Scouting Mo Bamba, DeAndre Ayton & other future stars at the Hoophall Classic
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Hosted at Springfield College, which locals and staffers proudly claim as the “birthplace” of college hoops, the Hoophall Classic annually showcases some of the national’s elite high school basketball programs. The event’s luminous list of NBA alumni give it a history of its own. For the second consecutive year, I spent three days (Jan. 14–16) evaluating a significant number of bluechip prospects. Whenever that much talent (11 of this year’s 24 McDonald’s All-Americans) passes through one gym, it’s worth noting some key takeaways.
Bamba, Reddish prove tourney’s most talented duo
Saturday night’s primo tilt pitted two powerhouse teams, defending Pennsylvania state champion the Westtown School and Hillcrest Prep, an Arizona-based basketball factory. The game matched up the two highest-rated centers in the senior class—Westtown’s Mohamed Bamba, the top uncommitted 2017 recruit, and Arizona-bound man-child DeAndre Ayton of Hillcrest. Adding some gravitas: soon-to-be Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal sat beneath the basket to watch the next generation of 7-footers, making the trip to see his son Shareef, a highly-rated 2018 forward, play beforehand.
The product was entertaining if not especially close. Westtown pulled away in the third quarter for a 66–54 win, leaning on future Arizona guard Brandon Randolph for 28 points while Bamba anchored the defense. Bamba scored just nine, but had 14 rebounds and five blocks, besting Ayton in both categories. Ayton flashed an improved jumper and scored 21 points, but the rest of Hillcrest’s team struggled. But the player who dominated the game was actually junior Cam Reddish.
I watched Westtown here one year ago, and Reddish has grown in countless ways—for one, he’s now a legitimate, confident 6’8” point guard. “When he was applying to Westtown, we had a very clear conversation,” coach Seth Berger said in a phone interview Tuesday. Both Berger and Reddish’s father thought the multi-skilled Cam should be playing point guard. “You anticipate so well on both ends of the floor that the more the ball is in your hands, the better your team’s going to do.” After further persuasion last summer, Reddish agreed to run point fulltime (last year’s lead man, Jair Bolden, is now at George Washington) and left Hoophall with 22 points, six rebounds, four assists, four steals and one highlight-worthy set of broken ankles in his wake. The success of his position change significantly raises his long-term ceiling.
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“He’s in the gym four mornings a week by himself at 6 o’clock, then goes back four days a week on his free periods, and then we practice . . . he’s literally the hardest worker I’ve ever had,” Berger says.
The biggest story after the game was still Bamba, as he informed the press he’d cut Harvard from his list, narrowing it to Duke, Kentucky, Michigan and Texas. He also said he’d visit Lexington and Durham in the coming weeks. The fact that the Crimson lasted so long in Bamba’s recruitment should tell you plenty about him. Bamba attended the Sloan analytics conference last year and was more engaged and comfortable with reporters than any high school prospect I’ve seen over the last five years. That intellectual component will be part of his NBA appeal. “When someone asks the first word of their first sentence of their question, he probably knows exactly what the sentence is gonna be,” Berger says. “Some people are smart enough to finish your sentence; Mo’s smart enough to finish your paragraph.”
Bamba called the Duke and Kentucky visits the “crucial ones,” which is no surprise—smart as he is, his stint in college likely won’t last long. Berger says they’re focusing together on his post and mid-post skills and utilizing his considerable length (a 7' 9″ wingspan) on offense, not just defense, given that the one-and-done thing isn’t always conducive to the finer points. Though less of a scorer at this stage, Bamba may the superior pro prospect to Ayton, who’s more physically dominant but not as long or fluid. Bamba’s lack of bad habits and array of skills makes him well suited to the NBA’s spread game and even more projectable long-term. For the next year or so, this is a discussion you’ll be hearing a lot.
A visit from Seattle basketball, past, present and future
Having traded his uniform for a polo and jeans, Brandon Roy held court with curious reporters as he resurfaced on the national stage as head coach of Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School. The former Washington Huskies and Portland Trail Blazers star took the vacant job at Hale last summer, a program considered a doormat in a hoops-rich city.
