Still acknowledged as one of Northern Virginia’s premier travel basketball programs, Higher Level AAU has enjoyed solid success so far in the first portion of this 2019 travel season. I’ve been trying my best to keep an eye on them, especially after making trips up North several times during my recent ‘AAU open gym tour’ to preview the Higher Level Premier 17u, Elite 17u, Girls 17u, and 16u (Black) teams. Higher Level CEO, Darius Wilson (who also serves as the head coach of Premier 17u) and I have held a good friendship for years now. It’s been great to see him once again put together a roster that can hold their own against teams both in and out of the state. In late-April, at the ‘Hoop Group Pitt Jam Fest,’ the Premier 17u group made a notable run in their bracket, while even missing some guys, and again impressed two weeks ago when they participated in another ‘Hoop Group’ event: the Southern Jam Fest. Ethan Wilson ‘20, a standout guard from Osbourn Park High School (Manassas, VA) has played an important role this spring by pacing Higher Level Premier’s offense. If you haven’t already heard of the name, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time, especially once July arrives. Still, I’m positive in saying most residents from Wilson’s hometown area fully know about the 6’0” junior and what he brings to the table, considering he blew up this past high school season as a lethal scorer in Northern Virginia.
I first had the chance to see Wilson in a competitive atmosphere during my coverage of the ‘Millennium Prospects/Higher Level Academy Mid-Atlantic Showcase’; a Sunday event that took place months ago in November 2018. From the day’s opening moments up until the last, he relentlessly stood out as a guy who can purely put the ball in the basket and rebound very well at his position. In my recap of that particular showcase, I think I labeled him as the best flat-out bucket-getter in the gym. That same scoring prowess continued into the winter season, as Wilson quickly became a go-to option for the Osbourn Park Yellow Jackets.
“It felt very good taking on such a huge role this year,” Wilson said. “It was challenging but I trained all summer to be prepared for it with the expectation that I would have a major part in my team’s success. Honestly, I liked the challenge of being face guarded and doubled-teamed night in and night out. It helped me grow as a player and prepare me for the future. So, overall, it felt good to know I was the most targeted player on every team’s scouting report. I’ve learned a lot from the experience that I can use for my senior year, college, and so on.”
No matter what defenses threw at him, the calm guard always seemed to have an answer. He’s one of the top shooters I’ve seen in the Northern Virginia region ever since joining Phenom Hoops last fall. This became even more evident not too long ago when Wilson finished victorious in the 2019 boys’ ‘Inside NOVA Hoops Fest’ three-point title back in March. If opponents play him tightly or close out with too much urgency, however, he can put in on the floor to finish in the lane and/or find teammates around the perimeter. I see similarities in his game to another Higher Level alum, Brandon Edmond ’17, who now currently suits up for the nationally-ranked Captains at Christopher Newport University (Newport News, VA). Arguably, Wilson’s biggest moment of last winter occurred right after Christmas, when the team participated in the ‘DMVElite Governor’s Challenge.’ Wilson completely got into his bag offensively during those few days, taking home ‘Most Outstanding Player’ honors and averaging 38 points, six rebounds, two assists, and 3.5 steals per game. He made the most noise after dropping 43 points in one contest… finishing just a point shy of tying the annual tournament’s single-game scoring record. The personal recognition emerged in a smooth manner for Wilson all season, yes, but Osbourn Park ending with an overall record of only 9-16 shows that more work can be done.
“I feel like next year we need to focus on playing more like a team and staying locked in throughout the whole season. We need to be a more multidimensional team with multiple weapons on the offensive end to make it more difficult for teams to scout us. Being unpredictable will definitely make us a difficult team to play against. On the topic of being locked in, this is mainly for our goals and each other. If we fully buy in to the process and play for one another I believe we will surprise a lot of people next year.”
That type of approach next season could definitely turns things around in a large manner. Losing eight seniors from this year’s group and playing in an area with a reputation of high-level hoops competition obviously means things won’t come easy, but the Yellow Jackets has a chance to do great things down the road if they just stay the pace.
Currently, in his last summer of AAU ball, Wilson has also faced a new type of challenge: becoming more of a point guard for Higher Level Premier. Adapting to new positions rarely comes with any ease. Wilson’s such a gifted and natural scorer who now likely has to sacrifice a bit in acting as a floor general. Regardless, his team’s coaching staff has the right approach in knowing that, at Wilson’s size, next-level programs will need to see playmaking capabilities from him. He’s definitely stayed level-headed in ‘trusting the process’ so far, as Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers would say.
