Yags’ Point Forward - 1st Prep Impressions Part 2
After featuring Woodstock, Commonwealth and Loomis Chaffee in last week’s edition. It’s only appropriate to group the following programs together in this week’s version since each of their head coaches stepped to the alter on the same day two weeks ago. They could’ve saved a lot of money by paying for AA commissioner Mike Hart to become a justice of the peace and having his preside over the ceremonies after the next conference coach’s meeting. Then again, it probably would’ve turned into another scheduling issue and the wives don’t deserve that mess.
Anyway, congratulations fellas! Now here’s a first look into their talent-laden prep programs….
During their first season together and playing against teams that were physically mature and more experienced in the NEPSAC, Jacque Rivera’s core of talented young prospects predictably got roughed up from time to time. But the lessons they learned from last season are already being applied and this year’s MacDuffie crew is set on proving that they can hang with the best. If they can find a way to make their team’s success an accurate reflection of their talent as individual prospects, they will be legitimate contenders for the AA crown in ’17-‘18.
Rhode Island-commit Dana Tate returns as MacDuffie’s most productive presence, after proving he can shoulder the load last season. The 6’7” man-child has improved markedly in every facet of the game. He looks even more comfortable leading the break, facilitating for others and letting it fly from beyond the arch. Tate’s clockwork production can go overlooked at times but it acts as a cure-all when shots aren’t falling and his team is desperate for a bucket. If Tate can establish himself as an equally reliable leader in the locker room and a stabilizing figure when times get tough, this MacDuffie team could rise to an entirely different level of success.
The 2019 duo of Ismael Massoud and Dalano Banton have continued their progression as expected and garnered high-major offers as a result. Massoud’s game and frame continue to evolve at an impressive rate. He enters this season with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. A successful summer with the PSA Cardinals solidified his prospect profile and brought his production one step closer to meeting his lofty potential. Despite a little hiccup at the top of his stroke, Massoud’s jumper is falling at an unprecedented rate and has become nearly unstoppable when his feet are set. Given his elite size for the perimeter, 6’8” with a 7’ wingspan, Massoud rarely has to worry about smaller wings altering his shot and can employ his natural mechanics even while being well defended. He’s added offers from Minnesota, DePaul and Seton Hall this fall to go along with offers from Wake Forest, Xavier and Rutgers since the end of last season.
Banton is back in New England after spending most of the summer in his native Canada. When engaged and in attack mode, Banton is capable of dominating on both ends of the floor. He takes efficient routes in transition, is comfortable handling the ball in any situation, easily finishes above the rim in traffic and operates as a dynamic playmaker offensively. Banton, 6’7” with a 6’10” wingspan, showed off every aspect of his skillset in my trips up to Granby this fall. If this is the version of Banton that we can expect to see on a nightly basis during the season, programs from across the country will be competing for his services. Kansas State and Minnesota have offered Banton recently while Western Kentucky and a host of other programs have expressed a growing interest.
James Bouknight, a 6’5” wing from Brooklyn, gives MacDuffie a third high-major prospect in their 2019 class. Bouknight caught my attention while bouncing around with a few AAU programs this summer, before settling back in with the PSA Cardinals. He’s the type of player and young man that people will try to come to conclusions about after one look and fail miserably.
Bouknight’s NYC swagger hints at a care-free arrogance yet gives way to his gritty will to win and selfless style of play when the game is on the line. His fundamental approach is to fiercely attack yet his actions always appear effortless. His lateral quickness is sharp and sudden yet his body control is fluid and precise. His vertical athleticism is violent yet so darn smooth. His shot mechanics tend to include a little, Lonzo Ball-style, left-to-right motion when he pulls up off the dribble yet his release is quick, his follow through is directly at the rim and his actions are easily repeatable since he doesn’t incorporate unnecessary elevation. (The Ball-style movement is almost entirely eliminated when he’s in catch-&-shoot situations.) His demeanor can be seen as challenging to some yet he’s the type of player I’d want on my team whenever challenges arise.
