With hundreds of teams, playing at three different sites and on six courts at the main site, one pair of eyes couldn’t see every player over the span of the five-day tourney. By no means is this an all-inclusive list—it includes what the writer was able to see.—Ed.
YOUTHFUL THORNTON PLAYS OLDER, WISER THAN HIS YEARS
California native and 6-1 point guard, Derryck Thornton Jr, had one of the more impressive combinations of natural feel for his position, court vision, handle, athletic ability and versatile scoring punch at the Under Armour Summer Jam presented by NY2LA Sports in Mequon, WI, which had big-time Division I prospects playing in the 15s, 16s and 17s divisions.
Playing up a level with Dream Vision’s 16s, the Class of 2016 floor general got another taste of playing with high Division I prospects as his running mates. He’s going to get used to it as he is transferring to prep power Findlay (NV) Prep when the school year begins.
“I’m expecting to get a lot better, and really figure out how to play with some of the best kids in the country,” Thornton said. “Next year we’re going to be really good. I think it will help my development in the long run.”
Thornton has already garnered the interest of many collegiate powerhouses, and collected offers from Arizona, USC, UNLV and Oregon State—among others—and has schools like Michigan, Kentucky, UCLA, Oregon and UConn tracking him according to his father Derryck Sr.
His ability to put immense pressure on opposing defenses by employing a veteran approach of taking what the D gives him—rather than relying on his talent alone as many 14- and 15-year-olds still do—was showcased over the five-day event that began July 17 and ended July 21.
If he got the lane, he most likely scored by finishing at the hoop or scoring in the lane on pull-ups or floaters. If help came once he got by his man on the perimeter, he kicked out to an open shooter or dropped a nice dime to a teammate open in the paint.
His pick-your-poison game should only continue to expand as he continues to develop physically and get stronger. It’s uncommon to be so skilled at such a young age, but Thornton laughed at the notion of being “a natural.”
“I work very hard for that,” Thornton said. “My dad and I work pretty much every day, twice a day. We do a lot of different skill work, and we stay in the gym. I love to workout and hit the gym, we lift weights and do pretty much every aspect to get better. That’s where all that stuff comes from.”
Besides playing on a team stocked with DI-caliber players, Thornton is starting to get used to the attention from college coaches.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” Thornton said. “But for the most part I just try to play hard and not really focus on any of that. I just want to play hard.”
WHITEHEAD CONTINUES TO ADD JUICE
Isaiah Whitehead has spent the last couple years establishing himself as one of the most potent scorers in the Big Apple while starring at Lincoln HS, as well as the country while running with the Juice All-Stars.
At 6-4, with powerful upper-body strength, Whitehead has always fit the mold of a scorer rather than a shooter. His advanced mid-range game, and finishing ability in the lane (including one of the nastiest posters from the tournament on a defender from Team Detroit), was witnessed by all the high-major coaches tracking him throughout the event.
But Whitehead also showed off an improved handle to go with his underrated passing ability. He’s also refined his three-point stroke, and hit 6 from downtown in a win over Team Illinois in Juice’s opening playoff round win.
“It’s a great shooting gym,” Whitehead said of the event’s host site Homestead High School. “The rims are shooter’s rims, so if you put it up a little bit higher it feels like it always goes in. The national talent is great here. It’s a great tournament. It’s Under Armour teams just trying to battle against everybody else, so we’re just trying to represent Under Armour.”
Whitehead mentioned Louisville, Minnesota, UCLA, Arizona, Syracuse, St. John’s, Miami and Georgetown as just some of the schools who have been recruiting him the hardest and said he’ll start to think about his visits after Juice wraps up its summer schedule this week in Las Vegas.
At the Fab 48 in Vegas, it will be another chance for Whitehead to show off his improving and diversified game.
“I’ve just been in the gym everyday working on it—hard work pays off,” Whitehead said. “I have to be a point guard in college. [The college coaches] want me to play on and off the ball.”
