The annual post-Christmas Beach Ball Classic at the Myrtle Beach (SC) Convention Center is always among the premier holiday tournaments in the nation. While the array of talent present at the 2013 BBC wasn’t as spectacular as in some previous years (when Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett, Kenny Anderson, Grant Hill, Rasheed Wallace, Raymond Felton and Julius Randle were among the featured players), it still was a strong event that showcased some definite blue-chip prospects, who are discussed below.
KENNARD, ALLEN AND FELTON HAVE ELITE POTENTIAL
1. Luke Kennard, 6-5 Jr. WG/PG, Franklin (OH) High: Since we watched this precocious youngster score 34 and 43 points in consecutive games at the 2012 Beach Ball Classic, we’ve considered him (at least arguably) the premier prospect nationally in the high school class of 2014. This year we weren’t present for his marvelous opening day performance in a 71-57 triumph over Mullins (SC) High, but all agreed that it was vintage Kennard, who tallied 45 points (including five three-pointers) and nine rebounds. The ambidextrous left-hander reminds us a lot of “Pistol” Pete Maravich, the most prodigious scorer in the history of Division I college basketball! Kennard was obviously hampered by tendonitis in both knees in his next game (which we saw), hence he sat out nine minutes and wound up with ice on both legs as Franklin was whipped 71-46 by Brooklyn (NY) Bishop Loughlin. In that game, he finished with “just” 15 points while facing a box-and-one defense that physically pounded him on every possession.
Regardless, his enormous promise is undeniable, assuming that his knee problems aren’t exacerbated. In Myrtle Beach, Kennard identified the top six schools on his current college list as Kentucky (he reportedly grew up a Wildcats’ fan), Ohio State, Duke (assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski was there to watch him), North Carolina (Roy Williams and assistant C.B. McGrath were present even though they knew that Kennard wasn’t able to play that day because of his knees), Louisville and Michigan.
2. Grayson Allen, 6-5 Sr. WG/PG, Jacksonville (FL) Providence: This Duke signee was so impressive in leading Providence to the BBC championship that he was a clear-cut choice for tournament MVP, and the several McDonald’s All-American Game Selection Committee members present (ourselves included) agreed unanimously that he should be a participant this spring in that prestigious event! His athleticism is truly outstanding, as he amply demonstrated while winning the tournament’s Slam Dunk Contest.
He elevated for rebounds and acrobatic finishes of drives, drilled three treys and scored 18 points in the game we saw him play (a 70-38 pasting of Socastee High), while also hawking the ball on defense. In a much tougher first round contest, he had 30 points and seven rebounds while sinking clutch free throws, as Providence edged strong Cincinnati (OH) Moeller by a 60-56 count. That proved to be the most difficult game that Providence faced in the BBC. The Blue Devils’ other three November signees have bigger reputations than Allen, but don’t be shocked if he turns out to be just as good in college as center Jahlil Okafor, point guard Tyus Jones or wing forward Justise Winslow!
3. Jalek Felton, 6-4 Fr. PG/WG, Mullins (SC) High: The nephew of former UNC and current New York Knicks point guard Raymond Felton showed that he possesses the same prominent assets as his uncle, who starred on the Tar Heels’ 2005 NCAA title team. Jalek actually struggled at times in his first two games in Myrtle Beach, with 11 points, six rebounds, seven assists and seven steals while being overmatched overall by Kennard in the opening round loss to Franklin; he went for 17 points, four boards and three assists in an 87-48 trouncing by Norcross (GA) High.
In his final game, however, he racked up 32 points (6-16 three-pointers), seven rebounds, three assists and four steals versus Mullins. He finished runner-up in the tournament’s Three-Point Contest, and considering that he’s just in the ninth grade, he has to be ranked among the nation’s very best prospects in the prep class of 2017! Note that his decision-making sometimes lacks maturity, resulting in ill-advised, contested long jump shots and forced passes into traffic, but you have to figure that his judgment will improve down the road, and he already has elite physical attributes.
4. Alterique Gilbert, 5-11 So. PG, Lithonia (GA) Miller Grove: You may have never heard of him, but this wiry young floor general is extremely quick and clever with the ball, while also knocking in arching floaters, mid-range pull-ups, open three-pointers and clutch free throws. At the BBC, he bounced back after a subpar opening game performance (11 points, five assists, three steals and six turnovers in a 70-56 loss to Bullis School from Potomac, MD) by amassing 23 points in a 68-63 win over Columbia (SC) Spring Valley and 20 points in a 50-45 victory over Cornelius (NC) Hough. There simply cannot be many better sophomore point guards around the nation!