Bouknight might be a walking paradox but I’m all-in on the kid and have been since I first saw him at The BABC’s Boston Shootout this summer. And I’m not the only one who’s sold on his potential. Saint Louis, Rhode Island, Kansas State, Minnesota and Temple have all offered over the last few months.
MacDuffie’s roster also includes one of New England’s most improved players in 6’10” big man Franck Kepang. The young fella from Cameroon owns two elite qualities that coaches at every level assign an extremely high value to: work ethic and motor. Kepnang’s vast improvements are a bi-product of those qualities and the fact that he’s genuinely fallen in love with the game only adds to his upside. Kepang measured in with a 7’5” wingspan, effortlessly finished above the rim in transition, and has developed a nice touch while turning over his left shoulder in the paint. His timing as a shot-blocker has also continued to improve.
ONE TO WATCH: There’s one more huge reason to start buying stock in MacDuffie’s future. Richie Springs is a 6’9” wing (7’ wingspan) from Brooklyn, NY who spent last at Bishop Loughlin. Blessed with a solid frame, Springs asserted himself nicely while battling with Tate in the post and won a handful of one-on-one fights on the glass. What separates Springs from the majority of prospects his age and size is his ability to space the floor and knock down shots from the perimeter. Springs combines solid footwork with sound mechanics to create a compact delivery and naturally consistent release point. He’s equally adept at putting the ball on the floor to get to the rack or to create a midrange pull-up look. It makes Springs a constant threat to become a 1-man fastbreak whenever he hauls in a defensive rebound and gives him the potential to turn into a major problem as his body matures. Springs’ already well-rounded skillset and ideal physical features, combined with the fact that he just turned 16-years old at the end of September, currently make him New England’s top prospect in 2020 (IMHO).
Despite the graduation of Jordan Nwora (Louisville), Marcus Santos-Silva (VCU) and Christian David (Butler), head coach Alex Popp still has the luxury of building his team around one of the nation’s top-5 prospects (IMHO) and the most dynamic offensive weapon to come through New England since Bruce Brown was wearing the VA orange.
Simisola Shittu, a 6’10” Big/Wing/PG and elite physical specimen, returns to Vermont after solidifying his reputation as one of the elite prospects in 2018 this summer. Shittu has made an obvious effort to improve his jump shot by keeping things simple and allowing the natural strength throughout his body to take equal responsibility through his release. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of work to be done before he can be considered a true perimeter threat, but defenders still have to remain on Shittu’s hip, regardless of how often his shot is falling, since giving him a free step is essentially conceding a free route to the paint where he’s a guaranteed bucket.
Shittu is capable of going for 30-points on any given night but his unselfish and creative style of play is what makes him such a valuable commodity. Since he’s such a threat to drive, draw and kick to an open shooter, help defenders are routinely left helplessly frozen somewhere about 14-to-18 feet from the basket. Decide to stay glued to your man on the perimeter, it’s an easy layup. Decide to pack the paint to stop the layup, it’s an open 3 for his teammate. It’s a no-win scenario and Vermont has added weapons to stack the deck even more in their favor this season.
Vermont’s wing tandem of Thorton Scott and Tyler Bertram headline a cast of newcomers that were hand-picked to play alongside Shittu. Scott, a 6’5” wing with great vision and a sweet stroke from Long Island, has seen his stock rise over the last few months due to his ability to knock down open shots and provide quality minutes as a primary ball-handler who can also create shots for his teammates. Scott is a relentless competitor who is bound to give New England coaches fits this season while winning them over in the process. He’s added offers from Elon, Wiliam & Mary, American, Manhattan, Iona, Fordham and Kent State since arriving on campus. Boston University, Loyola, Bryant and UMBC had offered previously.
