Even though he’s yet to play a high school game, 8th grader Ladarius Marshall has been punishing the rims for a long time. Dunking since he was in the sixth grade, this game changing athlete had a sequence at John Lucas All Star Weekend that showed you how special that he is. Finishing a dunk in transition on offense, he sprinted back to block a shot on defense, then raced back to convert an off the glass pass for Omhar Carter’s MBA Hoops squad.
With NBA All-Star Weekend in Atlanta, what better way to kick off the AAU season then with a tournament for many of the top rising freshman in the south. Given that many states in the south allow eighth graders to play varsity basketball, a number of the elite programs were missing some of their top prospects. Damon Harge, EJ Montgomery, and 7-footer Connor Vanover were all set to play in NOLA, but deep playoff runs by their high school teams relegated them home for the weekend. Still, there was enough talent there to give us a viable leap on the class of 2018.
Here are a few of the incoming freshman who caught our eye:
Javonte Smart, 6’4, SG/PG, ATR (LA) With a strong buzz surrounding his name, it was a necessity to check out the player crowned by most as Louisiana’s top rising freshman. Dubbed as a shooting guard, he ran point the whole tournament and it was easy to see him developing into a lead guard full time at the next level. Smart showed off outstanding court vision, was able to break down the defense at will, and drilled numerous (albeit inconsistent) three pointers from NBA range. Defensively, he used his size and quick hands to put immense pressure on the ball and created countless turnovers. While Javonte struggled in the championship game against We All Can Go, he left no doubt in our mind that he is one of the ten best players in the nation for the class of 2018.
Marvin Bagley, 6’9, PF, We All Can Go (TN), 2018- The top player in the class of 2018 led WACG to the 14-U crown in breathe-taking fashion. He used his freakish athleticism to play above the rim, both with his dunks and blocked shots. In fact, Bagley punched a 360 to ice the championship against ATR. The lefty showed off a great turnaround jumper out of the post, displayed great vision when double teamed, and was unstoppable going towards his right shoulder. While Marvin hung out beyond the arc a bit too much, he still showed that he was the clear cut top prospect in 2018.
Michael Barber, 6’6, SF, MBA Hoops (MS), 2018- Perhaps the longest player the event had to offer, Barber is yet another product of the outstanding player development of Omhar Carter. The swingman showed off a deadly pull-up from mid-range, moved exceptionally well for a young guy with that size, and was a game changer on the defensive end. He is still expanding his range to be a consistent threat from beyond the three point arc, but will still find himself right amongst the top of Mississippi’s 2018 class.
Ladarius Marshall, 6’5, PF/SF, MBA Hoops (MS), 2018- The best athlete in the 2018 class had an up and down tournament, but saved the best for last. Against Marvin Bagley and WACG in the semi-finals, he showed why many have him ranked in the top-10 for the class. Ladarius had a smooth spin move to a dunk, drilled a number of three pointers (including one from NBA range), and used his athleticism to be an absolute force on the glass. Marshall will need to drastically improve his perimeter game if he hopes to transition to the wing or grow if he continues to play the post, but that won’t stop him from being a game changing athlete at the high school level.
TJ Moss, 6’4, SG/SF, We All Can Go (TN), 2018- Upon taking a glimpse at Moss, it was easy to see the potential that lies ahead. Already standing around 6’3 with a great wingspan, he has the physical profile that you’d love to see out of a young swingman. During WACG’s championship run, he got the rim at will, was patient picking his spots on the floor, and used his length to create a ton of deflections. Moss’ numbers weren’t huge due to the crazy amount of talent on his team, yet still showed how interesting of a prospect he can be down the road.
Camron Johnson, 6’2, SG, We All Can Go (TN), 2018- While Bagley and Moss get more highlights, it very well may have been Camron Johnson who led WACG in the scoring column throughout the weekend. This fearless competitor was all over the court taking charges, going to the rack to finish with contact, and utilizing mismatches to put points on the board. Attending Brandan Wright’s alma mater of Brentwood Academy, he’s exactly the type of player that you need to be a successful AAU team.
Blake Williams has been a name known amongst basketball circles in the Bluff City for a while now, but now at East HS, he is finally beginning to receive the recognition he deserves. The lefty point guard has shown the ability to be a nice set-up man, not only getting his teammates the ball, but getting them the ball in scoring positions. He is very good running the pick and roll (especially going to his left), can deep the defense honest with his jumper, and does a good job controlling tempo.
On the down side, Blake is still a undersized at just 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, and could be more assertive on the defensive end of the court.
Things are just beginning for Williams on the recruiting front and it will be interesting to see if he an carry over the stellar play that he showed at the CP3 Rising Stars Camp over to the spring circuit.
Many people have not yet seen Victor Uyaelunmo, but upon first glance, you will not forget him. Approching 7-feet tall, he will be the man in the middle for Gulliver Prep and is one of the nation’s best centers for 2017.
We had the chance to evaluate Victor at the John Lucas ISMC in Houston, CP3 Rising Stars Camp, and DunkDog.com All-American Game in Greensboro. He showed off some surprising moves out of the post, blending fluidity and the ability to score consistently turning over his left shoulder. The Miami product tossed in a few reverse lay-ups and even stepped out to hit jumpers facing the basket. Defensively, he held his own as a shot-blocker without committing fouls and utilized his massive height to make a considerable impact. Clearly there is considerable room for improvement on both ends of the floor, but strides are being made in the right direction.
It appears as if the recruitment process for Uyaelunmo has yet to take off yet, but based on the 10 points and 13 rebounds per game he’s putting up at Gulliver Prep, expect him to pop up on recruiting boards throughout the nation.
