OLIVE BRANCH, Miss. -- A sold out crowd for night one of the ARS Rescue Rooter National Hoopfest was treated to lots of talent and a big time win by the home team on Friday. National Basketball Analyst Eric Bossi has takeaways from Friday night's Olive Branch win over Memphis East and Huntington Prep's runaway win over Memphis Raleigh Egypt.
2020 COMBO FORWARD JAEMYN BRAKEFIELD IS THE REAL DEAL
Over the last month or so, combo forward Jaemyn Brakefield has emerged as one of the bigger stories in the class of 2020. Currently a four-star prospect, he cemented a move to five-star status when rankings are updated later on this week.
The 16 year old has terrific size, he handles the ball well and he gets a little better each time out. He's become a dangerous three point shooter and is also a pretty clever passer. Like any young player there will be some moments where you wonder what he's thinking, but his game and skillset are a fit for how more and more teams want to play.
"I'm good with being a four man right now," said Brakefield. "Or you could say combo forward because I can play inside and out."
CAMERON MATTHEWS USED THE SPOTLIGHT TO HIS ADVANTAGE
The game between Olive Branch (Miss.) High and Memphis (Tenn.) East was supposed to be all about star power. Olive Branch's D.J. Jeffries is a top 40 prospect in 2019 while Memphis East rolls out 2019's No. 2 ranked player James Wiseman along with four-star classmates Chandler Lawson and Malcolm Dandridge and four-star senior Alex Lomax. The memo missed sophomore wing Cameron Matthews who stole the show and led Olive Branch to a huge win.
Matthews used his athleticism, energy and toughness to set the tone on both ends of the floor from the tip and he didn't let up until he fouled out late in the fourth quarter while defending the seven-foot Wiseman. Matthews attacked the rim for big dunks, rebounded and lit a fuse.
Matthews told me afterwards that he has started to get some Division One attention but that he has yet to receive any scholarship offers. More games like Friday's and that won't be an issue and he at the least now has the attention of Memphis head coach Tubby Smith who was sitting on the baseline.
"I feel like my role is to pick up what everybody else isn't doing," said Matthews. "Defense, that's my strength. I take pride in it."
CASHIUS MCNEILLY IS A VERSATILE YOUNG GUARD
On Friday night, sophomore combo guard Cashius McNeilly didn't need to put up huge offensive numbers. His teammates took care of that in a high scoring win. Usually a scorer himself, the four-star prospect was content to run the show and pick his spots.
At 6-foot-4 with a sturdy frame, I love McNeilly's size and there's no doubt that he'll move into the 2020 rankings this week. What I also like is his approach. He has a sense for what is needed from him in a situation and he's comfortable in his own skin. When I asked him if he saw himself as a point or two guard I was surprised when he answered that right now he's a two guard who can play some combo. He would like to eventually be a full time point guard, but when most kids would say they already are I think it says a lot that he knows he's still developing his lead guard game.
On the recruiting front, Maryland, Georgia Tech and Tulane have offered McNeilly. He listed Virginia Tech as heavily involved and "like family" (his uncle works there) and also listed Wisconsin, UCLA and Pittsburgh as others who have shown a lot of early attention.
McNeilly took an unofficial visit to Maryland in the fall and liked what he saw.
"It was a good visit," said McNeilly. "I liked the campus and the atmosphere around the program. We stayed for a few days and saw everything."
MORE FRIDAY NOTES FROM THE HOOPFEST
.... After a tough loss on Friday night, I'm going to be interested to see how the loaded Memphis (Tenn.) East group bounces back on Saturday. In particular I want to see what 2019's No. 2 ranked player James Wiseman does. After being limited greatly by foul trouble in the first half on Friday night he had some nice moments in the second half showing a developed jump hook, ability to hit a 15 foot jumper and his athleticism around the rim. However, he also missed several critical free throws down the stretch and I am really interested to see how he bounces back from a tough night. Despite hims saying he's not planning to reclassify, rumors continue to swirl that he could be prepping for a move to 2018 and we'll see if there's anything to it.
.... Junior forward D.J. Jeffries has high level athleticism and some tools, but the question has been about his jump shot and ball handling ability. On Friday night almost all of the 6-foot-6 wing's production came from the free throw line. He did look good attacking the rim and that's what got him 12 shots from the charity stripe, but it wasn't a great jump shooting night. His energy, though, was quite good and it was the most competitive I've ever seen him play.
A junior teammate of Jeffries, I loved the play of point guard Joe Cooper. He showed toughness off the dribble, finished in the lane against Memphis East's size and knocked down some critical jump shots. He'll be a Division One player himself.
.... Huntington Prep is loaded with size and athleticism and on Friday night it was senior Kenneth Nwuba and freshman Jonathan Kuminga who really stood out. Headed to UCLA, Nwuba has one of the most impressive builds of any big man in high school (maybe even college) basketball. But his production doesn't always match the way he looks. Friday night was easily the most productive I've ever seen him on both ends of the floor. He dunked all night, he was a monster blocking shots and he rebounded the ball extremely well. In almost four years of scouting him, it was his best performance. As for Kuminga, it's hard to imagine that he still has three and a half years of high school ball left. At 6-foot-7 he's a high end athlete who makes plays above the rim. But, he can also shoot a bit and has a surprisingly high level feel for the game -- especially along the baseline -- for such a young player. He's got a chance to be recruited at the highest level.