PITTSBURGH -- The 2007 Pitt Jam Fest is under way as 96 teams start the trek to the tournament title. The action was busy on opening night as teams from across the country invaded the Steel City.
Hometown star leads the way
Jonathan Baldwin wears a lot of hats around Pittsburgh. He's a Rivals100 football player, a Rivals150 basketball player and Friday night's top performer. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound wing scored over 20 points in his Pittsburgh Storm's overtime win over the Charlotte Royals.
The hometown hero had a good cheering section and gave the fans plenty to smile about with his productiveness. There wasn't a prettiness to his game. His buckets came mostly 12 feet and in and he worked at getting his points. Baldwin scored on some jumpers but his technique needs some work and his ability to create off the bounce could use a shot in the arm. That being said, a good Charlotte Royals team had trouble keeping him away from the scoring colum.
Baldwin is coveted by all of the football powers and boasts offers from the likes of Florida State, Miami, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and West Virginia. He'll entertain the thought of playing football and basketball at the right situation.
Finding solace in troubled times
In a horribly trying time for Virginia Tech, sports are very small in the grand scheme of things. However, those in Blacksburg and those that support the Hokies have said athletics are a way to bring back the normalcy to their shaken lives.
With a huge Virginia Tech support (Hokie hats and jerseys are everywhere), J.T. Thompson shined in front of a crowd looking for something to smile about.
The 2008 commitment was the only real offensive force for the Charlotte Royals. He played so much bigger than his 6-foot-5 size (as he always does) with powerful plays above the rim and did more with creating opportunities with the dribbling and attacking the basket.
Thompson gets better every time out and has momentum rolling into his final go round on the grass roots circuit. His effort wasn't enough as the Royals dropped a tough one in overtime.
Peach State prospects shine despite loss
Clemson commitment Cashmere Wright poured in 32 points in a disappointing loss on Friday night. The 6-foot-1 guard scored whenever he wanted against the Blessed IJN Purple team but his buckets weren't enough in the end.
The Savannah (Ga.) Urban Christian star doesn't have the look of a stone cold scorer but he can fill up a stat sheet in a hurry. He's quick to the rim and has a great first step and explosion with the ball in his hands. Wright stopped a popped with a couple of threes with a high degree of difficulty. His speed allowed him to get to the free throw line multiple times, too.
The Tigers have a talented scorer coming to Clemson in a couple of years. He's one of the best scorers in the Southeast and continues to prove that on a national level against good teams.
Teammate Tony Mitchell is in the Rivals150 but is still very much a sleeper nationally. The 6-foot-6 forward was a monster on the offensive glass. In the second half, he accounted for six offensive rebounds and converted with tip-ins one three of them and was fouled on a fourth attempt. He scored 22 points in the loss.
Mitchell's recruitment has taken a shot to the arm since playing well in the first week of the open evaluation period. Cincinnati and South Carolina jumped into the picture first while Alabama, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Clemson are all in the picture. It will be interesting to see what coaches come out to see him on Saturday morning. Mitchell's Hoop Planet team plays off the Pittsburgh campus at 9 a.m.
Illinois is well represented
Take one look at Angel Garcia and it is easy to see the difference in his game this year compared to last year. The 6-foot-10 versatile forward is much stronger in his upper body and he is starting to chisel out his long frame.
The four-star combo forward is more aggressive to the basket with the dribble now and takes on bodies better than he did a year ago. Garcia is a work in progress but he's getting better and better. The high-majors have taken notice. Louisville, Memphis, DePaul and Indiana are the most aggressive at the moment, says his AAU coach Eric Cole, while the majority of the Big Ten is also involved.
Teammate Trey Blue scored 20 points in the lopsided win over Richmond USA. Blue, a 6-foot-2 combo guard is off to Brewster Academy next year. He already boasts a 4.0 grade point average and high interest from Rice and Kent State at the moment.
Blue has a good skill set to work with and played within himself on Friday night and didn't force the issue. He'll be one of the better guards in the always-tough NEPSAC next year because he knows how to play, can shoot and continues to improve his game.
Full Package had a couple of big plays from big man Stan Simpson in the final two minutes of a back and forth battle with the New Jersey Shoreshots. The athletic 6-foot-9 post from Chicago Leo came up with two big scores at the basket, a good rebound and used his size well inside.
