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I decided to continue my ‘AAU open gym tour’ with another visit up North in the Manassas, VA area to check out Higher Level 17u, after seeing their 16u squad last month. It turns out that two separate teams actually make up the 17u bunch; something I didn’t know prior to Thursday evening. Regardless, I guess one could say that the night came with an opportunity to ‘kill two birds with one stone,’ as Higher Level 17u Elite and Higher Level 17u Premier joined together in a local high school gym for two hours of non-stop work. Some recognizable faces emerged within the 18 combined players who attended the practice, but I indeed got more first-time looks at the group, mainly filled with upperclassmen. As I’ve stated before in the past, I’ve had familiarity with the Higher Level organization since my high school years; having known the program’s CEO/head skills trainer/17u Premier head coach, Darius Wilson, for six years now. With Wilson leading the way in player development, the majority of his program’s players have great opportunities in getting more prepared for the next level. The crew has something good going on up there in Northern Virginia.

I liked what I saw out of the Higher Level 17u Elite group on Thursday. They’re far from a finished product, obviously, but several intangibles already appear present. Potential for future growth looks quite high, especially once the months of June and July arrive.



Head Coach: Bryan Carroll



A Collective Edge

Even with the talent making up their 10-man roster, I personally feel that the team’s competitiveness will play the most important role in their spring/summer. For years now, I’ve always deemed the basketball community in Northern Virginia as one that produces players with a chip on their shoulder; trying to prove their worth every day and show they can hang with anybody on the East Coast. That notion ties into the strong reputation of basketball in the DMV. In the case of this Elite 17u team, they displayed these same traits of a hard-nosed approach. With that mindset amongst the entire group, I expect it to help them push through these upcoming weekends of long days spent in the gym. Sustaining an edge always proves valuable in a concentration to fight through fatigue from playing multiple games in a day.



The Necessary Steps

At the start of the session, I remember head coach Bryan Carroll telling all of the guys to expect a “competitive day.” After an opening drill of 3-man pitch-ahead finishing, both the Elite 17u and Premier 17u groups combined for a lengthy period of competitive play: full court 3v2 into 2v1 and 5v0 into 5v5. Afterwards, the Elite team turned their attention to several minutes of skill development (mainly focusing on shooting off of the dribble in straight-line drives) before continuing more competitive drills of 1v1 and 2v2 in the half-court. Their two hours together resulted in a productive manner, as I liked their approach in fusing competition with beneficial drill-work. Coach Carroll seems to recognize the type of team he has and how everyone should have an ability to handle the ball confidently.



Where are They Headed?

As of now, both the Elite 17u and Premier 17u plan to partake in the same tournament schedule. This weekend (4/13 – 4/14), they’re up in Washington D.C. for the ‘Big Shots D.C. Premier’ showcase. The rest of their spring/summer currently contains plenty of other stops around the Mid-Atlantic region:

  • April 20-21: ‘DMV Elite Pre Live Warmup,’ location TBD
  • April 26-28: ‘Pitt Jam Fest’ in Pittsburgh, PA
  • May 17-19: ‘Southern Jam Fest,’ presented by ‘Hoop Group,’ in Hampton, VA
  • Planning to participate in a Team Camp at some point in June
  • July 10-12: ‘Hoop Group’ event in Atlantic City, NJ
  • July 13-14: ‘Hoop Group Summer Jam Fest’ at the ‘Spooky Nook Sports Complex’ (Manheim, PA)
  • The team aims to add one more July event if possible



Meet the Team

Zack Blue ’20 – Patriot HS: Blue brings a good shooting package with him to the squad, while also having some shiftiness in his handle to create separation; including a nice step-back. Everybody in the gym recognized him as a perimeter threat, so that shooting prowess and ability to separate from defenders should give opponents a handful whenever he walks out onto the floor. I’ll stay tuned in to see how he excels in drawing fouls.


