The high school season in the USA is very close to being over nationally. In the Deep South, club basketball is now underway and on March 21 and 22, I had the opportunity to attend the 6th Annual FGB Spring Showcase held in Bradenton, Florida, at the renown IMG Academy. The event was sponsored by the FGB club, which has players (five teams) from all over Florida with a few from Georgia (mostly coastal area).
Although there were 45 club teams (all but one from Florida) present ranging in composition from middle school to rising seniors, there was essentially no (perhaps an incognito division two coach) attendance from coaches of four-year NCAA institutions as this is not allowed for division one college at this time of year. This event and others like it around the country serves as live-game preparation for the upcoming college evaluation period (April 24-26). There was plenty of talent present in all age groups with a number of them (players of note present and future) mentioned below. Match-ups were pre-set so one could map out which teams to see when.
The criticisms and values regarding club basketball
With a new club ball (often wrongly referred to as AAU, where club ball kind of got its start but has moved into the background in the current era) season just underway, it is appropriate to look at the minuses (first) and pluses of club ball participation.
Quite a few high school coaches despise (preferring their players not to be involved) the club version of the sport for its often fast and loose form of play plus what they perceive as manipulation of players encouraging them to change high schools. Also, they claim not a lot of teaching goes on in club ball. To those coaches I suggest they either form their own off-season club (in states allowed) or form a relationship with a club which they feel does not engage in player barter.
So having stated the negatives, let's look at the positives. First, the level of play is deeper in talent than the grand majority of high school games. Along with that, the play is often more physical and the pace faster. It is not uncommon to have players who star in high school struggle to score in the more competitive club games.
Second, the competition gives the player a check as to what areas of her game need the most work assuming the player and club coach interact as they should. If the participant wants to succeed here, she is often forced to get better. I saw many wonderful illustrations this past high school season of players stepping up after club ball competition.
Third, like it or not, the club ball setting is the principal market where player reputations are made for honors including becoming a McDonald's High School All-American.
Fourth and most importantly to the future of so many prep players, colleges often decide who to recruit most vigorously for their programs from club ball evaluations. Sadly, when high school players particularly from perceived weaker areas are evaluated, the college recruiter wants to see them against the better club level competition before offering a scholarship.
Major viewing events in April and July allow the prospects to often be exposed to over 100 college evaluators in one weekend when the average high school team is lucky to play in front of a handful of college recruiters in its entire year unless it makes its state finals (where that is an event and just not a single game) or a major Christmas tournament (still those numbers are generally less).
If you are a superstar, somebody of note is likely to find you but if you are a marginal division one to division two player looking for a scholarship, the big exposure events vastly increase (still no guarantees) your chances of getting that free ride at the next level.
For many players it is not uncommon to go from interest from just a few schools to triple that after a successful evaluation period (April or July) event. Colleges which have a local player "hidden away" hate seeing her on the club scene because that often means more competition in landing the prized recruit. However as the recruit or parent of the recruit, it is your right to see that a satisfactory set of colleges options can be developed for yourself or your child. Being out on "the circuit" (April and July) helps get that done more than many players and high school coaches realize.
Looking at some of the players of note from this event (listing alphabetically by graduation year with height, position and club team)...
Aliyah Abney, 5-7, shooting guard, Blue Star Florida 2016
Abney showed a good motor during the event. She penetrated to the basket at every opportunity. She probably needs to add more shooting range to make for a more well rounded offensive player although word in the gym was that she can shoot the three.
Jacaira Allen, 5-10, forward, Miami Suns Team Fowles
Allen is one of the most relentless players that you are going to find when it comes to finding a way to score in traffic. If she misses the first time, she's right back chasing the offensive rebound. Highly athletic with a good motor, she needs to work on going left more and increasing her shooting range. Look for her at a BCS program at the next level.
Mikiah Harrigan, 6-1, forward, Miami Suns Team Fowles
A decent athlete, Harrigan has good length able to attack the basket from the high post or the perimeter. She is also capable of stepping out to knock down a three be it not scoring option one. Developing consistency is what must come next but it would be surprising if she is not getting BCS offers.
Jazmine Jones, 5-11, shooting guard, North Florida Elite Gold
Jones is probably the top prospect from Florida in the 2016 class with high major programs in hot pursuit. Her ability to control a game against an overall more talented team is worth seeing by itself. First she handles the ball well, has great poise, is a good passer (sometimes too unselfish) and a strong driver with a solid mid-range stroke. Perhaps the biggest question regarding her prep career is whether McDonald's voters will hold it against her for not playing for one of Florida's three Nike clubs as opposed to her more locally based (Tallahassee area) club team.
Sydney Searcy, 5-8, shooting guard, FGB 2016
Searcy has a really good feel for the basket when attacking in traffic able to finish if getting bumped. She also has the ability to knock down the perimeter shot. For over a year, Sydney has been orally committed to play her college ball at Florida.
