Last Saturday night, in a pressure-cooker, go hard or go home environment native to the inner city, Gauchos Gymnasium in the Bronx was packed from wall to wall for the fourth installment of the Big Strick Classic. Pitting 13 national high school players (Team USA) against 13 from the Tri-state area (Team NYC), Big Strick was everything you’d want in a summer showcase: Elite competition, featuring a full range of prospects, from already established names to under-the-radar players hungry to prove themselves.
In a back and forth contest, with individual matchups spontaneously arising along the way, Team NYC defeated Team USA, 137-135.
Below are some thoughts and observations on the top performers at the event. The talent at the event really was top-notch; from my perspective, a handful of the participants have a real chance of getting drafted into the NBA, while the majority will at least make a noticeable impact at the high-major level.
MVPs (named by event organizers)
Team USA: Dwayne Bacon (overall event MVP), Malik Beasley
Team NYC: Antonio Blakeney, Rawle Alkins
SG/SF, 6-6, 195, 2015
Oak Hill Academy (VA)
It’s becoming clear that Bacon is the most complete scorer in the country. After dropping a tournament-high 43 points in last month’s Reebok Classic, the 6-6 shooting guard poured in a ridiculous 58 points during Friday’s scrimmage, followed by a smooth 33 on Saturday.
Bacon has excellent size for a wing (6-6, strong upper body), explosive athleticism and the natural ability to score from all three levels. He consistently makes contested jumpers, both off the catch and dribble, and he can use timely head-fakes to attack close-outs and get his defender to bite. If defenders take away his shot, Bacon establishes excellent triple-threat position, where he can use his strong shoulders and controlled explosiveness to attack off the bounce and finish at the cup. Over the course of two days, when Bacon let the ball fly, the result was nearly automatic.
Even more impressive than his scoring ability, however, is how Bacon approaches the game: with a very serious and business-like demeanor. He doesn’t take plays off, which helps him sustain his scoring prowess for four quarters. Overall, Bacon’s combination of size and gifted scoring ability make him a top-10 player in the country, and a probable candidate to go one-and-done.
SF, 6-7, 225, 2016
Huntington Prep (WV)
Over the past two years, Bridges has incrementally expanded his game out to the perimeter—he was a low-post power forward as a freshman, a stretch-forward as a sophomore, and now, entering his junior year, he’s evolved into a true small forward.
Bridges still has a big-man frame, with broad shoulders and a strong trunk, only now he’s more comfortable handling the ball on the perimeter. The result is a dynamic package of inside-outside skills, both scoring and rebounding the ball. Bridges demonstrated a consistent catch-and-shoot three-pointer, as well as the ability to attack off the bounce with either hand and glide through the air. He has quickness and strength on the perimeter, as well as explosiveness and a second jump through the lane.
Add in a proven post-up game from his younger days, and Bridges has the makings of a top-10 player in his class. He can score from anywhere on the floor, rebound his position, and lead the break. If he can add another inch or two to his frame—to get around 6-9 or 6-10—then Bridges has a chance to be the No. 1 player in the Class of 2016. There’s not a lot the multifaceted forward can’t do.
PF, 6-11, 220, 2015
Bishop Gorman (NV)
A 6-11 lefty stretch forward in the mold of Chris Bosh and Greg Monroe, Zimmerman operates smoothly with a soft touch in and around the lane.
“Big Zimm” has numerous impressive on-court attributes, but above all, he brings an incredible basketball IQ for a 6-11 player. He can face up at the high post, where he scans the floor with terrific court vision, or he can be a dual threat on the pick-and-roll, able to pop out for a 15-foot jumper or finish a pocket pass. He also runs the floor very well, with quickness and athleticism to get ahead of the defense and dunk it home.
Zimmerman’s ability to perform at a high level without dominating the ball makes him a coveted prospect. But if there’s one critique I have, it’s that sometimes Zimmerman tries too hard to play like a guard. When he grabs a defensive rebound, he should give the ball up right away, not try to dribble up the court. When Zimmerman did indeed let the guard handle the ball in the open floor, he usually got it back for an easy layup.