“The transition is going well for me. Coach Darius has been teaching me how to balance between being a scoring guard and a point guard. I feel I’ve been getting better and better every week. Coach Darius has also helped me in learning how to slow the game down; allowing my play to come in the flow. I’m excited to see how I’ll look by the end of this summer.”
“At times, things have been challenging in terms of adjusting my play style. Rather than looking to score almost every possession, I am forced to control the offense and make sure everyone is involved while making my teammates better and more comfortable. It has also forced me to become a more vocal leader. Being a point guard requires constant communication and awareness of what’s occurring on the floor, which Coach Darius consistently stresses in practice. There have been some challenges for me, yes, but I am embracing it all and adding more to my game in order to become a complete player so I can prepare myself for my senior season and hopefully college basketball in the future.”
Having a coach like Darius by one’s side helps in countless ways. A former assistant college basketball coach, he truly knows how to break things down at every position and uses film study to the highest degree. In addition to watching his own performances on game tapes, Wilson also has a few professional guys he tends to keep an eye on; trying to see how they get the job done effectively at the point guard spot.
“A few guards I like to watch are Collin Sexton, Kyrie Irving, & Stephen Curry. I take bits and pieces of all of their playing styles and make it my own. I love Sexton’s mentality & drive/work ethic. It truly reminds me of my own, which is why he’s my favorite point guard in the NBA. Irving’s game is very smooth and he makes it look so easy. He can score when he needs to and isn’t afraid of the moment. Curry is a flat-out shooter, which is what many people know me for. His ability to score from deep three-point range is something that I decided to incorporate early on and try to perfect in my game to make myself a threat as soon as I pass half-court. What I admire about him mostly is his movement without the ball and how he sets screens in order to get himself, as well as his teammates, open. I would often watch film on him during the season to see how I can make myself still a threat even without the ball, while being face-guarded full-court. So, I would describe my style of play as a hybrid of those three players.”
Definitely a smart trio of players to pattern one’s game after. It all makes sense too after watching Wilson perform on the floor. I have no doubt that he’ll keep making strides in becoming a complete combo-guard; he’s a gym rat from what I’ve seen in my open gym visits.
The month of June begins tomorrow; a period where the travel ball action dies down considerably before the last stretch takes place in July. Opportunities for participation in high school summer league play and elite camps will mainly fill up the next four weeks. As one could expect, Wilson views June as anything but a month off. He still has some plans in the back of his mind for Higher Level Premier and sees July as a perfect last opportunity to finish off his AAU career with a bang.
“With Higher Level, I want to win as many games/tournaments as possible, become a better overall player, and have all my teammates and I receive scholarship offers to play in college. I believe we have a team with many underrated players that can compete with anybody. Once we put it all together, I don’t think there’s any team out there that will be able to stop us. In terms of personal goals, I’m just primarily focused on becoming better; something Higher Level has helped me with that tremendously. Playing against the best competition and professional players in practice/workouts has helped me grow day by day.”
Players never have to worry about the level of competition faced in the daily Higher Level skill sessions, that’s for sure. I know from my own past experience that current college and pro players enter the gym to get some work in once summer arrives. That notion clearly gives an advantage to Wilson and others who have goals to reach that same playing level. In terms of next-level recruitment, Wilson’s stock has taken small steps. He received an offer from Wilmington University (New Castle, DE) back in February.
“Things have been growing over the past couple of months. I have received low Division I interest, along with Division II and III interest as well. My goal by the summer is to receive as much exposure and offers as possible. However, I try not to focus too much on my recruitment and just play the game of basketball. I know I can continue to work on my game and become even more dominant in order to give myself a chance to be recognized by coaches all over. If given the chance on a college team, I could promise to bring 100% effort towards anything I do. I’ve worked for everything I’ve earned and nothing was ever handed to me. I’m someone who has devoted my life to the game of basketball and I work on my game every day. I am sure I could bring a lot to any college program that is willing to have me on their roster.”
Sounds like the type of answer any coach would want to hear. I’m confident that Wilson’s coaches from both high school and AAU, as well as teammates, would plead his case also. He’s a grounded kid who has his priorities straight; that mindset should continue to take him far both in his hooping career and after it concludes. Keep an eye out for him and the Higher Level program’s other talented members.
One last thing… where does Ethan Wilson see himself in ten years?
“Ten years from now, I see myself playing professional basketball in the NBA. It has been a goal of mine since I was little and I will always have that vision in my head. If something were to happen and basketball wasn’t an option for me, I could see myself as an entrepreneur or a real estate agent. I’ve always had interest in these jobs, so I’m constantly learning more and more to prepare myself just in case the ball stops bouncing for me one day.”
Keep it going, Ethan, to boost your game to an even ‘higher level!’