Hidden Gems and Guard’s Gift
Talent can be found everywhere in Orlando.
by Aggrey Sam
The past two days of the AAU Super Showcase, as last year, have been extremely rewarding for me. As a so-called high school expert, there’s nothing more rewarding than watching prospects who are supposedly under the radar (although I seem to run into scores of college coaches at those kids’ games; maybe some of them know a little something, too) before they blow up (and in some cases, they never will). Don’t get me wrong, I also watched plenty of highly-touted prospects (who I’ll get to in a minute), but my passion is seeing a kid who doesn’t get the shine he deserves and trying to bring him into the light, at least to the best of my ability.
Two programs (three teams; I’ll explain) I saw here that fit the description were Expressions Elite and the Illinois Titans. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a brief history with both programs, as I was put in contact with the Titans’ coach and the man who runs the show for Expressions earlier this summer, although I had met neither of them in person until Orlando. However, while I told my contacts for both teams that I’d make time to watch them play, I didn’t guarantee I’d write about them, especially if their kids didn’t play well, as I’d rather ignore a kid’s poor performance than put it out there publicly.
The Titans are based out of Carbondale, IL, and the team is comprised of pretty much the basketball program at Brehm Prep, a school in Carbondale, and is coached by Aaron Lee, who handles both squads. Expressions, is based out of New England, run by a gentleman named Todd Quarles and most of the kids come from prep schools in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. They actually have two teams at the event, one with mostly rising seniors and another with rising sophomores and juniors, although both are playing in the 17-and-under division of the Super Showcase’s silver bracket. Anyway, to make a long story short, I was pleasantly surprised by how well both teams played here, and because each squad had some big-time players (ask the college coaches that packed the baselines and bleachers at their games, if you don’t believe me), here are a little more details, before I get to my evaluations from the gold bracket games.
– Expressions Elite:
On the older (2010) team, three players stood out to me the most: Billy Baron, Tyler Olar, and Rod Odom. Baron is the son of University of Rhode Island head coach Jim Baron (and younger brother of prolific shooter Jimmy Baron, who finished his senior year for their pop last season with a bang) and will be doing a post-graduate prep year at Worcester Academy in Massachusetts. The prep year, combined with performances like I’ve seen from him in Orlando, should enable the tough, strong 6-2 point guard–who goes to the basket more than his brother–to be recruited at his desired high-major level. Olander (actually a 2011 kid, but playing up in this event), Baron’s soon-to-be teammate at Worcester, was extremely intriguing, as a 6-8 post with a nice stroke all the way to three-point range, and while he isn’t necessarily a banger, he’s definitely long, athletic, a strong finisher and willing to mix it up inside for boards on both ends. Odom, a 6-8 combo forward, is probably the most high-profile kid in the group, and while he may not be quite the elite prospect some viewed him as last spring, he’s definitely skilled, versatile (he can put it on the floor, post up and shoot from distance), tougher than I thought, willing to put in some energy on the defensive side of the ball and has the length and athleticism to be a contributor on the high-major level and an instant-impact guy at one of the academic schools that covet the Middlesex Academy (MA) student, who was described as a “Huxtable kid” by Quarles. They had an amazing back-and-forth battle against the Titans in the quarterfinal round, that they lost on a miracle shot in OT.