Zimmerman’s shooting and passing ability make him an elite prospect, but as the competition gets better, he must learn to stay within the confines of his game and not force the play.
SG, 6-4, 185, 2015
St. Francis School (GA)
This was my first time seeing Beasley, and I left very impressed. The 6-4 shooting guard is a terrific athlete who can fly in the open floor, as well as knock down shots off the dribble. He has a smooth three-point jumper, and can also attack off the dribble, finishing head-level with the rim. He also competes like a dog, hounding opposing players defensively and always in attack mode offensively. Beasley must continue to flash a consistent jump shot and polish his handle, to find a consistent offensive rhythm. If he does, he will make significant impact on the college level due to his explosiveness and competitiveness, with a chance at the pros.
PG, 6-2, 170, 2015
Lakeland High School (FL)
From a “talent” perspective, I believe Sanders could end up as the best pure point guard in 2015 (specifically PGs, not combo guards or SGs). He’s an NBA athlete, has blazing speed, and is an absolute dog defensively, bringing an intensity and moxie hardly seen at the high school level. Sanders can shut down any point guard when he’s locked in, forcing steals and getting into the opponent’s head. He picks up his man at the point of attack and doesn’t back off until the job is done.
Offensively, Sanders is a bit of a work in progress, but he has a solid handle to initiate the offense and penetrate, adequate court vision to dish it off, and the athleticism to finish at the cup. He can burst through the lane and make a high-level decision. But he must be more consistent and locked in at the beginning of games if he’s going to be entrusted with running a team and realize his potential.
SF/PF, 6-9, 220, 2015
Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School (OH)
Bragg’s shooting and quickness make him a mismatch at the power forward position. He can knock down perimeter shots, or attack off the bounce and finish above the rim. He’s a matchup problem, able to bring opposing PFs to the perimeter, and back down smaller SFs.
But as he goes forward, Bragg must also realize there are ways besides scoring to make an impact—rebounding, playing defense, running the floor, etc. Right now he looks for the ball on the wing, and if he doesn’t receive it, he’s prone to coasting for possessions at a time. He’s talented, but has to round out his game.
SG, 6-5, 180, 2016
St. Francis School (GA)
Simmons is lethal shooting off the dribble, particularly in terms of scoring in bunches. He’s most effective stepping into a long-range jumper, using his size to see over the defense and knock it down. Simmons is a dominant scorer at the high school level, a player who opposing defenses must always keep an eye on. He can hit 6 or 7 threes in a game with ease.
But Simmons must get stronger to round out his game and carve out a more defined role at the next level. He’s too weak right now, incapable of creating separation on the drive. Simmons’ overall offensive arsenal is limited due a lack of strength.
But he’s only a junior, with an elite shooting touch and a crisp perimeter handle. Let’s see if Simmons can add muscle and really slide into the “shooting guard” mold.
PG, 6-1, 200, 2015
Arlington Country Day (FL)
Chester is a well-built point guard with freakish athletic exploits. He is best suited in an uptempo game, where he can run the floor and finish above the rim, but Chester also flashed an improved half-court game this year. He’s still a secondary ball handler in my opinion, but he now plays with more poise in the half court. He swings the ball, cuts through, directs his teammates, and can then attack when a lane presents itself. The next step for Chester, however, still is to improve his jumper, as he can be all over the place.
Damon Wilson Jr
PG, 6-5, 200, 2015
Our Savior New American (NY)
Committed to Pittsburgh
Wilson projects to be a solid multi-year combo guard at Pitt. The 6-5 lefty is more of a secondary ball handler right now, as he can be flustered by defensive resistance. But he has terrific size for a guard, is quick and shifty in the lane, and has a smooth perimeter jump shot. Wilson probably won’t take over games, and he doesn’t standout in any particular facet, but his size, quickness and scoring ability will make him a reliable do-everything guard in the ACC, and someone to monitor going forward.
