Beach’s Bits: NW Summer Showcase, Pt. 1

BELLEVUE - Despite the absence of some of the region’s best players, this year’s Northwest Premier Summer Showcase was oozing college prospects at all levels this past weekend at Bellevue College and in high school gyms all over the eastside. The depth of talent in the region is quite something and a far cry from just a year ago when there were few college prospects in attendance at all.

There are guards galore, from elite on down, and even a surprising amount of post prospects, especially at the mid major level.
Tournament Notes:

Rotary 16U is stacked. Seattle Rotary has consistently showcased the talents of some of the regions top players, but the current 16U squad looks special, even by their standards. As AAU teams go, this group of guys play well together, are unselfish and even defend aggressively.

Garfield's Jaylen Nowell is the headliner, recently rated the 13th best prospect in the country in the 2017 class by, but they're far from a one man show. In the backcourt, Nowell is joined by 2017 Lakeside guard Daejon Davis, a high flyer who may be the most athletic player in the state in the 2017 class, as well as speedy 2016 Garfield point guard Jashaun Agosto.

But what separates Rotary 16U from the rest of the pack is its front court. Quality four-men are coveted and rare prospects in the Northwest, and Rotary has three of them in 6-foot-7 Jalen McDaniels (2016), 6-foot-7 Sean Gummersall (2016) and 6-foot-8 Jalen King (2017). All three players have D1 college futures, though King may end up the best of them. Rotary needs a couple of shooters to complete the roster, but look for this group of players to do big things over the next couple of years.

Several options exist at point guard. A position college coaches are struggling to fill nationally is the point guard spot, and the Northwest is bursting at the seams with talent at that particular position.

Colleges packed the sidelines to watch talented 6-foot-7 Drive Elite PG Jermaine Haley, who continues to stake his claim as the top overall 2016 point guard prospect in the region. ECBA's Kyle Foreman is a flashy 6-foot-1 playmaker who is starting to generate some recruiting buzz in the high major ranks for 2015. NWXpress 6-foot-3 Mandrell Worthy (2015) is a do-it-all, Gary Bell-type combo guard. Friends of Hoop point man Sharif Khan is a true floor manager, penetrating and dishing to waiting shooters on the wing. 2016 APlus 6-footer Isiah Brown is more of a lead guard than a point guard, but has undeniable talent. Rotary 16U's Jashuan Agosto is undersized, but his athleticism and relentless energy may help him earn a D1 offer.

Looking further down the road, Team Brandon Roy boasts a pair of speedy 2017 playmakers in 5-foot-10 Londrell Hamilton and 5-foot-11 Troy Mickelson. Issaquah's 6-foot-1 Trey Airy-Turner already boasts an offer from UW and is also in the 2017 recruiting class. Filling out the class is Rotary’s 6-foot-3 G Daejon Davis, who has quality playmaking and ball handling abilities.

Notably absent from the Northwest Summer Showcase were FAST 2016 standout Payton Pritchard, NWXpress 2016 G Keith Smith, Peninsula's rising 2016 PG JaQuori McLaughlin, 2015 UW commit David Crisp, and 2016 G Steven Beo from Richland.

This weekend was Sam Cunliffe's coming out party. A few years back, a youngster caught my eye at a Portland tournament playing for the newly formed APlus program. His name was Sam Cunliffe, and he was a baby-faced 6-foot-3 guard who showed legitimate high major offensive tools.

As quickly as I spotted him, he quietly disappeared and missed his sophomore season at Bishop Blanchet. Now he's back and shaking off the rust, and he's beginning to show signs of something special.

A lanky 6-foot-5 or 6-foot-6, Cunliffe is one of the top pure athletes in his class. He has a lot of bounce and puts it to good use elevating over defenders to drill jumpers well beyond the three point arc. He's not a natural point guard but handles the ball like one, using a tight crossover to create separation. He's got great body control and is a nimble penetrator and creative finisher. He possesses good lateral quickness and shows much promise defensively due to his physical tools.

Cunliffe, the younger brother of Oklahoma-bound track star Hannah Cunliffe from Federal Way, has been largely ignored by college recruiters due to the fact that few have seen him play. Based on the three games I watched this weekend, that's going to change quickly.

Friends of Hoop boasts shooters. To hear the national analysts tell it, there's a serious shortage of D1 shooters nationwide, particularly in the 2015 class. You'd never know it after watching Friends of Hoop.

Standout 2017 King’s Wing Corey Kispert is the best of them and quite possible the best shooter in the state regardless of class. The 6-foot-5 Kispert suffered through a rough shooting performance in their first game but came back with a vengeance later that evening. 2015 6-foot-3 SG Ty Gibson is another scrappy, sweet shooting wing, as is 6-foot-5 2016 wing Tony Miller of Woodinville. That trio can light up the scoreboard in a hurry.

Friends of Hoop isn't the only team with shooters however, especially if you don't mind undersized players. Players from NWXpress, Subway Selects, Aplus, ECBA, I5 Ellite and Idaho Select were torching nets all weekend.

Whats up with NWXpress? The Northwest's lone EYBL team, NWXpress, was the subject of much sideline chatter over the weekend. Even with Dejounte Murray, Xpress hasn't been very good, and the reason is obvious to pretty much everyone. The roster lacks high major talent. Besides Murray and Matisse Thybulle, the only other sure-fire high major prospect is Keith Smith, who suffered a knee injury at the end of the high school season and won't play until the fall.

Nihkil Lizotte and Kadeem Strickland are nice players, but at 5-foot-9 neither is equipped to compete consistently against the elite talent they face on the summer circuit, nor the host of big guards that fill AAU rosters across the Northwest. They've been billed as a regional All-Star team, collecting the top players from Washington and Oregon, but it can't really be a regional All-Star team without Payton Pritchard and backcourt mate Anthony Mathis. Unfortunately the roster was poorly constructed to start with and further exposed by injuries to key players.

So what does the future hold for NWXpress and Nike EYBL in the Northwest? Northwest players have a hard enough time getting national exposure as it is, and losing the EYBL exposure would be a serious blow to local kids in search of opportunity. To be successful though, the team has to be built to compete consistently with the rest of the nation’s best. There's clearly enough talent in the funnel regionally and even in Washington State to support an EYBL team. Seattle Rotary's 16U squad alone has the talent, size, and balance to make some national noise. High level AAU hoops is fraught with politics and sneaker company influence. It'll be interesting to see what the future holds for the region’s EYBL affiliation. Top Stories