DAVIS AND BIGHAM BREAKOUT
As the lone Mississippi resident playing on Team Thad, a squad made up of primarily players from Memphis, 6-5 Terence Davis set himself apart in more ways than the state he calls home. But he was happy to share the court with his neighbors from Tennessee.
“Playing with these Tennessee boys, they always get me better,” Davis said. “I just like playing with them because they always compete.”
Davis doubles as a standout wide receiver at Southaven HS, and came into the Summer Jam with interest from Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Penn State and Tulane as a hooper. In an impressive win over Dream Vision, Davis canned three consecutive treys (a four-point play sandwiched in the middle) in the second half to thwart a run and also got some of his game-high 25 points with athletic finishes in transition.
College coaches jammed into the bleachers that lined the six courts at Homestead High School, and Davis knew it was his chance to make an impression. He said he wants to try and play both sports in college, and that he is continuing to work on his ball-handling and shot so he can improve his skill as a 2-guard.
“I look at them sometimes,” Davis said of the coaches watching Team Thad. “But if I do something good, or make a bucket, I won’t try to draw too much attention to myself. I don’t be messing with no camps or nothing like that, because I’m a football player also so I go to football camps most of the time. So I have to prove myself at these AAU showcases.”
It looks like he’s done just that, as he reportedly picked up his first offer from Memphis during the Summer Jam.
Texas Select center Myles Turner’s spot in the Class of 2014’s top 10 is due in large part to his phenomenal shot blocking ability. The 6-11 Turner turned away just about every one who tried to challenge him in the lane throughout the tourney.
But 6-6 Detroit Southeastern’s Daryl Bigham had more success finishing on Turner near the rim than anyone else who tried at the Summer Jam. Bigham finished with 16 points in the Michigan Hurricanes win over Texas Select, and he followed that up with a 27-point performance to help his team reach the tourney’s elite 8.
In the mold of guys like Jae Crowder and Paul Millsap, the undersized forward refuses to let height or rankings dictate his play on the court. His athleticism, motor and skill allowed him to standout against several of his opponents who are ranked ahead of him.
“I like playing people that’s bigger than me, and that are ranked higher than me,” Bigham said. “That motivates me. I was looking forward to playing them anyways, so I came in trying to show everyone that I could play with (Turner).”
Bigham listed Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, Buffalo, Florida Atlantic and Stony Brook as his current offers, but is far from pleased with the list.
“Nah, I ain’t settlin’,” Bigham said. “Hopefully that game got me some more [looks], but I’m trying to get better with my handle and shot. I’ve been working on all that, so hopefully I keeps getting better.”
OTHER NOTES FROM THE SUMMER JAM
- Diamond Stone (Dominican HS/Young Legends): Ranked as one of the top players in the Class of 2015, the 6-10 center was as dominant as ever throughout the tournament due in large part to a slimmed down look. While he’s not an explosive athlete, Stone catches basically everything thrown at him, has great footwork and great touch on his shot for a post player. He even stepped out and knocked down some three-pointers in a few games throughout the tournaments.
- While he wasn’t the highest rated member of the Class of 2014 in attendance, Ohio State-commit and the Illinois Wolves’ Keita Bates-Diop (University High) continues to play like a future pro. At 6-7, with a long wingspan, Bates-Diop has always been a good defender and shot blocker. But he’s become a consistent catch-and-shoot three-point shooter when he’s open and can score a variety of other ways on the offensive end.
- Kevon Looney (Hamilton) had every high-major coach in attendance check out at least of one his games, because the 6-9 small forward is one of the most intriguing prospects in the Class of 2014. Playing with the Milwaukee Rebels, Looney won’t make any highlight videos but what he will do is shutdown whoever he is guarding, own the offensive and defensive glass and score inside or out. Amazingly, the five-star player doesn’t get nearly enough touches in a game with that team as 5-8 scoring point guard Damontrae Jefferson dominates the ball.
