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.
Containing mainly local players from around Dumfries/Manassas, VA, Higher Level 17u Premier brings a strong roster of versatility with them and looks to soon make a statement that they’re one to stay fully aware of in the 703.
Head Coach: Darius Wilson
Assistant Coach: Micah Parker
Some Similar Tools
Likewise to what I noted in my preview of the Higher Level Elite 17u team, this Premier 17u group goes about their business in a vastly similar way; using their competitive demeanor as a primary boost. Obviously, Higher Level will face plenty of talented opponents in these upcoming weeks/months. However, their mentality of “I’m going after everyone, regardless of the name/reputation,” will prove as a key trait that puts them in position to win any game. I’ve always felt that type of attitude isn’t simply created, but instilled in a player(s) from the first time they touch a ball. It definitely seems to be a Northern Virginia thing too, from my experience over the years. As far as the makeup of the Premier 17u roster, they again compare to the Elite 17u in having a collection of mainly perimeter players. However, I noted more height on Premier 17u, which always seems to result as a good thing. Guards/wings with height and speed tend to create all sorts of trouble.
Under the Proper Instruction
The team itself has an impressive appearance and enough talent to produce desired results, but the presence of Coach Darius Wilson will again have one of, if not, the biggest impact. If Wilson worked as a schoolteacher, he’d be the type to walk in a classroom and instantly command attention. As noted above, and also in one of my past articles, ‘CEO Convo: Higher Level Academy,’ the organization’s head honcho is mainly known for his led skills sessions, bringing in players from all levels. His resume speaks for himself, having served as a former assistant coach at Bowie State University, and he completely understands how to teach the game. Spreading this knowledge to his players has always been of one of the most important parts of Wilson’s coaching style; his guys have a great advantage in competing under a guy who knows how to break things down at an extremely high level.
Where Can You Catch Them?
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
Trevor Bounds ’20 – Battlefield HS: Bounds has the looks of a valuable utility guy who can contribute in various ways, while also playing multiple positions. Overall, he rebounded the best during my visit and consistently played hard with an unselfish tone. At about 6’4,” the wing finishes well around the rim and gets out in the open floor to beat his man racing down the court. The 2019 honorable mention All-Cedar Run District selection should also play a big role as an on-floor communicator, as he willingly showed that intangible.
Trey Lewis ’19 – Herndon HS: The 6’3” unsigned senior fits the ideal example in what I stated earlier about this group having good size on the perimeter. Lewis has a lengthy frame and good overall basketball build that catches your eye once he enters the gym. He’s a good ‘shot seeker;’ moving well off of the ball to find open looks and take what’s available. The guard/wing looked a bit streaky on Thursday but definitely has the capabilities to put up points. He should use his physical tools as a defensive advantage also.
Davion Morris ’20 – Potomac HS: At 6’6,” Morris has a likable approach in trying to dunk EVERYTHING. I remember seeing this in him back during my high school preseason open gym tour at Potomac (Dumfries, VA). He’s gotten a lot more comfortable in his abilities, it seems, and should continue to only get better by being taught how to play the right way. The forward uses his size pretty well but still has substantial room for growth in his overall skill. Developing reliable go-to moves, with zero hesitation, can make him that much more of an offensive presence.
Yusef Salih ‘20 – Patriot HS: Salih had an excellent night in the gym on Thursday… looking like the team’s top ‘3&D’ guy. He’s a sharpshooter with a pure release and gets his feet set immediately. The 6’2” guard also doesn’t need much space to look for his shot either; he launches it at a quick rate with a focus on the rim. Defensively, I could sense a complete comfort in him once he stepped on that side of the floor. Salih knows how cut off his man and get him feeling uncomfortable, which leads to his success on the other end as well. A second team All-Cedar Run District pick for the impressive 22-3 Patriot Pioneers, I expect him to keep his momentum rolling.
Luke Triggs ’21 – Battlefield HS: A younger player in the mix, Triggs brings good strength in the form of a 4-man for this group. It looks like the team plans to use his abilities in many instances, especially when a mismatch becomes apparent. In addition, I saw a good, soft midrange game in the sophomore during the practice. He’ll shoot it without any second-guessing and made most of his attempts. Right now, I’m still not sure how far his range stretches out to, but he can certainly develop into a steady inside-and-out prospect. Building upon his ball-handling looks like one of the next main focuses for Triggs. He also joined Salih on that All-Cedar Run District second team; one of only two sophomores to make an all-district selection.
Manny White ’20 – Potomac HS: A defensive specialist, White should give Higher Level a great spark in this aspect. He’s all about bringing that approach and succeeds at it greatly, never allowing his man to do whatever he wants with the ball. Outside of his stifling defense, the 5’10” guard can make shots also, catching fire in spurts if he starts to feel it. I’d currently label White as more of a defensive guard who plays off of the ball. Transforming himself into a point or combo guard could bring strong results.
Ethan Wilson ’20 – Osbourn Park HS: To put things into simple terms, Wilson’s a flat-out bucket-getter. He just knows how to put that orange ball in the basket. The 6’0” guard is pretty much deadly from anywhere on the floor, with a shot that’s always looked good but now appears to have even more range. His shot-creating prowess has a smoothness that makes one think it’s a lot easier than it appears. I felt like Wilson operated on Thursday as more of a lead guard who tried setting up an offense. If he can display great facilitating skills too, he’ll become pretty much complete at his position. Still, at the end of the day, he does best at racking up points. Need an example? Trace back to late December 2018 when the All-Cedar Run District first teamer dropped 43 points in DMV Elite’s ‘Governor’s Challenge’ showcase.
Rahim Woni ’21 – Stonewall Jackson HS: Another young face, Woni has some basketball similarities to his 2021 classmate, Triggs. However, I saw more of a mindset in Woni to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim. The burst in his first step, along with good strength, made him difficult to stop from powering towards the rim. At 6’3”/6’4,” he’s another one who can cause some matchup issues if he continues to show comfort on the perimeter. I’ll need to see him again to figure it all out… but Woni looks probable to play either the wing or forward position, depending on how well he can guard. Definitely placing him and Triggs on my 2021 list of names to keep an eye on.
*Corde Jenkins ’20 (Maury HS) and Jordan Radford ’20 (Battlefield HS) both did not participate in the team practice for excused reasons. Still, Coach Wilson clearly showed optimism of their potential roles on the team. Jenkins played a key piece in the Maury Commodores’ recent Virginia High School League (VHSL) Class 5 state championship win last month and Radford is another one who landed a spot on the All-Cedar Run District second team.
Be sure to also check out my AAU Open Gym Tour recap/preview on the Higher Level 17u Elite team!