California’s Class of 2015 serves notice by sweeping 16U titles of three Las Vegas tournaments. This report from the July 24-28 viewing period includes title game recaps, top performers and a quick report on the state of the recruiting season.
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The purpose of the three July recruiting periods is to be evaluated in front college coaches and earn a scholarship in the fall or spring. While the outcome of the numerous travel ball games are quickly forgotten, the players who excel within the context of winning — which in this case involves winning or advancing deep in the brackets of NCAA certified tournaments — tend to be the ones with the better scholarship opportunities.
This point was driven home this past Sunday when three Southern California-based travel ball programs captured the 16U titles at the adidas Super 64, the Las Vegas Classic and the Fab 48. All three tournaments were held concurrently at various gyms in Las Vegas from July 25-28.
Pangos Elite Silver captured the Fab 48 16U Invitational Championship with a 64-53 victory over DC Assault Gold. Included in the team’s run to the title was a rout of the Utah Prospects in the semifinal and a 72-39 second-round win over Pangos Elite Black.
The standouts for the Pangos championship club included 6-foot-2 2015 Jeffery McClendon (Pasadena) and 6-foot 2015 point guard Tommy McCarthy (La Costa Canyon, Carlsbad). McCarthy excelled at finishing offensively and McClendon was one of the best perimeter defenders we evaluated in Vegas — in any division.
At the Las Vegas Classic, California Supreme Elite won the 16U platinum division title game 43-41 over Houston Hoops Woods. Cal Supreme not only defeated the defending 16U champion, the team also avenged its only loss in the tournament to finish with a 7-1 mark.
Five-foot-9 2016 point guard Devearl Ramsey (Sierra Canyon, Chatsworth) continued his excellent play and two pivots who’ve really stepped up in the last two viewing periods — 6-foot-10 2016 Michael Cage Jr. (Santa Ana, Mater Dei) and 6-foot-5 Roy Hemsley (Windward, Los Angeles) — led the charge for Gary Franklin Sr.’s program.
Hemsley has immensely improved his mid-range shot, shooting touch and conditioning and it has led to an increased confidence in his overall game. Cage had a big double double in the semifinal victory over Arizona Power Black. As the viewing period ended, Cage (the son of the former NBA forward) picked up a scholarship offer from UCLA.
“Hemsley has really come on big-time for us,” Franklin Sr. said. He also pointed out the play of 5-foot-9 2015 point guard Ellis Salahuddin, who reportedly will be transferring out of Gardena Serra this fall.
“A player that came off the bench and I believe that we could not have won it without was Ellis Salahuddin. He helped Devearl to just go score at times when it was needed.”
Compton Magic Double Dip
Over at the adidas Super 64, one of that shoe company’s flagship programs — the Compton Magic — captured the 16U championship bracket. In the title game, 6-foot-1 2015 point guard Sedrick Barefield, the son of former Fresno Hoover and SDSU guard Ray Barefield, led the way in a 63-56 victory over Pennsylvania Pump n Run.
Co-MVPs of the 16U championships were 6-foot-4 2015 shooting guard Rex Pflueger (Mater Dei, Santa Ana), who netted nine points in the title game, and 6-foot-7 2015 wing Cameron Walker (Righetti, Santa Maria), who finished with 16 points.
Pflueger, who made SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays earlier in the weekend with an emphatic dunk on elite 2015 big man Carlton Bragg of Ohio Basketball Club, has seen his recruitment soar in recent weeks. He’s recently been offered by the likes of San Diego State, Loyola Marymount, Washington State and Notre Dame.
Walker has long been considered one of California’s best players and is finally starting to live up to the lofty reputation he earned during his freshman year. He displayed improved aggressiveness during the last two live periods and was getting to the foul line often in Las Vegas. In the game in which Pflueger got the attention for the dunk and his 27 points, Walker was just as dominant with a 24-point outing. He’s been offered by elite programs such as Florida, but is a strong candidate to stay on the West Coast for college.
The Compton Magic not only won the top 16U division, the program also won the top division among adidas’ 15U entrants. What made the title run even more impressive was Etop Uma-Edo’s 15U outfit won its final two games without the services of arguably its best player — 6-foot-8 2016 T.J. Leaf (Foothills Christian, El Cajon), a multi-skilled forward who made last year’s Cal-Hi Sports all-state freshman team.
In the semifinals against Team Loaded, 6-foot 2016 guard Jerome Sherman — Leaf’s high school teammate — came up big with 18 points, including five 3-pointers, in the 83-73 victory. Six-foot 2016 point guard Dikembe Martin — who started on J.W. North of Riverside’s section title winning team last season as a freshman — scored a team-high 16 points. Six-foot-4 2016 wing Johnny McWillliams (San Marcos) — whose father played basketball and football at the all-state level at Pomona High before playing tight end for USC — added 14 points.
In the title game, the Compton Magic 15s built a big lead early on talented Team Bibby — coached by former NBA guard Mike Bibby — before holding on for a 71-66 victory. The outcome wasn’t decided until Bibby’s son Mike Jr., a 2016 guard from the same high school — Shadow Mountain in Phoenix — that the 1996 Mr. Basketball USA attended, missed two 3-point attempts in the closing minute with his team trailing by three points.
Martin, who hit two clutch free throws down the stretch, finished with 12 points and was named 15U MVP. Four other players netted double figures for the Compton Magic, including McWilliams with 13 points, 6-foot-3 2016 Chris Barnes (Bishop Montgomery, Torrance) with 12 points and 6-foot-2 2016 Jordan Griffin (Centennial, Corona) and 6-foot-5 2016 Martin Tombe (St. Augustine, San Diego) with 10 points apiece.
