Big Strick Classic Preview

by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam

The AAU season is currently in full swing, with tournaments, skills camps and events held every weekend. The July evaluation period has reached a fever pitch, as college coaches are relentlessly scouting, calling and texting recruits. We are now at the midpoint of the evaluation period, and in two weeks the commotion will subside, coaches will descend back into captivity and players will finish off their summer seasons.

Most recruits won’t be heard from until, at the earliest, the fall. But then there’s the other guys, the ones who’ll be playing in the Big Strick Classic.

Organized by Left Hand, Right Hand, LLC. and Bobby Bates, the Big Strick Classic is a hoops-filled weekend in New York City culminating in a super-competitive all-star game, pitting the best high school players from around the country—Team USA—against the best players from the tri-state area—Team New York. The game is dedicated in memory of its namesake, the late John “Big Strick” Strickland.

Players from last year’s event who will be on a college campus this fall include Kyle Anderson (UCLA), Omar Calhoun (UCONN), Daniel Dingle (Temple), Savon Goodman (UNLV), Nkereuwem Okoro (Iowa State) and Daiquan Walker (UCF) for Team NYC. Archie Goodwin (Kentucky), Shaquille Goodwin (Memphis) and Martavious Newby (Ole Miss) for Team USA.

Last year’s event was one of the most memorable weekends of basketball I’ve ever been a part of. Tons of talent and tons of win at any cost attitudes, with New York besting USA, 146-138.

This year, the event will reach a new, unprecedented level of publicity, talent and competitiveness. There’s three returnees: Isaiah Whitehead and Chris McCullough for Team New York, Malik Price-Martin for Team USA.

And then there’s the new guys.

Andrew Wiggins; The Harrison Twins; Noah Vonleh; Jabari Bird; Emmanuel Mudiay. The list goes on…

While the event may be recognized as an “all-star” game—and sure, the talent level does warrant that label—make no mistake about it: reputations and bragging rights are on the line. Last year, Archie Goodwin and then-rising sophomore Isaiah Whitehead got into a heated battle, resulting in six or seven back-and-forth, crowd-going-bonkers possessions. This year should be no different.

The game will be held on Saturday, August 11, at Nat Holman Gym in Manhattan at 5:30 p.m. First, the players will be at Rucker Park during the afternoon of Friday, August 10, for a workout and media appearances, both open to the pubic. Friday night, the players will scrimmage at a secret location in Harlem, which will be revealed two weeks before the game. And on Saturday afternoon the main event will commence.

With that backdrop in mind, let’s breakdown the players on each roster.

Team New York

Coaches: Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, Dave Britton

Isaiah Whitehead (Brooklyn, NY/Lincoln)

2014, PG, 6-4, 195

Whitehead is a lengthy, athletic combo guard with a high motor and next-level competitiveness, which some would say is the “Brooklyn” in him. He has the size to defend both guard positions, and can play the game at his desired pace, which is a precocious skill at this age and something college coaches covet.

As a rising sophomore last year, he gave Kentucky-bound Archie Goodwin a solid run. Goodwin finished with 46 points, but only a few of those points were scored on Isaiah. Isaiah finished with 16 points, had a number of assists, very few (if any) turnovers, and played with noticeable poise throughout the game.

Playing for renowned high school coach Tiny Morton, Whitehead has endured the inevitable comparisons to former Lincoln guards Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson. He possesses the requisite Brooklynite never back down mentality, but unlike his predecessors, Whitehead is not much of a talker. He’s calm and collected, and has a calculated maturity, carrying himself in an even-keeled manner regardless if he’s up or down 20 points.

Isaiah already has numerous scholarship offers, including Florida, Georgetown, Iowa State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and others. But the Big Dog is also watching his every move; Whitehead spoke with Kentucky coach John Calipari earlier this month, and if his strong play continues, an offer will be on its way.

Chris McCullough (New York/Salisbury School)

2014, PF, 6-9, 210

McCullough is a raw and athletic forward who has strong hands and a knack for attacking the boards. He’s undeveloped right now, as he needs to develop his frame and a back to the basket game, but his upside is appealing. McCullough has good instincts (help defense, weak-side shot blocking) and is a solid rebounder, but he could use more polish in the half court. He has a number of offers on his hands, including UCONN, Kansas, Louisville and others.

