LAS VEGAS- A year ago, the Oakland Soldiers cruised through the inaugural Fab 48 at Bishop Gorman High School. On Saturday, this year's version of the Soldiers was on display and they made it clear that they weren't going to be giving up their title easily.
The Soldiers were also a perfect example for a day where guys who were waiting their turn last year stepped up as upperclassmen while the next wave of guys showed off their potential.
Last year, Brandon Ashley and Dominic Artis were the young guns who deferred to talented veterans like Jabari Brown, Nick Johnson, Josiah Turner and Kyle Wiltjer. Now, the 6-foo-t8 power forward and 6-foot-1 point guard are the guys who are leading a group filled with talented young guys.
Just as he's been all summer long, Artis was a maestro who got others involved and fueled the Soldiers high-flying attack.
"The improvement in that little guy has been something else," quipped a west coast assistant. "He's bigger than you realize and even though he's not the most powerful guy, he's got control of his team and makes the other team adjust to him."
Meanwhile on the interior, Ashley continued his strong, athletic play. Not surprisingly, the five-star prospect relishes the chance to lead the Soldiers and prepare younger players like Aaron Gordon and Jabari Bird for the time when they will take over next summer.
"It's a huge change from previous years," Ashley told Rivals.com of his expanded role. "I've been one of the younger guys and now I'm the guy that the younger guys are looking to set an example and play the right way."
On Sunday, playoff rounds will begin at the Fab 48 and now Ashley hopes that he and his team can take the next step and finish what has already been a good summer with a major tournament trophy to add to their growing collection.
"So far I think it's been a good summer," said Ashley. "In the EYBL we played like 20 games and we only lost like two of them so that was a great start to things. Now we are out here trying to finish strong and want to take the title."
McCullough shows that he's legit
During the early part of the evaluation period, one of the guys who made a big splash was 2014 combo forward Chris McCullough. On Saturday, he proved that his run at Hoop Group Elite camp was no joke.
In an era where young players like McCullough already play in front of gigantic throngs of coaches, it was interesting to see the versatile, long and athletic 6-foot-8 forward put in serious work in front of a grand total of one college coach, an Iowa State assistant.
But, coaches do know about the Team Scan 15's star and have already been getting in regular contact. Among those already interested are Georgetown, Syracuse, St. John's, Florida, Iowa State, Providence, Villanova and Connecticut.
A native New Yorker who is prepping at the Salisbury (Conn.) School, McCullough showed against the Team Detroit 15's why he's next in a dazzling 20 point outing. His quickness was high level, he finished well above the rim and through defenders, he showed promise as a ball handler and shooter.
His class has yet to be ranked by Rivals.com, but McCullough is putting a legitimate claim to five-star status.
When it comes to being solid and just making smart plays, it's tough to top the World Wide Renegades Chris BoldenClick A sleeper alert has been put out for mid-majors. 6-foot-3 shooting guard Dayton BoddieClick There aren't many more unique point guard prospects than Montay BrandonClick Exactly which level he ends up on is still to be determined, but Nick StoverClick The older Mac Irvin Fire group gets plenty of run and they should. They've got the potential number one player in the class of 2013 in Jabari ParkerClick A few more notablesHere to view this Link. and a great cast around him. Not surprisingly, Parker looked terrific for stretches. But, keep an eye out for 2014 small forward Lamont WalkerClick A few more notablesHere to view this Link. who puts in his work for the Fire's 15 and under group. Walker is 6-foot-4, long, a big time athlete and competes.Here to view this Link. has established himself as at least a WCC caliber wing. The 6-foot-5 rising senior makes smart basketball plays and was a favorite of assembled coaches.Here to view this Link.. Brandon is jumbo sized, makes plays off the dribble and is proving to be a strong athlete and finisher at the rim.Here to view this Link. -- a rising senior -- is strong, can fill it up from deep and also makes plays off of the dribble.Here to view this Link.. The 6-foot-2 shooting guard has game in aspects and doesn't force things.
Rivals.com finally got another look at 2013 five-star forward Kuran IversonClick The Oakland Soldiers 15 and under team features a potential high major wing prospect in 6-foot-4 shooting guard Elliot Smith. The young wing has a great basketball frame, is smart, has some athleticism and looks to be both skilled and tough.Here to view this Link. and he's a completely different player than a year before. He's not a high flyer, but he's grown to at least 6-foot-8, has added bulk and now looks to be more of a ball handling power forward.