A new face in the Under Armour Association (UAA) circuit, I definitely recommend folks to get familiar with the District WAWG program, if they have not already. Director Stefan Welsh, a former Arkansas Razorbacks basketball standout and current head varsity coach of Woodside High School (Newport News, VA), has put in the work to develop an impressive organization this year, which holds teams ranging from 14u -17u age groups. Players from all over the state of Virginia, along with areas in North Carolina, Maryland, and West Virginia, have made spots on rosters. This past Saturday, the 14u, 16u, and 17u teams all headed to the gym of Benedictine College Prep School (Richmond, VA) for a full day of practices that brought a great environment of competitiveness. Pulling up to the gym for a first-look at the program, I for sure can say that I left impressed. There’s some studs on those teams.
The 16u group took the floor first in the late morning and ultimately had the longest day. About six hours were spent, as they first practiced for 90 minutes, took a short break, went over more plays/drills during the 17u team practice, and then partook in a scrimmage versus the older guys.
District WAWG 16u
Head Coach: Llew Radford
Assistant Coaches: Malik Bowden and Manny Berchie
Gearing Up On Both Ends
Once everybody arrived and got stretched out, I didn’t see any wasted time in the team’s efforts to make the most of the day in getting better. In talking with WAWG’s coaches, they recognize the combination of athleticism and feel for the game within this young group; something they plan to use full advantage of. The coaches also classified it more as a ‘defensive day,’ noted by a practice emphasizing rotation in ‘shell drills,’ fighting through screens/recovering, and talking. Coach Radford’s group contains enough tools to really stand out on this side of the floor, without question, as they’ll only continue to get more comfortable with each other in their attack. I personally feel the same can be said on the scoring end also. One can obviously use the ‘eye test,’ but should get a greater understanding for the team’s collective talent after watching them on the court.
Won’t Back Down
I felt WAWG 16u’s competitive nature stood out the most on Saturday, shown in the afternoon scrimmage. They went right at the 17u group and more than held their own, making it a highly entertaining hour to watch. Chemistry obviously hasn’t reached perfection yet due to the team having only spent a couple of practices together, but the guys all seemed to get along and share a common ‘winning’ demeanor. I liked how they cheered each other on during the scrimmage and played with edge; hustling in all sorts of ways to put the team ahead. It will most likely all start with their defense, as they use it to create a presence early and seize control. If they can balance their defense with a steady offense, I see them causing massive trouble on the UAA circuit. Their size and roster depth already stands apparent. Coach Malik Bowden explained how they’re “11 deep” (11 total guys make up the roster).
While not fully finalized yet, the team has their schedule planned out with some impressive tournament showings listed. They’ll open up the spring with an appearance up North at the ‘Spooky Nook’ sports complex (Manheim, PA) for the ‘Hoop Group Spring Jam Fest’ (April 12-14). For the next two weekends, they’ll again head North toward PG County, MD for the ‘DMVElite Live Period WarmUp’ (April 19-21) and then compete in a UAA live period session over in Kansas City, MO (April 26-28). The month of May will continue to provide strong competition, starting with another UAA session in New Jersey (May 3-5), followed by the annual ‘Hoop Group Southern Jam Fest’ down in Hampton, VA (May 17-19). They’ll conclude May by participating in our hosted ‘Phenom Hoops David Rose Memorial Day Classic’ (May 25-26, Greensboro, NC). One of UAA’s final sessions will take place in mid-July, the 11th through the 14th (Atlanta, GA).
Meet the Team
Gabe Aluma ’21 – Stephen Decatur HS: The son of a former NBA player and younger brother of Keve Aluma, a starting sophomore forward at Wofford University, Gabe comes from a family of talent and contains some of the most impressive size I’ve seen in an underclassman thus far. He stands around 6’9” with an exceptionally large frame that makes him extremely tough to stop from establishing position down low. His post offense looks solid, mainly shown in his hook shot, and should continue to develop in this experience with WAWG.
Evan Castellanos ’21 – Benedictine College Prep School: Castellanos can do many things as a 6’6” wing/forward and looks more confident in his shot since I last saw him back in December at the ‘Sleepy Thompson Tournament.’ His other on-floor abilities, first noted during that tournament, still prove valuable. He’s a tough defender who rebounds well and plays the game with a great IQ at his age. The Benedictine standout currently holds two Division I offers: Canisius College and Drake University.
