PITTSBURGH -- It was a long day on Saturday at the Pitt Jam Fest as the college coaches stormed the Steel City and the players stepped up to the challenge of earning respect and scholarship offers.
Best of Saturday
Grassroots Canada played the role of giant killer on Saturday as Ro Russell's kids knocked out Boo Williams, one of the favorites to win the tournament. One of the reasons why the kids from Toronto played so well was the outstanding play of guard Devoe Joseph.
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The 6-foot-2 combo from Pickering (Ont.) High School started his day with a 30-point effort against East Coast Fusion. He drilled six three-pointers in that victory.
Later in the day, Joseph poured in 22 points and connected on four three-pointers against Boo Williams. The game later, Joseph and Grassroots Canada knocked out Juice to advance to Sunday's quarter final game against a surging Arkansas Hawks team.
Joseph was one of the best, if not the best, guard on Saturday. He scored at will against good teams. Don't write him up as just a shooter. Joseph has good ball-handling skills and picked apart defenses with little trouble. He said Washington State, Duquesne and Minnesota (former staff) have offered scholarships. It will be interesting to see how much that list transforms after this weekend in Pittsburgh.
One high-major coach said Michael Sanchez's effort against the Michigan Mustangs was Herculean. That's about as good of a way to describe the big man's game on Saturday afternoon. Sanchez put in the work to the tune of 25 points and roughly 15 rebounds (maybe more).
Sanchez played with non-stop energy and strength on the blocks and rarely played on the wing as a jump shooter. That was exactly what his Arkansas Hawks team needed from him in a game that had over 60 personal fouls called. Sanchez was a true enforcer on the blocks and put together one of the best big man performances in the short spring. His knee didn't seem to give him any problems.
Kentucky head coach Billy Gillispie saw the entire game, as did the new Arkansas staff and Skip Prosser and his assistants from Wake Forest. Sanchez now has a predicament – does he continue with his plan to enroll in Findlay Prep in Las Vegas and become a 2008 prospect or does he visit Kentucky, Wake Forest and others late in the game?
For guys like Samardo Samuels, Sylvan Landesberg, Ed Davis and Ty Walker, all top 40 players nationally, the tournament was just another day at the office.
Samuels was his usual self down low and took on every double team, triple team and, at times, four defenders that flew at him. One of the best parts about his game is his patience. Bodies flew at him, he was pounded on, hacked, slapped and few times, a punch short of a mugging. Samuels never once flinched and went about his business with little outward frustration. He seemed to wear down and against the Illinois Wolves, one of the best fundamentally sound teams in the field, Samuels ran out of gas.
Samuels has been outstanding all spring, as you'd expect from a player in the top 10 in the nation. His hands and power are his best strengths. This season is all about progression and the Jamaican is on the fast track to instant impact status as a college freshman.
It was a who's who coaching crowd at Samuels's games. Norm Roberts of St. John's and Jamie Dixon of Pittsburgh watched the big man in the afternoon action while assistant coaches from Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Rutgers were all front and center for his games on Saturday. John Thomson, III and Jay Wright also took peeks. Samuels said he's "just enjoying the experience" of being recruited. He never seems to really tip his hand about his next recruiting move.
Landesberg is one of those players that gets a lot done without too much effort. The 6-foot-5 guard from New York City doesn't need to take a lot of shots to be an effective scorer. He makes things happen with smooth shooting, smart timing to attack with the dribble and scored roughly 16 points a game all weekend.
Despite an early exit, a rarity for Boo Williams, Davis had a good weekend. He didn't have quite the impact he did two weeks ago in Hampton but he didn't do anything to keep the big dogs away.
Davis had a strong game (18 points, 14 rebounds) and a strong following in the afternoon game as John Thompson, III, Jim Calhoun, Seth Greenburg and Dave Leitao all took a peek or two at the five-star forward.
Walker had a fine game in the morning and looked like the potential game changing center he can become at Wake Forest. He blocked shots, made buckets inside and ran the floor.
The day was started off with a nice battle of guards. Team Carolina's depth in the backcourt seemed to hold off a fast start from Dexter Strickland of Team New Jersey ABC.
Strickland, one of the best guards in the nation, played up to his billing with 15 first half points. He hit on a pull up jumper from the elbow, an athletic play at the rim, created off the bounce and knocked down a three off a screen. The St. Patrick guard had it rolling in every way. That is the beauty of his game. When he needs to be the scorer, he's the scorer. When he needs to be the point guard, he hands out the assists.
All was well, until the second half. Dee Bost matched up with Strickland and slowed down the five-star sophomore in dramatic fashion. Bost gave Strickland fits with his physical play and constant pressure. It frustrated Strickland and it limited his touches. The sophomore finished with 23 points.