Bertram comes to Vermont from Cooperstown, NY where he averaged 30 points and drilled a staggering 116 triples in just 24 games on a team coached by his father, David Bertram. The 6’3” wing might look like he came straight off the set of a Hoosiers remake but that perception is only half-accurate. While “Sniper” Bertram owns perfect mechanics that remain the same whether he’s spotting up or pulling up off the dribble like Jimmy Chitwood, his ability to handle the ball and get to the rack using shifty breakdown skills has always been underrated. He averaged 7.4 assists as New York’s “Small School” Player of the Year at Cooperstown. His nose for the ball and incredible instincts also allowed him to haul in 7 rebounds per game. The entire package has translated against higher caliber opponents this summer while running with the NY Jayhawks and more college coaches are letting him know that he’d be a welcomed addition in their 2019 recruit class. After arriving at VA with offers from NJIT and Binghamton, Bertram has added Saint Bonaventure, Saint Joseph’s, Hofstra and Manhattan to the list of programs vying for his services.
On the inside, Vermont will look to newcomers Daniel Schreier and Seth Buchanan to help Shittu shoulder some of the rebounding load. Buchanon, a 6’8” inside/outside wing from Saginaw, MI was a late addition to the roster toward the end of the summer. He enters VA with plus-athleticism and a sound foundation of skills that need to be sharpened in order to make a major impact in the NEPSAC. That said, if Buchanan embraces the challenge to put real work in on a daily basis and his game catches up with his frame (6’10” wingspan), he could be a sleeper prospect in 2019.
Schreier was hot as a pistol during the 3-on-3 session of VA’s open gym. If his catch-set-&-shoot ability is anywhere near as deadly as they were on this particular morning, Schreier will give VA one of the more versatile bigs in New England. At 6’9” with a solid frame that can add muscle in the future, Schreier is a nightmare for slower bigs on the perimeter but he can also move well enough not to be a liability whenever opponents go small. His 3-man crew quickly ran through opponents, as the California-product drained shot after shot from beyond the arch.
At one point (end of above video), Schreier caught the ball and was perfectly pinned in the corner by Shittu. With another defender shutting off the baseline, there was nowhere to drive, no teammate in the vicinity and no real angle for a shot. Sure enough, Schreier found enough airspace to let it fly and drilled the game-winner while falling out of bounds. Shittu’s reaction said it all, as he threw his arms up and shook his head in disbelief. If there was a better way it could’ve been defended, I sure didn’t know how! Manhattan offered Schrier directly after the session while Cal State Northridge coach and former NBA star Reggie Theus conducted an in-home visit a few weeks later. Schreier plans on making official visits to Marist and Manhattan in the near future.
ONE TO WATCH: Nobody can claim that the Albany City Rocks show favoritism toward any one prep program in New England. Prospects from Jim Hart’s tremendous player development system are scattered throughout the northeast year after year. Symir Torrence, a 6’3” point guard who reclassifies to 2020 after spending the previous two seasons at the Syracuse Academy of Science, brings a blue collar work ethic and ever-expanding skillset to Saxton River, VT. Torrence is a smooth lead guard who already understands the importance of changing speeds and making the extra pass. He uses his exceptional 6’9” wingspan to engulf smaller point guards on the perimeter, disrupt passing lanes and finish around the rim on defenders who were previously under the impression that they had taken the proper angle. Unlike a lot of young players with similar length, Torrence has a compact stroke that features simple motions and a quick release. His mechanics help keep his long levers under control but still efficiently maximize his strength from elbow to wrist. Everything flows in rhythm and concludes with a high goose-neck finish. UConn, Ohio State and UCLA have expressed interest while Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati program has already extended an offer.
Tilton is one of the few programs in New England that head into the ’17-‘18 season with the ability to use last year as their blueprint and the goal of repeating a nearly-identical level of success. Marcus O’Neil’s squad earned a berth in the National Prep Championship on the strength of a phenomenal regular season and an inspired run in the AA tourney that ended with a loss to Cushing in the championship game. With key pieces returning and some new talent stepping in, don’t be surprised if this group is in the mix again come March.
Marcus Zegarowski, fresh off committing to Creighton, was held out of open run for precautionary reasons but it’s impossible to keep that dog on a leash for too long. He impatiently stalked the sidelines, barking instructions to his brother, Max, and geting shots up whenever possible. Marcus could only be pulled away from the side court on two occasions: when it came time for a discussion with Creighton head coach Greg McDermott and to assist with his teammates’ wingspan measurements. (Equally important uses of his time, of course!)