Still just 32 years old, in an alternate universe, Roy would be enjoying the back end of his NBA prime. Asked about his transition to the sidelines, he’s quick to give credit where it’s due. “Michael Porter makes it easier,” Roy said, chuckling.
“I’m nervous at times, especially in those late games where I’m like, usually I’ll just get the ball and make the play,” Roy added. Porter Jr., Scout.com’s No. 5 senior, did his best to assuage his rookie coach’s concerns, offering a jaw-dropping 36 points on 14 of 25 shooting in a victory over storied Oak Hill Academy.
Roy spoke glowingly of Porter, a lithe yet powerful 6' 9″ scoring wing set to follow in his footsteps at Washington, where his father was hired as an assistant coach last year. Porter Sr. was an assistant for the Missouri women’s team, coaching his two oldest daughters (there are eight Porter children) before leaving to work for Romar in May. He reportedly makes a $300,000 salary plus $20,000 for expenses. Porter Jr.’s little brother Jontay Porter—Hale’s sweet-shooting 6' 9″ junior—is also committed to Washington.
There were rumors over the weekend that Jontay could reclassify to play college basketball for his brother. That would make the Huskies a threat for the NCAA tournament, where they haven’t been since 2011. Porter Jr. is a likely top five pick in the 2018 draft.
The best hair award goes to . . .
Competition was tight all weekend, but we’ll give it to Duke-bound power forward Wendell Carter and his visibly Duke-bound coif.
It was my first time watching the highly esteemed Carter, and his do-everything performance for Atlanta’s Pace Academy in a crazy double-overtime loss to the Patrick (N.J.) School was perhaps my favorite of the weekend. Carter had 28 points, grabbed 16 boards and shot 18 of 22 (!) from the foul line. To be fair, it was a poorly officiated game by any measure (a Patrick School last-second regulation winner was waved off due to an offensive push-off, a call I’d never seen in a high school game before). He only made two of 11 three-point attempts, but he has a nice stroke that can improve in college.
Watching the 6' 10″ Carter dominate the glass, whip full-court outlets and show potential as a shooter made me think of Kevin Love. Carter isn’t close to the kind of shooter Love was at this age, but Carter’s soft hands, strong build, impeccable instinct for finding shots off rebounds and his ability to distribute the ball echoed the Cavs’ forward, pointing to the sort of NBA role he might one day inherit. He can also handle the ball a bit, plays with an edge and has the makings of a dangerous face-up game. As Carter develops his body and evolves, his potential to unlock an offense as a supporting star at the next two levels is considerable.
Another elite recruit loves . . . Western Kentucky?
After selling chickens on the side of the road for much of his youth in Nigeria, St. Anthony (Tex.) big man Charles Bassey was discovered by a coach at 12, picked up basketball, ditched soccer (and poultry) at his parents’ urging and now stands 6' 10″ with uncanny strength and physical explosion as a top-rated 16-year-old sophomore. Bassey averaged 20 points and 17 rebounds as a freshman but was ruled ineligible to begin this season before St. Anthony switched leagues in the first week of December. The skills here are plenty raw, but his tools alone (17 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks) made for a great showing on Saturday. He has a growing list of high major offers, but when grilled by reporters in an earnest postgame session, he said only one college program presently stood out to him: Western Kentucky.
You might remember that WKU and Rick Stansbury successfully nabbed Mitchell Robinson, a McDonald’s All-American center from Louisiana due on campus in the fall. (Robinson notoriously tried to decommit on Twitter in November, then claimed soon afterward he was hacked.) Bassey recently visited campus and says he loves the way the Hilltoppers play, describing Stansbury as “a good man.” His talent level is more a match for Kentucky proper, but recent history stands to remind us that anything is possible.
Speaking of Kentucky . . .
