The 2013 Hoop Group Pitt Jam Fest was resulted in another championship win for the consistently strong 17U Sports U/Team Izod team out of Northern Jersey. While on their championship run, a college coach noted that playing the Sports U squad is similar to going 15 rounds in a boxing match. Unfortunately for DC Assault, they only lasted 14 rounds before relinquishing the lead and falling in the final seconds, 48-45. The Pitt Jam Fest kicked off the live recruiting weekend with a bang, and gave a plethora of Division One coaches numerous opportunities to evaluate potential new recruits.
17U – The Championship Road and Game
DC Assault started off the weekend with a one point loss to the Louisville Magic on Friday night and ended the weekend with a loss to Sports U Izod, which came in the final minute. In between their two last minute defeats, DC Assault won four games in a row over a two day span. After going 2-0 on Saturday, DC Assault kicked off the final day with an 8:15am tip time against the Juice All-Stars. The late-arriving New York based squad scored the first basket despite not having a chance to warm up but it quickly went downhill from there.
Usually it is DC Assault’s point guard and future member of the Maryland Terrapins, Romelo Trimble that controls the game, but Sunday morning it turned out to be his back court teammate Byron Hawkins who did the heavy lifting. Hawkins hit several three pointers and got into the lane numerous times to provide an early double digit lead. In the second half, Trimble came alive and blew by his defender countless times and finished the game off with the help of Donte Grantham. Following this victory, DC Assault survived with a 67-66 victory over Team Charlotte to advance to the championship.
Sports U advanced to the Elite 8 with a 54-51 win over Team Loaded to finish off Saturday night, thanks to a Jared Nickens 3-pointer and then held on to beat We R 1 with another 54-41 victory. In their quarterfinal victory over We R 1, Sports U got strong contributions from point guard Tarin Smith and big man Jahleem Montague. In the Final Four, Sports U knocked off the undefeated Atlanta Xpress and earned a chance to defend their 2012 title.
In the championship game, both teams were on their third game in six hours and fifth game in three days. Needless to say, tired legs were prevalent for both teams as shot after shot clanged against the rim. Sports U took an early lead in the first half, but DC Assault received an energy boost from reserve guard Corey Henson out of DeMatha Catholic (MD). Henson buried two three pointers in a quick two minute span to erase DC Assault’s 1st half deficit.
After the halftime break, both teams picked up the pace and saw shots start to fall. 6’6” forward Rashard Kelly hit two 3-pointers to start the half and big man Chinanu Onunaku added in two baskets as well. Tarin Smith and Jared Nickens kept Sports U within striking distance, but the game appeared to be close to over when forward Donte Grantham scored consecutive baskets for DC Assault.
While most teams would’ve been satisfied with their tournament performance and called it a day, Sports U went on a quick 5-0 run to bring the score back to within two at 40-38 with three minutes left. Both teams traded fouls over the next two minutes before DC Assault missed a free throw to extend their lead to four points. With a chance to tie, unsung guard Hakim Santil nailed a deep three to even the game at 45 apiece. While the Sports U bench started to celebrate the big shot, Santil stayed focused and created a turnover which quickly turned into the go ahead lay-up. After tacking on a free throw to go up 48-45, Trimble took a deep three that bounced high off the rim and sealed another slugfest win for the Sports U Izod program.
16U – Champions:
We-R-1 based out of Delaware capped off a 6-0 tournament run with a 57-37 beat down of Team Philly in the championship. After a competitive win over the Atlanta Xpress in the semi-finals, the championship was never in doubt in large part to the stellar play of 6’7” wing Derrick Jones Jr. who spent the weekend playing on both the 17U and 16U circuits. Through the three day tournament, We R 1 won their games by an average of 21 points.
Class of 2014: Stock Riser:
Devin Robinson – 6’-8” – 2014 SF, Richmond Squires, Christ Church School (VA)
Before this weekend, Robinson was considered a fringe top-100 player, but now he is one of the hot names on the AAU circuit. Standing at 6’8”, Robinson is extremely long and lanky and still coming into his own body. Despite the current lack of strength, Robinson uses his length to block shots when opponents try to post him up down low. On Saturday night, Robinson scored 18 points against the Atlanta Xpress in a losing effort and followed that up on Sunday morning with a 19 point performance against Baltimore’s Finest in a 66-63 win that left many coaches shaking their head. Despite going against the highly talented Dwayne Morgan (UNLV pledge), Robinson stole the show with his 8-11 shooting, which included 3-5 from the three point line. To go along with his outside shooting (his shots have great rotation), Robinson mixed in some drives and even a floater for good measure. Robinson was efficient all tournament long and showed off a strong motor as well. With Robinson’s name circling around this weekend, Tony Bennett from the Virginia Cavaliers paid a late visit on Sunday along with an assistant from USC. Despite the newfound attention it might be hard for schools to catch up to VCU and the Virginia Tech Hokies who have been putting in work for awhile. One thing is for certain; expect to hear the name Devin Robinson throughout the remainder of spring and summer.
