Hoop Group April Showdown

On Saturday, Hoop Groups' April Showdown kicked off in Neptune, New Jersey. Hawk Hill Hardwood took in Saturday's action, which featured standout players Chris McCullough, DeAndre Bembry, and Steve Vasturia, as well as a cameo appearance by Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

The morning and early afternoon consisted entirely of the younger age groups, with the 15u and 16u teams getting their run in. Both the New Jersey Roadrunners and Jersey Shore Warriors 16u teams got opening-round wins. The Warriors have a number of Philadelphia and South Jersey products. Among the stars for them in their early win were Lower Merion sophomore wing guard Justin McFadden, Haverford School guard Eric Anderson, and Cherry Hill East freshman guard Jake Silpe. All three of these are names worth remembering down the line.

McFadden did not get too much playing time this year for a supremely talented and deep Lower Merion team, but the talent is clearly there. He has a great feel for the game and dished out a number of pretty assists. Anderson is a 2014 guard who plays alongside fellow talented underclassman Sammy Foreman at Haverford School. Finally, Silpe was the most impressive of the bunch. He nailed a number of deep jumpers, including a bomb from three, and also ran the point.

After taking in the Warriors and Roadrunners in 16u action, it was onto the 17u age group. There was a buzz in the building as word spread that former St. Patrick's star, current Kentucky freshman, and NBA top-5 pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was in the house coaching the NJ Celtics team. The Celtics are essentially St. Patrick's (NJ) high school squad. The Celtics had absolutely no trouble at all disposing of Team Synergy.

The Celtics do have two players of note for Saint Joseph's fans in juniors Jared Nickens and DeAndre Bembry. Nickens, who holds an offer from the Hawks, is also being recruited by VCU and a slew of other programs. The 6'5 wing actually spent much of the game running the point for the Celtics. On the scoring front, Nickens was 1-2 from three and missed his only attempt from two. He played an unselfish game, and with the Celtics cruising, spent much of the game going in and out of action. Nickens is one of a number of perimeter players the Hawks are recruiting in 2013, alongside Miles Overton, Hallice Cooke, B.J. Johnson, Ahmad Fields, Davon Reed, and more.

The most impressive player in this game was 2013 small forward DeAndre Bembry. Bembry checks in right around 6'5 or 6'6 and is simply a lot of fun to watch. An elite-level athlete, Bembry was all over the court for the Celtics. He demonstrated a tremendous ability to put the ball on the deck and earn himself trips to the free throw line, a rarity in games like this. On the break, Bembry had a pro-style step-through for a left-handed layup. While probably not a strength of his game, he was also able to knock down one of two attempts from three. Where Bembry really got the crowd going was with his high-flying antics. In the second half, in the matter of just a couple minutes, he had two of the day's best dunks. In addition to scoring, he was a menace on the glass and took pride in playing defense, even in a setting like this. Saint Joseph's is involved in Bembry's recruitment, but if Saturday's performance was any indication, they will find that pool of schools getting deeper by the week.

While this game ended, New York's Team Scan began to play on the adjacent court. The star on Team Scan is 2014 New York forward Chris McCullough. Only a sophomore, McCullough boasts an absurdly mature skill set and a body that makes him really difficult to stop. A consensus top 15 player nationally in his class, McCullough is blessed with all the tools to make him a successful high school, college, and in all likelihood, professional player. At 6'8, with a tremendous wingspan, McCullough showed an ability to shoot from the perimeter, handle the ball on the break, score with his back to the basket, and throw down a dunk or two for good measure. McCullough is already being recruited as one of the elite players in his class, and at 6'8 with the skill set to play the 3 in college, and do it very well, it's easy to see why.

The final game Hawk Hill Hardwood took in on Saturday evening was between the Jersey Shore Warriors and Beyond the Lines. Beyond the Lines actually held an early lead, but that didn't last long and the Warriors ended up winning in a blowout. The biggest name on the Warriors is Saint Joseph's Prep (PA) junior guard Steve Vasturia. Vasturia, who has already offered up a verbal commitment to Mike Brey and Notre Dame, was actually somewhat quiet in this one, but his poise, vision, and ability to shoot from deep are always on display. After missing his first couple jumpers, he got going with a score off the offensive glass then scored moments later with a pretty baseline floater. The Irish have a good one coming in two years.

While Vasturia is certainly the biggest name there, he has five or six Division 1 teammates. 6'8 junior forward Greg Noack played a tremendous game and showed why he is a wanted man by a number of Patriot League schools. In fact, in this particular game, he was the most impressive player on the floor for the Warriors. Active on the glass, Noack scored his first five points off the offensive boards. He earned a number of trips to the line, where he was 6-7. Noack had an easy double-double in this win and turned some heads with his tough, physical play inside.

In addition to Noack and Vasturia, Camden Catholic (NJ) junior guard Kyle Green, and La Salle Prep juniors Amar Stukes and Steve Smith also put together solid outings. All three of those guys, in addition to Noack, project at the academic and mid-major level in college. Stukes, at a well-built 6'2 with true point guard instincts, should be tracked fairly heavily this summer, while Green and Smith are also available and should have their share of suitors.

Hawk Hill Hardwood will next be on the road the weekend of April 27th for the Hoop Group Philly Jam Fest.

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