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TAVARES, Fla. -- Dennis Smith had 29 points, 13 rebounds and two assists and Team Loaded NC managed to hold off Mass Rivals 74-72 in a highly anticipated game that met expectations on Day 2 of the Adidas Gauntlet.
The first half was all Team Loaded NC as they raced out to a 44-27 lead at the break thanks to Smith's 16 points, eight rebounds, two assists and one steal in the first half.
Smith, the No. 16 player in the class of 2016, played under control on offense and showed good anticipation at the other end of the floor, which led to several Mass Rivals passes either being deflected or mis-directed. Although Smith's handle got a little loose under pressure and he didn't show the quickest first step, he chose his opportunities carefully and was able to get past his defender get to the rim and finish -- including one ferocious tomahawk dunk in the first half.
Listing recent offers from Kansas and N.C. State, Smith told us the N.C. State offer was a special one.
"It's definitely an honor. Growing up as a fan, that's something you want to get at an early age. It's just a blessing right now," Smith said.
Smith's family lives less than an hour away from N.C. State, so he's been able to get to campus several times already and has developed a good relationship with their coaching staff. He's taken other unofficial visits as well.
"I'm real cool with the N.C. State coaching staff," Smith said. "I've also visited North Carolina, Duke and VCU."
There is one school that hasn't offered him a scholarship yet that Smith told us that he hopes to earn one from.
"Kentucky, because they always produce good point guards. So I definitely want to hear from them."
Seven-foot center Josh Sharma was limited to 18 minutes of action for Mass Rivals due to foul trouble and finished with just nine points and seven rebounds. Sharma has a motor without an off switch. The 7-footer has above average athleticism, runs like a guard, has good hands and feet. We were impressed with how quickly and smoothly he moved from one side of the lane to the other. When shots go up, he goes after the ball aggressively at both ends of the court. Sharma boxes out and passes well from the perimeter and out of the post when the double team comes.
Already holding offers from Illinois, Lehigh, Maryland, UMass, Providence, Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin; Sharma recently picked up offers from Wake Forest and Gonzaga.
"Right now the schools recruiting me the hardest are Gonzaga, Illinois, Wisconsin. I talk to UConn quite a bit and there are some more," he said. Sharma took an unofficial visit to Boston College with a couple of his Northfield (Mass) Mt. Herman teammates and took an official visit to Wisconsin in January.
"I liked it [visit to Wisconsin] a lot," the four-star prospect said. "I liked the atmosphere at the game against Iowa. I like the players and the coaches and the school itself, so I thought it was a good visit. I really liked it."
Scheduling visits during the busy travel team and summer camp schedules can be hit or miss, but Sharma plans to take a handful of unofficial visits in June.
"Maybe five or six to some schools in the Midwest and a couple of more local schools, like I'm going to visit B.C. again, I might visit UConn. Then I'm going to wait until after the AAU season to figure out who I'm going to take my officials to," he said.
One of Sharma's Mass Rivals teammates is an emerging class of 2017 point guard Makai Ashton-Langford. Make no mistake -- Ashton-Langford is a point guard, not a converted shooting guard. He makes good decisions with the ball, has good court vision and is a good passer -- including on the move.
"I'm good at getting into the lane and dishing out to three-point shooters," he said. "I have to tighten up my handle more and improve my shot."
The 6-foot-1, 165-pound rising sophomore also needs to get stronger, something he said his teammates are in his ear about.
"Playing up in age helps me a lot, playing against more developed kids than me," he said. "They're always telling me I have to get in the weight room and get a little bigger to compete and get in the paint with these guys."
Ashton-Langford listed offers from Rhode Island, Providence and Boston College.
Brown finally goes down
Coming into the weekend Game Elite hadn't lost a game on the AAU circuit this year thanks mainly to Jaylen Brown's monster of a spring. But in their Saturday morning game against Texas D1 Ambassadors, Brown's shot wasn't falling. The No. 11 ranked player in the class of 2015 was 4-for-15 from the floor and just 4-for-8 from the line as Game Elite was bested for the first time.
Nevertheless, the 6-foot-7 forward still showed off the skills, athleticism and explosiveness that earned him that ranking, his five-star rating and a lengthy number of offers, including recent offers from UCLA and Kentucky.
When talking recruiting, Brown played it very close to the vest, including when we asked who was recruiting him the hardest.
"It's hard to say, everybody has a different way of recruiting," Brown said. I hear from a lot of schools but I try not to answer my phone because I try to keep myself busy."