California’s dominance in the top 16U division in the three major Las Vegas tournaments is a strong indication that its 2015 and 2016 classes have a chance to be special.
Even more indication of that dominance is that some of the two classes’ best players, such as 6-foot-5 2015 Tyler Dorsey (St. John Bosco, Bellflower) of Belmont Shore, 6-foot-9 2015 Ivan Rabb (Bishop O’Dowd, St. John Bosco) of the Oakland Soldiers and 5-foot-11 2016 Colin Slater (Clovis North, Clovis) of the NorCal Wildcats played 17U ball in Vegas.
It’s no secret California’s overall boys hoops recruiting classes have been down since a blockbuster 2008 class that included the likes of NBA players Jrue Holiday (North Hollywood, Campbell Hall) and DeMar DeRozan (Compton). The Golden State drought hit its apex in 2010 and 2011 when California didn’t produce a single McDonald’s All-American after producing at least one each year since the game’s inception in 1978. UCLA has six scholarship available in its upcoming recruiting class, but it’s no secret the new UCLA and USC coaching staffs must make inroads with the 2015 and 2016 classes to satisfy its administration and hungry alumni base.
Just how good are the 2015 and 2016 classes? Both of these classes have good size and quality point guards, positions which have been noticeably lacking in California’s recent classes. Historically, those two positions were stocked in California’s greatest classes of the past — 1997 (Baron Davis, Collins twins) 1993 (Jacque Vaughn, Darnell Robinson) 1988 (Derrick Martin, Don MacLean) and 1975, California’s greatest class which produced the likes of Bill Cartwright (Elk Grove), Bill Laimbeer (Palos Verdes) and Verbum Dei’s David Greenwood and Roy Hamilton.
Neither class has the depth of the 1988 class yet and still have a long way to go to match the 1975 class. The 1993 and 1997 classes had a handful of players that didn’t live up to their prep acclaim, so let’s hope players in 2015 and 2016 don’t fall into that category.
Another obstacle that those four great classes from past years didn’t deal with much was defections. We’re already seeing it in the 2016 class with Derryck Thornton Jr. (whose father was a member of the 1988 class at Bel-Air Prep of Los Angeles) transferring from Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth to Findlay Prep of Henderson, Nev. It’s likely Thornton won’t be the last 2015 or 2016 to finish up in another state.
Overall Vegas Observations
No California team won a top division 17U title. The closest anyone came was in the Las Vegas Classic, where the Oakland Soldiers were upset by Seattle Rotary 61-58 in the platinum title game.
The weary Soldiers were unable to convert a clean 3-point attempt in the final 30 seconds. Despite missing his four 3-point attempts, 6-foot-7 2014 Stanley Johnson (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) was the player the Soldiers were desperately trying to get the ball to, but Rabb committed a turnover in the final 10 seconds looking to pass out from the post following an offensive rebound.
In spite of the one miscue, Rabb had an excellent week and has improved his assertiveness and post play. As the Las Vegas Classic wore on, it looked like the Oakland Soldiers would potentially meet the Mac Irvin Fire in the title game. That plan got foiled when the Chicago-based outfit, which includes 6-foot-11 Jahlil Okafor, last year’s Student Sports National Junior of the Year from Whitney Young, and 6-foot-9 Cliff Alexander from Curie — who got our vote as the best prospect in the national Class of 2014 coming into the July viewing period — lost to Seattle Rotary in the semis, 69-57.
Mac Irvin Fire competed in two events simultaneously. After winning The 8 Tournament at Impact Academy near McCarran International Airport, Mac Irvin Fire was scheduled to play in the 1:25 p.m. semifinal contest on Sunday at Spring Valley High School across town. This was after playing three games on Saturday. The team was late 30 minutes and Alexander and Okafor didn’t play. Okafor didn’t play in a couple of previous games we evaluated to rest up for a game later in the day.
There are well over 1,000 teams and 10,000 players of all ages participating in the three large tournaments in Las Vegas and that stretches the quality of play very thin. Another tournament or showcase just adds to the frustration of not seeing players of similar ability being able to match up on a consistent basis. Evaluators and fans potentially missed out on Rabb having the chance to test himself against the nation’s two best big men.
Dorsey was able to match up against two of his peers when Belmont Shore faced off against Mo Williams Academy Elite of Texas in the FAB 48 Tip-Off Challenge Wednesday night. It gets our vote as the best summer game of the year and potentially the best we’ve evaluated the last couple of years.
Belmont Shore defeated MWE 101-93 as Dorsey went for 35 points while his St. John Bosco of Bellflower teammate, 6-foot-7 2104 wing Daniel Hamilton, netted 31 points. MWE’s backcourt of Emmanuel Mudiay (Prime Prep, Dallas), the nation’s most physically dominant guard, and 6-foot-3 Malik Newman, last year’s Student Sports National Sophomore of the Year from Calloway of Jackson, Miss., scored 31 and 32 points, respectively. The game featured crisp shooting and players trying to outdo each other within the context of winning the game.
The teams had a rematch in the Fab 48 quarterfinals with MWE extracting its revenge in a 80-79 overtime victory. Mudiay paced the comeback by hitting three late 3-pointers to send the game into overtime. He finished with 31 points and ironically, Dorsey dropped another 35.
It’s was an evaluator’s dream to see Dorsey get the opportunity to prove himself as one of the nation’s top 2015 prospects while competing against two of the nation’s best guards. Unfortunately for Rabb, that same opportunity against the nation’s best pivots never materialized and it was unfortunate for him, scouts, and fans of high school basketball.