Nike’s Holiday Hoops Festival at DeMatha Catholic

I stopped into Nike’s 6th Annual High School Holiday Hoops festival at Dematha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland this weekend to check out some of the top talents and teams in the nation. If you want to get a firm grasp of the star wattage on the court, all you had to do was scan the stands to see the dozens of college coaches in attendance.

When you have legendary scout Tom Konchalski and Hall of Fame Coach Larry Brown, who is beginning his tenure at S.M.U., in the house, along with Indiana’s Tom Crean, V.C.U.’s bright young coaching star Shaka Smart, N.C. State’s Mark Gottfried and Ohio State’s Thad Matta, among many others, it’s pretty safe to assume that the players they’re all evaluating have the type of potential to leave lasting legacies on their programs.

One of the personal highlights to me, outside of the fantastic skills on display during the games was conversing with Smart and Matta in a relaxed setting, where their passion for the game oozes out of their insights and observations.

Although the top-tier recruits like Huntington Prep’s 6-foot-8 wing Andrew Wiggins, who some are projecting at the #1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft, and the diminutive sensation known as The Crime Stopper, the quicksilver 5-foot-6 point guard, Aquille Carr, who is playing his final prep season at Maryland’s Princeton Day Academy after three sensational seasons at Baltimore’s Patterson High School, were a joy to watch, I also enjoyed seeing some of the lesser known, younger players who are certain to make their own big splashes as they move further along in their prep careers.

Here are some quick observations of the following players who impressed during the weekend.

RANDALL BRODIE – 6-Foot-2 Freshman Combo Guard, Potomac High School (Potomac, MD)
Brodie played like anything but a freshman against a tough St. John’s (Washington, DC) squad. His confidence, knowledge and composure stood out, along with his sudden burst and craftiness when slithering toward the basket. He showed an ability to hit from long-range, along with having a natural competitiveness that can’t be taught. Brodie, who had an impressive 19 points, attacked the rim fearlessly and showed a nice stroke from deep. A slick lefthander, this kid is going to blossom into a major player down the road.

DION WILEY – 6-Foot-4 Junior Guard/Forward, Potomac High School (Potomac, MD)
Wiley showed a wide array of skills while tallying 22 points and eight rebounds, both in the post, mid-range and in the open court. His fluidity on the break, both on the wing and handling the ball, was impressive, along with his ability to finish through contact. He played strong on the inside while battling for rebounds and a sweet, soft touch from deep. His monster slam in the fourth quarter against St. Johns, using his left hand with a defender in his face, brought fans to their feet. Georgetown, Maryland and Virginia seem to be in the lead on the recruiting front.

NIGEL JOHNSON – 6-foot-1 Senior Point Guard, Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, MD)
Johnson averaged 30 points, eight assists, four rebounds and four steals per game last year at Broad Run High School. He plays at a composed steady pace, understands spacing and drawing defenders to create open looks for his teammates. But his main asset is a sudden burst of quickness and speed in the open floor that is upper echelon. His explosive, forceful dunk in the face of a challenging defender in Riverdale’s Saturday afternoon game against the #1 team in the country, Huntington Prep, was considered by many to be the highlight of the event. Johnson will play his college basketball in the Atlantic 10 conference at George Washington University.

ANDREW WIGGINS – 6-foot-8 Senior Wing, Huntington Prep (Huntington, WV)
No surprise here. Considered the top college recruit in the class of 2013, the Ontario, Canada native showed off a smooth skill set that half the cats in the NBA would kill for. He seems so easygoing and his game seems so effortless at times, when raising up for a three-pointer for example, that when he puts on the jets and bursts towards the rim for rebounds or dunks, his verticality and the speed with which he elevates seems to challenge the laws of physics. I liked his composure, throughout the weekend as Huntington played back-to-back tough games against Riverdale Baptist and Princeton Day. He finished with 20 points against Riverdale, and 16 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks, three assist and two steals against Princeton Day. Wiggins’ combination of world-class athleticism and his ability to handle the rock, shoot it and attack the boards with tenacity are marvelous to witness in person. He has narrowed his college choices down to Syracuse, Kentucky, Ohio State, Florida State, Kansas and North Carolina.