Before his Wheeler (Ga.) basketball season started, Brown took unofficial visits to Georgia, Georgia Tech and Florida State. Now that his final season of high school ball is on the horizon, he knows he'll need to narrow the focus of his recruitment so that he can eventually make his school choice.
"I know I've got to make a list of what I'm looking for in a college and I'm looking to do that soon so I can make a decision," Brown said. "A long list of things will factor into that decision, comfort with the coach, the fit, the environment it's a long list and everything needs to be hit on the head when I choose a school."
We got our second look at Texas D1 Ambassadors forward Rashard Odomes. He's not a flashy above-the-rim player. Odomes is a guy that puts on his hard hat and just gets things done. Before you know it, he's filled up the stat sheet to a tune of 19 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block.
The 6-foot-7 Copperas Cove lefty has a chiseled physique that allows him to finish through contact when he gets through an opening, but we didn't see the explosion he'll need to finish in traffic at the high major level.
Odomes can knock down three-pointers when he's open and in rhythm. Once he can hit that shot off the bounce or coming off a screen, that will open up lanes for him to get to the basket. He definitely has many of the attributes high major coaches look for to play, and defend, one of the most difficult positions on the court.
Maker makes a mark
If you haven't had an opportunity to see Thon Maker play in person, you're missing out on a treat. The five-star, No. 3 overall player in the Class of 2016 is as advertised -- a long and athletic big man that is equally impressive running the floor and finishing on an array of moves, as he is facing the basket and stroking jumpers to the three-point line. Despite his lanky frame, he also battled hard on the boards, often toe-to-toe with bulkier or wide body post men.
Maker plays for Team Loaded, Va., and attends Carlisle school in Martinsville, Va. While he defers recruiting questions to his guardian Edward Smith, the rising junior does have an idea of the things that will be important to him when he gets closer to making a college choice.
"It has to be a fitting environment, the school has to fit you," Maker said. "Also what you're about to study there and style of play. I'm not going to go up against a big 300-pound guy. I'm going to make him move, make him run. Make the defense have to get a switch on me and then if they get a guard on me post up on him, shoot over him, or back him down or something like that."
Smith said Florida recently offered and he is in steady contact with Duke, Kansas, Virginia, Kentucky and Louisville.
Between the travel circuit and camps, it will be an extremely busy summer for the Sudan native, but Maker said he'll find time to work on the things he knows he wants to improve on.
"Definitely getting stronger and taking care of the ball, working on my shot," Maker said. "From the elbows basically just being automatic knockdown from there. I'm working on the post a little bit on the lower block, making quick moves not just waiting for the defense to settle."
Bragg sorting through options
Carlton Bragg had a breakout summer last year playing with Ohio Basketball Club. He earned a five-star rating, saw his recruitment take off and continued his stellar play thru his high school season at Villa Angela St. Joseph in Cleveland.
Saturday, he was matched up against Chase Jeter of Dream Vision.
"I'm running the floor really well and I'm rebounding really well," Bragg said. "I've been working on my legs so I can jump quicker. I've been jump roping a lot to get quicker with my jump."
Bragg said mostly every school recruiting him is recruiting him hard, but there are a few that are really pushing.
"Mainly Ohio State, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Arizona and a couple others," he said. "UCLA is coming at me hard too. We just had a home visit I want to say back in April. It was pretty good, it was awesome."
The No. 10 player in the 2015 class went on to talk about what he's hearing from UCLA head coach Steve Alford.
"He sees me at the three and the four," said Bragg. "He told me to keep playing hard and he wants to see my perimeter game."
Bragg has taken unofficial visits to Ohio State, Illinois, Kentucky and UCLA.
"I'm going back to Kentucky for sure," Bragg added. "It's a big stage for freshmen and I look at that as motivation."
Bragg declined to list schools that were recruiting him the hardest but said one very important person has weighed in.
"My mom likes Ohio State, Illinois and Kansas too. She says it's my decision but she gave me her opinion on those schools," he said.
Bragg's family hosted Illinois' John Groce on a home visit back in April and the 6-foot-9 forward came away very impressed. He feels he has a really good relationship with the head coach of the Fighting Illini.
"He set the standard really high," Bragg said. "The way he explained everything, told me what I'd do if I come down there. It was the plan he had, it was so great.
Look for Bragg to narrow down his list Sept. 1 then take official visits and announce before his senior season.
Russ Wood is a basketball recruiting analyst for Rivals.com and Inside the Gators. You can click here to follow him on Twitter..
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