Big men rule intense Hoop Group Jam Fest at WVU

Originally Published: July 17, 2008
By John Fitzpatrick | Special to Scouts Inc.

Dante TaylorJason O. Watson/ESPN.comDante Taylor's decision for Pittsburgh sent many coaches home from Morgantown unhappy.
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- The 2008 Triple S Harley Davidson/Hoop Group Jam Fest was an extremely well-run event at the spectacular facilities of West Virginia University. It is easy to see how this three-day tournament of 196 teams has grown into a must-see event of the important July recruiting period. College coaches from all over the country flocked to Morgantown to evaluate young men in three different age groups.

The intensity level of this tournament grew like a freight train leaving the station as the teams approached bracket play. Starting on day one (July 14) to the final game two days later, fans, coaches and players were treated to one of the most exciting tournaments of the summer.

The New Jersey Shoreshots Select defeated the King James Shooting Stars from Ohio in the 17-Under finals 71-61. The Shoreshots were led by the aggressive play of 6-7 Chris Gaston. This Fordham commit did his future school proud as he led all scorers with 21 points on 7-8 shooting and 8 rebounds. Chaz Williams controlled the game from his point guard position by contributing 7 assists and 12 points. The cold shooting King James team was led in scoring by Cameron Joyce's 19 points.

The 16-Under Championship game was a very one-sided affair from start to finish as the DC Assault flexed their rebounding muscles to dominate the glass and the game. Out-rebounding the New Jersey Roadrunners 27-19, they took an easy victory 70- 47. The DC Assault's balanced attack had five players in double figures led by 6-8 Joshua Hairston's 14 points.

The 15-Under Championship was taken by the local favorite West Virginia Wildcats in a game that was much closer than the final score. The Wildcats defeated the Triple Threat out of Maryland 71-58 as Dashawn Badger led all scorers with 22 points. The triple Threat were led by Cahli Thomas who chipped in 21 points mostly from long range.

Standout players

Thomas Robinson, F (6-8, 218)
2009, Washington, D.C./ Brewster Academy/ AAU: Squash All Beef
Robinson is gifted with the attributes of a very successful basketball athlete. He is very strong and has a good frame to add more weight and muscle as he matures. He time and time again showed a relentless effort to bang inside with the big men and his natural gifts served him well. He hammered down many impressive dunks in traffic and ran the floor like a deer. However his ability to also step out on the perimeter and defend as well as handle the responsibilities offensively away from the basket showed many observers an unsuspected element to his game. He is not a full-time perimeter player -- nor should he be -- but he is also not locked in the post. Right now he can step away and make a 15-foot jump shot with confidence. We came away from the tournament impressed with his athleticism, quickness, skills and strength but also his fearless approach to rebounding, defending and competing. Thomas Johnson is a name worth remembering in the years to come.

Chris Braswell, PF (6-8, 220)
Postgraduate, Ft. Washington, Md./Hargrave Military Academy/AAU: Triple Threat
Braswell originally committed to Georgetown but has since reopened his recruitment, and it is easy to see why the coaches at Georgetown liked this big-bodied post player. The first thing you see as you walk in the gym is a very good-sized young guy who has a chance, with work in the weight room and though good nutrition, to become a monster of a man. His long arms and big hands are only the beginning of the story. Still young emotionally, you can see times of frustration, but what you will also see is an array of back-to-the-basket moves and very soft hands that allow him to score in buckets. He is a good leaper on the run, but most of his second chance points come inside because of his soft hands and big body. The part of his game that you don't expect is his court vision, basketball IQ and passing ability. He is an outstanding passer from the post and a very creative passer both in the lane and in transition. During the course of the tournament he had several passes that you really wondered first how he saw the open teammate and second how he got it through the sea of defenders. One fast break that was special had Braswell show his speed getting out and running the wing on a fast break, receiving a pass and when the defender committed to stop him, he threw a perfect behind the back pass to a streaking teammate. He's not just your usual low-post player.

