Whether he was the best prospect at the event is a subject worth debate, but Mamadi Diakite clearly was the best player over the weekend. Diakite utilized his exceptional quickness and leaping ability to soar for blocks, dunks and rebounds all weekend long, leading Team Leaded VA to the 17-under championship.
A 6-9 power forward playing in Virginia, Diakite didn’t always post huge scoring numbers — Loaded VA boasts multiple D-1 prospects, and it’s an unselfish team with balance — but made an impression throughout each contest. He threw down dunks, hit a few mid-range jumpers and competed on the backboards, but more than that he swatted and deterred opponents at the other end of the court.
Diakite projects as the type of college player who will make his initial impact on defense, and despite not possessing true center size, he makes an impact like the big men of yore. He actually caught some of his blocked shots and excels at springing over from the help side. He isn’t completely healthy and wore a brace on his left knee — he says there’s recurring soreness — but nevertheless played the starring role for his squad.
We remain concerned about his hands and lack of lower body strength, but his contributions have become so multi-faceted that he projects as a standout even if his offensive game never fully rounds into shape. And he occasionally does surprise, using a Euro step on the break, faking off a jab step to his right or hitting stepback jumpers.
His recruitment continues to speed along and could end as early as this summer. Virginia, Washington, Georgetown and USC have been his favorites, but Louisville has begun to make a play as well. I spoke to him at length and will publish an interview in the coming days.
DeLaurier continues torrid year
For Javin DeLaurier, the past couple months have opened up new doors. The 6-9 power forward competes alongside Diakite for Team Loaded VA and actually may be the superior long-term prospect.
Competing at Charlottesville (Va.) St. Anne’s Belfield, DeLaurier’s offer list has exploded with high-majors. He now holds offers from Florida, Texas, Wake Forest, Clemson, Miami, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Xavier, Vanderbilt and many others, with more almost definitely to follow.
DeLaurier is a superlative run/jump athlete with straight-up leaping ability, excellent timing for blocked shots, above average post footwork and a workable facing jump shot. Add all that together in a 6-9 package, and you have a player who’s very underrated at No. 100 in the rising senior class.
Meanwhile, he’s also an excellent student and thus the door could open for a high academic school to win out, but as his reputation grows it’s likely that more elites will become significantly involved. Remember, the 2016 class is one that lacks great depth, so DeLaurier is likely to become even more coveted for that reason.
Rich Washington has made real strides over the past year. When I watched him a year ago, the skinny southpaw wing mostly fired up jump shots. For Team Loaded VA, however, he plays a more versatile and ball control style that facilitates opportunities for his teammates. He remains a fine scorer and three-point marksman, but the new wrinkles and approach cast him in the light of four or fifth starter for a major conference team. Wake Forest has become significantly involved and is making a hard early summer push.
Closing the loop on the Team Loaded VA prospects, Nick Sherod definitely warrants lower high-major looks in July. Holding mostly mid-major interest at present, the 6-3 shooting guard out of Richmond crept out to a slow start this weekend but stepped on the gas as the weekend progressed. While not a slasher or top athlete, Sherod is a very good three-point shooter who sets up nicely on the wings and buries jumpers off perimeter catch-and-shoot or from post kick-outs. He’s a system shooter and at the minimum will land at the high mid-major level.
Though SEBA wasn’t able to overcome Team Loaded NC, Quentin Jackson continued to serve notice that he’s one of the best athletes in North Carolina. The combo guard is at his best attacking off the bounce — he prefers the right side a little too much — especially along he baseline. He boasts a quick first step and can finish over the top or on reverses. At 6-3, he also possesses fairly good size and a solid frame to draw fouls on his attacks. He must improve his flat-footed, low-arch jump shot from deep, but he does knock down closer attempts on the move. Kansas State, Tennessee and others have offered, while LSU and Providence are among those amplifying their interest as well.