For the Expressions younger (2011) group (who lost to the Titans in the semis; not as close of a contest, but I had seen them play enough earlier to be sufficiently impressed), a quintet–Imoh Silas, Ricardo Ledo, Kaleb Tarczewski, Kaleb Spears and Alex Murphy all showed great promise. Silas is a 2011 kid out of Holderness (NH), is a long 6-8 athlete, who primarily shows his potential as a rebounder, shot-blocker, finisher and banger inside, but has the mobility to further develop into more of an offensive force down the line. Ledo, a 6-4 rising sophomore wing from St. Andrew’s (RI), is a well-rounded offensive swingman, with great athleticism, a decent stroke, solid ballhandling ability and an excellent motor, who only needs to add strength and continue to refine his skills to become a big-time prospect in the future. Tarczewski, a 6-10 post from St. Mark’s (MA), isn’t the project most big rising sophomores are at that stage, as he has a good touch out to 15 feet, a decent frame, is willing to bang, runs the floor, has solid athleticism, possesses good timing when blocking shots and good fundamentals in the post on both ends. His teammate and classmate at St. Mark’s, Spears, a 5-9 point guard, is a quick, stocky kid, who plays tough D, is a creative playmaker and scorer and unlike a lot of smaller point guards I see these days, already has an excellent stroke from deep. A third rising soph at St. Mark’s (with Georgetown commit Nate Lubick and these youngsters, watch out for them to make some noise in the always-tough New England prep league, the NEPSAC), Murphy (the little brother of incoming Florida freshman Erik Murphy), is a 6-8 shooter with excellent ball skills and size for the wing and while he needs to get better defensively and stronger on the inside, his potential and current talent level is undeniable. Long story short, this team is a program to watch with plenty of prospects who have a chance to be nice on the next level.
– Illinois Titans:
As I mentioned earlier, the Titans consist primarily of kids from Brehm Prep in Illinois and while their success is news to a lot of people outside of the state, I was hip to them before the high school season even started, thanks to my Sam Greer. Carbondale (where the school is located) native Bruce Barron (the younger brother of departing Washington Huskies senior point guard Justin Dentmon) is the floor general for the squad, and at 6-3, with a chiseled frame, an excellent handle, good court vision, tremendous finishing ability, a better-than-expected outside stroke, tough and physical D (and a mentality overall), as well as great leadership skills–always vocal and energetic, the rising junior leads by words and actions–look for him to emerge as a recruiting priority for a number of high-major programs. James “Bamba” Siakam, a 6-5 rising junior undersized post, is Barron’s A-Alike, in terms of mentality, as he does everything with force and aggression–including absolutely owning the boards, posterizing foes with powerful and high-flying bangs, blocking shots (and really do everything on the inside) like a seven-footer (great timing!) and giving maximum effort every time he’s on the floor–but he also shows signs of being able to play the wing, at least on a part-time basis, as his amazing last-second steal and corner trey to vanquish the Expressions older team in OT demonstrated. Lastly, there was Emmanuel Ochenje, a 6-9 rising sophomore post, who didn’t get many touches (or even a lot of burn in some games), but showed enough potential and current ability with his defensive presence, decent frame, great length and athleticism and touch out to 15 feet to have high-major coaches salivating. Looks like there’s a new power on the come-up in the Midwest Good luck to the Titans in today’s silver division chip.
As for the gold bracket, considered the Super Showcase’s main event because the more high-profile players and programs play in it (but hopefully I’ve conveyed that not all of the talent is there), Team Takeover beat Houston Hoops (coached by my man Marland Lowe) in a close game (most of which I missed while watching the aforementioned Expressions-Titans thriller) in the first semifinal, while Each 1 Teach 1 (aka Team STAT) beat the Rising Stars in an OT battle.
Like last year, there were also some televised games that weren’t really part of the tourney, but were set up to give the national audience a glimpse of some of the higher-profile prospects in attendance. In one, Team Final (led by Dion Waiters and Mike Gilchrist) cruised by Nike Baltimore Elite (despite a valiant effort by Will Barton), and in the other All-Ohio Red (future Ohio State teammates Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger were too much) eventually pulled away from CP3 All-Stars (led by Reggie Bullock’s 30 in front of his future coach, Roy Williams).
Later today, you might want to tune into the gold bracket chip, featuring Team Takeover from the DMV and hometown favorite Each 1 Teach 1 Elite, which will be preceded by another made-for-TV contest, with Albany City Rocks (their headliner is Taran Buie, Ryan Jones’ future favorite college player against a team to be determined, as their scheduled matchup was supposed to be Each 1 Teach 1, who advanced to the chip.