Class of 2015: Stock Riser:
Joseph Toye, 6’-6” – 2015 SF, Illinois Celtics, Whitney Young (IL)
This past high school season, the 6’6” wing played behind a star studded junior class that includes Jahlil Okafor, Paul White, L.J. Peak, and Miles Reynolds at Whitney Young. While playing time was limited during the high school season, so far he has seen ample time for the Illinois Celtics who feature a trio of tall, long, and athletic wings. Toye passes the eye test right off the bat and during two tournaments has made a living slashing to the basket with both hands while also showing off a steady mid-range jump shot coming off the catch or the dribble. On Saturday afternoon, Toye went to work against the Fairfax Stars in a losing effort with impressive forays to the rim and short pull-up jump shots. At one point in the second half, he flew down the lane and over a defender for the dunk of the weekend. With his limited minutes as a sophomore Toye is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential. With L.J. Peak transferring back to South Carolina, he will get the chance to step into Peak’s vacated starting spot to showcase his skills and athleticism for one of the top high school teams in the county next fall.
Pitt Jam Fest Standouts:
Jared Nickens, 6’-7” – 2014 SG, Sports U Izod, Westtown HS (PA)
Over a three day span, Nickens was the most impressive player for the tournament champions. One of the many tall and lengthy wings in the tournament, Nickens possessed the best ability to score at all three levels in the 17U age group. He knocked down deep threes with consistency, showed a soft touch on his mid-range jump shots, and finished above the rim with ease when around the basket. With a game similar to that of Rashad Vaughn, Nickens churned out impressive game after game in Pittsburgh. Nickens will need to add some weight to his frame in the future, but for now he proved to be one of the top scorers on the Under Armour circuit.
Derrick Jones Jr., 6′-7” – 2015 SF, We R 1, Archbishop Carroll (PA)
As noted above, Jones led his 16U team to the championship while also playing occasionally for the 17U team. In all contests, Jones showed off his athletic ability by blocking shots, finishing with authority on breaks, to go along with solid ball handling skills and a quick release on his jump shots. Jones dominated all weekend long and is certain to see his stock go through the roof after his impressive weekend. Jones is currently ranked #13 by ESPN, #37 by Rivals, and unranked by Scout.com. After this weekend, expect Jones to become a consensus top 15 player in the country.
Donte Grantham, 6’-7” – SF, DC Assault
Bob Huggins showed up to watch the West Virginia native play ball on Saturday afternoon and while Grantham is considering prep school, he could be the type of player that helps the Mountaineers bounce back from a horrendous season. Grantham connected all weekend on three point attempts from the wing and hustled up and down the court which often led to highlight finishes above the rim. His finest game came against the NC Redstorm on Saturday night as he went for 20+ with a mixture of three’s and basket drives.
Romelo Trimble, 6’-3” – 2014, PG, DC Assault, Bishop O’ Connell (VA)
A veteran to the 17U circuit, Trimble performed strongly under the watchful eye of his future college coach, Mark Turgeon. Trimble is one of the stronger point guards you will find this year and uses his strength to bully his way to the basket. While strong, Trimble is also quick and he showed this off on Sunday morning as he consistently blew by his defender for lay-ups. As far as shooting was concerned, Trimble knocked down shots from anywhere on the court with most of his three point attempts coming well behind the arc. Trimble was the leader for DC Assault and is the type of player that will help get Maryland back to the tournament.
Trayvon Reed, 7’-1” – 2014, C, Atlanta Xpress, Shiloh High (GA)
Without a doubt, Reed was the top shot blocker in the tournament. Standing at 7’1” with a large wing span, Reed made it almost impossible for opposing teams to score against the Xpress in the paint. Reed runs the floor well and can catch the ball cleanly on the break. While a dominant defensive player, Reed still lacks assertiveness on the offensive end and can disappear at times when he is not dunking the ball. With some work on the offensive side of the ball, Reed could turn into a dominant all-around player.
Isaiah Whitehead, 6’-5” – 2014, SG/SF, Juice All-Stars, Lincoln HS (NY)
With his physicality it is almost impossible for a defender to stop Whitehead one on one. With an improved jump shot, defenders can no longer just hope that they are bailed out by a long jumper. Whitehead spent the weekend attacking the basket and knocking in jump shots from all sides of the court. While a tough out on the offensive end, Whitehead will need to work on getting his points in the flow of the offense as many of his baskets came in one-on-one situations. Gerry McNamara of Syracuse and Kevin Keats of Louisville attended Whitehead’s games throughout and would be ideal fits for the talented player.