Don't be surprised to see his recruitment really take off after this month. He gets better as the tournaments go along, says his AAU coach Matt Ryndak. So is his recruitment. Since playing well in Vegas at the start of the month, Virginia, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Bradley and others have stepped up with their efforts. Ryndak said Simpson will certainly be a high-major kid. There was little to dispute that.
Supo Sunni, a 6-foot-3 power guard, received rave reviews from Vegas two weeks ago. It is easy to understand why. He was the best player on the floor for Full Package. He scored, he defended, he rebounded. The Shoreshots didn't have an answer for him.
The two-sport star (he's also a big time wide receiver prospect) has Big Ten/ACC interest on the gridiron and he'll be a heck of a mid-major plus, or maybe higher, prospect in hoops.
Butler, Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois, Northwestern and Iowa are all interested in him for basketball.
There may not be a more watched guard in the tournament this weekend by the college coaches than Iman Shumpert. Hopefully he plays a little better when the coaches can actually watch. It was a rough night for the highly-recruited guard. His shot wasn't dropping and it took a good 22 minutes into the game before he scored his first field goal in the game.
Shumpert finished with nine points but had a hard time getting it going with his jumper. The combo guard has a wide variety of scholarship offers right now and an even bigger number of schools are recruiting him.
"His head is spinning right now," Ryndak said. "He's got a lot of schools coming at him."
He could earn a handful more free rides with improved play on Saturday, including a big game against the Long Island Lightning.
Paris Carter, an active 6-foot-7 forward, had his strong moments. "He's a steal for a Missouri Valley Conference school," Ryndak said.
The kids are alright
Karron Johnson, a top 10 prospect from the class of 2009, had flashes of Kansas sophomore Brandon Rush on Friday night. He scored upwards of 25 points in a close victory. The 6-foot-7 wing was smooth when he needed to be, posted up his smaller defender for scores, shot the ball well in the midrange and beyond and, of course, played well above the rim.
Johnson, who is now at Mt. Zion in North Carolina, said Memphis, Maryland an Virginia are his top three at the moment.
Charlotte (N.C.) Latin forward David Chadwick has been a popular face for ACC schools. The 6-foot-8 forward is an aggressive big man that has an old school flair. He isn't the flashiest of players but he's efficient when he's on the blocks. The class of 2009 prospect didn't have eye-popping stats in a difficult overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Storm but he'll certainly be a guy to watch over the next couple of years.
His father, a former UNC Tar Heel under Dean Smith, said Clemson came in to see him earlier in the week. North Carolina, Davidson, Virginia Tech and Duke are all showing various amounts of interest from the simple letters like the ones from Duke to the serious, like the visits to and from Clemson.
Antonio Hayman, an unsigned 6-foot-5 wing, may have been the biggest surprise on opening night. He scored upwards of 25 points for National Christian against South Jersey Select.
Every time he scored, media row dove into the roster packet to see what his name was again and again. Hayman is a fine athlete with good speed, strength and could not be contained with the dribble. He'll be a name worth following, barring his academic situation, late in the recruiting period.
When it comes to pure athleticism, David Diakate may have been the best player on the floor at the Fitzgerald gym on Friday night. He's a freak when he leaves the floor. His shot looked good and his aggressiveness was the quick jab that whittled away at the South Jersey Select squad. The muscular 6-foot-5 guard has high-major potential. His coach, Trevor Brown, said George Washington, Charlotte and Loyola-Maryland are the most aggressive with Diakite early on.
Ryan Brooks, a 6-foot-8 forward for the South Jersey Select, is an eye-catching prospect. He made plays in a lopsided loss to National Christian on Friday night. Brooks, who plays at Holy Spirit High School in New Jersey, is a long forward with good bounce, good hands and oozes potential. He's an ideal Atlantic 10 level big man.
Lamont Prosser, a 6-foot-8 big man for Blessed IJN Purple, scored a team-high 22 points and collected double digit rebounds in a big win over Hoop Planet. The monster-sized big man was the beneficiary of guards that can penetrate and dish. Prosser has good hands and scored when he was at the cup. His coaches said Illinois recently inquired.
Ty Thompson had the hot hand from deep. The 6-foot-5 guard from Fort Wayne scored five three-pointers en route to his 15 points. He only missed two three-pointers in the big win.
Notes from the notepad
College coaches will take their seats, pull up a spot on the baseline and sidelines and play the see and be seen game that comes at evaluation events in the spring.
Justin Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.