Program Profile: We R-1

Last week, We R-1 blitzed through the competition at the Under Armour Finals in Atlanta, Georgia to take home the championship trophy. Headlined by elite wing Derrick Jones, We R1’s 17s are one of the top AAU teams on the circuit. On Friday morning, I looked down the We R-1 pipeline, watching their 15u and 16 teams at Battle of the Borders.

I began my morning with We R-1’s 16s, playing up at the 17u level, taking on Fighting Phoenix. The game turned out to not be much of a fight, with We R-1 cruising to an easy 53-29 victory. Brad Hawkins, Kodye Pugh, and Nysier Brooks were among the standouts for We R-1.

Brad Hawkins is a 6’2 rising junior combo guard from Camden (NJ) High School. If Hawkins wanted a future in basketball, he would certainly have one. However, he is an elite-level football star who has already piled up SEC offers. On the hardwood, Hawkins brings that toughness, strength, and athleticism that make him such a menace on the gridiron. He finished the morning contest with 11 points and 6 rebounds.

Kodye Pugh is an intriguing 6’6-6’7 wing who has such a ways to go physically to get where he needs to go, but still produces. Pugh, out of Boys Latin High School (MD), is woefully thin, but a fluid athlete and an efficient scorer. He was impressive at Reebok earlier in the month, and then played well again today against 2015s. Pugh finished with 12 points on 5-8 shooting, and added 4 rebounds and 2 assists. While his lack of strength is clearly worth mentioning, it’s not scaring off colleges, as Pugh has offers from the likes of Northwestern and Rice, along with heavy interest from George Washington, Maryland, and Georgetown. He’s a player you need to make some projections with, but with his size and innate scoring ability, he has quite the ceiling.

6’9 2016 post Nysier Brooks is another big-name player on the We R-1 16s. The West Philadelphia native played at Archbishop Carroll (PA) this past year, but will be making the move north to South Kent (CT). That move could certainly impact his recruitment, as Big 5 schools won’t be able to monitor him as closely. He had 9 points, 6 boards, and 2 blocks in just 12 minutes of action in the win this morning. Brooks possesses soft hands, decent footwork, and a frame that a college program could do a lot of work with. Brooks needs to add weight, but at 6’9 with length, he has the tools to work with. It would not shock me at all if his recruitment took off at the mid to high major level this coming year.

While the We R-1 16s rolled to an easy victory, the 15u team found themselves on the opposite end of things against a very talented NY Lightning bunch. The New York outfit got 20 points out of Klay Brown, but left me most impressed with 2017 Hudson Catholic (NJ) combo guard Boubacar Kamissoko. The 6’2 guard has a great feel for the game and certainly appears to have a very bright future. He had an effortless 10 points and 4 assists, and while those numbers may not stand out, his game and demeanor on the court certainly did.

Watching a game featuring rising sophomores is challenging for a handful of reasons, and those reasons are why I typically never write about or cover 15u hoops. However, in an effort to really break down the We R-1 program, I examined those age groups today. Watching 2017 players is obviously significantly different than watching a team composed of rising seniors. Here, there are so many more factors to consider.

One player that encapsulated the struggle of watching 15u hoops was St. Andrew’s (DE) big man Zach Kent. Kent stands right around 6’9, but other than that, looks like your typical rising high school sophomore. Kent did some things really well today, such as knocking down two threes in the game’s opening minutes. Then, on the flip side, he struggled handling the ball (8 turnovers). In the end, his stat line of 10 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 turnovers gives you an indication of where his game currently resides. Despite the turnovers, Kent’s is a name to remember. With We R-1, he will have the opportunity to continue to play against top-level competition, and one would assume his game would progress accordingly. Big men who can stretch the floor are always placed at a premium, and it’s for that reason that Zach Kent is a name colleges will likely track over the coming three years.

The biggest name on the We R-1 15s is 6’2 Sanford (DE) point guard Eric Ayala. It wasn’t an eye-popping performance by Ayala this morning, but he did enough to show why schools like Rutgers and Villanova are already interested in the rising sophomore. Ayala finished with 11 points, 6 boards, and 6 turnovers in the 58-39 loss. While his shot wasn’t falling and he was turnover-prone today, Ayala has a high basketball IQ, is shifty going at the rim, and has good size as a lead guard. He shot just 3-12 today, but three or four of those misses were finishes around the rim that rolled out.

Is there another Derrick Jones in the We R-1 pipeline? Another Ernest Aflakpui? Another Tim Delaney? Another Malik Ellison? I can’t answer that question today. What I can say, conclusively, after watching the 2016 and 2017 players in the program, is that We R-1 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Kodye Pugh, Brad Hawkins, Josh Sharkey, Nysier Brooks and more have the 16u squad in good hands while Eric Ayala, Zach Kent, Antwaun Butler, and more will see to it that the 15s turn things back around.

After covering the Battle of the Borders this morning, I will be back on the road Sunday for the Summer Final in King of Prussia. Coincidentally enough, what team is circled on my Sunday morning schedule? We R-1 17s in a showcase game against Team Final. That then brings July to a close.

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