Spiece: News, Notes and Observations

With a total of 56 teams competing in the 17 U age bracket  alone, the Spiece is a sizeable tournament and there is plenty of talent on hand. Fortunately, the Spiece Fieldhouse has eight courts all together in one convenient location that allows for maximum viewing.

Eric Devendorf a 6-3 WG from Bay City (MI) Central made an early commitment to Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans before reopening his recruitment during the winter. Don’t be surprised if an intense recruiting battle breaks out for his services. He’s an explosive wing who gets to the rim, buries perimeter jump shots and plays with some serious stank. He loves to get into the lane and draw contact and Syracuse, Michigan State, Florida and N.C. State have all been in to see him in the last week. The top 50 prospect also lists UNC and Michigan as schools heavily involved with his recruitment and remains open to new suitors.

Chris Lutz a 6-2 combo guard for Blessed IJN put on an AAU shooting display for the ages during Blessed’s blowout of the Grand Rapids Storm in the first round of the playoffs. He’s a New Hampshire native and a class of 2004 kid who is looking for a prep school and had impressed with his ability to finish with bounce around the rim on Saturday. That is until he got hot, like Hell in the summer hot, during a third quarter that saw him nail eight (!) threes in a row during a six minute span. The hot shooting spread throughout the entire Blessed team who hit at least 11 three’s during the quarter. Sticking with Blessed kids looking for prep schools, it is about time that 6-7 (maybe 6-8) load Carl Swanagan starts getting some high major love. He goes at least 300 large but the lefty shows some surprising footwork around the basket and has been scoring in huge quantities around the basket for the last two weekends in a row.

One of the biggest questions of the weekend was just exactly how geared up would the King James (as in LeBron) Shooting Stars would be? Well, you can imagine the surprise when the Stars team playing in the 17 U division took the court in some old -- gasp -- Adidas uniforms where the logos had been removed and replaced with screen printed swooshes. Surely the King can do better than that, can’t he? Well, the 16 U Stars team made up for it with some top of the line Nike uni’s and plenty of spiffy gear, they also had some nice players led by 2006 standout wing RayMar Morgan a 6-7 WF from Canton (OH) McKinley who projects as a sure high major..

It stands to reason that referees need practice too and more often than not major AAU events also serve as referee camps. That can be a good and a bad thing. On the bright side the officiating is generally pretty good as the refs are performing under the watchful eyes of evaluators who will decide if they get jobs or not. However, it also leads to incredibly drawn out games where referees insist on making meaningless calls during hopeless blowouts. Case in point, a questionable traveling call in the open court with only 9.4 seconds to go during a 98-59 bloodbath, simply uncalled for.

After winning the Pump N’ Run Easter Classic, Seattle’s Rotary Select has sliced right through the field with ease as they advanced to play on Sunday. They are led by the Williamses, Marcus and Terrence, but their roster is loaded with mid to borderline high major sleepers like 6-7 BF Richie Phillips from Seattle (WA) Franklin. He’s a little undersized for a low block performer, but he makes up for it with his incredibly long arms, hops and desire to grab every loose ball. He dunked on the Illinois Fire’s Jeremiah Bryant -- while getting hacked -- so hard that it might even take Bryant’s mom a few days before she hugs him again, soooo nasty. Too bad Bryant had to be on the receiving end because the slender 6-7 combo forward was very impressive in limited touches. The Chicago (IL) Harlan product moves well enough that he can guard the wing but most of his offense comes around the basket. He’s a tweener right now, but he shows lots of promises and you can only wonder what he might do if he were featured a little more. Also continuing some strong play from last weekend’s Kingwood Classic for the Fire were 6-2 combo guard Jeremy Pargo from Chicago (IL) Robeson and behemoth 6-7 BF De’Andre Thomas from Chicago (IL) Westinghouse.

You have to give some credit to the Illinois Warriors Jamar Smith. The 6-2 (at best) WG from Peoria (IL) Richwoods made an early commitment to Illinois and has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny over the last few weekends. Many have questioned his ability to perform at that level but Smith has taken it in stride and did some positive things on Saturday. He’s looking for his jump shot with more regularity and he is dangerous when he looks to assert himself as a three point threat. He also scored off of a few pull up jumpers and used screens to free himself on a couple of jaunts into the lane, things he hasn’t showed this spring. He still has plenty of work to do, but his jump shot could eventually be a deadly weapon if he bulks up and continues to look for his offense off of the bounce.

Philly MJC’s 6-6 WF/BF Shane Clark from Philadelphia (PA) Cardinal Dougherty is an energy guy to the fullest. He’s slim and long and seems to be all over the place on both ends of the court. He’s committed to Villanova and looks like a bit of a mini version of Darius Miles when he gets loose in transition or finishes with dunks around the basket. He must add weight before he is ready for the battles of the Big East though. MJC also featured a pleasant surprise in 6-5 WG Bilal Benn who will do a prep year at Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military Academy next year. He’s committed to Siena at the moment and wants to remain loyal, but his size, ability to shoot, body, and all around game could eventually have high majors snooping around. One final MJC note and some credit is due for 6-3 WG Noel Wilmore from Chester (PA) High. A solid mid major recruit, Wilmore took a shot to his left eye on Friday night and still played all out on Saturday despite a nearly closed eye that left him looking like he’d had a Mitch “Blood” Green type encounter with Mike Tyson at a local tailoring shop.

There were some other pleasant surprises on Saturday as well. Right near the top was 2006 6-6 WF Josh Chichester playing for All-Ohio. He defines long and bouncy and was an energizer bunny on both sides of the court, look for big things down the road from Westchester (OH) Lakota West prospect. Also coming out of nowhere was Friends of Hoop Wisconsin’s 6-7 WF James Johnson from Milwaukee (WI) Messmer. Many were disappointed that highly touted 6-3 WG Wesley Matthews was a no-show but Johnson seized the moment and stepped up with a fine performance. He hits 15-17 footers with ease and is willing to throw his slender frame around in the paint, Johnson could be a high major sleeper before it is all said and done. If high majors and those close to him have patience, the light is eventually going to go on for Mitchell Carter a 6-11 giant who runs the court well, is a surprising passer and has surprisingly soft hands for somebody who is only 16 years old. It would be very easy for coaches to become frustrated with the 2006 player out of Milwaukee (WI) King’s lack of production at times, but you just can’t give up on kids his size.

Spotted taking in games of their children at Spiece, Isaiah Thomas and Clark Kellog. Only in AAU basketball can you see coaches who spend the game calling out plays and arguing with refs as they lay on the ground next to the bench as if they are going to take a nap. In turn, the Spiece Fieldhouse on Saturday may have been home to quite possibly the finest collection of mullets ever witnessed on the AAU circuit. Coaches, players, moms, dads, referees and even a midget (no kidding) were seen sporting the haircut that is all business up front and party in the back. Finally one last note on the Spiece Fieldhouse, because the assortment of jerseys hanging from the ceiling has to be witnessed to be appreciated. From Isaiah Thomas, to Larry Bird, to Dominique Wilkins to Rick Mount you could find just about everybody. You have to appreciate seeing former Indiana Mr. Basketball and McDonald’s All-American turned disappointment after a spiral fracture in his leg at Indiana Sherron Wilkerson’s uniform from the annual Kentucky vs. Indiana All-Star game hanging next to a Kent Benson Detroit Pistons jersey.

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