The Hoop Group's West Virginia Jam Fest wraps up today in Morgantown, and while it could be the swan song for the event, that didn't stop many college coaches from checking out the 200+ teams in action.
While Jam Fest attracted some 228 teams in three different age divisions, the recent NCAA ruling which prevents the use of Division 1 college facilities left organizers scrambling for enough courts to play on. With the courts at the WVU Coliseum, Rec Center and Shell Building out of the picture, the Hoop Group was forced to utilize local (and not so local) high school, middle school and elementary school venues. It even set up courts at the Morgantown ice rink to fill the void. Obviously, this wasn't what organizers had in mind when the event was scheduled, which leaves the future of the event in doubt, unless the NCAA reverses its decision. The logistics of shuttling teams to 11 different venues as far away as Fairmont and Clay Battelle is difficult on the teams and even tougher to coordinate in terms of scheduling.
Several coaches with West Virginia ties (and one with ties to this publication) were in attendance. We chatted with former WVU assistant Jeff Neubauer, who remains at the helm of Eastern Kentucky program, and also with Darris Nichols, who is so off to his new job as an assistant at Northern Kentucky. Former WVU basketball staffer Kyle Triggs, who is heading to the Los Angeles Lakers soon for an operations spot on their staff, checked in for a visit, as did Zach Spiker, the head coach at Army. Finally, former Blue & Gold News staffer Chris Richardson, who just accepted an assistant coaching job at Fairmont State, was all over the event as he evaluated players for the Falcon program.
While the overall talent level, especially in the 17 and under (17U) age group, was down somewhat from previous years, there were still a group of players worth watching. West Virginia has just two open scholarships in this year's recruiting class, and thus will be very selective in the players it offers. It's also looking ahead to future recruiting classes, though, and there were several players in the lower age divisions (16U and 15U) that have either offers or attention. We watched a number of these players over the past two days, and have some thumbnail observations on players in the 17U division (rising seniors) below.
Semaj Christon: A rising senior guard, Christon was unstoppable on drives to the basket. No defenders could stay in front of the quicksilver 6-3 penetrator and scorer. He got to the rim and finished well, and was the most dynamic player on a very talented Cincinnati Knights team. Christon appears headed to prep school, so there could be more time for WVU to get involved. Georgetown, among many other schools, was all over Christon's games at the Jam Fest.
Amile Jefferson: A lengthy wing that is coveted by just about every school in the country. Jefferson gets up and down the floor with ease, and has a solid inside-out game that allows him to get points from the paint and on the perimeter. Think Devin Ebanks with more initial scoring ability, and you have a good picture of the ability of Scout.com's #3 rated forward.
Marshall Wood: Playing for the East Coast Fusion, Wood is a springy player who works hard on both the offensive and defensive ends. He took coaching well during the event, and gritted out plays to help push his team to a close win during Friday's play. He scored well in traffic and rebounded the ball on both ends of the floor. Wood has offers from some Virginia Tech and mid-majors and interest from West Virginia, Wake Forest and Maryland, among others. He could also go the prep school route to build his resume for more Division I offers.
Tyler Roberson: a wing player with excellent quickness, jumping ability and a respectable shot, Roberson was very active for his New Jersey Roadrunner squad. He got up and down the floor with a bouncy stride that allowed him to beat defenders to scoring positions, and he contested well on the defensive end. He's not as tall or long as some of the other forwards we watched.
Blaise Mbargorba: Roberson's AAU teammate, and a native of Cameroon who attends the Peddie School, Mbarbgorba one of the surprises of the field. West Virginia has looked at him, and he has offers from some mid-majors, but he has been pegged as a defense-only player. In the game we saw, his defense sparkled, but he also showed good shooting form, hitting free throws with a nice stroke and nailing a jumper from the elbow. His offensive post game certainly still needs work, but he goes after rebounds on both ends with tenacity and scored in transition frequently, catching the ball and getting to the rim with coordination not usually seen in seven-footers. On defense, he rejected at least eight shots, and displayed great timing and patience while waiting for the sots to go up before committing himself. West Virginia has shown interest, and although it was just one game, the big center's evolving skills should merit more looks.
Up next, a look at some of the underclassmen at Jam Fest.