Dante Taylor, PF (6-9, 225)
2009, Ft. Washington, Md./ National Christian Academy
Taylor committed to Pittsburgh the first day of the tournament, so his decision sent many coaches home early. Tommy Herrion, a Pitt assistant, looked much more relaxed in the late afternoon than he did before hearing Dante's decision. Taylor's big, strong, athletic body will fit in very well with what we have all learned to expect from Jamie Dixon's program. Dante showed great toughness throughout the tournament and the steady hand of his high school coach Trevor Brown was evident on every trip down the court. This young man has been coached and taught some of the finer points of the game and it was clear he has spent many hours in the gym working on his skills. He is an incredible athlete with the ability to run and jump with anyone in the country, and his physical presence hits you the minute you see him on the floor. But when you watch him play and see his well-drilled footwork and ability to hit a 17-foot jump shot from both a stationary spot on the floor and off a quick, one-dribble pull-up, you can easily see the passion that he has for the game.

Garrick Sherman, C (6-10, 245)
2009, Kenton, Ohio/ AAU: Columbus Basketball Club
Sherman fits into the mold Tom Izzo has developed for his high- and low-post players. Garrick has huge hands to go with his big, strong, wide frame. He is a throwback low post scorer with a variety of back-to-the-basket moves. When watching Garrick play, the obvious hits you first -- he is a huge young man, but as you watch further you start to really appreciate the work he has put into his game to get him to a point where he may have been the best prospect at the tournament. No one will mistake him for a classical dancer, but his footwork is well practiced through repetition and he gets where he needs to go much faster than advertised. His motor is relentless and he has the ability to dominate his area rebounding, but what is most impressive is his ability to get those huge hands on rebounds outside his immediate area on the floor. The best compliment he received in every game he played in the tournament was the frustration of his opponent. In the two games I watched him play, both games had his opponent get called for blatant pushing fouls that were obvious signs of frustration. With his low post, physical, "throw me the ball" game, he went to the foul line many times and again did his job with efficiency and knocked down the free throws. He is a very good passer from the high post, but the most impressive and unique trait he has are his huge, soft hands. He made tough catches in the post look easy. In fact with the game on the line in the first game of the tournament, one of his guards fired a rocket in his vicinity at the low post. The pass was meant for him but it was clearly outside the reach of most normal centers, and he moved his feet to shield the defender and simply reached out and grabbed the errant pass. It was a simple play, made to look simple by a very good post player; a lesser player would have fallen down, missed the pass and contributed to his team losing. Garrick is not a finished product and will continue to have to develop his skills, strength and speed, but he is well on his way to joining the list of successful Michigan State centers.

Noah Cottrill, PG (6-1, 185)
2010, Poca, W. Va./ AAU: West Virginia Rush
Cottrill is a high-octane, Energizer Bunny of a point guard who has deep range, very good court vision and a motor that does not stop. This in-state point guard has committed to West Virginia University and promises to go down fighting in every game he plays. He opened the tournament in front of many WVU fans and did not disappoint as he nailed several 3s in the first half and continued through the entire tournament. Between 3s, his aggressive mentality had him pushing the ball quickly up the floor and leading his teammates on many great passes leading directly to lay-ups. His speed with the ball is very impressive and Noah's passing certainly kept his teammates aggressively playing a fast breaking game, but he also showed a great desire on the defensive end to harass the ball and take a charge on an out of control opponent. The excitement of playing in front of Bob Huggins and the WVU staff and fans took a lot out of Noah as the tournament progressed and fatigue forced him into a couple of quick shots. This Class of 2010 point guard has a couple of years to get ready for the bright lights of the Big East and we're sure the fans of WVU will enjoy watching him progress.