Dakari Johnson (New York/Montverde Academy)

2014, C, 6-10, 250

Johnson is a big boy. He has the body of a young DeMarcus Cousins, has strong hands and can rebound with any prospect in the country. Dakari isn’t the best athlete, but his size compensates well enough for his athletic shortcomings. Johnson followed coach Kevin Boyle from St. Patrick’s (NJ) to Montverde Academy (FL), and was required to sit out a year because of the transfer. During that time, he’s reportedly worked on his game and become quicker on his feet. If those reports are true, Johnson is both immovable in the paint and mobile in open space. Pretty scary, huh?

Dakari just finished his tour with Team USA’s 17U squad, where he showcased a 15-foot jumpshot in addition to the physicality he’s been known for. Arguably the best big man in his class, Johnson will hold offers from all the major programs.

Terrence Samuel (Brooklyn, NY/South Shore HS)

2013, PG, 6-3, 175

Samuel is another Brooklyn product. Standing at 6-3 and equipped with athleticism and a steady handle, he has the makings of a big-time recruit. But he has some flaws that must be addressed. As a point guard, he needs to improve his decision-making—knowing when to shoot and when to pass—and develop his jumpshot. An improved jumpshot will accentuate his already quick first step, size, and explosiveness.

Anthony Barber (Hampton, VA/Hampton HS)

2013, PG, 6-2, 165

With Anthony Barber, it starts and ends with speed. Not only is Barber sonic fast, but he’s one of those guys that’s quicker with the ball in his hands. Barber has the complete package of supreme physical tools and a very good skill set. He’s long, a blur in open space, jumps out of the gym, and has the same blazing speed laterally as he does vertically, making him a problem on the defensive end too. After a strong showing at the LeBron James Skills Academy, Barber proved he’s a top-3 point guard in the class of ’13.

Barber is a product of legendary AAU coach Boo Williams’ system. Williams, who has coached and mentored countless recruits on their path to the NBA, has said that Barber’s speed reminds him of another Hampton, VA, point guard he’s coached. “He has Allen Iverson quickness at times,” Williams recently told ESPN’s Dave Telep. I can’t wait to see how fast this kid is in person.

Noah Vonleh (Haverhill, MA/New Hampton School)

2014, PF, 6-9, 220

Vonleh is a scary talent. He’s 6-9 with a 7-4 wingspan. He has a legitimate handle, can shoot out to 3-point range, has a saucy face-up game, cleans the glass whenever he wants and finishes through contact using fundamentals and an extra burst of power.

If Andrew Wiggins didn’t exist, Vonleh could be the best player in his class. He plays both forward positions, which leaves the opposition in a conundrum. Put a smaller defender on him, and he’ll back him down or shoot over him. Put a big guy on him, and he’ll take him to the perimeter and perform surgery. He supposedly turned heads at the LBJ Skills Academy and this past weekend at the adidas Invitation in Indianapolis. Did I mention he’s only going to be a junior?

Troy Williams (Hampton, VA/Oak Hill Academy)

2013, SF, 6-6, 190

Troy is the nephew of the aforementioned Boo Williams. He’s an athletic freak who is very effective in open space, with throw-it-up and-I’ll-go-get-it ability. His jumpshot needs to be more consistent, and his handle is a bit suspect, but if he plays with a point guard who can run the show and get him the ball in his sweet spots, Williams is among the best players in the nation. This has been on display throughout his AAU career, playing alongside Anthony Barber. There’s a 50-50 chance the duo will be a packaged deal in college.

Jaren Sina (Lake Hopatcong, NJ/Gill St. Bernard’s School)

2013, PG, 6-2, 175

Sina is the only player at the event who has officially announced where he’s playing college ball. The future Northwestern Wildcat has a near-perfect jumpshot that’s automatic from virtually anywhere on the court, both spot-up and off the dribble. Sina embodies the all-textbook-everything point guard—he won’t overpower you with athleticism or physical attributes, but he stays in command of the offense, delivers pinpoint passes, makes tough shots late in games, and mentally is always one step ahead of the other nine guys on the court. Sina has two of the most un-teachable skills: basketball IQ and intangibles. Great get by the Wildcats.

Emmanuel Mudiay (Arlington, TX/Grace Preparatory Academy)

2014, PG, 6-4, 190

Mudiay is one of the best natural scorers in the country. With a supreme physical build, the combo guard gets into the paint at will and finishes through contact in a Dwyane Wade/Dion Waiters/Tyreke Evans kind of way. He can take his man from the perimeter using either hand, and has a developing jumpshot. The operative word in that sentence is developing. If he can continue to do so, Mudiay, who already has offers from Kansas and Baylor, will have the rest of the nation’s elite programs at his disposal.