Delicia Washington, 5-10, small forward, FGB 2016
Washington plays her high school ball at relatively small Baker County High School near the Georgia line. With her team not advancing too far in the post-season, her reputation has primarily been made on the club circuit. As wing players go, she has a strong physical presence, able to knock down mid-range jumpers and attack the basket with above average athleticism. Another future Florida Gator, a recruiter for another program lamented "we didn't realize how good she is."
Tiffany Tolbert, 5-6, point guard, Florida Lightning Select 2017
Tolbert did not play high school ball this past season. Given what was seen in Bradenton, she should make a big impact for Orlando-based Dr. Phillips High School next year. She handles the ball well, can shoot the perimeter shot to beyond the arc and drive the key. Steady under fire, she appears to make good decisions with the ball. Look for BCS offers to come her way once the she gets seen this spring.
LaDazhia Williams, 6-3, power forward, FGB 2017
It's encouraging when you see a player's game heading in the right direction. Williams now just past her sophomore season is starting to fill out and add skills that allow her to play more in the high post and step out on to the perimeter. Over the last year she has improved her ball handling and ability to pass the ball from the top of the key in the high-low set. She already has several BCS offers on the table.
Ashaunti Brown, 6-3, center, Florida Lightning Prime 2018
Brown has the proto-typical low post body, some thickness but adequately mobile. Her hands are sure at catching the ball. She finishes well near the basket. Like so many young post players, Brown needs to get better handling the ball, useful in re-positioning in the paint and aiding the guards in breaking pressure. Division one schools should have this name on their recruiting charts soon if not already so.
Jasmine Smith, 5-9, shooting guard, Orlando Yellow Jackets 9th grade team
With a lean build, Smith is a decent athlete with some jumping ability. She can take it to the basket but her ace in the hole is the ability to shoot the ball on the perimeter. Now she needs to add consistency in her game to game results.
Ariel Young, 6-0, small forward, North Florida Elite Gold
Young and club teammate Jazmine Jones (see photo above) are built quite alike and are close to the same height (Young slightly taller). That you can be mistaken by game observers for one of the top players in the nation is a very positive sign for the future. Ariel plays hard and likes to work out of the baseline area shooting short jumpers and going to the rim off a dribble or two. She needs to become more comfortable protecting the ball against pressure defense and increase shooting range. Word in the gym was that she already has a couple of BCS offers and coming from good athletic stock (mother is former pro and all-time Auburn great Carolyn Jones and father is Florida State Assistant Coach Charlton Young), expect more as her game grows.
Maria Alvarez, 5-5, point guard, FGB 2018
Alvarez already plays high school ball being a three-point shooter on Miami Country Day's Florida 3A State champions. What wasn't on display in the high school setting was her ability to run an offense and see the court in transition. Playing up a year, she is one of the best players on a team of 2018 class players. How high she will go as to the college game will depend a lot on whether she grows a bit more and fills out her relatively thin frame.
Morgan Beacham, 5-5, point guard, Blue Star Florida 2019
Beacham was one of several good athletic guards on a strong team (several potential division one college players) primarily of eighth graders. She showed some flashy handles and an ability to start or finish the fast break. She needs to work on building her shot. As for high school this fall, she should be at one of the Orlando area schools perhaps Wekiva High School (unofficial word in gym).
Tanyia Gordon, 5-8, forward, Tampa Bay Inferno 2019
Some young players just jump out at you even though their skills are not that developed. Gordon has superior athletic gifts showing them off by an attempted "alley op" during one game. Reported to be going to play at Academy at the Lakes, a well-coached program under Karim Nohra, look for Tanyia to move up the recruiting charts in the years ahead.
Anastasia Motorina, 5-9, guard/forward, IMG Academy
From St. Petersburg, Russia, this young lady was succeeding playing up against players a class ahead. She knew what was a good shot, taking and making open looks on the perimeter. In talking to her and her three Russian schoolmates [see photo] twins Arina and Polina Ovchinnikova (2018) and Alexandra Sasha Shishkina (2017), the dream is to someday play US college ball. The IMG program run by Shell Dailey, a former college coach now in her eighth year at IMG, has 30 players from around the world currently in its program. If you have the opportunity to visit the IMG facilities (involved in so many sports) in Bradenton, Florida, be sure to do so.
Emerielle James, 5-7, guard, Blue Star Florida 2018 or Blue Star Florida 2020
For a young player, James appears ahead of schedule. Playing up a couple of years [normally plays on the 2020 team] this past weekend, she showed an ability to create a shot, penetrate and finish and had good court vision. All of which is helped by being an above average athlete. Being in the seventh grade, her high school choice is as yet undecided but it should be an Orlando area school.
Cairah Mays, 5-6, guard, Tampa Bay Inferno 2020
Mays still has a long way to go, not surprising being in grade seven in the Tampa area. Yet some things already stand out about this player. She plays with great energy and is always after loose balls. Already with a fairly solid body for such a young age, she can drive the key finishing left or right-handed.