Boys BB: Middle Schoolers Comin’ Up

Two players from Northern California who will be fun to watch as their games develop over next few years are Kellen Hampton (left) & Alvin Loving. Photo: Harold Abend.

Twenty-three out of the 170 of the top middle school boys basketball players who attended the Pangos Junior All-American Camp last weekend in Utah get a shout out in this special. We don’t usually give much recognition to these youngsters since they haven’t even reached high school yet, but this event has proven to be a good launching point for players we’ll be covering extensively in upcoming seasons.

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It was a cast of top middle school boys basketball players representing 19 states that gathered for the Ninth Annual Pangos Junior All-American Camp on March 6-7 at the Nets of Fire facility in Saint George, Utah.

The event is produced by noted boys basketball recruiting analyst and scout Dinos Trigonis of Full Court Press, Pangos, and Nothing But Net Magazine. Besides Trigonis, Ronnie Flores of Cal-Hi Sports and BallisLife, Frank Burlison of Burlison on Basketball, and yours truly were there to evaluate the players and assisted Trigonis and his coaches on the MVP and all star selections.

All in all, 23 middle school players at the camp from Southern and Northern California combined get mentioned in this feature.

The camp started Saturday afternoon with skills workouts before the boys were divided into 18 teams that played three games for the remainder of Saturday evening and Sunday morning. After that, the top players from each class were announced for the All-Star teams that played in the Cream of the Crop games.

Gavin Hightower (Class of 2025) of California’s San Fernando Valley is a guard “wired to score.” Photo:

The overall camp Co-MVPs were Alexander Lloyd, a 6-foot-3 wing from the Class of 2025 out of Hollywood, Florida, and Koa Peat, a 6-foot-6 forward from the 2025 class from Chandler, Arizona.

When Lloyd took a half lob, took it high above the rim and converted a no-look, partial reverse slam dunk, he solidified his position as worthy of top honors.

“Is that enough to convince you?” Flores blurted as the crowd went crazy after Lloyd’s jam.

Indeed it was a clincher to a foregone conclusion. In reality, the slam by Lloyd, his moves and body language, took us back over 30 years ago when there was club basketball but no national camps for junior high school players.

It reminded us of when the late renowned Bay Area prep sports journalist Merv Harris asked that we accompany him to East Oakland and the Rainbow Recreation Center where he wanted us to see an eighth-grader that was around 6-foot-1 at the time but could dunk, a rarity in those days for someone that height. Not only could Jason Kidd dunk, but arguably the greatest high school basketball player from Northern California had the moves. Lloyd’s moves brought back memories of a young Kidd.

Besides Lloyd and Peat, several California middle school boys had excellent showings and got high marks from the scouts and analysts. In the end, and after the skills workouts and the three games for the 18 teams, 12 boys from California, nine from Southern California and three from Northern California, were named to the Cream of the Crop Best of the Best White and Blue teams, each with 15 players.

Gavin Hightower, a 6-foot-1 guard from the San Fernando Valley and the Class of 2025, was steady and showed all the tools to be a dominant player once he reaches high school. He was the consensus top player from the Golden State. In the Best of the Best game he had six points, five rebounds and two assists for the White team in a 76-65 victory.

When asked to give a short assessment on each of the 12 California boys, Flores had this to say about Hightower. “Across the board based on both performance and potential, Hightower was the top guard in attendance. He’s confident and wired to score.”

Shamar Jones from Tracy started a little slow on Saturday, but he came on strong and was the MVP for the Blue Team in the Best of the Best game. He joined Lloyd (14 points, five rebounds), who was named MVP for the White team to go along with the overall Co-MVP honors.

Jones, a 6-foot-4 Class of 2025 prospect who has indicated Newark Memorial is a potential high school for him this fall, not only showed he could score at all three levels, but he also showed tenacity on defense and a willingness to mix it up inside. His team lost in the Best of the Best Game, but Jones had game highs of 15 points and eight rebounds, plus his three three-pointers were the most in the game.

“These kids are still quite young so you never want to get too high or too down based on a single performance,” Flores said.

“Shamar is a camp veteran as he’s participated in showcases against high school players in Texas and other parts of the country,” Flores continued. “He started off slow here but picked it up and had a good showing in the Cream of the Crop game.”

A player who wasn’t really on the radar screen of the analysts prior to this event but turned some heads, including Trigonis and Flores, was Kellen Hampton, a muscular 6-foot-4 eighth-grader from Oakland with a frame that looks like it could support him growing another 3-4 inches. Hampton, who says he would like to attend Moreau Catholic of Hayward, looked good all weekend and was dominant in the paint. In the Best of the Best game, he finished with 11 points, tied with Jones for a game-high eight rebounds, and even drained a trey for his victorious White team.

“This Oakland kid has a nice combination of size, skill and shooting ability,” Flores said of Hampton. “He wasn’t rushed and let the game come to him; easily a Top 10 performer.”

Two of the top 7tth graders in California are Fresno’s Dereon King & Javance Coleman. Photo: Harold Abend.

Tariq Bridges, a 6-foot-2 guard from Los Angeles and the Class of 2026, showed marked improvement over the weekend. He finished with eight points with two three-pointers, three rebounds and two assists for the victorious White team.

“Once Bridges finds a pace to his game, watch out,” Flores said. “He just got better and better as the camp wore on.”

Another player that showed he will potentially be a force in Northern California in the future was 6-foot-2 wing Isaiah “Zeke” Davis. He is currently enrolled at Modesto Christian. Playing for the victorious White team, he finished with four points and five rebounds.

