The beauty and beast of a big tournament format is that you get dead spots in the opening rounds, with elite teams blasting away at less gifted squads. That became our fate for a large portion of the day, yet we still caught plenty of noteworthy action.
Kaleb Joseph, PG/SG, Mass Rivals — Numerous schools belonging to the dearly departed "old" Big East are involved with Joseph, a talented scorer who excels creating his own offense. He's a lean and quick driver with good size who knocks in threes or pulls up effectively from medium-range. He also likes to drive (usually to his right) and finish high off the glass. The questions directed at Joseph pertain to his position; is he a point guard or a combo? Because he's more of a scorer and less of a playmaker, along with sufficient size for the collegiate wing, I view him as more of a shot-taker first and ballhandler second. He's good at calling his own number but not great handling against pressure, reasons why he might pair well with a classical, non-scoring floor general. At any rate, he can put the ball in the basket and that counts for a lot.
Jaylen Johnson, PF, Dorian's Pride — Johnson has taken significant steps over the past few months. He was good at the Pangos Camp in June and continues to evolve. He's still only 16-years-old and lacks offensive refinement, but he plays with such a high concentration level and gives maximum effort, so those hustle plays work. He runs very well and has improved as a finisher. He needs a second to gather before jumping, but from a flat-footed position he is able to throw down a dunk. Defensively, he blocks his share of shots and also contributes on both backboards. He has played his way into the high-major level.
Derrick Newton, PF, Dream Vision — His entire game doesn't yet match his body, but that's not a knock. Newton has the mass and strength to accompany it that will enable him to play against taller opponents. He also changes ends of the court well and isn't shy from contact, and he surprised me by burying a pair of threes during the game I watched. He has face-up shooting ability but handles and defends more as a power forward, but schools at the mid-major level certainly are wise to be in pursuit.
Stephen Zimmerman, C, Dream Vision — A mismatch awaited Zimmerman when he strode upon the court during the afternoon session, and the top-five junior made easy work of things. He wasn't his most active in this contest but showcased his smooth jump shot from 15 feet, agile driving ability and shotblocking prowess. This month has proved inconclusive for Zimmerman as he moves forward, given that he has played more unevenly than we might have expected. But even if he does cede the No. 1 ranking in the fall, he'd never drop far. He's simply too gifted at that size to be anything other than an elite recruit.
Tyler Hagedorn, PF, Nebraska Bison Red — A face-up 6-7 PF at Norfolk (Neb.) High, Hagedorn shot his way onto this page. He didn't exactly light it up and I've have loved to see him be more assertive, but he and his teammates played a great team game and thus his services ultimately could afford to be more understated. What's not at all understated is his stroke: A 6-7 player who lofts in backspin jumpers the way Hagedorn does will enjoy a recruiting process. Exactly by whom and at what level remains to be seen, but he's worth tracking going forward.
Mario Kegler, PF, MBA Hoops — This aggressive young big man doesn't shy away from his older competitors, nor does he have any reason to do so. He's very strong for his class and has lively legs that he uses to score via post-ups and to work the offensive glass. Time will tell whether he develops the face-up skills to match athleticism that should enable him to play a true inside-out game, but in the meantime he doesn't need to stray far from the hoop to be effective. Physically, he's among the most impressive big men in his class.
Saturday gradually will cause the elite squads to converge, culminating in championship Sunday. We'll continue to split our time among the events and hit as many key moments as possible.