Virginia Top 80 Recap

The first annual Virginia Top 80 tipped off this past Sunday at Virginia Wesleyan college in Norfolk, Va., and the debut event was a resounding success. Several big men and one outstanding point guard highlighted the day.

Diakite primed for momentous months

By nearly all accounts, junior power forward Mamadi Diakite (pictured above) played somewhat unevenly this past season. He didn’t always show a lot offensively and didn’t perform his best going head to head against Sacha Killeya-Jones during the winter.

That said, how much can you criticize a player when his team captures the state championship?

Diakite unselfishly filled the role he needed to fill, and the result produced some hardware.

But his agenda has shifted to individual development and exposure this spring and summer. The 6-9 power forward at Dyke (Va.) Blue Ridge has flashed real offensive potential and did that once again on Sunday, while truly dominating as an athlete and defender.

Diakite is one of those guys who can command your attention even while not watching his game. I and others found myself turning around from one court to his, based simply on the volume of the other players while responding to his most recent dunk or block.

His prime athletic quality is explosive straight-up leaping ability. Diakite has the size and length, but plenty of guys can match him on those attributes. He stands out with remarkable leap from a stationary position, picking shots out of the sky that surprise opponents. His reflexes and quick twitch explosiveness place him near the top of the junior class in those categories.

On offense, he does his best work in the open floor. He handles reasonably well with his right hand and finishes spectacularly above the rim off one foot. He’s the rare 6-9 athlete who can go off one or two feet, and offensively he actually prefers one foot while (obviously) blocking shots primarily off two.

Diakite also can hit a facing jump shot, but he clearly can become more consistent. His technique doesn’t look too bad, however, he simply needs the reps.

His most pressing needs are strength — he’s naturally very slight, so that might take awhile and he’s unlikely ever to become a powerhouse — and relatively weaker hands. He sometimes loses the ball attempting a shot in traffic, not so much due to upper body strength but more where he has hands on the ball.

Still, a 6-9 athlete such as Diakite will be a prized target for high-majors, and nearly everyone who watches him also raves about his tireless workrate. He goes hard and quick, and look for him to make an immediate defensive impact in college.

His recruitment is moving along at an accelerated rate. In fact, he told me on Sunday that he’ll take April official visits to Virginia, Georgetown, Washington and USC. He’ll also tour with Team Takeover this year, having played with Boo Williams in 2014.

Coleman cementing elite status

The point guard situation in the 2017 class looks a little uncertain at the moment, but don’t blame Matt Coleman.

The 6-2 floor general at Norfolk (Va.) Maury impressed locals immensely during his sophomore campaign, and of course he already has a full travel season under his belt running the show for the 17-under Boo Williams squad.

Coleman is on pace to become a prep All-American in 2017

A southpaw, Coleman arrived to the event after practicing with Boo and demonstrated why he’s so highly esteemed. He’s a tremendously cerebral player who moves without the ball better than most wings and better than nearly any high school point guard, a testament to how he has been taught — and successfully learned — to play the game.

Coleman is a natural playmaker who also can score. Over time, he may need to become more of a scorer who also can make plays, but for now suffice it to say he’s considered one of the country’s best sophomore guards for good reason.

He has gained athleticism over the past nine months and jets along with an extra gear in the open floor. He doesn’t rely on athleticism but rather just calls upon it when needed. He plays with a measured pace and mostly controlled style, incorporating drives and short pullups with some threes and many, many sharp passes to open teammates.

Coleman also is a sure handler versus pressure and potentially outstanding defender. His objective over the next couple years must be to improve his shooting, which is capable but highly inconsistent. Regardless, he continues to raise his local and national profile.

Other Top Performers

Sacha Killeya-Jones, PF, 2016 — The highest ranked junior to attend the VA Top 80, Killeya-Jones was busy competing while his future college, Virginia, was falling short versus Michigan State in the round of 32. The slender forward hopes to help prevent NCAA disappointments in the future, and with his size and skills, don’t bet against it. The truth is, camp settings aren’t really ideal for him, as he’s the kind of player who will shine most in structure.

For Killeya-Jones, who’s already committed to UVa, this travel season is about development

Up and down play featuring quick, wild shots prevents him from getting established, but you can believe Tony Bennett will provide ample structure for him at the next level. Killeya-Jones is far more confident now than he was a year ago, stepping out and burying face-up jumpers or using his improved athleticism as a dunker and shotblocker. He’s significantly more polished than Diakite, just not as dynamic and athlete, but chances are he’ll actually be the more ready of the two to contribute as a college freshman.

Justice Kithcart, PG/SG, 2016 — This was a big weekend, who played at events on back to back days. The questions surrounding him always have been his shooting, as the hard-charging guard prefers to drive rather than hoist threes. But he actually did nail quite of a few of them during the weekend, and at the VA Top 80 he showcased his all-around scoring package. Kithcart boasts an extremely quick first step, the kind that a program such as VCU or Arkansas cherishes in a fullcourt style. He’s also tough, physical and operates without far. He’ll be an interesting evaluation for coaches in the coming weeks.

David McCormack, C, 2018 — A monstrous 6-8, 300-pound insider, McCormack literally broke through on Sunday. Multiple breakthroughs, actually, given the number of times he simply beasted opponents inside. He still has not achieved his full complement of balance, agility or lean strength, but consider his class. McCormack boasts huge hands in addition to his massive body, and he can throw down dunks using a drop step. He’ll certainly make his way onto the high-major early watch list this spring and summer.

Brandon Slater, SG, 2018 — Of the backcourt prospects, this 6-4 wing (some actually consider him a point) caught my attention early. Slater is a long and slinky guard capable of sharp, flashy passes. That’s where the point guard plaudits originate, but defensively he might project better on the wing. However that aspect of his development plays out, his skill level is very high for a tall young wing.

Jakub Mijakowski, WF, 2016 — Among the numerous international prospects at Grundy (Va.) Mountain Mission, this native of Poland shoots the ball smoothly and possesses easy three-point range. He also moves fluidly and, with more strength, should be able to achieve more production closer to the basket.

John Salley, C, 2017 — What a difference a season or two can make. I don’t mean a high school season, either, but literally from last fall to the early spring. A 6-10 big man at Richmond (Va.) Benedictine, Salley looks and plays differently from his former, five-months-ago self.

Long may the developmental road be for Salley, but his progress is encouraging

He has cut some weight and leaned up, gaining mobility in the process. Make no mistake: He remains very raw. That said, however, he can finish inside with his left hand, elevate more quickly off the floor to contest shots and has improved his rebounding. With two more years of high school, who knows how far he’ll progress.

Brendan Newton, C, 2017 — Newton also has improved noticeably from the fall. Though still very thin, the 7-2 behemoth now looks much more adept wielding turnaround jump shots. A player his size doesn’t need to develop three-point range or even multiple moves and counters, but once he adds a basic repertoire he’ll further his scoring output. Newton runs the floor okay and also competes feistily despite lacking muscle, and without great athleticism he nevertheless makes his presence felt, with room to grow.

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