According to Flores: “Davis was making plays throughout the camp and he’d be in my Top 10 from this event when it’s all said and done.”

McKel Shedrick from Rancho Cucamonga made some favorable impressions on the scouts and analysts with his all around solid play. The 6-foot-1 Shedrick, who looks like he will be a combo guard or a wing in high school, only had two points in the White win, but he contributed in other ways with three assists, two rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot. “Shedrick made nice plays and made a good impression on veteran scout Frank Burlison,” Flores said.

Hudson Mayes, a 5-foot-11 combo guard from Los Angeles who put down Fairfax as his high school of choice, wasn’t flashy but he looked good both days. He played for White and finished with six points an assist and a steal. “I thought Mayes was solid the entire camp,” Flores said. “I’m confident he’ll be a good high school player.”

Amarion Orange from Moreno Valley impressed in the skills session on Saturday and continued in the three team games. He played for White where the 6-footer from Moreno Valley had two points and four rebounds. “Amarion was definitely sweet with the nice mix of skill and intensity in every game,” was Flores’ assessment of Orange.

Guard Julian Gibbs is another to watch from the East Bay. Photo: Courtesy family.

Kory Dodson, a 6-foot-3 wing from Riverside, didn’t score in the Best of the Best game but he chipped in with three rebounds for Blue and made an impression on Flores with his solid play all weekend. “The son of Riverside Poly Coach Yancey Dodson always plays hard and makes the right play. He doesn’t try to do anything he’s not capable of and that aided his performance at the camp.”

Of the 30 players selected for the Best of the Best game, four were from the Class of 2026 with three of them from California.

Justice Griffith is a 5-foot-10 guard from Corona, and in ours and most of the other scouts and analysts, including Flores, the most impressive Class of 2026 invitee to Utah. Playing for Blue, he had a solid game and finished with two points, four rebounds and three blocked shots.

Flores had this to say about Griffith. “Griffith is already a tremendous physical specimen and was the most deserving of the seventh-graders to play in the Best of the Best game. He combines nice athleticism with growing skill.”

Like Griffith, Isaiah Rogers, a 5-foot-7 point guard from Corona, was almost as impressive as his seventh-grade mate from the Inland Empire. He capped off a weekend that opened some eyes with clutch play for the victorious White team. Rogers hit a key three-pointer late in the game and finished with seven points, two steals, two assists and a rebound.

“Rogers hit a big shot in the Best of the Best game and has tremendous feet and a nice first step for a seventh-grader,” Flores remarked.

Another coach’s son, Jason Crowe Jr. from Los Angeles, whose father Jason Crowe is the former Inglewood and current Lynwood boys head coach, showed why he is considered a top point guard high school prospect despite only being a seventh-grader. Playing with the eighth-graders, he had one three-pointer and finished with five points and two rebounds for the White team.

“Crowe is a heady point guard who has tremendous room for growth,” was Flores’ assessment of Crowe Jr.

Besides the 26 players from the Class of 2025 to make the Cream of the Crop Best of the Best game, 36 additional eighth-graders were chosen for a Cream of the Crop game that preceded the Best of the Best contest.

The respective White and Blue MVPs for that game were Jevon Yapi from Las Vegas and John Southwick from Richfield, Utah, however several California boys put themselves on the radar screen with their play in that game as well as what they did all weekend.

Two Class of 2025 players from Northern California whp played well and put themselves on the map but didn’t quite make the top tier are Alvin D Loving IV and Julian Gibbs. They were part of 35 players chosen (27 played) for the Eighth Grade All Star Game.

Loving, who is from Berkeley and says he would like to attend Salesian of Richmond, is a 6-foot-2 lefthander with a frame that looks like he could be a prototypical banger at the next level. He also showed he could score at all three levels. His White team was on the short end of a 66-56 Blue victory, but Loving still looked good and finished with four points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

Gibbs is a 6-foot guard from Alameda who would like to attend Bishop O’Dowd where he has been the team’s ball boy. Gibbs played well right from the start and showed he has a well-rounded game. He hit two three-pointers and finished with eight points, two assists and two steals for the victorious Blue team.

Five boys from Southern California made the Cream of the Crop Eighth Grade All Star game.

Preston Ezewiro, a 6-foot-3 wing/forward from Hawthorne that wasn’t afraid to mix it up inside, only scored two points but had a team-high eight rebounds for Blue.

Alex Yerkanyan, another 6-foot-3 wing/forward from Los Angeles, looked solid and finished with two points, six rebounds and two assists.

Malachi Knight, a 5-foot-9 guard from Hawthorne, drained two three-pointers for his six points.

The final two SoCal boys to make the Eighth Grade game were Philip Pearson, a 5-foot-8 guard from Los Angeles, and Justyce Lucero, a 6-footer from Moreno Valley.

The classes of 2026 and 2027 had a limited number of invitees so those two classes combined for a showcase game on Sunday that was played at the same time as the Eighth Grade All Star game.

The 2026 Fresno duo of 5-foot-11 Javance Coleman and 5-foot-7 Dereon King were the top two seventh-graders we observed over the weekend. Two other players from the Class of 2026 that earned marks at the camp were 6-foot-5 Jackson Scarborough of Clovis, and 5-foot-7 Rodney Westmoreland from Oakland.

Two SoCal boys from the Class of 2026 that earned some marks over the weekend from us were Christopher Richardson, a 5-foot-5 guard from Long Beach, and Jaden Whitehead, a 5-foot-11 wing from Camarillo.

Harold Abend is the associate editor of and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend

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