basketball

Penny Hardaway Hoopfest: Barrett takes the next step

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The ARS Rescue Rooter Penny Hardaway National Hoopfest has become one of the top high school events every year. This past weekend’s event kept that reputation intact thanks to the epic rematch from last month’s City of Palm’s championship outing, a game pitting top-rated Montverde Academy (Fla.) against the local Memphis East bunch.

The fans in attendance were more than entertained, and we were able to pick up a few things along the way as we left Memphis a bit smarter than when we entered the city limits.

MORE: Tilmon impresses at Hoopfest | The impact of Diallo to Kentucky

R.J. BARRETT TAKES THE NEXT STEP

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A week after watching Vernon Carey, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward out of the University School in Florida, eclipse 30 points in his final two outings at the John Wall Holiday Invitational, I was all but assured that I had seen the best member of the 2019 class. That changed quickly. In Memphis, R.J. Barrett that showed off the entire package, a skillset that makes him one of the top prospects in all of high school ball.

Despite going down in defeat to Memphis East on Saturday, Barrett, the godson of Steve Nash, showed major gusto in putting his team on his back and scoring the basketball in bunches. While he still must get stronger and develop his right hand at the basket, the upside is staggering with Barrett. During his two-game weekend, the five-star sophomore averaged a point per minute on the floor as he finished with 32 in all to end his stay in Memphis. He was fabulous in the most difficult of moments and continues to track as a blueblood-type of recruit.

EVAN GILYARD LOOKS LIKE A STEAL

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This hasn’t been the best of seasons for Tim Floyd and his UTEP basketball program. They exit the weekend sitting at 2-13 overall, and that comes with the upcoming graduation of its star lead guard, Dominic Artis. However, all is not lost as Evan Gilyard, a 5-foot-10 signee with the C-USA program, looks to be one of the bigger steals from the early signing period.

During his time outside of the Windy City this past weekend, Gilyard showed just how dynamic he really is in the backcourt. Despite lacking the ideal size at the lead guard spot, the Simeon standout more than makes up for his physical deficiency by way of his toughness, nose for the basketball and take-no-prisoners type of mentality. All of those traits helped lead his team to the win in Memphis. Gilyard was a one-man wrecking crew who didn’t lay off the gas pedal all game long. He finished with 32 points off of just 13 shot attempts from the field. He will be an immediate contributor next season and someone that should jump-start the UTEP basketball program..

JEREMIAH TILMON BACK AT HOME 

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We profiled Jeremiah Tilmon on Friday evening following his lone contest at the Penny Hardaway National Hoopfest, but we wanted to touch further on the top-25 center and what might be ahead for the Illinois signee.

Now signed and delivered for the Illini, fans of the Big Ten program should be more than excited about what the five-star big man could have in store during his playing career in Champaign. While his team struggled to get him the ball much - and when they did Tilmon found himself in poor spots on the court and faced double- and triple-teams - it was the physical shape of the East St. Louis High star that really stood out.

No longer is Tilmon a plodding center who primarily produces whenever the game slows down. Illinois will say goodbye to Maverick Morgan and Mike Thorne this spring and will immediately welcome in Tilmon, the gem to the 2017 recruiting class who can make exquisite plays out of the high and mid-post setting on the floor, sports impeccable hands on the weakside glass and has become better at moving his feet on the defensive end. Add it all up and John Groce may now finally have a lineup that he can throw out onto the floor where all five members can create their own shot within the half-court setting.

HAMILTON HEIGHTS DUO IS ELITE

The talk of the Hamilton Heights program in recent weeks has surrounded Shai Alexander and his commitment to Kentucky. While the 6-foot-4 lead guard is a tremendous talent, his pairing with his cousin, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, looks to be one of the best backcourt tandems in all of the land.

On Friday evening, the duo combined for 52 points, buckets that came in a variety of ways which led to a blowout win over a talented and gritty East St. Louis High squad. The following night, the Canadians were even better. They scored 29 points off of 15 shots from the field as they combined for fewer than 35 minutes of action. Alexander-Walker, headed to Virginia Tech next fall, might be the most polished prospect that Buzz Williams had ever landed; he should slot in nicely for the pending departure of Seth Allen. Thanks to the improvements with his jumper, the Kentucky-bound Alexander is the type of guard who can play in various lineups. At the moment he's at his best as a playmaking weapon who can drive to the basket.

IS MARCUS CARR UNDERRATED?

Ranked as a three-star recruit but with no position rank next to his name, the winter months have been a major statement season thus far from Marcus Carr. While his box score numbers will never wow you, the blue-collar approach, improved abilities at the lead guard spot and defensive prowess of the Montverde product all add up into a powerful recruit.

Carr signed with Pittsburgh during the early signing period and showed over the course of the weekend in Memphis was that he could slot in and help the Panthers this year. Getting a glimpse of Kevin Stallings’ squad this winter, while they have put up a respectable record that was boosted with its recent win over Virginia, they still struggle at the point guard position. They primarily use Jamel Artis, a 6-foot-7 senior, as the facilitator within the halfcourt setting. Sure, Artis has done a commendable job, but Carr’s unwillingness to back down from the big moment, lethal on-ball defense and passing acumen with pressure applied make the 6-foot-2 guard someone who can step in and cement his starting gig within the ACC program’s lineup for the next four years by the time conference play begins next season.

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