Kuron Coleman ’21 – Woodside HS: A sharpshooter for the Woodside Wolverines, many will likely expect Coleman to continue that prowess as an off-the-ball threat. He has a lanky frame and can move around the floor really well to spot up for open opportunities, where WAWG’s talented guards should find him. The 6’3” guard has a good chance to show more of his offensive arsenal during this spring/summer, but his shot clearly sets his apart right now. I mean, he did go 6-7 from the three-point line in a summer league game last year.
Justyn Fernandez ’21 – Monacan HS: Fernandez caught my eye during my high school preseason open gym tour, but he appears more athletic, assertive, and just flat-out comfortable now, following his sophomore campaign. His pull-up jumper looked deadly on Saturday, along with additional range from three-point land. He also threw down some dunks with authority in drills, showing greater leaping ability and strength. With his coaches offering great praise and excitement about him, audiences should stay tuned for a possible breakout travel season from the 6’3” guard.
Isaiah “Zay” Folkes ’20 – Stonewall Jackson HS: Personally, I see Folkes becoming one of the team’s main difference makers. He checks off many boxes as a primary ball-handler: strong, athletic, under control, talented scorer, playmaker, and ultra-competitive. That last trait may just be his strongest one, as he completely went at opponents in the scrimmage with no mercy. Trying to contain him in transition will most likely give other teams the most trouble. Watch out for the 6’2” point guard, who landed a spot on the Cedar Run All-District first team last month.
Jaden House ’20 – Henrico HS: House has a good motor that goes along with a nice blend of power and explosiveness. His handle plays a big part in how well he can get past defenders, while playing some of his best at attacking downhill. I’m also impressed with the progression of the scoring guard’s feel for creating his own shot from different spots on the floor. At 6’4,” he brings some of the team’s best value on defense; creating problems with his activity and size. He played a big role for Henrico this winter, averaging around 16 points (second on the team), four rebounds, and two assists. His efforts earned him a spot on the 2019 5B All-Region second team.
Quentin Livingston ’21 – Lakeland HS: Another shot creator on the squad, the 6’4” Livingston brings a smooth scoring game and focus on the floor. He looks comfortable at all three levels, playing with passion in the aforementioned scrimmage, which his teammates seemed to feed off of. Developing into a secondary ball-handler could REALLY make him a dangerous playmaker; something that looks likely to happen. Many in the Suffolk, VA area know about the young Lakeland star, who recently received all-district second team recognition and already has picked up an offer from North Carolina A&T State University.
Greg Melvin ’22 – Cape Henry HS: One of the team’s youngsters, Melvin’s coming along nicely as a guy who’s adapting to more of a role on the perimeter. His shot looked very smooth throughout the day and he drew fouls at times by aggressively attacking the rim. Ball-handling and shot creation will continue to get better, but the 6’6” wing/forward impresses already physically and appears hungry to keep working in reaching his goals. At his age, one can’t help but become intrigued at the underclassman’s ceiling.
Matt Nunez ’21 – Woodside HS: The tallest hooper in the gym, at 6’10,” gives WAWG another strong presence in the interior. He takes his time with the ball on the block and can spread the floor a bit with shooting on the perimeter. Making himself wide open (and clearly doing so) near the rim gets opponents in a hole once he gets the ball for a hook shot attempt. Nunez does really well showing his hands on defense, swatting away shots at times when spotting the chance. Some potential high-low action between him and Aluma could work in great form. Florida, Georgetown, VCU, and St. Louis have all offered already.
Quadir Pettaway ’21 – Miller School: The star guard from Miller School couldn’t make Saturday’s practice due to illness but undoubtedly will play a heavy role. As I acknowledged in my recap of the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) Division II state tournament, Pettaway showed out as one of the more impressive guards in the final two rounds. He has a high-level of skill already with pace that makes him a headache to neutralize. His ‘it factor’ makes me (and probably many others) fascinated to see just how far he can go in these next steps of travel ball/high school.
DJ Sims ’21 – Hanover HS: Sims has some range! He shot the ball nicely from well beyond the three-point line, including a near-half court attempt that swished through the net in a quarter’s final moments during the scrimmage. His strong frame also makes him a solid finisher around the rim, as well as a good rebounder for a guard. Similar to Livingston, he’s another one who I feel could see his stock increase if he learns how to develop into more of a combo guard. As far as shooting goes, however, both he and Coleman are two threats from anywhere on the court.
Be sure to also check out my feature on the District WAWG 17u group! I’m looking forward to seeing how this program performs on the UAA circuit! Scary potential…