Surprise players

C.J. McCollum, PG (6-1, 165)
2009, Canton, Ohio/Glen Oak/ AAU: King James Shooting Stars
McCollum showed great promise as a high-level point guard in this tournament. When C.J. had the ball in his hands, good things seemed to happen. We were first impressed with ability to feed the post and throw the ball ahead of the field to an open teammate streaking up the floor on a fast break -- simple plays that have become a lost art in the "dribble, dribble, dribble, me first, killer crossover" modern game of summer basketball. Then he started making a few runners in the lane, arching the ball high over the defender. Then to our surprise he made several deep range 3-point shots and never during this time was the shot selfish or outside the flow of the game. He is a very valuable, scoring point guard who runs his club with great leadership and style. Next he showed his quickness defensively by bothering the ball handler and turning him several times up the court. Unlike many point guards, defensively he did not fall asleep when defending off the ball and was a dangerous defender in the passing lanes as well. For the old-timers from Detroit reading this article, C.J. McCollum reminds us of B.J. Armstrong when he was in high school. He's very thin, looks about 13 years old in the face and has long arms and a great feel for the game. C.J. will need to mature, grow and make a commitment to the weight room to reach his full potential, but if he does, good things are going to happen for this talented point guard.

Ian Hummer, SF (6-7, 215)
2009 Vienna, Va./Gonzaga/ AAU: Virginia Rapids
Hummer is a surprisingly quick player with the ball. I was shocked at the quick first step on a drive early in the game and then he showed that ability over and over again. Steve Turner, his high school coach at Gonzaga, has obviously stressed fundamentals and spent many hours helping Ian hone his skills. He needs to develop his outside shooting to match his ball handling on the perimeter to reach his full potential at the next level. I was very impressed with his understanding of the game and ability to allow the game to come to him. He did not force his quick drives to the rim, but waited for the right opportunity. He has spent a lot of time defending inside players because of his size, but he surprised me with his quickness defending on the perimeter. If he continues to have the drive to succeed, Ian Hummer will be a name to remember for years to come.

Jalen Steele, SG (6-2, 180)
2010, Knoxville, Tenn./Fulton/ AAU: Tennessee Travelers
Steele is a very good shooting guard with a very efficient game. He did a marvelous job in this tournament working off the ball, getting open for easy jump shots and the knocking them down. Jalen really reminded me of a former Virginia guard J.R. Reynolds in his efficient approach on both ends of the floor. Like Reynolds his work ethic throughout the tournament on both ends of the floor was extremely impressive. Steele has very solid fundamentals on his jump shot and a great heart. We loved watching him work.

Chris Gaston, SF (6-7, 210)
2009, Palisades Park, N.J./St. Anthony'/ AAU: New Jersey Shoreshots
Gaston showed tremendous passion throughout the tournament and a real ability to score in bunches. He committed to Fordham in the spring and looks to be a very good addition for the Rams. Chris is a true small forward in that he is able to get work done both inside and out. He showed an ability to handle the ball in transition on fast breaks, break his man down off the dribble in a half court setting and be on the receiving end of several lob dunks. Defensively he had the passion and enthusiasm to get after it aggressively, rebounding against much bigger opponents. He was a high-energy guy throughout the tournament and played a big role in the championship effort of the New Jersey Shoreshots.

Jordan Morgan, C (6-8, 240)
2009, Redford, Mich./Detroit Jesuit/ AAU: King James Shooting Stars
Morgan is an inside banger who will add his toughness to the University of Michigan. Being a Detroit product, he seems to have a full understanding of the responsibility he has to represent Michigan every time he steps on the floor. We were very impressed with his serious approach to the games and the improved intensity as the tournament moved into bracket play. Jordan was a man among boys in the paint and helped the King James Shooting Stars reach the finals. His foul trouble in the first half really hurt King James' championship quest. Morgan's job was to rebound, defend, bang inside and score from the low post, and he improved every game in this tournament.

Notes

• One player who really stood out and controlled the entire final game with his speed with the ball and quickness was 5-8 super jet Chaz Williams (Brooklyn, N.Y./Bishop Ford). No one was able to keep this young man out of the lane during the entire tournament. Late in the championship game he was able to keep the New Jersey Shoreshots in the lead with his quick darts to the rim.

• Mid-major schools need to keep an eye on 6-7 Richie Phares (Georgetown, Ky./Scott County). He showed great promise with his Derek Smith All Star Team.

John Fitzpatrick has been an assistant coach at the Division I level, including stops at Virginia and Houston.

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