AAU Prep Profile: The Rhode Island Hawks

While not as well known as some other local AAU programs, the Rhode Island Hawks have had a summer to remember - particularly their 16U squad.

The 16 year old Hawks, coached by Marc Bayha and Jeff Kurbec, put together a number of strong performances over the summer that without a doubt ranks the club as one of the most successful AAU teams to ever come out of the state of Rhode Island.

The Hawks placed third in the last week of July in the Nike Main Event Tournament held in Las Vegas. Along the way, they earned a number of impressive comeback wins, including a 55-48 overtime win in pool play over the Kansas City Keys, who also reached the tournament's Final Four before losing in the semifinals. After winning their pool, the Hawks began bracket play with wins over Inner Strength (Atlanta) and Texas Top Prospects, then scored a 58-49 victory in the quarterfinals over the #1 seeded Utah Swoosh, who reached the championship game of the Rumble in the Bronx Tournament in June. The Hawks became the first Rhode Island team ever to reach the Final Four of the Main Event Tournament before dropping a 49-48 heartbreaker in the semis to the eventual champion, the Illinois Defenders, on a 12-foot runner with four seconds remaining.

"Jon Wolpert (a 6-2 forward from Classical High) was one of the unsung heroes of the Vegas tournament, "said Coach Kurbec. "In our three bracket play games on Monday, he took a total of 13 charges, changing the course of both the Inner Strength and Utah Swoosh games on the defensive end. Those were both games that we had trailed by double figures in the first half, including a 17-4 deficit at the beginning of the Utah game, where we didn't take the lead for the first time until less than three minutes remained in the game."

Earlier in July, the Hawks became the first Rhode Island team to attend the Reebok Summer Classic East in New Jersey. The Hawks earned the invitation after their performance in April at the Hoop Group's Providence JamFest, where they reached the championship game before falling to the Tim Thomas Playaz team from New Jersey. The Hawks and the Playaz were the only two 16 year-old teams to be invited to the Reebok tournament, which typically features 17U and Open age group teams.

The Hawks also put together a number of impressive performances at another "live period" tournament, the Charlie Weber's DC Hoopfest in April. After topping a strong Michigan Mustangs team in their first game, the Hawks won their pool with a tremendous 62-61 victory over D-1 Sports (North Carolina), who placed 7th in last year's National Championships as 15 year-olds. The Hawks followed that up by knocking off the Dajuan Wagner Rising Stars in the quarterfinals, before falling to the Playaz again in the semifinals. The Hawks' run in Washington, D.C. came despite the absence of their starting power forward and center, one of whom was injured for most of the season.

Last year as 15 year-olds, the Hawks reached the championship game of the National Youth Basketball Championships, a "live-period" tournament held in Las Vegas during the last week of July, before falling to the Houston Hoops, a top team led by Jai Lucas (John Lucas's younger son), which had placed 5th in the AAU Nationals the previous year as 14 year-olds.

The Hawks have been led by 6-1 Carlos Bryant, from Proctor Academy in New Hampshire, a tough wing guard with tremendous leaping ability. "With his toughness, there's got to be a spot on a D-1 team for him," said coach Kurbec. "He's physically strong, has an incredible vertical, and can play three or four positions. He'll also step out and shoot it."

Bryant had a number of twenty point games at the Main Event, including a 24 point outing against Texas Top Prospects.

"We've got seven or eight guys who might play D2, and three or four who have a chance to play D1," said Kurbec. "One of those is Gary Correia, a 6-1 guard from Northfield Mt. Herman. He was one of our leading scorers, can play the one or the two and is a tremendous defender. His size really matches up well with his skills. When he plays the point, he's very good at distributing the basketball."

Anthony Fortes is a teammate of Bryant's at Proctor, and is a solid 6-2 wing. "He didn't even start playing until he was in 7th or 8th grade," Kurbec remarked. "But he's very athletic and gets to the basket well. He could be a low D1 or D2 level player."

David Rufful runs with Joe Mazzulla at Bishop Hendricken, and at 6'3, plays forward for the Hawks. "With a few injuries, we're undersized," said Kurbec. "We've got a 6-9 kid, Clive Weeden of Northfield Mt. Herman, who hurt his ankle triple-jumping in track and was out all year. Rufful plays the three or four for us and he's hardnosed, really tough. He knows how to defend guys inside and is also a good three point shooter. He's a good, sound fundamental player who could be a tremendous role player on a D1 team."

One player who Friar fans might file away in the backs of their mind is John Hegarty, a 7-0, 340 pound center out of Dartmouth (MA) High School. "He's come so far in two years. He's improved his conditioning and he no longer misses plays. Like other young big men, he needs to work on his offense, but he's a defensive presence inside. He has a while to go in terms of footwork, but he caught some eyes at Reebok. John did a great job against Samarto Samuels of Team Odom in the Rumble in the Bronx (Samuels is a 6-11 prospect from New Jersey who Scout has recently ranked as the number three prospect in the Class of 2007).

In addition, Christian Yemga is a 6-7 forward who just arrived in early July from the Cameroon. He is living in Providence with the Fortes family and will be attending Proctor Academy in the fall.

With this kind of resume, the Rhode Island Hawks should be a force on the AAU circuit next spring and summer as 17 year-olds.

(Jeff Kurbec contributed to this story.)

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