SALT LAKE CITY – Most of the very best prep hoop players in Utah – and then some – were on hand Saturday (Nov. 1) at West High for the first-ever West Coast Elite All-Star Camp/Utah.
There is a particularly strong class of 2016 within the state and Frank Jackson (6-foot-3/Highland Lone Peak), Yoeli Childs (6-7/South Jordan Bingham) and Gavin Baxter (6-7/Provo Timpview) each did his part to justify that perception Saturday.
Jackson scored with something bordering on absurd ease, either in transition or half-court settings, by way of pull-up jumpers – from just about any point at or within the arc – and explosive forays to the rim, around or over the top of defenders.
Jackson, who recently re-opened his recruitment after “committing” to Brigham Young University a bit more than a year ago, has a reasonable opportunity to be rated right near the top – of not on the top, period – of all “shooting guards” or “combo guards” in this national class by the time he’s drilled his final jumper and banged on someone for the last time in an Lone Peak uniform some 16 months or so from now.
Childs’ wing span, hand size and quick leaping ability make him as omnipresent in the low post at both ends of the floor as just about any 6-9 or taller player in this national class I’ve seen.
He led the team wearing the darker jerseys to a 94-86 victory in the Top 20 All-Star game, when he was every bit as forceful and powerful as a rebounder and low-post finisher as he was in his two camp games.
Baxter is much leaner (I’m going to say, maybe 195 pounds or so to Childs’ 220ish) than Childs and doesn’t have nearly the strength and low-post sophistication.
But there was no more spectacular “runner and jumper” at the event, regardless of size, than Baxter, whose lefty slam (he’s right-handed) – during which his hips seemed shoulder height to three guys in the lane he vaulted over the top of – in his second game late Saturday afternoon was the single most eye-popping play made by someone other than Frank Jackson.
With those three players as the foundation of the squad, the Utah Prospects squad could be as good as any in the west on the travel/club-ball circuit in the spring and summer.
Among the other players selected to the Top 20 game were:
*Seniors: Jesse Wade (6-1/Kaysville Davis) is expected to affix his signature to a Gonzaga national letter of intent during the NCAA’s “early” (Nov. 12-19) signing period and certainly had nothing to gain by showing up Saturday.
But show up he did – and how – while showing off the form that makes him, quite likely, the best jump shooter among western point guard-types in this class.
He’s a pretty nifty passer, as well, of course.
Two players from the class of 2015 who, apparently, haven’t gotten much in the way of recruiting attention from D-I programs so far – Telly Davenport (6-4/Idaho Falls Bonneville) and Josh Newbold (6-7/South Jordan Bingham) – were outstanding all day.
Davenport (who played in the same Utah Prospects backcourt with Wade last spring and summer) was one of the better “scorers” at the event and only his Bingham teammate (Childs) and Baxter rebounded any better than Newbold did on Saturday.
*Juniors: The ball often “died” in the hands of 6-8 Brendan Bailey (6-8/American Fork) and Sam Cunliffe (6-6/Seattle Blanchet) Saturday, via forced deep jumpers by Bailey and over-penetration and over-handling by Cunliffe.
Bailey hit enough of those well-beyond-the-arc jump shots and Cunliffe (a “vertical athlete” approaching Gavin Baxter) finished enough of those drives to remind me just how impressively they played when I watched them with their respective travel clubs (Bailey/Dream Vision and Cunliffe/A Plus) in July.
Once they zero in on doing a lot more positive things without the ball in their hands, and doing stuff to make teammates more effective when they do have the ball, their legit scholarship offers – the ones that will still be around 12 months from now when it’s time to sign letters of intent for the class of 2016 – will stockpile rapidly.
I had my first opportunity to watch Asa McCord (6-5/Saratoga Springs Westlake) and Landon Trusty (6-7/Bountiful) and each is definitely among the elements that make the 2016 Utah class so deep in D-I prospects.
McCord – ala Sam Cunliffe minus quite the same level of vertical pop – keep defenders on their heels with forceful and either-hand drives.
And no one played any harder – from first camp game until the end of the Top 20 game – than did Trusty.
A bonus mention goes to Caleb Simmons (6-5/Phoenix Desert Vista) who was very good in the one camp game I watched him play but somehow was left off the roster of either all-star game.
I was just as impressed with him on Saturday as I was in July when I watched him play for the Riverside, CA-based Team ELEATE squad during the Battle at the Beach Tournament in the Southern California beach community of Redondo Beach.
*Sophomores: The 2017 class in Utah isn’t exactly chopped liver (or any other deli meat you’d prefer to use as a culinary mixed metaphor) in comparison to its 2016 counterpart.
Jaxon Brenchley (6-4/Hyrum Mountain Crest) came into Saturday as the consensus No. 1 prospect in the state in the class and he headed home with that standing intact – at least from my perspective on what I saw over eight hours or so.
He should be in any discussion – along with the likes of Ethan Thompson (6-3/Torrance, CA, Bishop Montgomery), Daejon Davis (6-2/Seattle Lakeside) and Chris Williams (6-2/Orange, CA, Lutheran), to pull three names out of the air – about the top “shooting guard/wing” prospects in the west in this class.
Isaiah Barnes (6-7/Hyrum Mountain Crest) was the best of the 2017 “bigs” from Utah at the camp, which also got some extra frontcourt juice by the visits of Hunter Thompson (6-9/Pine Bluffs in Wyoming) and Matt Mitchell (6-5/Eastvale, CA, Roosevelt).
Thompson showed off the kind of footwork and low-post efficiency you rare see in a player that size that has yet to play a “real” game as a high school sophomore – including a left-handed jump hook in the lane (he’s a righty).
Opponents will fear and loath trying to deal with him for the next three high school seasons.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist . . .
Mitchell was a bit out of sync in his first game Saturday afternoon – he was on West High floor, playing, not much more than 90 minutes after his Jet Blue flight out of Long Beach landed – but the jumper starting falling later, especially in the Top 20 game.
Ryan Silver’s West Coast Elite Camp will hold another session next weekend at Legend High in Parker (a Denver suburb), with the bulk of the better prospects – across the spectrum of high school and middle school classes – in Colorado expected to participate.