Chris Chiozza, 5’-10” – 2014, PG, Team Thad, White Station (TN)
Usually the shortest player on the court, Chiozza is almost always the toughest. Despite suffering two losses over the weekend, Chiozza ran his team extremely well despite missing Leron Black. In the opening game Chiozza connected on four three pointers but needed 14 shots to do so. In his remaining games, Chiozza calmed down a bit, but still attacked the basket, pushed the tempo, and knocked down open shots when needed.
Other Key Players:
Dennis Smith Jr, 6’-1” – 2016, PG, Karolina Diamonds, Trinity Christian School (NC)
Despite being just a freshman, Smith is already a hot commodity and had Hubert Davis watching his opening game Friday night. Smith has long arms for a point guard and handles the ball like it’s a yo-yo and got into the lane often on Saturday morning. After beating his man off the dribble or pick and roll, Smith either knocked down an eight foot floater or lofted a lob to high-rising teammate Kwe Parker. Smith also already has the euro-step down pat despite and while not a threat from deep yet, he already has high level athleticism, court-awareness, and passing ability.
Kwe Parker, 6’-2” – 2016, SG, Karolina Diamonds, Trinity Christian School (NC)
Parker is the backcourt running mate for Smith in high school and the Karolina AAU squad. Needless to say there timing is almost perfect as the duo connected on two alley-oops against the NJ Celtics. Despite the freshman stature, Parker showed no fear playing in up two age groups and had the best two foot jumping ability of anyone in the tournament. Parker can sky for dunks, handle the ball on the break, and can rebound just as well as any big man. The one weakness of Parker’s game is his outside shooting as he shoots more of a set shot than an actual jump shot. Once Parker starts to use his vertical on deep jump shots, the sky is the limit for this high riser.
Seventh Woods, 6’-1” – 2016, PG, Carolina Wolves (16U), Hammond (SC)
Already a You Tube sensation, Woods’ tournament was cut off early due to an ankle injury Saturday morning. Woods struggled early on with his shot against the New Jersey Road Runners, but didn’t have a problem showing off his freaky athleticism. Woods rocked the rim for a fast break dunk in the second half and also had two impressive blocks as he went flying down the lane. Woods possessed a tight handle on the break, but will need to slow down to lessen the unforced errors.
Tevin Mack, 6’-5” – 2015, SG/SF, Carolina Wolves (16U), Dreher (SC) – Mack earned himself some future looks from colleges with his play over the weekend. Against the Road Runners, Mack scored 26 points. Six of those points came from behind the arc, while the remaining 20 came from drives to the basket and offensive rebound put-backs. A strong kid for his age, Mack was a bully down low and almost impossible to keep off the boards.
Aaron Jordan, 6’-4” – 2015, SG, Illinois Celtics (16U), Plainfield East (IL)
While Jordan does not have the size of his teammate Joseph Toye, he might have the higher current skill-set. Jordan is athletic enough to attack the basket off the dribble and also a good enough shooter to consistently knock down the three. Jordan tried to lead a comeback on Saturday afternoon with back to back three pointers, but ran out of time.
Myles Stephens, 6’-3” – 2015 SG/SF, New Jersey Road Runners, St. Andrews School
Despite being a bit under-sized, Stephens was terrific getting to the basket in a loss to the Carolina Wolves. Stephens was comfortable driving to the right and left sides and even posting up when he had the chance. While he did most of his damage from inside the lane, Stephens also stepped out to the wing to nail a three-pointer. Stephens noted that various Ivy League and Patriot schools were showing interest.
Will Ferguson, 6’-0” – 2014 PG, Team Loaded, Massanutten Military Academy
Once ranked in the Top 100, Ferguson started to slide out of the rankings during his junior year. Despite a stellar season at Herndon High School, Ferguson will attend Massanutten next year for prep school. While a lot of schools forgot about Ferguson over the past year, many coaches quickly opened their eyes upon seeing the speedy guard this past Saturday. Ferguson was one of the quicker guards in the tournament and will most likely see the recruiting attention pick up once again when prep school play begins.
Kamau Stokes, 6’-0” – 2014, PG, Bmores Finest, Dunbar High (MD)
Despite a loss in his team’s final game against the Richmond Squires, Stokes was the best guard on the floor. He showed solid court leadership and kept his team in contention throughout. Stokes got by his man off the dribble and scored in double figures as many college coaches were on hand taking notes.