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 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.
After the 16u group wrapped up their first session, older prospects started to slip into the gym for a 90+ minute 17u practice. The team put in some good work, followed by an intense scrimmage against the 16u guys. Being able to get a solid look at how the rising seniors approached drills and competed, I can say with satisfaction that much success should come their way if they continue to stay the course.
District WAWG 17u
Head Coach: Brandon Jones
Assistant Coaches: Lavar Griffin and Duval Simmonds
Working Towards a Complete Package
It only takes a mere couple of seconds to notice the impressive formation of this team. Coach Jones and his staff have composed a squad with all of the necessary ingredients. Seven of the 11 players stand over 6’5,” there’s plenty of interchangeable guys, and athleticism stands out in each individual. Obviously, physical traits can only get a team to go so far, and I liked the emphasis on skill development led by WAWG’s coaches on Saturday. They put their group through drills early on that incorporated ball-handling, shooting on the move, setting up shooters as a passer, reading defenses, and locating for shots off of pin-down screens. Most can acknowledge the importance of those areas at the next-level. So, I’m just imagining the potential damage this team can do if they continue to increase their skills to a maximum level. Succeeding in that notion will create a team with the complete package.
Getting a Feel
Looking at the roster, it’s safe to say all of these guys hold the status of being a standout on their high school teams. It becomes more apparent when watching them play on the floor, showcasing a natural feel for the game. However, a ‘feel’ for each other appears as the main focus they’re trying to building on currently. I completely understand this, as this becomes expected for any team newly put together. While watching them play in the scrimmage, the guys looked good in encouraging each other. They seemed to get more comfortable in this particularly as each moment passed by; Ashley James ‘20 and Josiah Freeman ‘20 showed strong leadership. Right now, the coaches want more on-floor communication out of the guys; it gets too quiet at times. I mentioned in one of my recent articles about this one quote I’ve heard in the past: “a quiet gym is a losing gym.” It looks like the WAWG coaches recognize this also.
Making Their Way through the Circuit
WAWG will compete on the UAA circuit, making stops through different states on the East Coast. Things will officially start in a less than two weeks; take a glance to see where you can find them this spring/summer:
- UAA Session I – Chicago, IL (4/12 – 4/14)
- DMVElite Live Period WarmUp – PG County, MD (4/19 – 4/21)
- UAA Session II *Live Period* – Kansas City, MO (4/26 – 4/28)
- UAA Session III – New Jersey (5/3 – 5/5)
- Hoop Group Southern Jam Fest – Hampton, VA (5/17 – 5/19)
- Phenom Hoop Report Dave Rose Memorial Day Classic (hosted by our organization) – Greensboro, NC (5/25 – 5/26)
- UAA Session IV and Finals – Atlanta, GA (7/11 – 7/14)
Meet the Team
Jahmal Banks ’20 – Bishop O’Connell HS: A strong guard who like to slash his way to the rim, Banks plays with a great motor and has a good focus on getting to the cup in both transition and half-court sets. He should also become one of the team’s better on-ball threats defensively, as his quickness can cause turnovers that easily get him in the open floor. The 6’5” guard earned all-conference honorable mention honors in the historic Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) and helped lead Bishop O’Connell to the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) Division I tournament semifinal round. One should know that Banks plays on the gridiron also, as a highly-touted wide receiver.
Noel Brown ’20 – Flint Hill School: The 6’10” forward cleaned up the glass greatly on Saturday and showed smoothness in his shot from midrange areas. Brown can face up a bit with the ball in the post, using patience to make quick moves. His great size, strength, and hustle should all make him a difference maker for WAWG. I’m sure the team will especially rely on his rebounding; I remember him grabbing and scoring off of three stick backs in a row at one point during the scrimmage.
Josiah Freeman ’20 – Paul VI Catholic HS: Freeman developed into a big-time shooting threat for the Paul VI Panthers this winter. Many saw this back in December when he lit up nationally-ranked #1 Montverde Academy for 20 points in the first half (five three-pointers). Now, his separation game to create for himself looks more improved. The 6’4” guard has good physical tools and playing pace; getting ready for a big last season of travel ball and to make a major step in his recruitment by continuing to show a three-level game. George Mason and East Carolina offered the WCAC All-League second teamer more recently during the high school season, to go along with a handful of other offers previously picked up.