SF, 6-7, 220, 2016
Arlington Country Day (FL)
Kegler has good size for a small forward, standing at 6-7 with an already developed frame. His physical stature and explosive athleticism make him a terrific finisher in transition, as well as a tough cover on the wing. But Kegler is lacking a consistent jump shot right now, and his intensity oscillates in a game setting, making way for him to disappear for long periods of time. Far too often, it seemed that Kegler was standing alone on an island, unsure of what to do when he had the ball in his hands. He has time to develop (he’s a junior), though; also, he didn’t seem to be 100 percent healthy at the event, so take this evaluation with a few grains of salt.
Christian Popoola Jr
PG, 6-4, 180, 2017
Lone Peak High School (UT) – starting in Fall
Popoola has grown about three inches and gained considerable bounce since I first saw him two years ago. The lefty is a lead guard who loves to operate out of the pick and roll. He can shoot coming off a screen going left, or attack a crease and finish with a floater. Popoola’s competitive desire and handle give him a chance to create offense every time he’s on the floor.
The next step is to tighten his jump shot and become more well-rounded. But Popoola has the time and proper support system to make that leap. He and Frank Jackson will make Lone Peak one of the most talented backcourts in the nation next season.
SG, 6-4, 170, 2016
Seminole County High School (GA)
A player buzzing with potential, Harris is only scratching the surface of where he’ll end up. The 6-4 lefty wing has a legitimate 40-inch vertical, and an automatic three-point jumper when he has room. He’s unknown in most circles, but don’t sleep—college coaches know all about him, and they’d prefer the buzz doesn’t leak out. Harris can jump out of the gym, and he makes shots. A bit small for a shooting guard, he’ll definitely need to improve his handle and develop some point guard skills, and must also add muscle to his frame. But right now, time is an asset. This was my first time seeing Harris play, so I’d be lying if I said I have a definitive opinion on him, but I’m looking forward to monitoring his development.
SG, 6-4, 170, 2015
Oak Ridge High School (FL)
Blakeney is a smooth shooting guard who can score in bunches. The ball comes out of his hand easily, as he can pull-up off the dribble from deep. Blakeney is a one-foot jumper in the open court, and a knockdown three-pointer shooter from all over. He reminds me of Archie Goodwin, in terms of his competitiveness and scorer’s touch, only Blakeney is a better shooter than Goodwin was at the same age.
The next step for Blakeney is to tighten his ball handling skills to create his own shot, and he must get stronger. These are two critical points. But the shooting ability and athleticism are certainly there.
SG/SF, 6-4, 210, 2016
Sacred Heart High School (CT)
Committed to Pittsburgh
Heron, a 6-5 shooting guard, could double as a Division I running back. He has a strong upper body and high motor, and he takes pride in out-competing the competition and winning the war of attrition.
Heron has good size for a wing, and can handle the ball as a lead guard, putting pressure on the defense. His handle is excellent, which augments his strong body, as he can attack the basket from various angles and finish through contact. Heron must continue to tighten his jump shot, though, as defenders often back off and dare him to shoot. But his physical nature shines through when he penetrates the lane, and when he pursues rebounds from the wing.
Defensively, Heron can realistically guard positions 1-through-3 in college. He’s quick enough to stay in front of shifty guards, and he’s strong enough to provide resistance on the drive. Heron’s strength, athleticism and quickness give him a high upside defensively. If his jump shot can tighten up offensively, he has all the tools to be an elite player at Pittsburgh.
PG, 5-11, 165, 2017
South Kent Prep (CT)
On the surface, Waters is a thinly-built diminutive point guard who looks physically outmatched.
But when the ball was tipped on Friday and Saturday, Waters quickly made it known that he was an absolutely elite player.