Future Wildcats Nick Richards and Quade Green were in action this weekend, with John Calipari dropping in for Richards’s Monday morning game. Green led Neuman-Goretti (Pa.) High to a three-point win on Sunday with 29 points, 10 assists, three steals and two turnovers and stuck around to watch Richards the next day, and also to take copious selfies with fans. Two other All-Americans—forwards P.J. Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt—and Canadian guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will join them in Lexington. Kentucky remains in on Mo Bamba and Tampa, Fla., forward Kevin Knox.
After watching Richards and Green, it struck me that without another player signing on, this may stand as one of Calipari’s least-college ready classes. Richards is physically dominant but less polished than freshman center Bam Adebayo at this stage. Green can step in from day one, but I’d argue Tyler Ulis was the better high school player. Unless Isaiah Briscoe returns, this will be a heavily front-loaded team leaning on freshman guards to distribute to a somewhat unpolished slew of bigs. Don’t panic, but a small step backward could be on deck.
In my book, Marvin Bagley III grades out as the highest-upside prospect in all of high school basketball. The Sierra Canyon (Ca.) School junior could end up the top pick in the 2019 draft, standing 6' 11″ with well-developed ball-handling and passing, a workable jump shot and the strength and springs to grab tough rebounds, block a variety of shot types and eventually defend switches at the next level. Bagley had 21 points on 8 of 15 shooting, nine boards and three blocks while battling La Lumiere (Ind.)’s zone and triple teams in a comeback win. He could have asserted himself more at times, but you sometimes appreciate when kids know not to force the issue. As the game spreads out in college and the NBA, Bagley’s skill set will set him apart even further. He has a real chance to be a star.
La Lumiere senior forward Brian Bowen pops more at a glance, but Jaren Jackson did the layman’s work for his team, scoring 21 points, nailing a few threes and imposing himself defensively against Bagley on the interior. The Michigan State commit has his deep shooting range and comical length and mobility at 6' 11″ and for my money, he’s a solid bet for the NBA draft lottery. Bowen, a lanky high-level shooter, scored 18 and could join him at Michigan State next year.
Without question the most college-ready point guard on display was IMG (Fla.) Academy’s Trevon Duval, whose tenacity and explosiveness on both ends will put him in the one-and-done conversation. Duval’s main wart in the past has been turnover issues, and he did well to reign them in as he dished out 13 assists with just three giveaways. The New Jersey native added an efficient 12 points in leading IMG Academy to a win, and will pick between Arizona, Baylor, Duke, Kansas and Seton Hall later this year. The progression of Duval’s jumper will dictate his eventual ceiling.
Top-ranked sophomore R.J. Barrett shone for Montverde (N.J.) Academy and already has the NBA on notice. Like many elite-level Canadian imports, Barrett’s game is cerebral, efficient and never unnecessarily flashy. A smooth 6' 7″ guard with few, if any holes in his skill set, Barrett is the son of former Canada Olympic captain Rowan Barrett, who now runs Canada Basketball alongside Steve Nash (who is R.J.’s godfather). He pops as an athlete, displayed great instincts on both ends of the floor, and is well on his way to a long career.
One noteworthy McDonald’s snub was smooth-shooting two-guard John Petty, who picked in-state Alabama over Kentucky and posted an impressive triple-double . . . Another McDonald’s omission, Oak Hill senior Matt Coleman, picked Texas over Duke before his Monday game. Coleman is the type of point guard Shaka Smart desperately needs and should immediately help the Longhorns play faster . . . Georgetown signee Tremont Waters had an electric showing with 29 tough points for Notre Dame (Conn.) High School, and should contribute for the Hoyas next season . . . Wasatch (Utah) Academy junior Emmanuel Akot, hailing from hockey country in Manitoba, Canada, was the weekend’s best prospect I’d never heard of, a 6' 7″ combo guard who could defend four positions … Shareef O’Neal really struggled, going without a field goal while playing out of position as a small forward. Judging the baby diesel off one game would be unfair, but a throng of young fans who cheered him incessantly in warmups had snuck in one “overrated” chant by the fourth quarter.