5. Khadeen Carrington, 6-3 Sr. WG/PG, Brooklyn (NY) Bishop Loughlin: This rangy, aggressive southpaw signed in November with Seton Hall and projects as a good player for the Pirates. In Myrtle Beach he had a big first game, with 27 points and 12 rebounds in a hard-fought 50-46 triumph over Norcross. In the next round, we saw him have early foul trouble, but wind up with 14 points in Bishop Loughlin’s 25-point whipping of Franklin. He’s a strong driver, tough defender and good (not great) three-point marksman.
6. Romelo Trimble, 6-3 Sr. PG/WG, Arlington (VA) Bishop O’Connell: Though his overall numbers at the BBC were good, we actually think that he played better at that same event in 2012. This year he had 26 points (15-15 free throws!) and five turnovers in a 73-66 win over Myrtle Beach, 21 points and four steals in a 45-43 loss to Madison (WI) Memorial, and 17 points, eight rebounds and six turnovers in a 55-52 defeat by Bullis School. Despite his free throw success, he was missing his streaky jump shot when we watched him, and the Maryland signee is also prone to commit offensive fouls while pushing the ball down-court and attacking the basket. He likes to post up smaller guards, but will he be able to do this versus big-time college competition?
7. Luke Maye. 6-8 Jr. BF, Cornelius (NC) Hough: Surprisingly (to us), the son of former UNC football quarterback Mark Maye gained the BBC’s Most Outstanding Player Award, which goes to someone not on the championship team. With a strong body, sure hands and an arching perimeter jump shot (that is erratic but must be respected to behind the arc), he led the tournament in rebounding while also scoring double-figures in every game, yet he didn’t really seem to dominate when we watched. Still, his numbers merit attention, as he totaled 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots in a 58-52 loss to Madison Memorial, 19 points and 20 rebounds in a 55-39 victory over Myrtle Beach, and 11 points (5-16 FG), 16 rebounds and seven turnovers in a 50-45 defeat by Miller Grove. What he does particularly well is to start the fast break after rebounds by throwing crisp, pinpoint outlet passes downcourt. Will he wind up collegiately at an ACC school?
8. Russell Sangster, 6-3 Sr. WG/PG, Potomac (MD) Bullis School: We were stunned when informed that his current recruitment is by the Naval Academy and other low-Division I schools, yet his play in Myrtle Beach was quite impressive. We saw him in two full games and consider him both unheralded and under-recruited, but perhaps that’s changed somewhat, since college coaches had the opportunity to observe him in action at the BBC. He’s certainly athletic, a solid shooter to three-point territory, capable of posting and finishing via jump hooks, a fine defender at either backcourt slot, and a proficient enough ball-handler to fill in at point guard in a pinch. In Myrtle Beach he had 23 points in a 70-56 win over Miller Grove, 11 points in a resounding 66-38 loss to Columbus (OH) Northland, and 17 points and six assists in an impressive 55-52 edging of Bishop O’Connell.
9. Darral Willis, 6-7 Sr. BF, Madison (WI) Madison Memorial: Another left-hander and a very good run/jump athlete who plays taller around the basket than his actual size, his statistics at the BBC weren’t that great, but his effect on his team’s games was significant. This mobile, long-armed shot-blocker intimidates foes through his presence in the lane, hence he’s an important factor in helping Memorial win close games. For example, at Myrtle Beach he had 11 points and seven rebounds in a 58-52 win over Cornelius Hough, and 12 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots in a 45-43 triumph over Bishop O’Connell.
In both games, down the stretch he made key plays around the iron to enable Madison Memorial to be victorious. We heard in Myrtle Beach that academic shortcomings may be limiting his current recruitment, but his ability to rebound, block shots and score near the basket assure that he’ll be recruited (perhaps by and/or from junior college) at some point in the future.
10. Nate Fowler, 6-9 So. C/BF, Cincinnati (OH) Moeller: He’s a wide-shouldered young inside operator who exhibited potential at the BBC, though his stats weren’t always outstanding. We like the way he horses inside to score, bangs the offensive board for put-backs, and already has three-point range on his good-looking jump shot. He had 19 points (8-9 FG) and 13 rebounds in a 55-39 victory over Toronto (CAN) Father Henry Carr, eight points and six boards in the four-point loss to ultimate champion Providence, and six points, eight rebounds and four assists in the 88-34 slaughter of Franklin, which obviously missed Kennard. He’s just a pretty good athlete, but his skills and size give him a lot to work with in the future.
Other players that we considered for this top ten list for the Beach Ball Classic were 6-4 Mullins senior WG/WF Alex Brown, a long-range lefty bomber; 6-8 Spring Valley sophomore BF/C Jordan Bruner, who’s quite athletic, but requires more strength; 6-9 Providence junior center Wyatt Walker, who rebounds very well; and 6-7 Northland sophomore WF/BF Seth Towns, an accurate shooter who had a couple of big scoring games (23 points versus Spring Valley and 24 against Bullis) in victories.