The rising sophomore is a first-class floor general, a mix of Tyus Jones and Shabazz Napier. Waters has Jones’ poise and handle, and Napier’s shot-making ability. He controls the pace of the game, sets up teammates with pin-point passes, and can create his own shot when the defense falls apart. Waters also showed the ability to guard, staying low in his stance and pressing up on bigger players. Waters did a very good job defending Damon Wilson, a 6-5 Pittsburgh commit.
Waters is virtually unknown to the media right now, but college coaches have taken notice, as he already has 13 high-major scholarship offers.
Besides his diminutive size and understandably weak frame, Waters didn’t display many weaknesses at the Big Strick Classic. I think he will end up as a top-3 point guard in the class.
PF, 6-9, 2015
Findlay Prep (NV)
Spencer is like the second coming of Kenneth Faried: a mobile and bouncy power forward who is looking to bang bodies and corral rebounds. He often doesn’t even look to receive the ball on offense; instead, he’s thirsting to go after a rebound. Spencer has the highest motor in the Class of 2015, save for maybe Cheick Diallo, and he seems to gain energy late in games. He is very unpolished offensively—he’s not very capable beyond running the floor for an alley-oop, or finishing a put-back—but his size, defense, motor and athleticism give him a Faried-like upside, and he should make an impact at the college level from day one.
PF, 6-10, 220, 2015
Norwalk High School (CT)
Only 16 years old, Enoch is a bouncy forward who plays with great activity in and around the lane. He runs the floor exceptionally well, but can also step out and knock down the 15-foot jumper with consistency. Enoch runs the floor, can spread the defense with his jumper, and rebounds with urgency. He’s also a terrific on-ball defender, with the athleticism to alter and reject shots in the lane.
Enoch has had a meteoric rise this summer, and he continued his strong play at the Big Strick. He should continue to make headlines as he looks to develop a true post game. Everything else—size, rebounding, mid-range shooting—is already there.
SG, 6-4, 175, 2016
Christ The King (NY)
Alkins showcased considerable improvement from last summer. He’s a big-bodied guard who can physically overpower opponents on the drive and finish eye-level at the rim. He’s like a pit bull, very strong and determined to penetrate the lane. Alkins is also extremely polished finishing with his left hand, making him a dual threat on the drive.
The next step for Alkins is to tighten his handle, and also to continue to work on his jumper. His shot comes off flat right now. He must get some arc on it.
Alkins’ jumper needs work, but he has elite size, strength and finishing ability for a wing player.
PG, 6-2, 180, 2016
Seton Hall Prep (NJ)
Temple Gibbs, little brother to Ashton (Pitt) and Sterling (Seton Hall), is developing into a very solid point guard, with a chance at being elite. Temple has a wide trunk and a strong frame, which enables him to consistently penetrate and finish around the rim. He can also knock down the three-point shot when his feet are set.
The next step for Gibbs is to tighten his jump shot. His driving ability and strength are there, but his outside shot needs to develop as he faces stronger and more physical competition.
PF, 6-9, 270, 2016
The MacDuffie School (MA)
Spellman reminds me of North Carolina sophomore Kennedy Meeks, except Spellman is more athletic and fluid. He can easily shoot from the low block, mid-post or perimeter. He has a soft touch on his jump shot, great ball control facing-up to the basket, and a good handle for his size.
Spellman must improve his motor and his interior scoring arsenal, but to his credit, he’s very advanced skill-wise (shooting, cutting, athleticism at the basket) for a junior.
Rashond “Ray” Salnave
PG, 6-1, 190, 2016
Cardozo High School (NY)
Salnave is a deadeye shooter who makes deep three-pointers with ease. He can catch-and-shoot from far away, or attack hard close-outs and step in for a one-dribble pull up. Salnave doesn’t have much of an arsenal besides shooting, though, but he’s a tough competitor, a good athlete, and he’s very young for a junior (16 years old). Salnave just led Cardozo to an unexpected city championship, and if he continues to develop—whether sharpening his jumper to become a specialist, or improving his point guard skills—Salnave could end up as a prominent high-major guard.
Photos courtesy of Jon Lopez Photography