Catching up with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors

It seems like only yesterday that the Wisconsin Playground Warriors made a name for themselves on the national stage when they were led to the 2000 Nike Peach Jam title by a kid that the opposition deemed "The Teenage Assassin," Travis Diener. Today we check in with the 2004 version of "The Playground".

When it comes to AAU basketball, the Wisconsin Playground Warriors have certainly made a name for themselves on a national scale. It seems like only yesterday that they were led to the 2000 Nike Peach Jam title by a kid that the opposition deemed "The Teenage Assassin," Travis Diener. The winning ways have not slowed since then, and the Playground Warriors continue to represent the State of Wisconsin wherever they play. Recently they participated in the prestigious Howard Pulley/Sabes Foundation Invitational in Minneapolis, and next up the Warriors will travel to the St. Louis Invitational.

Rick Stimac runs a first-class program that helps high school ball players develop their games, and allows them the opportunity to play in front of college coaches from around the country, giving many of these kids the opportunity to receive college scholarships.

Recently I had a chance to observe both the Playground Warriors' 17 and under and 16 and under teams. Here are some of my thoughts on a few of the players that may be the next college basketball stars to come out of Wisconsin. Please keep in mind that all Playground Warrior players are not listed, as there were some that I have not had the opportunity to see yet.

17& Under

Da'Mario Barnett – 6-1 Combo Wing, Bradley Tech

He has a very good handle on the ball. Hustles up and down the court and has a great crossover move. Really finds a way to get himself involved on both sides of the ball. Very athletic, and has above average speed and quickness.

Wilethon Boyce – 5-10 PG, Milwaukee Vincent

Very fast ballplayer that runs the court well. Has great upper body strength and body control. Really does wear on people defensively, and is a competitor as he goes after it hard all of the time.

Jovan Campbell – 6-2 Wing, Milwaukee Vincent

Campbell has great court awareness, as he always has a way to find the open man. Very good ball handler that possesses great body control when he drives in traffic.

Joe Higgins – 6-0 PG, Kenosha St. Joe's

Great form on his jumper, and can hit it from long range consistently. Can drive to the hole and finish in traffic. Excellent defender with very "quick hops", as he has the ability to get up and block the pull-up jumper.

Will Howard – 5-10 PG, Wisconsin Lutheran

Could be one of the quickest guards out of Milwaukee since Calvin Rayford. Excellent passer with a very quick release. Great ball handling skills and has some impressive moves that he uses to drive to the hole.

Marcus Landry – 6-7 SF, Milwaukee Vincent

What impressed me the most about Landry was his "turnaround J." The night I watched him he hit that shot time and time again. Has a much better outside shot than I had anticipated. Very good defender. Has great hops and goes to the hole with authority, but at times he also displays a very soft touch with his shot inside the paint.

Nick Polk – 6-2 SG, Milwaukee Vincent

Very quick and seems to shift directions better than most as he always seems to be the first down the court. Has great hops, and plays bigger than he is because of his long arms and legs.

16 and under

Naz Daniels – 6-3 Wing, Milwaukee Tech

Daniels  has very long arms that allow him to play good D with some cushion, so he can cover a lot of ground. Has great hops and his quickness helps him to always find a way to get open. If he can become more consistent he could be one to keep an eye on!

John Dekker – 6-5 SF, Sheboygan Lutheran

OK, you know how every time you watch a game there is someone that jumps out at you and makes you say, "Where did he come from?" Well, John Dekker is that guy, and he comes from Sheboygan. This kid has very long range and hits from the outside again and again and again. He also drives the hole very well, but you can NOT give this kid any room or he will score. Plays very smart. I was not surprised after seeing him to learn that he led all Wisconsin high school sophomores in scoring this year.

Steve Gruber – 5-10 PG, Whitefish Bay

Steve Gruber is a very quick point guard that is all over the floor. Excellent defender that has a good outside shot. The hustle and hard work that he makes him the kind of player that you really want to have on your team.

Andy Polka – 6-6 PF, Oshkosh West

Very big and very strong. Does a very good job of getting himself in position both offensively and defensively. Really works in the paint to get the ball. At a young age he already shows that he really knows how to use his body to move people out of the paint to get rebounds.

Jerry Smith – 6-3 SG, Wauwatosa East

One of those players that can simply "Do it all." Runs the court with ease and seems to love driving to the hole in traffic. Great upper body strength already, which allows him to finish time and time again. Handles the ball very well, so he can both guard positions, but seems to be more comfortable at the '2' spot. Very good outside shot.

Mercedes Tolbert – 6-4 SF, Wauwatosa East

He has very long arms and he uses that to his advantage to give ball handlers fits. Has a great form on his shot and is very consistent from beyond the arc.

To me, the MVP of these two teams is assistant coach Tommy Zaffrann. TommyZ is the type of coach that really interacts with the players very well, and has always been a big help to me as well! Thanks for everything TommyZ!

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