Strickland struggled as a defender as Bost got the rim at will. The 6-foot-2 combo guard from Concord (N.C.) seemed unfazed by anyone standing in his way. He struggled with his shot falling as he put in a loud 11 points. The opportunities where there whenever he wanted them. Bost will likely spend next year at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia.
Darius Johnson-Odom proved to be the x-factor in the victory. The 6-foot-2 guard scored a team high 23 points.
The Westchester Hawks have been one of the more successful teams on the AAU circuit over the last couple of years and now that the majority of the team is in the final go round on the national circuit, the team from New York continues to make it happen.
Winners of last week's Hoop Group Providence Jam Fest, the Hawks have it rolling here in Pittsburgh. It is a team without a stand alone superstar, rather boasting a wide variety of players that get it done and play smart basketball where team basketball was stressed and each of the players valued the basketball.
Kevin Jones, a 6-foot-6 power forward, is the team's most recognizable name and he played well against Salt Lake Metro. Jones scored 14 points with hard work around the cup but he also showed a good face up game and knocked down a handful of 15 to 18 foot jumpers.
Jones rattled off a long list that included Louisville, Memphis, St. Joseph's, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Indiana, UMass and several Big East schools.
Tyshawn Taylor, one of the last uncommitted players left at St. Anthony High School in New Jersey, scored 12 points in the game. The muscular 6-foot-3 guard has options. He said Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Missouri, Miami and Florida State are all showing interest. Taylor has a high-major body and high-major athleticism. He was strong to the cup time and time again.
Guards Alberto Estwick, a Fordham pledge, Sean Kilpatrick and forward Mookie Jones all have big game ability and all had their moments for the Hawks. That is the strength of the team. Anyone can be the go-to guy.
There were few players that made a statement quite like Michigan Mustangs guard Stacy Waters. The 6-foot-2 guard poured in 33 points against the Arkansas Hawks, including six three-pointers in the second half.
Waters had it flowing all game as he had the answer for his squad in a highly competitive and physical game. His AAU coach Norm Oden said his recruitment is primarily Atlantic 10 and MAC schools at the moment but "there will probably be a lot more coming in to see him now after that one." Agreed. Waters should see his recruitment take on the Big Ten and the rest of the big boys after his great showing on Saturday.
Making an Eastern swing from Salt Lake, Dave Hammer's Metro club had a hard time containing the Westchester Hawks at the Peterson Event Center. However, big man Justin Hamilton showed up to play. The 6-foot-9 power forward from Lone Peak High School scored 12 points in the second half with fundamentally sound play inside. He ran the pick and roll well and was rewarded. Hamilton played above his head and kept the ball high against a rather short Westchester frontline. New UCLA assistant coach Scott Duncan watched Salt Lake Metro all day.
Every year, the Illinois Wolves have a point guard that will step right into a mid-major power and be an instant impact player. History is looking to repeat itself with floor general John Moran. The 6-foot-1 guard from Jacobs High School is a tough and crafty ball-handler that has all of the intangibles. He'll be a guy that plays in March and makes a difference for a tournament team. Don't be surprised to see some high-majors flirt around with him as time goes on. In a class that lacks good point guards, Moran could be a nice option.
The kids are alright
With Jim Calhoun, Jay Wright and assistant coaches from Boston College, Marquette and Virginia watching, sophomore big man Eric Murphy had an outstanding game against Richmond USA. The 6-foot-8 big man scored a game high 18 points. The fundamentally sound big man scored on both sides of the basket down low, played well with his back to the rim and converted the short range shots with little trouble.
Murphy has all of the tools to evolve into one of the premiere big men in the class of 2009. Boston College, Marquette and Virginia have already offered early, he said. Notre Dame and Georgetown are also in the picture.
Kenny Boynton made the Jam Fest his personal playground last year. This year, he's doing it again. The Miami area star scored 27 points and hardly broke a sweat in a blow out win. He's had a great year so far both in high school an in the short spring.
Despite an early loss in the tournament, Boynton is having a great weekend. He said Villanova recently threw a hat in the race and Jay Wright watched him closely in the event. Florida and Kansas State are two of his other favorites at the moment while Miami, Florida State, Kansas and Connecticut are all in the mix.
Ben Boggs, a 6-foot-4 guard from East Coast Fusion/Hidden Valley (Va.) High School was one of the best perimeter players of the day. The class of 2009 prospect hit for 24 points and struck on five three-pointers against Grassroots Canada. Boggs is a well put together player with good strength and an obviously good shot. He could be a guy to watch for ACC level schools.
Paris Bennett, a 6-foot-5 sophomore forward with Team New Jersey ABC and from St. Patrick High School, is a fine looking combo forward. Bennett has a fine back to the basket game. If he can add some more length to his frame, we could be looking at a very impressive high-major power forward.
