Following just shy of 800 miles of travel, plenty of local fried food eateries and more cups of coffee consumed than should ever be mentioned, I had the pleasure of watching two high level high school basketball games this past Thursday and Friday in the neighboring states of Ohio and Indiana.
If the class of 2014 didn’t prove that Michigan basketball’s reach from a recruiting landscape perspective isn’t improving greatly I’m not sure what else will. Pulling in prospects from Oregon, Florida and California, the Wolverines’ profile is rising by the day with each nationally televised broadcast, most of which have been wins.
In response to this, Michigan’s recruiting efforts in the 2015 and 2016 classes are seeing a major spike in the level of interest and talent, not just here in the Midwest but all over the country, even dipping into our border buddy Canada, as Nik Stauskas’ could attest to.
With several other evaluations, highlights and stories to come on top prospects in both of the previously mentioned classes, here are my most recent ventures and impressions:
Game One in Ohio: Lakewood St. Edward at Villa Angela St. Joseph
Priority number one and probably even number two down in Cleveland was 2015 St. Joseph five-star power forward Carlton Bragg. 6-foot-9 and 210-pounds, Bragg was the biggest and most versatile athlete on the floor in a competitive, open floor up and down game. Scoring 16-points, Bragg took a bit to get going offensively but can score the basketball in a variety of ways. Knocking down one three early Bragg did most of his damage in and around the basket, looking to out reach and out muscle smaller defenders despite great effort from 2015 St. Edward small forward Kipper Nichols.
A very emotional player, Bragg feeds off of energy and excitement, getting the sold out crowd off their feet with a one handed dunk in transition and big time two handed put back slam to keep St. Joseph in the game in the second half. Something that stands out is Bragg’s selflessness despite his lofty ranking nationally. Unafraid to step in and take a charge on the defensive end Bragg is a player that does the little things to help his team win including throwing sharp passes out of routine double teams.
Of course what most want to see from a player like Bragg is the recognition of when to be passive and selfless and when to attempt to take over a game. Late in the second half, St. Joseph trailing, Bragg was in the post demanding the basketball on several consecutive possessions looking to will his team back and put them on his shoulders. No, on this night it didn’t work out, St. Edward went on a late run to walk out of the gym with the 82-76 victory, but Bragg’s attitude still shines through. As Bragg continues to develop so too will the rest of his game, a major focus to expand his perimeter skills and become a more consistent shooter from outside in order to really stretch the floor and opposing teams at the next level.
Game Two in Indiana: Ontario Athlete Institute at La Porte La Lumiere
By now everyone is familiar with the name Jalen Coleman. A 2015 four-star shooting guard now at La Lumiere School, Coleman is having a big junior season, locked in with his outside shot and really showing an improved all around game.
Friday, there was no greater example of that. Coleman was in a tremendous rhythm offensively, knocking down jumpers early and often on his way to 24 first half points. Finishing the game, a La Lumiere 68-42 win, with 34 points, Coleman was the key. Spotting up on the wing, even having plays run for him early he knocked down nearly every opportunity he had forcing several timeouts by ATI. Once defenders decided to play up high on him working hard to fight over screens, Coleman displayed an advanced dribble drive game, even mixing in step back jumpers and crafty assists inside for dunks.
A bit of an in between combo guard given his size at 6-foot-3, Coleman will need to do some ball handling at the next level and is clearly working on it as everyday passes. Originally known for his mid-range game as a younger prospect, Coleman has worked to add strength further cementing himself as a knock down three-point shooter but it’s how complete his game is now off the bounce and in pick and roll situations that makes him such a luxury for any college backcourt.
On the other side of La Lumiere and Coleman was 2016 Ontario guard Jamal Murray. A relatively unknown at this point Murray and the rest of his team struggled greatly in the first half, actually not getting on the scoreboard until eight minutes into the contest. Murray finished the first half with zero points.
In the second half, Murray came out and was a different player looking to bring ATI back into the game and nearly accomplished that. Scoring 16 points in the second frame, Murray showed a very versatile game to go with his elite size at the point guard position (6-foot-4, 190-pounds). Murray looked more comfortable with the basketball in his hands, breaking down the La Lumiere defense out of the pick and roll getting to the rim consistently or pulling up for perimeter shots with very good pace to his game. Murray was extremely efficient with the shots he took, not forcing much and getting the bounces he wanted.
Murray isn’t going to wow anyone with foot speed or an out of this world vertical at this point but plays a mature floor game and is a very smart player, reading defenses and adjusting his attack accordingly. It’ll be interesting to see how Murray’s game and body develops in the coming years, a potential candidate for either the one or the two in the future, either way, a very intriguing and already well put together player in the 2016 class.