State's Top Basketball Underclassmen On Display

A number of Ohio's very best basketball underclassmen (sophomores- and juniors-to-be) participated in a state AAU tournament this weekend near Delaware. Click this link for details on some of these key prospects, whose names will become more recognizable with each passing month.

I had a chance Sunday morning to catch a glimpse of the Ohio AAU Under-16 state championship basketball tournament at Delaware's Buckeye Valley High School.

When I heard O.J. Mayo would be in action, it was an easy decision to go and check it out. Mayo, wrapping up his freshman year at Cincinnati North College Hill, is reputed to be the nation‘s top ninth grader.

But he wasn't the only star on the stage at this event. I also saw Mayo's NCH teammate Bill Walker, Greenfield McClain's Dante Jackson and several other key names who will either be juniors or sophomores at their respective schools in the fall.

The one key underclassmen I did not see was Dayton Dunbar sophomore Daequan Cook. His team did not make it to Sunday's final rounds.

Let me say how impressed I was with the level of play from these sophomores and freshmen. If I didn't know better, I would have assumed these were seniors out there running around -- other than the obvious fact that their physiques are not, as a rule for kids who are 15 and 16, that defined.

I did not stick around for the championship rounds, so I can't say who won the event (although I have to believe Mayo's D-One Greyhounds prevailed). But here were some observations on some of the key players I saw on Sunday:

* O.J. Mayo, sophomore-to-be, Cincinnati North College Hill -- Wow. All of that and a bag of chips. He is about 6-4 right now and may or may not grow much taller. He is an explosive player, for certain. You have huge expectations when they hang the tag of the "nation's best" on somebody. But this kid, kind of like LeBron James five years ago, lives up to the hype. He got teammates involved. He made plays all over the court. His game has tremendous polish. And, what I liked best was the way he carried himself. At every opportunity, he went to the sideline to get guidance from his coach -- something you will see few 15-year-olds do.

There are people who are already saying he will take the James route and go directly to the NBA after his high school years are over. But, at 6-4 or even 6-5, that may be difficult. James, you'll remember, is 6-8.

Mayo is legit, though. Strong with the ball, even though he isn‘t "cut" like you‘d say James is. He was head and shoulders above everybody in his age class (as well as the grade ahead of him). After he averaged 30.9 points as a freshman at NCH, I have no doubt he‘ll end up as Ohio‘s career leading scorer -- provided he stays somewhere in the state and stays healthy.

* Bill Walker, sophomore-to-be, Cincinnati North College Hill -- Walker followed Mayo from Kentucky, where they played varsity ball the last two years as seventh and eighth graders. But an injury cost him the entire regular season. He is 6-5 legit and, other than a brace on his knee, shows no ill effects from the injury.

In fact, he went baseline, elevated and threw in a thunderous one-handed jam during one game. He may have a higher ceiling than the much more publicized Mayo. The two seem to get along real well, as you might expect. He kind of reminds you of a Carmelo Anthony, right down to the headband.

Walker is a tremendous player, extremely active. Needs to develop a more consistent outside game and he will be a star. At his size, he won‘t be able to take it inside with the relative ease he finds now at higher levels.

* Dante Jackson, sophomore-to-be, Greenfield McClain -- The 6-5 Jackson could also stand to add maybe 10 pounds in strength, but I'm sure that will come as he develops. He is a highly skilled player. He seems to be fundamentally sound and works extremely hard. That may be the thing that stuck with me the most.

He struck me as someone with a scorer's mentality -- he found ways to get points, even if it just meant getting fouled and getting to the line. I'm interested in seeing how he develops over the next three years, especially if he sprouts on up to, say, 6-7.

* Heath White, junior-to-be, Cincinnati Winton Woods -- Played alongside Mayo and Walker on D-One. He only goes 6-1, but I understand he stunned everybody by completing an alley oop on Saturday night. Great ballhandler, great distributor. I can see why Mayo wants him around on his team. He's going to be a real keeper in a year or two for somebody in college basketball.

* Jon Diebler, sophomore-to-be, Upper Sandusky -- I believe Diebler was at Fostoria last year, but may be moving to USHS. He goes 6-5. He is just a solid all-around player, not flashy in the least. Gets his hands dirty in the paint. If he can get up to a solid 6-7 or 6-8, he might be a Big Ten power forward.

* James Dews, junior-to-be, Liberty Twp. Lakota East -- Good to great outside shooter. Solid in the open floor and can get a lot done at 6-3. He would be a two guard, certainly. Like White, he is potentially dynamite. I understand Xavier is all over him.

* Jamar Howard, junior-to-be, Cincinnati Western Hills -- As a guess, I'm going to say Jamar is probably 6-4 or 6-5. He is as smooth as the day is long. I wasn't expecting as much out of him. But he really showed me some things. Plays hard, works hard. This guy is a real comer.

* Josh Chichester, junior-to-be, West Chester Lakota West -- He is probably 6-7 or 6-8. He played with Diebler, Dews and Howard on All-Ohio Red, I believe. That was a nice team. Chichester was very active in the paint. I understand he may also be a football prospect at wide receiver. Basketball has to be considered his best sport after what I saw. Obviously, he will need to grow an inch or two and add some serious bulk. But he has the potential to be a nice college power forward.

* Richard Semrau, junior-to-be, Rocky River Lutheran West -- A 6-9 post player who is anything but a plodder. He is active around the basket and has good to great hands. Understands the game and makes a ton of good things happen for his team. He is quite a prospect.

* Final Notes -- I am absolutely stunned there is this much talent in these two classes. Wow. Only sad note is that Mayo, Walker and I believe Jackson all play on Reebok-aligned teams. That means they will probably all go out to New Jersey for the Reebok ABCD camp in July instead of to the Nike camp in Indianapolis (where I might be able to watch them further).

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