The event provided an unusual opportunity for Team Loaded NC guard Jaylen Fornes, as his team competed without its stars: Dennis Smith and Edrice Adebayo. That said, Fornes was forced to carry a larger portion of the scoring load and mostly pulled that off effectively. A combo guard out of North Carolina, Fornes always has drawn praise for his quick release jump shot — I’ve seen him truly catch fire on threes — but he has added leaping ability as well. He hammered down what may have been the dunk of the weekend, going off one foot on the break and riding a defender on the way down. He doesn’t possess an elite first step and thus doesn’t always get the separation you’d like, but given his improved finishing ability and propensity for knocking down threes, Kansas State could prove to be merely the first of other high-major offers. Fornes sits on the fence between mid and high, so he’ll have a lot to play for in July.
It has been a grueling rehabilitation process for Jordan Bruner, who is recovering from a knee injury that kept him out of action for months. He admitted this weekend that the healing process is far from complete, yet he was able to play extended minutes for the first time in a long while. The 6-9 power forward from South Carolina certainly holds the physical tools: He’s very long, athletic and coordinated. Albeit with a slow release, he wields perimeter jump shots with a soft touch. He also can block shots and make himself a factor on the offensive glass, but he’ll need to gain significant strength, doggedness and simply needs to get healthy. There’s no denying his promise, however, and look for him to acquire numerous new offers following the July live period.
DeRiante Jenkins competes alongside Bruner with the Upward Stars, and he appears to be a candidate for four star consideration. The 6-6 wing slots naturally off the ball but legitimately can be called a combo, and he’s a very swift athlete who excels in the open floor. Going full speed Jenkins can make impressive dribble moves and soars high for slams. I also love his defensive potential for two, or perhaps even three positions at the college level. He buries some jump shots as well, though his release is quite slow and will hinder him if he doesn’t transition from catch to shot more quickly. Still, with his ballhandling and scoring tools, an uptempo program could make big gains by adding Jenkins to the lineup. He holds offers from Clemson, Virginia Tech, South Florida and others, with many more schools in pursuit as well.
Mostly mid-level schools are pursuing 6-7, 225-pound big man J.J. Matthews, a workhorse insider from Virginia. Playing for the River City Reign-Team Iverson edition, Matthews plays bigger than his height and is a physical, fairly skilled interior performer. He may be a couple inches too short for many major programs, but he compensates effectively thanks largely to strength and toughness. Boston College, Drexel, James Madison and others have extended offers, while Clemson, Vanderbilt and additional major conference programs are taking a look.
College programs that prefer fast, aggressive guards will like Maliek White. Though White can get out of control and commit too many turnovers for some coaches’ druthers, he never struggles creating action on the move. The Richmond, Va., product is very creative as a scorer and playmaker and will become even more effective if he can slow down just a touch. Meanwhile, he buried a couple threes during my viewings that look fairly polished. He holds a slew of mid-level offers to accompany very recent invitations from Cincinnati and Boston College, so he’s clearly tracking as a high-major who could flourish in the right system. Because he’s 6-2 he could play off the ball and defend the college wing, perhaps slotting best alongside a more deliberate floor general who may be less effective than White at creating offense, but who can steady the ship in halfcourt sets.
After a topsy turvy high school season, Blake Harris has settled in with the Team Loaded program and moonlighted between the 17s and 16s during the weekend. He spent most of his time with the 16s, however, and he was a consistent impact performer. Harris is a top-notch passer with exquisite court vision who, at 6-3, also possesses tremendous size for point guard. He’s at least above-average athletically as well, and he knocks in some pull-up jumpers off the dribble. His next step will be to refine his three-point shot, which suffers from unorthodox mechanics. Still, he’s an established high-major presence on the North Carolina grassroots scene and will continue to attract big-league coaches to his games this summer.
Jordan Cross was a new name for me and someone who warrants major conference looks in July. The 6-5 swingman from Virginia competes for the River City Reign 16s and is a fine three-point shooter who has a solid frame and holds impressive defensive versatility as well. Cross moves more like a wing forward than a guard and will need to prove he can be effective as a slasher, but in my first couple looks he made an impression and certainly is one to watch. The Reign won the 16-under division over Team Loaded NC.