Ashley James ’19 – Green Run HS/Hargrave Prep: I’ve heard great things about the 757 product, and he indicated why on Saturday. “AJ,” as everyone calls him, plays fast with the ball as a highly-athletic 6’4” point guard. He has this natural way of seeing opportunities earlier than the average guard can, which results in him making plays for others and himself consistently. AJ had quite the senior season in Virginia Beach, VA; creating a buzz around the area and ultimately took home plenty of hardware. This included the Region 5A Player of the Year, District Beach Player of the Year and VHSL Class 5 first team all-state honors. His next plans involve taking a postgraduate year at Hargrave Military Academy (Chatham, VA).
Luke Johnson ’20 – Ripley HS (WV): A younger brother of Chase Johnson (member of Dayton University’s men’s basketball), Luke plays pretty similarly as a forward who can shoot well from the perimeter and also muscle his way inside for drawn fouls. He’s about 6’6” and contains the skills to play both in and out, so I’m curious in how the team plans to utilize him. Regardless of what type of role(s), he ends up committing to, Luke’s toughness undoubtedly will serve an importance. He’s the type who can change the course of a game with his aggression, getting opponents in a pickle.
Christian McLeod ’20 – Life Christian Academy: Fresh off of a state championship win in the VISAA Division III classification, McLeod played all season long as one of the ‘unsung heroes’ for Life Christian Academy. Now, the 6’3” guard looks at his most confident and motivated. He’s a very good shooter who can catch fire, while also defending different positions on the perimeter. McLeod thinks the game smartly and showed an ability to calm things down on his high school team if others ever got too riled/sped up. Transitioning into a secondary ball-handler appears to be in the works; something that’ll help him take the next step.
Jamel Melvin ’20 – Potomac School: A skilled and smooth lanky forward, Melvin stood out in my first viewing of him and the Potomac Panthers back in mid-December at Highland School’s (Warrenton, VA) hosted ‘Holiday Showcase.’ He has plenty of skill as a 6’10” guy, along with a calm and confident demeanor. His footwork, midrange shot, and finishing ability all still look good; most of the same traits I previously saw in the forward. Right now, he’s showing more of a focus on expanding his shooting range. If this continues to develop, it can take him farther as a ‘pick-and-pop’ threat.
Elijah Wood ’20 – Chevy Chase HS (MD): The four-star prospect can flat-out play, impressing as a tall, 6’5” ball-handler. Wood has some craftiness to finish around the rim, as he used his off-hand just as well as anybody in the gym while scrimmaging. The guard has a slim build but nonetheless absorbs contact greatly and can create space off of tightly-played defenders to cash in his own shots. It’s easy to see why he’s compiled a list of 16 offers already, including the likes of Florida, Auburn, Georgia Tech, DePaul, and Kansas State. Watch out for Wood; a well-known talent out of the DMV.
*Three other team members, Alvin Cannady ’20 (Hopewell HS in Huntersville, NC), Michael Gray ’21 (Blue Ridge School), and Ben Li ’20 (Middleburg Academy) all could not make Saturday’s workout for various reasons.
- The coaches had good words about Cannady, who should bring another post presence similar to Brown. He’s 6’10” with two-way intangibles and a strong desire to keep getting better, based off of what I’ve heard.
- Only a sophomore, Gray played a big role in Blue Ridge’s VISAA Division II state championship win last month. He’s a dynamic scorer who has steadily improved his ball-handling, defense, and playmaking skills. Don’t be surprised to see the 6’2” guard just completely take over a game at various times during this spring/summer. Gray made his way onto the 2019 VISAA Division II all-state first team.
- Li earns my choice as the most unique player on this list, simply because he doesn’t have a true position. WAWG can use the 6’6” prospect for all sorts of scenarios; he contains enough size, skill, power, and athleticism to produce in several ways. My Phenom Hoops co-worker, Jamie Shaw, said it best when we watched Li put on a strong showing of 18 points and 11 rebounds at the VISAA state tournament: “That Ben Li kid sure is one to watch.” The Middleburg standout joined Gray on the VISAA Division II all-state squad, earning a second team nod.
Be sure to also check out my feature on the District WAWG 16u group! This entire program has the chance to do something special…