- Playing with the Atlanta Xpress 16s, Class of 2017 shooting guard James Walker Jr (Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy) showed the makings of a future high-major player—great athlete, excellent release on his shot and nice size at 6-4 for an off-guard. His game has shades of OJ Mayo, but he looked to be a more willing passer. Just by looking at Walker, it’s hard to believe he hasn’t begun high school yet. His teammate Doral Moore Jr (Luella HS), 6-11 Class of 2015 center, will also be one high-majors will be monitoring as he continues to grow into his body and add strength.
- South Carolina’s Seventh Woods (Hammond HS, 2016) made waves with his YouTube highlight video that went viral, and showed flashes of a future high-major recruit while playing with the Carolina Wolves’ 17s. There is plenty of time left for him to sharpen his skill set to match his nearly unparalleled athleticism for his age.
- Iowa City native Wyatt Lohaus (West HS) committed to Northern Iowa last August, so his name is rarely mentioned among the best guards in the Midwest but that is a mistake in my opinion. At 6-2, the son of former NBA player Brad Lohaus, is an excellent shooter and deceptive athlete. The most impressive aspect of his game is his ability to score off the dribble with pull-ups between 10 and 15 feet. Lohaus was cookin’ all tourney and helped lead the Iowa Barnstormers to the final four. I have a hunch, we’ll be hearing more from him when he gets to UNI. Barnstormers’ Drake-bound big men Kory Kuenstling (Dunkerton HS) and Casey Schlatter (Iowa Falls-Alden) stepped up big during their elite 8 win over Jersey’s Sports U featuring 6-10 future Kentucky Wildcat Karl Towns, 6-9 high-major forward prospect Quadri Moore and 6-3 guard Wade Baldwin who sports several high-major offers of his own. The 6-10 Kuenstling is more a traditional back to the basket player who will need to add weight and strength, but the lefty has really good touch in the paint. Schlatter, 6-9, is a face-up 4 who is capable of catching fire from three-point land.
- The Wisconsin Swing 17s don’t have players like Indiana-bound big man Luke Fischer, or point guard Bronson Koenig who will suit up for Wisconsin in the winter, any more but they reached the final four by defeating several teams that had national recruits on their team such as the Carolina Wolves and Milwaukee Rebels (five-star forward Kevon Looney). Swing 6-2 point guard Lamonte Bearden (Germantown HS) created the most buzz with his yo-yo handle, flashy passing and versatile scoring ability. He already holds offers from Oregon State, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Green Bay and Bradley—with Iowa, Purdue and Buffalo among those very interested—and should see his recruiting stock continue to rise if he can show consistency each time out. 2014 6-4 shooting guard TJ Schlundt (St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy) played up a grade level last summer on the Swing as one of the squad’s knockdown shooters from three-point land. But he showed a much more versatile offensive game this summer, as he was able to score when teams ran him off the three point line—and also proved to be a willing defender and rebounder. Schlundt holds offers from UW-Milwaukee, UW-Green Bay, Northern Kentucky and Drake, and could wind up being a steal if high-major programs don’t jump into his recruitment over the next year.
- Staying in Wisconsin, one of the biggest sleepers I saw was Wisconsin Academy 16s 5-9 point guard Darold Thomas (Madison La Follette). He has a little bit of Wichita State’s Fred Van Vleet in him, in that his understanding of positioning and angles makes up a lot for his size. No schools have begun to recruit him yet, but that will change over the next two years. Nick Noskowiak (Sun Prairie HS) headlines the Wisconsin Playground Warriors’ 16s squad as the point guard gave his verbal commitment to Marquette in April, but 6-3 guard Brevin Pritzl (De Pere HS) is just starting to see his recruitment begin. The three-point marksman can also put it on the floor, and had one of the best highlights I saw all tourney when he drove baseline and dunked all over an Atlanta Xpress defender.
- DC Assault 16s 6-2 combo guard Jon Davis (National Christian Academy) was one of the more impressive guards from the Class of 2015 that I watched. His ability to break his man down to create a driving lane or some space for a shot was terrific. A consistent stroke all the way out to three-point land and a willingness to drive left as well as he does going right make him a tough guy to guard.