Langston Boyd ’20 – Potomac HS: I’m still trying to figure out what position Boyd truly plays, and he might be doing the same himself, but the 6’3” junior nonetheless has a good toughness about him that Elite 17u can feed off of. He works hard on defense, can snag rebounds, and also shoots it solidly from beyond the three-point line. Another thing that satisfies involves his way of spotting a mismatch and posting up with his strong frame.


Allen Davis ’20 – Patriot HS: A smooth guard, Davis has a good pace of play and feel for the game as one of the more natural offensive producers I watched during Thursday night. He first stands out in showing solid length at his position, gliding across the court with ease. Right now, I feel he’s most comfortable at using his ball control to make slashing plays to the rim, where he can finish with soft floaters. Defensively, I see some great promise in the 6’2” prospect. He has natural lateral quickness, a good nose for pass perception, and a certain type of attitude on that end.


Jackson Ford ’20 – Patriot HS: The lefty had a great shooting night during my visit, showing that he could do it from all three levels. Ford doesn’t rely on a handle that much, compared to Blue or some his other teammates, but can undoubtedly gain separation by initiating contact and bouncing off of defenders. He’s another one with good length and height at the guard/wing position, standing around 6’4.” The more comfort he shows in attacking with his off-hand, the more dangerous of a scorer he’ll become.


Courtenay Houston ’21 – Hylton HS: An acknowledged young talent in the Northern Virginia region, Houston has a lot to like about his game: pull-up jumpers, body control, IQ, and an overall mature demeanor for his age. He still has a ways to go before reaching his true final form, but has shown a good style of play since he first made my standout list at a one-day showcase last November in Manassas, VA. Houston followed it with a strong sophomore campaign, earning an honorable mention slot on the ‘NOVA Hoops’ 2018-19 All-Sophomore team. Continuing development in his three-point shot and consistent motor will prove as two key focuses for the Hylton Bulldog, but I see him acting as a big spark plug for Elite 17u throughout the next few months.


Tristen Olds ’21 – Battlefield HS: Olds has good control of the ball as a floor general and showed two highly important traits of that position: change of pace and shooting off of the bounce. He can keep one on their heels with his sudden change of movements and craftiness that goes along with a solid physical build. His pull-up jumper looked confident from not in just short range, but also from distance and different spots around the hardwood. Another 2021 prospect to keep in mind throughout this summer.


Damon Price ’20 – Woodbridge HS: I liked the activity of Price, who made his presence known by showing all sorts of effort in trying to make an impact. He’s a scrappy and quick 5’11” guard that draws fouls with aggressiveness and has a sneaky way of finishing difficult layups. The junior also runs the floor hard and didn’t show any moments of selfishness while on the floor. Becoming a true facilitating point guard and displaying a reliable jump shot will take his game further down the line.


Tyler Stringer ’21 – Patriot HS: Now playing up, after spending some brief time with the Higher Level 16u age division, Stringer’s another useful weapon that this older group of players can benefit from. I mentioned in my preview of Higher Level 16u that Stringer, at around 6’6”/6’7,” has the tools to become a really good pick-and-pop guy. His smooth lefty jumper has an effortless release and he plays with great spacing. I’m definitely interested to see how he keeps progressing; this more challenging competition of older opponents should help him out in more ways than none.


Jason Tarpeh ’21 – Hylton HS: Tarpeh has the best overall size on the team, standing at 6’7” with a wide frame. He’ll most likely take on the role as one of Elite 17u’s few post players, but also looked capable in shooting from the perimeter also. Settling for these types of shots shouldn’t happen too frequently, however. Still, if Tarpeh can keep putting in the work to become another guy who can set picks and separate for short jumpers near the short corner, that’ll make it even harder for opposing teams to contain. I seriously doubt most defenders can block his shooting release point at that 6’7” height. Watch out for the big fella.


*One player, Jaeden Davis ’20 (Hayfield HS), couldn’t make Tuesday’s practice. I haven’t had a chance to watch the guard play yet, but definitely look forward to seeing what he can bring to this talented roster.






Be sure to also check out my AAU Open Gym Tour recap/preview on the Higher Level 17u Premier team!