DOMINIC WOODSON – 6-foot-9 Senior Center, Huntington Prep (Huntington, WV)
Woodson is a massive human being at 6-foot-9 and close to 300 pounds, but he’s built more like Julius Peppers than a guy like Robert “Tractor” Traylor. The Texas native, who will suit up for the Baylor Bears next year, runs the floor well, has very good feet and soft hands. To say that he has a presence in the lane is like saying that Justin Bieber has a few pre-teen fans. Woodson can face-up, finish with both hands around the rim and attacks the boards like an alley-cat in heat.

MARCUS DERRICKSON – 6-foot-7 Sophomore Power Forward/Small Forward, Paul VI Catholic High School (Fairfax, VA)
Derrickson was the revelation of the event to me. I’d heard that he was a player to keep an eye on and wanted to see how he would look against an always tough Oak Hill Academy team. There were at least eight to ten Division I prospects on the court, including Oak Hill’s Nate Britt, who will play at North Carolina, future Indiana Hoosier Troy Williams and Sindarius Thornwell, who’s headed to South Carolina. And in this game, none of them looked better than Derrickson. The young fella did more than impress with his soft touch, great footwork and excellent shooting range. He showed a great post-up game executed with equal parts strength, finesse and sweet footwork. This kid is big, strong and athletic. What excited me even more than his scrumptious skills was the fact that he played hard every minute he was on the floor. He seemed to come up with every tough rebound and showed an excellent understanding of what his team needed, and having the heart and ability to then deliver it when necessary. Derrickson has a stocking stuffed with scholarship offers from the likes of Georgetown, Maryland, Villanova, Indiana, N.C. State and Pitt, among many others.

AQUILLE CARR – 5-foot-6 Senior Point Guard, Princeton Day Academy (Laurel, MD)
Like the aforementioned Wiggins, no surprise here. Sunday’s matchup against Huntington Prep was one of this season’s most highly anticipated matchups. And the little dynamo, who’s headed to Seton Hall next year, with the heart of a lion and Iverson-esque scoring and athletic ability did not disappoint. Aquille had a dazzling first half with 16 points. At the start of the fourth quarter, he had 24. Although he did not score a bucket in the final eight minutes, he continued to fearlessly attack the rim and get bounced around like a pinball. What Carr does cannot be taught. His speed with ball in his hands while running the break is on par with a stealth jet. His leaping ability and body-control, while bouncing off defenders in mid-air, has to be seen in person to be fully appreciated.
And in order to fully appreciate him further, it’s a must to watch him play in a packed gym in his hometown of Baltimore, where he singlehandedly reinvigorated the city’s east side economy as a one-kid stimulus package over the last few years. With that in mind, I shot over to East Baltimore on Monday night to check out Princeton Day take on St. Frances Academy. Carr struggled with his jump shot, but still dazzled with his blurry sprints through the tight spaces and hunger to compete. But the real star of the evening was…..

DWAYNE MORGAN – 6-foot-8 Small Forward, St. Frances Academy (Baltimore, MD)
Morgan only played about half the game and is still returning to full health after dealing with some tendinitis issues. But there is not another player in or from the area, in any class, whether it be future Tar Heel Nate Britt, Dematha and future N.C. State big man BeeJay Anya, future Villanova Wildcat Josh Hart from Sidwell Friends, or anyone else you want to name, that can hold a candle to this kid. In my eyes, he has the potential to be one of the best to come out of Baltimore in the current era, and that’s saying a mouthful. Morgan has the quick-twitch bounce-ability, Plastic Man arms that stretch like Michael Jordan in Space Jam, and like most kids from the area, an overall feel and understanding of the game that make him a college coach’s wet dream. A willing defender, rebounder and competitor, Morgan runs like a gazelle in the open court. But it’s his refined, sweeter than ghetto Kool Aid jump shot that separates him from most kids, throughout the entire country, not only on the high school level, but in college as well. Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, UNLV and Seton Hall are in the recruiting mix.