PARKER, CO – The dominant play of two of the national Class of 2016’s best prospects was a major highlight to Nov. 9’s high school portion of the West Coast Elite Camp/Colorado at Legend High in this Denver suburb.
That one of those juniors is 6-foot-9 De’Ron Davis of Overland High in nearby Aurora is a given:
He’s been widely considered one of the top 2016 post prospects since well before he played a game in a high school uniform. There was an Associated Press story written about in Denver when he was an eighth grader.
And Davis (a member of the Colorado Hawks’ adidas-fronted travel program) didn’t have a whole lot to gain by playing Sunday – even with so many quality prospects on hand, spread across all four prep classes, from within and outside of Colorado.
His status as one of the best “bigs” in the national class is well locked-in and his scholarship options weren’t going to be impacted, one way or another, whether he showed up or not.
But there he was early Sunday morning, stretching and warming up with the other 100-plus athletes in attendance, playing in two camp games and then soldiering his way through the Top 20 All-Star game despite suffering a mild ankle sprain that led him to stay on the bench for the second half of the “Arizona” team’s camp squad’s second game.
My choice, however, for the Most Outstanding Player tag for the camp is 6-6 Sam Cunliffe (Blanchet High in Seattle).
And a whole lot of the players from in and around the Denver area who were watching him for the first time – Davis included – and were offering plenty of vocal props from the stands would probably agree with that assessment.
His skills as a handler, passer, scorer and – often – spectacular and high-flying athlete were clicking from Jump Street when he stepped onto the floor for “Utah” Sunday morning.
Cunliffe may be the least known – from the perspective of college recruiters and the “Internet scouting” circuit – among the 25 or so best prospects in the national junior class for just one reason:
Not nearly as many of those aforementioned folks have seen him as they have the other prospects in that category.
Cunliffe played on the junior varsity at Seattle’s O’Dea High as a freshman, and was ineligible to play as a sophomore after his transfer to Blanchet.
He did make an impact on those – myself included – who happened to see him play with the Seattle-based A Plus travel squad during a Pump-N-Run Tournament in Southern California last July.
But the figurative recruiting floodgates on attention from college coaches and “Internet recruiting sites” are going to burst when he finally makes his varsity debut in a few weeks and when he hits the travel ball circuit in the spring.
OK, now for a rundown on some of the other players who played impressively on Sunday:
Class of 2015: The squad wearing white jerseys (including De’Ron Davis) trailed the dark jersey-wearing team 34-11 late in the first half of the Top 20 All-Star affair.
But the deficit was cut to three points late before the “dark jerseys” prevailed, 67-62.
The inside presence of Davis was a large reason for the second-half surge but so was the play of 5-10 point guard Brian Carey (Denver East), who seemingly made every “right” handling, passing and shooting decision over the final 20 minutes.
It was one of the best examples of how to play the position I saw all fall.
Class of 2016: It would have been easy to overlook all of the other juniors on Sunday while being transfixed by the performances of Davis and Cunliffe
Fortunately I didn’t succumb to that temptation or you wouldn’t be reading about the following fellows.
Alpha Diallo (6-7/Denver Lincoln) showed a lot of skill, from the perimeter and inside the lane, throughout the day and was part of the Top 20 Game-winning squad, as were Cunliffe and one of the day’s top surprises (at least to me), 6-6 Austin Mueller (Highlands Ranch Thunderridge).
Diallo will be ineligible to play for Lincoln during the first semester after his transfer from Denver West.
Muller played about as consistently hard at both ends of the floor as anyone at the event.
And look for the stock (among college recruiters) of 6-5 Justin Bassey (Denver Colorado Academy), 6-4 LaDarius Thomas (Aurora Central) and 6-6 Danny Garrick (Parker Legend) to climb in rapid fashion, a la Cunliffe, in the winter and spring.
Bassey can do a lot of the things as a handler, passer and scorer that Cunliffe can only minus the Seattle kid’s eye-popping vertical and horizontal explosiveness.
Thomas showed a much more complete game than when I last watched him in the spring at the same venue, when he tried to rely too much on his jump shot.
Dunking contests bore me to tears, on any level of the sport.
But I will say that seeing a “dunk-off” staged between Cunliffe and Garrick at some point Sunday would have been pretty sweet.
Check the U-Tube entries on both of those lads at some point this season and you’ll understand why.
Class of 2017: If any unofficial “Top 20 All-Star Game MVP” hardware had been rewarded it would have probably been the property of 6-8 Landon Walker (Scottsbluff High) as he and his family made the 200-mile drive back to their home in the western portion of Nebraska Sunday night.
The 225-pound Walker has a remarkably advanced (for his age) offensive game down low and his work there, as well as his game defensive effort to try to slow down Davis, were big reasons the “black” squad dominated the first half in the all-star game.
Coaches from a whole lot of programs in the Big Ten, Big 12, Mountain West and Pac 12 conferences will be taking extended looks at this kid in the winter.
FYI: He’s expected to team with De’Ron Davis on what could be a potent frontline for the Colorado Hawks on the travel ball circuit in the spring and summer.
Six-five D’Shawn Schwartz (Colorado Springs Sand Creek) was widely considered the No. 1 freshman in the state last season.
And if the left hander’s performance Sunday is a barometer, he’s already staked a claim on the “No. 1 sophomore” tag this season, as well.
Braxton Bertolette (5-11/Ft. Collins Fossil Ridge) was the best jump shooter in the West Class of 2017 I saw last season.
And, as was displayed Sunday, the release, range, touch and accuracy are as terrific as ever.
Is there a taller sophomore tennis player in Colorado than Jackson Ehrlin (Colorado Springs Rampart)?
The left hander may go a tad taller than 6-8, so it’s doubtful.
After discovering that he’s a tennis player I have a better understand of why he moved so well, laterally, on Sunday, in both the camp games and Top 20 contest.
If he is soinclined to put in the on-court work to do so, he could be the best post in the state once Davis heads to college.
And be sure to follow the name Calvin Fugett, Jr. (5-11/Denver George Washington).
He is slick and oh-so-quick.
Class of 2018: Nine freshmen were selected to either the Top 20 or Top 40 games.
Yeah, it’s a very strong class in Colorado.
Sam Masten (Highlands Ranch Rock Canyon) and Daylen Kountz (Denver George Washington) are 6-2, or so, left-handers who play with advanced skill, pose and “feel” for guys who have yet to play a minute of high school hoops.
Masten and Kountz are going to be point guards or “combos” in high school – and, eventually, point guards in college.
Here are a couple of “pure shooting guard prospects”, to track over their high school careers: 6-3 Deven Nelson (Colorado Springs Mesa Ridge) and 6-4 Jaylen Harden (Littleton Columbine).
And Jon’il Fugett (5-10) will no doubt team with fellow speedster and older brother Calvin to put a lot of pressure, from both ends of the floor, on George Washington opponents this season.