NORWALK, Ca. – Some of the very best high school guards from the western classes of 2017 and ’18 took center stage Saturday – literally and figuratively – during Day I of the Pangos All-West Frosh/Soph Camp at Cerritos Community College.
Approximately 200 players – the bulk of high school freshmen and sophomores but there were a smattering of impressive eighth graders on hand, as well – were on hand for the annual two-day event, which attracts a lot of the elite prospects from the western region in those classes.
The first of 22 camp games scheduled to be played Sunday, spread over Falcon Gymnasium’s three playing surfaces, tip off at 9 a.m.
Two all-star games, the first scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and the second an hour later, wrap things up.
For purposes of trying to maintain some sense of focus with three games constantly being played simultaneously, Saturday I zeroed in on the games being played directly in front of me on Court II – center court.
That afforded me the opportunity to watch eight games and 15 of the 22 teams assembled from the players in attendance. The only team I watched twice was “Wyoming”.
Before I delve into the numerous guards who impressed me the most on Saturday, a word about a pretty cool matchup that took place in the first game I watched.
Going head to head for at least half of the 40 minutes or so of the game between “USC” and “UCLA” were sophomores Jacob Hughes (Anaheim Servite) and Brandon McCoy (San Diego Morse).
I’d seen each multiple times before Saturday (beginning when they were in eighth grade) and each showed considerable improvement from where they were as freshmen last spring.
Hughes stands approximately 6-foot-10, with the margin of error of that estimation being plus or minus a half-inch or so.
Hughes is much more assertive than he was as a freshman, when he was a reserve who earned sporadic minutes at Orange Lutheran (which, like Servite, is also a member of the high-powered Trinity that also includes Santa Ana Mater Dei, Bellflower St. John Bosco, Rancho Santa Margarita Santa Margarita and San Juan Capistrano JSerra).
He hit a couple of jumpers just beyond the free-throw line and also scored a couple of layups on follows or after short drives and rebounded with more aggression than I’d seen from him before, either at Orange Lutheran or with the Compton Magic travel program.
McCoy (who moved from the Chicago area to San Diego early in the eighth grade and appears to be an inch or so taller than Hughes), like his Servite counterpart, still doesn’t have much in the way of multiple low-post offensive skills, as a scorer or a passer.
And he showed off a nasty habit of not finding a guard with an outlet pass after clearing a defensive rebound. He short-circuited several potential transition opportunities, and flat out turned the ball over himself a couple of times in those situations, too.
That conceded, his handling skills are well advanced for a player of his size and age. He just needs to learn to be more prudent in exhibiting them.
But he is especially quick (for a player of any size much less a player teetering on the brink of being a 7-footer), both vertically – he had three stunning jumps in one four- or five-second burst while trying to follow the ball up for a bucket, succeeding on attempt No. 3 – and laterally.
OK, now on to the plethora of impressive guards who also did their things Saturday.
In Game 1 it was 2017 point guards Kyle Small (Lakewood Mayfair) and Braden Olsen (West Linn in Oregon) who – like big guys Hughes and McCoy in the same contest – separated themselves from the pack.
Small is expected to start in the same Mayfair backcourt this season as his “big” brother (as in 5-11 or so; Kyle is listed, perhaps generously, at 5-5) Kendall Small, who is already committed to the University of Oregon.
The younger Small was probably the quickest player – while dribbling – in the building all Saturday.
Olsen was equally adept as a jump shooter and creator off the dribble.
West Linn’s backcourt could be as good as any in the west this season. Senior Anthony Mathis is committed to the University of New Mexico while Payton Prichard is one of the region’s best junior point guards and is being heavily recruited across the country.
In Game 2 there were two 2017 SGs doing their oh-so-impressive things: 6-3 Ethan Thompson (Torrance Bishop Montgomery) and 6-2 Otto Taylor (San Diego St. Augustine).
Thompson, along with older brother Stephen Thompson Jr. and now-Long Beach State freshman point guard Justin Bibbins, help Bishop Montgomery win a California State Division IV championship in March.
His literal (man he’s sprouting!) and figurative growth as a player has been quite apparent to anyone who has seen a lot of him over the past year and a half.
Slap Taylor into that category, as well.
A reserve as a freshman for the Trey Kell-led team that lost in the San Diego Open Division final (against Carlsbad La Costa Canyon) and State Southern Open playoffs (to Santa Ana Mater Dei), Taylor – if Saturday’s effort is a viable indication – may blossom into a full-fledged star as sophomore.
Any short list of the very best SGs in this class – regionally, at the very least – has to include Thompson and Taylor if it is even remotely reputable.
Another game (“Cal” vs. “Stanford”; I guess I could call it a “Big Game”, right?) two more of the best scorers – and strongest players, period – in the camp in sophomores L’Angelo Ball (6-5/Chino Hills, CA) and 6-1 David Vasquez (Las Vegas Quest Prep).
Between the two, they may have hit 12 to 15 jump shots – a tidy amount of those behind the arc.
Ball’s older brother (junior Lonzo Ball) was courtside with his parents and both sets of grandparents, while the youngest member of the family, eighth grader L’Melo Ball, was also suited up and playing in the camp.
The left-handed Vasquez had a very good freshman season at Putnam (in Milwaukie, OR) before transferring for his sophomore school year and season.
