer in how he went into full attack mode once the second half of Game 6 begun. Springer showed a lot of his same capabilities during ‘Battle at the Rock’ the other weekend, but now I’m fully convinced he’s one of the top players in the 2020 class. His strength as a scoring guard, combined with his vertical leap and agility, makes him nearly impossible to keep out of the lane. Even if one does defend Springer pretty well, he still has a way of finding small spaces to get off his shot and earn the two points. He had about three tough finishes in a row during the third quarter; just using his strength well to make plays. I heard one guy behind me yell “Man, he’s even stronger than he looks!” Springer shot the ball well off of pull-ups but struggled in his three-point looks, going 0-3. Once he gets that taken care of, IMG will have a complete guard in the lineup. He added 14 points, seven rebounds, and three assists in IMG’s victory.
So much talent in one gym… and in a packed house… nothing better!