See and be seen
Dexter Strickland drew a large crowd in the first game of the day. Paul Hewitt and Jay Wright were the only head coaches on hand to see him while assistants from Michigan State, Rutgers, St. John's and Virginia took in the game.
North Carolina guard Dee Bost had a morning game that saw Virginia Tech head skipper Seth Greenburg and assistant coaches from Cincinnati, Indiana and Virginia all took a long watch.
Hewitt shadowed Sylvan Landesberg in the morning.
Romero Osby and Courtney Fortson drew a large crowd on Saturday. Jim Calhoun, Rick Stansbury, Billy Gillispie and assistant from North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and others were front and center for Southeast Elite's games.
Kentucky forward Darius Miller had Gillispie, Rick Pitino, Duke assistant Chris Collins, Tennessee and others watching him all Saturday long.
It was a telling morning for Georgia forward Tony Mitchell. With a 9 a.m. game at an offsite gym, the four-star junior had a good following in tow. Cincinnati, Clemson, Florida State, Alabama, Pittsburgh and West Virginia all took a peek.
Stanford head coach Trent Johnson shadowed Jarrett Mann of the Playaz all day. Mann has had a good event and has a mature game in the backcourt. He's a smart player with the ball in his hands and has a frame and game that will be well suited at the high-major level.
New Arkansas coach John Pelphrey was everywhere the Arkansas Hawks were. Smart move. The team has a wide array of prospects, including Sanchez (who was outstanding all day), Clarence Trent, sophomore guards Fred Gulley and Coleson Rakestraw and big man Andre Clark.
The entire Missouri Valley Conference and a number of Ivy League schools were a traveling pack of coaches for all of the Illinois Wolves games. Sean Miller of Xavier and Jerry Wainwright watched Nick Fruendt shoot the lights out.
Purdue head coach Matt Painter landed nearly every Division I player on SYF' roster last year. This year, he is taking a look at big man Jarrod Jones, an intriguing 6-foot-9 prospect.
Pitt target Eloy Vargas is getting a good look at one of his top suitors this weekend. The big man is also playing well in the Steel City. He was good in a blowout win on Saturday afternoon and gave Jamie Dixon something to smile about. Miami, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Maryland and NC State all took a good look at the Miami area star.
News & Notes
D.C. Assault forward Jamar Samuels said it looks like Tennessee and Kansas State are the top two for him while Georgetown is still on his short list. The 6-foot-7 forward has played well in the Steel City and he said he is looking at a decision before July.
He spoke highly of his trio of trips to Knoxville and Kansas State has connections with friends Michael Beasley and Dominique Sutton there next year.
Syracuse picked up another commitment, less than a week after landing promising prospect Kris Joseph. Junior forward James Southerland picked the Orange on Thursday and in a quick viewing of the lanky 6-foot-7 forward, he showed some promise. His game needs a little time to mature but there are the parts there to become an interesting Big East player.
Back to Joseph for a second…he's a player. Watch him closely and you'll see the little things shine his game. He doesn't make mistakes and plays with great patience and poise. The 6-foot-6 wing picks his spots to do damage and quietly puts in 15 or so game and hands out assists, defends and makes plays.
New York City guard Lamont Jones confirmed what everyone in the world knew would eventually happen – he officially committed to Louisville. The 5-foot-11 guard from Rice High School has long been considered a soft verbal commitment to Rick Pitino.
Playing on his future home court, Travon Woodall had to impress the Panther fans that came out to see him play. He was aggressive on the defensive end of the floor frustrated those that lined up against him. The 6-foot-1 guard used his quick hands to spark the transition offense and opened the floor up with steals that turned into lay-ups.
Stan Simpson is earning his way into the national spotlight. The 6-foot-9 big man with Full Package/Chicago Leo High School is rebounder, interior scorer and promising prospect. He has all of the makings of a good Big Ten level big man and a top 100 ranking.
Alabama guard Varez Ward has South Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Florida State, Auburn and Ole Miss on the radar these days. SE Elite teammate Josh Crumel is being courted by UAB, Auburn, Alabama, Murray State, and Missouri.
Andrew Van Nest, a 6-foot-10 forward for the New England Playaz, said he has noticed a steady incline in his recruitment this spring. Stanford, Oregon, Virginia Tech, Virginia, UMass and Louisville are all involved, he said.
Gearing up for the championship
Sunday's schedule is filled with a run to the championship in all of the divisions. With the Steel City Division semis and finals on tap, a glance at some younger players and, of course, the overall championship game, Sunday will be a fun day at the Peterson Events Center.
Justin Young can be reached at email@example.com.