One of the Southland’s most underrated PGs in the Class of 2017 may not be that way for much longer as Jailen Moore (Lake Elsinore Lakeside) – who seems to have grown at least three inches in the past year and is now close enough to 5-10 to be legitimately be called “5-10”. He didn’t make many mistakes Saturday night while doing a whole lot of things from “well” to “very well”.
Two talented point guards who matched up a few times in the “Oregon” vs. “Utah” game were 6-0 sophomore Miles Oliver (Etiwanda) and 5-8 freshman Jamal Hartwell (L.A. Fairfax).
Oliver, who was at Long Beach St. Anthony as a freshman, is one of three strong candidates to assimilate some of the minutes available because of the graduation of Jordan McLaughlin (USC) with fellow sophomore Isom Butler (who is also playing in the camp) and junior Garrett Carter.
Two of the other soon-to-be-high profile guards (among college recruiters, for sure) were on the floor for the “Gonzaga” vs. “New Mexico” contest.
Six-three sophomore J.J. Watson (Diamond Ranch in Diamond Bar) recently relocated from Greensboro, NC, to Southern California. No one had much luck at keeping him out of the lane off the dribble Saturday night.
And no one – scanning the size spectrum of Brandon McCoy to Kyle Small – was more impressive than 6-2 Chris Williams (Orange Lutheran) was Saturday.
An absolutely ancient sports writing and scouting cliché goes something like “he’s got the whole package” when describing an athlete who seemingly does everything in his chosen sport exceptionally well.
And, as much as the concept of avoiding clichés at all costs was drummed into me relentlessly since I was 16 years old and earning three or four dollars per high school sports story for the Artesia Advocate, it certainly fits when describing what Williams does on a basketball court.
The guy has the whole package, indeed.
Sunday’s Day II of the Pangos All-West Frosh/Soph Camp made it a bit easier to sort through the 200 or so players who attended the event at Cerritos Community College and pick out the 25 of those who most impressed me.
So here we go, beginning with 20 selections from the Class of 2017 (current sophomores) and five more from the Class of 2018 (freshmen). I’ll list them alphabetically, and then follow with some general comments:
*L’Angelo Ball (6-4/Chino Hills, CA)
*Elias Ballstaedt (6-4/Heber, UT, Wasatch)
*Isom Butler (6-1/Etiwanda, CA)
*Daejon Davis (6-3/Seattle Lakeside)
*Myles Franklin (6-4/Villa Park, CA)
*Jalen Harris (6-1/Los Angeles Windward)
*Jalen Hill (6-8/Corona, CA, Centennial)
*Jacob Hughes (6-10/Anaheim Servite)
*Brandon McCoy (6-11/San Diego Morse)
*Matt Mitchell (6-6/Eastvale, CA, Roosevelt)
*Jailen Moore (5-10/Lake Elsinore, CA, Lakeside)
*Charles O’Bannon Jr. (6-5/Las Vegas Bishop Gorman)
*Miles Oliver (6-0/Etiwanda, CA)
*Braden Olsen (5-11/West Linn, OR)
*Billy Preston (6-9/Redondo Beach, CA, Redondo)
*Robby Robinson (6-8/San Diego Kearny)
*Kyle Small (5-5/Lakewood, CA, Mayfair)
*Ethan Thompson (6-3/Torrance, CA, Bishop Montgomery)
*J.J. Watson (6-3/Diamond Bar, CA, Diamond Ranch)
*Chris Williams (6-2/Orange, CA, Lutheran)
Note: Jules Bernard (Los Angeles Windward), Jaylen Hands (Chula Vista, CA, Mater Dei), Justin Hemsley (La Verne, CA, Damien) and Otto Taylor (San Diego St. Augustine), to the best of my knowledge, played on just one day each so were eliminated from consideration for Top 20 status.
*Harrison Butler (6-4/Santa Ana, CA, Mater Dei)
*Jordan Campbell (6-2/Adelanto, CA)
*Jaden Lee (6-2/Gilbert, AZ, Christian)
*Scooter Smith (6-2/Bellflower, CA)
*Michael Wang (6-8/Santa Ana, CA, Mater Dei)
COMMENTS: Based on their play over the weekend (and not just on “college potential”), my choices for a Top Five (sophomores) team, by position, would be Jailen Moore (point guard), Daejon Davis (shooting guard), Charles O’Bannon Jr. (small forward), Billy Preston (power forward) and Brandon McCoy (center).
The two names that will probably cause the most eyebrows to raise are Moore (the most underrated point guard in the Southern California Class of 2017 – at least he was before the camp) and Davis (based on performance this weekend and college potential, he’s one of the 10 or so best western prospects in this class).
O’Bannon is the son of a 1994 McDonald’s All-American (Artesia High in Lakewood, CA) who started for four seasons at UCLA and had a long professional career in Japan.
Unlike his dad and Uncle Ed (the 1995 John R. Wooden Award winner after leading the Bruins to a national title), O’Bannon is right-handed and, at times, could have been mistaken for “Ray Allen Jr.” for as well as he was jump shooting from mid- and deep range.
Preston was easily the most offensively skilled “post-sized” player in the camp and, handled the ball as much as any guard on his camp team and in the Top 30 all-star game.
McCoy – and those who wanted to get a good feel for how good he is now and how good he could be in the future – was fortunate in that he had a couple of other exceptional “big” prospects to play, and measure himself, against in Jalen Hill and Jacob Hughes. And he came out looking just fine in those matchups.