by Leigh Klein
Dallas, TX – The end of April marked the beginning of three AAU circuits, as both adidas and Under Armour unveiled their competitor to Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League. The prior two years, there was a great temptation on top players to jump to a Nike team for the EYBL experience. Now, there’s more opportunities to compete than ever before.
“The rebranding of adidas Grassroots Basketball into adidas Uprising, this is something that we looked into and did our homework on,” said Anthony Coleman of adidas Sports Marketing. “This was also something the kids wanted and they pushed for, seeing the stats, building relationships with other kids and playing for something instead of one-off [tournaments].”
For those keeping score, there were 106 teams in the U17 division between the three circuits. In Dallas, the adidas event featured teams from around the country and it was an opportunity for strong statements to be made by top players and rising stars alike. Here were some of the storylines from the event:
Making Their Mark
Thon Maker, 7-0 Forward/Center, Carlisle School, 2016, Team Loaded VA
They don’t just make players like Maker. At 7-feet tall, he hits three-pointers, attacks the glass and most importantly has a fantastic motor. Whether his team is up 30 points or in a close game, Maker shows a tremendous work ethic. He’s an incredible teammate, supportive, vocal and directing teammates to their spots. It was obvious to see why top coaches took in first-hand looks. Maker is on constant attack mode, posterizing a cast of defenders. His upside is tantalizing once he adds lower body stretch to help his balance and ability to hold position as well.
Matur Maker, 6-9 Forward/Center, Carlisle School, 2017, Team Loaded VA
Little brother showed some flashes that he’s his own player as well. With this his first year playing AAU basketball, there is a lot of learning going on that is limiting Matur’s playing time and effectiveness. There is a quickness and fluidity to him that is dangerous. He brings the same aggressive attitude to the court, blocking shots with a force equivalent to squashing bugs on a car windshield. With added conditioning, confidence, strength and development of his left hand, the sky is the limit for his game.
Eron Gordon, Tyler Dorsey, Joshua Langford, Rawle Atkins and Jalen Adams lived up to their reputation as top guard prospects.
Guys Who Proved A Point
Dennis Smith Jr, 6-2 Point Guard, Trinity Christian Academy, 2016, Team Loaded NC
Smith was dominant on both ends of the court from Friday through Sunday. He led Team Loaded NC to a perfect 5-0 record by scoring, sharing and taking the basketball away. He was among the leaders in eight categories. Smith is great at getting separation and often makes the right play. Equipped with a quick burst, good ball skills and a floater, Smith elevated his recruitment with strong play throughout the weekend.
Justin Simon, 6-5 Guard, Temecula Valley, 2015, Gamepoint
He received his share of looks with many of the nation’s top coaches spending time evaluating the point guard. Simon’s Gamepoint was only able to grab one victory against four defeats as his supporting cast did not rise to his level. Simon showed his ability to attack the basket and use his quickness to reek havoc defensively on his perimeter opponents.
Payton Pritchard, 6-1 Point Guard, West Linn, 2016, Team Fast
Tough as nails level performer, Pritchard plays a very efficient game. Possesses deep range and isn’t afraid to use it. He is a lead guard and a distributor first and foremost. Averaged more than 18 points per game to go along with 7 assists and over 4 rebounds.
Cullen VanLeer, 6-4 Guard, Pacific HS, 2015, Gateway Basketball Club
Crafty guard brings the “son-of-the-coach” mentality to the floor every time out. He is a terrific shooter but more than that, he has great feel for the game. Showed some point guard ability and an opportunity to propel up the rankings.
Billy Wampler, 6-5 Guard/Forward, Regis HS, 2015, D1 Minnesota
Without question one of the best shooters in the adidas circuit. Wampler shot over 50 percent from the floor and beyond-the-arc, leading D1 Minnesota to four victories in five contests.
Top names in the forward class did not disappoint by performing up to their capabilities that list included Ray Young, Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown, Mario Kegler and Carlton Bragg.
TJ Leaf, 6-10 Forward, Foothills Christian HS, 2016, Compton Magic Elite
The multi-dimensional talent has true inside—out ability. Leaf drained three-pointers, made athletic moves to the basket and showed a knack to find the open man. He can really pass the basketball and has good feel for the game. In this era of the ”stretch 4” and pick-and-pop offenses, Leaf will quickly become a top priority.
Deng Adel, 6-6 Forward, Victory Rock Prep, 2015, Florida Elite
He a terrific wing player who excels in transition. Adel is an explosive athlete with a mid-range game. More of a playmaker than a skilled player but as his skill base raises so does his ceiling.
Malik Hicks, 6-6 Forward, Jackson Southside (TN), 2015, Memphis Magic Elite
The lone bright spot for the Memphis 17s was Hicks. The 6-6 wing is a relentless performer who impacted the game on both ends of the floor. He is an aggressive attacker of the basket as well as a capable three-point shooter. Motor is always on. More than one college coach remarked how Hicks reminded them of former Marquette star, Jae Crowder.
Tahjai Teague, 6-9 Forward, Pike High School, 2015, Eric Gordon Central Stars
Once thought of as a two-star prospect, Teague has developed offensively. Teague is athletic, he can drive and he can shoot the three-point shot. He seems to be just scratching the surface on his potential. Cousin of Jeff and Marquis Teague. Good bloodline right there.
Elliot Welmer, 6-10 Forward, Columbus North HS, 2014/2015, Eric Gordon Central Stars
It was a weekend to remember for Welmer, who lit Dallas up shooting 64 percent for the Gauntlet. Welmer, once a guard, now has grown to 6-10 and can really stroke the basketball. A cerebral player, who can drive past his defender, dunk on slow help or drain the open shot if given a slither of space. He is currently debating to reclassify into the 2015 class where he is sure to attract high-major offers.
Leigh Klein was formerly on staff at Texas and Rhode Island and now owns fivestarbasketball.com Five-Star Basketball Camps, the nation’s top basketball camp. He contributes to SLAM’s coverage of college basketball and the NBA Draft and is a frequent national radio guest. Klein can be followed at @LeighAlanKlein.