- Adam Finkelstein
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The Hoop Group made its annual trip to New England this weekend, hosting 250 teams for the Providence Jam Fest in Providence, R.I. With a total of 120 teams competing in the U-17 and U-16 fields, the championships came down to two programs, as the New England Playaz and New Heights met in both finals. Fittingly, they split the championships, with the Playaz defending their home turf in the U-17 bracket while New Heights took the U-16 trophy back to New York.
Kaleb Tarczewski (Claremont, N.H./St. Mark's School)
2012, C, 7-foot-0, 220 pounds | Team: New England Playaz
It wasn't simply Tarczewski's dominance this weekend that was so impressive but that he did it with a badly bruised back after having his legs taken out from under him in his first game of the day on Saturday. Playing through obvious pain, the big man still shined head and shoulders above any other prospect in the field, leading his team to the championship. While high-released jump hooks over both shoulders have become as customary as his quick and powerful dunks this spring, another added dimension to his game has been his footwork, establishing position in the post. Not only is he well-schooled in high-low action, but he's much improved going from block to block, using properly executed duck-ins and even spinning off contact to seal his man on the low side. Increased power on his frame has made him practically immovable inside the paint, and it was almost a guaranteed bucket on every catch inside of eight feet this weekend.
Jaylen Bond (Plymouth Meeting, Pa./Plymouth-Whitemarsh)
2011, PF, 6-7, 220 pounds | Team: Philly's Finest
Bond has improved by leaps and bounds in the last 10 months, developing his perimeter skill set at a rapid rate. A year ago, he looked like a big man who was trying too hard to do things he wasn't capable of. This weekend, he looked like a prototypical face-up 4-man, capable of stretching opposing defenses to the arc when in rhythm and thriving in his attack of the rim. He has a big-time frame and smooth, slashing floor game that allows him to make a variety of athletic drives and finishes. Perhaps most impressive was his unexpectedly impressive feel for the game because his attacks almost always came in the flow of the offense.
Amile Jefferson (Philadelphia/Friends Central)
2012, PF, 6-7, 180 pounds | Team: Philly's Finest
Jefferson was his normal, super-smooth self this weekend, effortlessly making plays off the dribble and using his size and length to exploit mismatches in the post. He continues to impress with his ability to use both hands, almost preferring to start his drive left. Plus, he has a full arsenal of secondary moves to elude the help-side defender. While Jefferson's game is starting to evolve into that of a pure wing, his lack of upper-body strength and the inconsistency of his perimeter jumper remain two kinks in what is otherwise impenetrable armor.
John Papale (Wallingford, Conn./Choate Rosemary Hall)
2012, SG, 6-3, 165 pounds | Team: New England Playaz
The Playaz took the U-17 title, despite playing without Duke commit SF Alex Murphy (South Kingstown, R.I./St. Mark's) for the first time this year following his recent reclassification to 2011. Papale stepped up and asserted himself as the team's primary weapon on the perimeter, acting as a steady second option behind Tarczewski. A long-range shooter with an equally dangerous midrange game, Papale went for 25 and 26 on Saturday before dropping 34 of his team's 66 points in the championship game.
Clyde Smith (Houston/Hotchkiss School)
2012, PG, 6-1, 185 pounds | Team: New Heights
Smith was on a tear this weekend, making plays for himself and others. Although more of a scorer than distributor, he has the confidence and presence that the lead guard spot requires, along with a very versatile skill set. His mechanics aren't textbook, but he still makes shots in bunches, from behind the arc and with his deadly pull-up game. Physically, he continues to add muscle to his upper and lower body, while simultaneously getting more explosive with his movements.
Players to watch
Donovan Jack (Reading, Pa./Central Catholic)
2012, PF, 6-9, 200 pounds | Team: PA Playaz
Jack is an intriguing post prospect with all the tools to make a big name for himself this summer. A skilled southpaw who can score inside and out, he has good mobility and quick bounce around the rim. Jack was a focal point for his team, which played without future Villanova PG Ryan Arcidiacono (Langhorne, Pa./Neshaminy). Jack showed range to 18 feet on his jumper, a variety of quick moves in his back-to-the-basket arsenal and some potential to eventually be able to turn both shoulders in the post.
Jordan Washington (Queens, N.Y./Pathways College Prep)
2013, C, 6-7, 225 pounds | Team: New Heights
Washington was a man among boys in the U-16 division. He's built like an NFL lineman with dancer's feet in the mold of Robert "Tractor" Traylor. He has incredible muscle mass and power to carve out space inside the paint along with the mobility to run the court charging downhill and quickly change direction. He plays with a ton of emotion that can sometimes be a liability but could eventually turn into an asset if he learns to harness it.
• Jaren Sina (Gladstone, N.J./Gill St. Bernard) led a short-handed Hoop Heave Heat team to the title in the U-17 platinum bracket. With only six active players making it through the day on Sunday, Sina put his team on his back and showed off his prolific skill set and crafty array of finishes inside the lane.
• Aaron Morgan (Newton, Pa./Council Rock North) is a solid southpaw point guard who understands what it means to run a team but is still capable of putting points on the board when sets break down. Morgan ran the show from start to finish this weekend for a PA Playaz squad that advanced to the semifinals.
• Kuran Iverson (Hartford, Conn./Northwest Catholic) was hot and cold this weekend for Connecticut Select. We had him tallied with 22 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists in Saturday's opener, but it was downhill from there as his motor got stuck in idle for various spurts.
• Sports U's Stephon Mosley (West Orange, N.J./Seton Hall Prep) is a blue-collar type 4-man who plays hard, throws his body around, crashes the glass and does all the dirty work inside the paint.
• Isaiah Lewis (New York/Christ the King) has started to add a consistent pull-up game to what was previously a one-dimensional slashing attack. If he can extend his range consistency to the arc, his recruitment will go to the highest level.
• Jimmy Hall (Jersey City, N.J./St. Anthony) is a 6-foot-8 big man with incredibly long arms. He rebounds everything with two hands above his head and uses his length to score over contesting defenders, both on the post and facing up.
Adam Finkelstein has been a coach or scout at the high school, college and pro levels. He was an assistant coach in Division I by the age of 24 and also worked as a scout for Marty Blake, the NBA's director of scouting.
East Coast big men Kaleb Tarczewski and Jaylen Bond steal the show at the Providence Jam Fest, writes Adam Finkelstein.