Meanwhile, Max Zegarowski showcased the all-around skillset that helped him play a prominent role in Tilton’s wins over Commonwealth, Northfield-Mt Hermon, Notre Dame Prep and Vermont twice last season. His improved ball-handling skills will allow him to take some pressure off his brother and lead the offense when mismatches present themselves. The 6’7” wing’s bread-and-butter remains his deadly range on the perimeter and his ability to beat defenders who over-commits beyond the arch with 2-or-3 dribble, straight-line drives to the rack. With the versatility to use his 6’10” wingspan to effectively defend the post and drag defenders out to the perimeter offensively, Max continues to prove he’s one of New England’s most underrated prospects and a no-brainer for any low-to-mid major looking for a creative, high-IQ player.
6’4” wing Eric Beckett also returns to Tilton after exceeding expectations and providing a spark in his first season in the NEPSAC. A strong-bodied 2019 athlete with the ability to defend 4 positions at this level, Beckett can also space the floor and take pressure of the Zegarowksi Bros offensively. Beckett spent his summer running with Canada Elite and is yet another Tilton-product flying under the radar as the season creeps closer.
Christian Hinckson comes to Tilton after leading John Bowne to the Queens Boro Championship last season in New York City. Hinckson played with The Firm this summer, while attempting to bring his skill to the same heights as his high level athletic prowess. He enters his postgrad season with a strong 6’7” frame, explosive lateral/vertical ability and a 7-foot wingspan that allows him to equal the playing field in the post while battling in the post for boards. The improvements he’s made while training with Rob Diaz, who also helped develop Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo and a number of other NYC-products, has Hinckson is on track to contribute from the outset this season. After earning offers from Iona, Hofstra and Quinnipiac early last year at Bowne, Hinckson’s recruiting heated up this summer with offers from Rhode Island, Saint Bonaventure, Monmouth, Stony Brook, and Towson.
Tilton also features one of a handful of prospects who came to New England through Al Johnson’s Oklahoma/Texas pipeline this year. Daishaun Woods is an athletic 6’7” wing who can group with the Zegarowski’s and some combination of Hinckson, Okauru, Glynn and Beckett to form an attacking, fast-paced lineup that would pose as a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. Woods was at his best when using his physical gifts to get into passing lanes and create easy run-outs in transition. He’s a confident shooter and ball-handler on the perimeter, adding to the bevy of weapons that O’Neill has at his disposal.
One of Tilton’s local products really opened my eyes and put his name on my radar during my visit. Joey Glynn, who I should’ve been far more familiar with considering he was the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Hampshire last season, is a versatile 6’6” athlete who is just as comfortable banging in the paint as he is draining open looks from the outside. Glynn is the type of polished post player who will always out-produce his recruitment, whether it’s in the NEPSAC this year or at the college level in the future. A rugged defender who understands how to cut off angles and make the most of his size, Glynn is an extremely underrated addition to this roster.
Glynn and Cal Connoly, a 6’6” wing from Rochester, NY, have created a ton of buzz within the area’s coaching fraternity. Their names have been brought up by every D2-D3 coach I’ve spoken with as someone they’ll happily add to their program if D1 programs are looking in another direction. It’s easy to see their roles expanding within Tilton’s rotation this year, as the Rams contend for as spot in the National Prep Championship for a second straight season.
ONE TO WATCH: One of Tilton’s fresh faces comes with a familiar last name. Sam Okauru, whose brother Mike won a National Championship with Brewster last season and is currently a freshman at the University of Florida, owns a similar athletic profile and enters the prep scene with two years to contribute. A 6’4” wing with a 6’8” wingspan, Okauru is a versatile defensive presence with the ability to drill 3’s and the requisite bounce to finish above the rim in traffic on the offensive end. Okauru currently has an offer from Coppin State but will find himself with mid-to-high major options before he graduates in 2019. Given his genetic disposition and a skillset that hints at an immediately-solid level of productivity, it’s only a matter of time before Okauru starts garnering that attention.