Jared Terrell (Weymouth, MA/New Hampton School)

2014, SG, 6-4, 225

Terrell is a versatile wing who can finish at the rim. He jumps high and maneuvers his way into the lane with great success. He a big guard, but at 6-4 his build won’t overpower shooting guards at the next level. To take the next step and become a complete threat, Terrell will need to hone his jumpshot and work on his handle. He has the time to iron out the kinks, though, and schools know this. He already has scholarships from most schools in the Big East.

Team USA

Coaches: Aaron Harrison, Tony Mclntyre

Andrew Wiggins (Toronto, Canada/Huntington Prep)

2014, SF, 6-7, 205

Wiggins is Canadian, but he’s more “USA” than “New York”, so the title is apropos here. He’s a tantalizing talent, and quite frankly, is on a different level than the rest of his ’14 peers right now. He can play and defend the 2, 3 or 4 position. He can shoot the 3-pointer, explode at the rim, break his man down or use the dribble drive pull-up, and finish and-one’s with ease. At this point, Wiggins is in a class of his own because he has the natural talent that separates the phenoms from the five-star recruits.

Jabari Bird (Richmond, CA/Salesian HS)

2013, SG, 6-6, 190

Bird’s name says it all—the dude flies. The most coveted wing player out West, Jabari has talent and raw skills, but he needs to refine his jumpshot, and sustain his energy over the course of a game in order to take the next step. Bird has every Pac-12 school on his tail.

Robert Hubbs (Newbern, TN/Dyer County HS)

2013, SG, 6-4, 180

Hubbs has great size, broad shoulders, and can shoot the ball. He is quick in open space and can finish over and around defenders. ESPN’s Dave Telep recently compared him to James Anderson, who was a scoring machine at Oklahoma State. Not too shabby.

Tyler Ennis (Ontario, Canada/St. Benedict’s Prep)

2013, PG, 6-2, 180

Ennis is a smart point guard with good size. He plays alongside Wiggins on the CIA Bounce, and while he’s not the greatest athlete, Ennis can explode in transition when he has the ball. His airtight handle and solid jumpshot have made him one of the best point guards in his class.

Andrew Harrison (Richmond, TX/Travis HS) 2013, PG, 6-5, 210

Aaron Harrison (Richmond, TX/Travis HS) 2013, SG, 6-5, 205

The Harrison Twins will be a packaged deal in college, forming the next great backcourt in college basketball. They have supreme talent, a confident swagger and a refreshing family over everything attitude. When observing Andrew, first look at his size. Then consider he can run an offense, get his teammates going, and get his own shots whenever he pleases. Aaron has the same build as his brother, and is a potent scorer as well. They both can score from anywhere on the court, with range beyond the 3-point line. Aaron is usually labeled a shooting guard, but he can also initiate offense, so I’ll chill with any labels until I see these guys in person.

Photo by Trevor Paulus

Sindarius Thornwell (Lancaster, SC/Oak Hill Academy)

2013, SG, 6-5, 180

Thornwell has good size and energy, and plays off those two attributes more than anything else right now. He needs to improve his jumpshot, though, so he can keep defenders honest. He has an abundance of ACC offers.

Jordan Mickey (Arlington, TX/Grace Prepatory Academy)

2013, PF, 6-7, 210

Mickey is teammates with Mudiay. He’s a great rebounder, has good instincts, and uses his athleticism well in transition. Like many power forwards in today’s stretch-4 era, Mickey needs to add strength. He also needs to develop a back to the basket game for when he’s matched against other players with equal length and athleticism. Mickey currently holds offers from most Big 12 schools.

Marcus Lovett, Jr (Burbank, CA/Providence HS)

2015, PG, 5-11, 155

The Lefty from California is the youngest player at the event. The rising sophomore has a steady handle and great speed. This will be a good experience for Lovett to compete with and alongside some of the best talent in the nation.

Malik Price-Martin (Miami, FL/Northeast HS)

2014, PF, 6-8, 195

At this point in time, Price-Martin does a little bit of everything at a “good” level, but none of his skills particularly stand out. That’s not the worst thing though, because he can contribute in a variety of ways. He has range out to the 3-point line, can drive the ball or operate in the post. He’s a versatile defender and good rebounder, too. His length and 7-foot wingspan make him a factor on defense as well. He needs to add strength to a relatively frail frame, but his upside is evident. Versatility alone has gotten him offers, and if he develops his skills and puts on some weight, he could break through.