The state of Michigan is a perennial basketball hotbed and owning 2016′s top player (according to Rivals) Josh Jackson, the future is awfully bright. Well, it doesn’t just stop there. Brian Bowen leads a group of incredibly talented players in the 2017 class.
A freshman at Saginaw Arthur Hill, Bowen has already developed quite a buzz around him. Standing a legit 6-foot-5, he has the size to play small forward, but the game to play any position on the perimeter. Possessing a real nice handle for a wing, Brian is able to get past defenders to the cup, where he finishes with either hand. Additionally, he can keep the defense at bay with his deep outside shooting stroke, both off of the bounce and with his feet set. Bowen still needs to fill out and improve on the defensive end, but his diverse array of skills places him atop Michigan’s freshman class and amongst the top 25 nationally.
Although he is early in his freshman campaign, that hasn’t stopped elite programs from recruiting Bowen. Michigan State, Kansas, Iowa State, and Missouri have already put scholarships on the table, while NC State, Kentucky, and a myriad of others have already began recruiting the nephew of Sixers swingman Jason Richardson.
Markus Howard isn’t necessarily the tallest guy in the class of 2017, but even at 5’10, is one of the more productive players. Equipped with a deadly handle, he showed that he could create his own handle on everyone at the CP3 Rising Stars Camp. He is very confident, can finish at the rim in traffic, and has a variety of floaters that he can put up in the lane. While Howard is more of a scoring point guard at this point, he did show off nice vision when distributing the rock at the camp.
Averaging 23 points per game for Perry HS, Howard has already caught the eye of countless colleges. Northern Arizona is the only school to offer thus far, but Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State, and UCLA are already recruiting Arizona’s best freshman.
The John Lucas story has been revisited over and over again, but what many do not know is that from time to time, he still gets out on the hardwood to show the young bucks that he’s still get a little something left in the tank. The former #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft still is in “the lab” every day and shows some of the skills that allowed him to get nearly 10,000 points and over 6,000 assists throughout his NBA career.
At 60 years young, he’s still showing some stroke and while there was no three point line when he came into the league, Coach Lucas showed that he’d have no problem adjusting to today’s NBA three point line.
Unknown to most outside of his region, Batts showed throughout the weekend that he could hold his own with the nation’s finest. Possessing ideal size and athleticism, the JM Robinson freshman was able to make an impact on both ends of the hardwood. He showed off good vision, hit a number of deep three pointers, and was an exceptional finisher at the rack with either hand. Defensively, he used his quick hands to create a number of steals and his impressive leaping ability to block far more shots than you usually see out of most point guards.
Putting up huge numbers as a freshman on the varsity level, Batts has not only firmly placed himself in the argument for top freshman in the state of North Carolina, but is showing that he is one of the better 2017 lead guards nationally too.
Andrew Wiggins came from outstanding genes, being born to a former NBA player and Olympic track star. For the class of 2017, there is a similar case. Born to three-time Olympian Tonja Buford-Bailey and former NFL wide receiver Vincent Bailey, VJ Bailey not only has great lineage, but has some serious game to back it up.
An explosive athlete, Bailey is able to create his own shot against most guards and at 6’4, has the size to finish over the top of them. He is a diverse finisher, blending a variety of tough lay-ups with floaters and a consistent pull-up from mid-range. For his high school squad, Bailey is running the point guard position, allowing him to continue to develop as a potential combo guard.
Given the family’s recent move to Texas from Illinois, it’s still up in the air as to what AAU program VJ will be with, but no matter where he lands, college coaches will follow for the spring circuit.
lefty athlete, big time finisher, size, floater, shot creator, mid-range,
Thon Maker has been on the scene since he made his debut at the John Luas International Middle School Combine as an 7th grader. Three years later, he finds himself at the top of ESPN’s sophomore rankings. However, the journey is just beginning.
“Every time Thon comes to Houston, we add a piece to his game,” Lucas, the former #1 pick in the NBA Draft and NBA head coach told us. “And when he comes back, that piece is more polished and fine tuned.”
Some of those aforementioned pieces were on full display throughout this season. Maker has developed a more consistent jumper from the outside, quickening up his release and cleaning up his mechanics. Just as impressive as the improvement he’s made on the perimeter is the fact that he’s not doing it all the time. There were instances in the past in which Thon would almost exclusively loaf around beyond the three point arc, negating his deadly turnaround jumper and passing out of the post. With good coaching, the 7-footer seems to have understood the proper blend that will make him an even more deadly weapon on the hardwood.
“Players as good as Thon usually become content and start believing in the press clippings,” John Lucas Enterprises scouting director Brian Merritt explained. “Thon is hungry, and wants to both be and beat the best.”
Other noted areas of improvement that are immediately evident is Thon’s ability to handle the rock. While he’s obviously never going to be a point guard, the potential is there for him to help as a ball-handler in the secondary break and relieve guards facing pressure. His ability to create off of the bounce leaves us imagining how deadly of a weapon he can eventually become taking slower post players off of the dribble with quick rips to the rack. His development just didn’t come in the skill department, though.
Physically, Thon has done an outstanding job of filling out. Once painfully thin, he is now gaining a solid base muscularly and you can definitely see the potential for him to easily add another 20 pounds. His lower body strength still needs to be improved upon though, but based on the work ethic that we’ve already seen out of him, it’s fairly safe to say that we should expect that. There is one thing for certain, though: The Austraian import isn’t looking to make friends on the court.
“Thon isn’t caught up in the ‘buddy buddy’ age of AAU basketball that we have today,” said Merritt. “Focused is an understatement.”
Lucas ended the conversation by saying “Lots of kids talk about working hard and ‘being in the lab.’ He is action, not talk.”