MANALAPAN, N.J. -- The second Elevate Hoops tournament of the July live recruiting periods’ first week began on Friday with a day of showcase games; each team got one game to prepare for Saturday’s bracket play.
Here’s a notebook from the day’s action:
Abdallah Saleh (above) and North Bergen won 22 games last season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Undersized Saleh working to sustain success
This summer is one of hard work for Abdallah Saleh.
His North Bergen (N.J.) HS squad went from a seven-win team in 2015-16 to a 22-game winner last year, but graduated four seniors, including three starters. Saleh was one of the team’s leading scorers a year ago but was able to take a backseat in terms of leadership.
One graduating class later, he’s gone from an underclassman to a team leader. He can’t be anything less if the Bruins are to build on their first winning season in seven years.
“I have to mature quickly, get everybody on the same page,” he said. “They were picking up my slack, now I have to pick up (the younger players’) slack, just to get their mentality and their confidence moving up.”
Working hard is clearly not a problem for Salah, who despite standing 6-foot-2 and playing the ‘4’ spot for the Jersey Force Elite’s 16Us had himself quite a game against a talented Team Final 15U group that’s playing up this weekend.
Thanks to his hustle and knack for being in the right spot at the right time, Saleh worked his way to 13 points and 11 rebounds, grabbing seven of those on the offensive end; he also dished out four assists.
Most of his buckets came on mid-range jumpers, though he also had a few stick-back layups.
A native of Lebanon, Saleh came to the United States with his family when he was “about seven or eight” years old, fleeing the troubled country in a time of upheaval.
“I don’t remember much,” he said. “I don’t even know where I lived any more over there.
“We came here to live free, that’s all,” he added.
Saleh’s next dream is to play college basketball, though coaches aren’t exactly beating down the door for a 6-2, 200-pound power forward before his junior year of high school. Even if he did out-play a few future Division I prospects.
“Not yet,” he said, “but hopefully today will help.” -- Josh Verlin
Solano looking to make a splash in post-St. Anthony world
Jorman Solano never saw the court for the St. Anthony’s Friars this past season, a theme not uncommon for underclassmen at arguably the most storied high school program in the country.
The 2019 forward, listed at 6-foot-5 and playing with The Firm 16U, was a player in development with just four years of basketball experience. Solano didn’t make an appearance in his two seasons as a Friar and was biding his time, hoping to turn heads with his final two scholastic seasons.
That dream ultimately died with St. Anthony, which closed its doors in June due to a lack of funding and enrollment. Solano is one of many non-senior Friars that has found or is in the process of finding a new home. But it’s in Jersey City where he truly learned the game.
“When I was at St. Anthony, I was just coming in and practicing and getting to the weight room to get right,” Solano said. “St. Anthony is a really good program. Even if you’re not on the court getting playing time, you’re always getting better when you’re in those practices.
“I started playing when I was in seventh grade and playing for St. Anthony’s and Coach Bob Hurley has shown me a lot of things that has helped me along in my basketball career and I give a lot of thanks to him for a lot of what I know. He’s a great coach and I’m sad it’s closing down.”
Solano, who will transfer to Marist High School in Bayonne, NJ, used his time on the opening day of Summer Icebreaker II to show Division I college coaches just what he’s capable of. He was able to score at all three levels, driving inside to set up outside shots which fell often for him.
Solano’s recruitment list is not deep, no surprise for a player that hasn’t played minutes at the varsity level yet. Solano said Quinnipiac and NJIT, along with a handful of Division II schools, have shown various levels of interest after playing with Marist at various team camps. -- Andrew Koob
Pocono Mt. West forward Elmore key part of transition
Travis Elmore’s junior season ended with celebration as Pocono Mountain West won the District 11 6A championship, then in disappointment with a second-round PIAA state playoff loss to Plymouth-Whitemarsh.
Now, his senior season will start with a transition period as Rich Williams takes over as the Panthers’ head basketball coach. This comes after Brad Pensyl retired from the position after 28 years as the head coach of the program.
Elmore, who started for his team last year, is optimistic about the change and believes the team will continue to succeed.
“It’s going to be really different but I think we’re going to be able to do it and be able to win,” he said. “Coach Williams has actually been talking to me earlier than coach Pensyl -- since I was in seventh or eighth grade -- so me and Coach Williams have a big relationship.”
So far, the team seems to be transitioning easily during the offseason, but there’s a lot to replace. Gone are St. Francis (Pa.) freshman Jalen Vaughns, who averaged 23 ppg and 12 rpg as a senior, as well as fellow standouts Lance Singh and point guard Isaiah Wiggins.
Elmore is looking forward to stepping up his game for his upcoming senior season to help replace some of the production that trio brought to the floor -- though it’s clear this is going to be a new-look Panthers squad.
“My mindset is basically me having to be the man, the go to man,” Elmore said.
Though he plays his summers with the L&L Running Rebels, Elmore wasn’t in action on Friday, sitting out due to a foot injury that was bothering him; he said he’ll be good to go on Saturday.
The 6-foot-5 forward has heard so far from several small-college programs, including D-IIs Felician (N.J.), Assumption (Mass.) and Chestnut Hill, all of whom have entered the picture in the last month or so.
Elmore is still awaiting his first offer.
“I feel it coming, I just have to play really strong” he said. “My team needs to win, that’s the main thing.” -- Isabella Sanchez
-- The 6th Man Warriors (Md.) 16s’ showcase game was a chance for them to showcase just how dangerous they can be, running away to a 92-31 win over Team Impact. It’s a group that’s got some clear future Division I talent on the roster, including some significant size with real ability. The son of former NBA small forward Walt Williams, St. Andrew’s (Md.) wing Kimari Williams is a 6-7, 180-pound ‘3’ man with professional upside of his own, playing above-the rim and guarding guards and bigs alike; UAB is his first and only offer, though Williams said he’s also hearing from VCU and Liberty. Also standing 6-7 but with a different game was Charlie Weber, who’s transferring from Huntingtown (Md.) to Bishop O’Connell of the famed WCAC, where he’ll see a big uptick in competition; Weber, who has a smooth face-up game but had the requisite toughness to block shots and grab rebounds, said he’s hearing from Holy Cross, UMBC and Mount St. Mary’s as he awaits his first offer. Also playing well in this one was Jimmy Kpadeh, a 5-11 combo guard from National Christian Academy with a sweet shooting stroke and a heads’ up on-ball game, but he’s yet to be contacted by any schools.
--Manny Ansong saw steady improvement over the last three years at Bordentown (N.J.) in leading the Scotties to 20-win seasons in each year. With a couple of Division I offers in hand, the 6-foot-2 guard is hoping to expand that list as he takes a prep year at the Canterbury School (Conn.). “I feel like I could still improve my skills and build everything up to get ready for Division I. I just need to follow my coach’s guidelines, stay true to the game and be humble.” The guard showed off his toughness in the Central Jersey Jammers’ four-point loss Friday, finishing through contact while not shying away on the defensive end. Ansong said he holds offers from Delaware State and Kent State and has drawn interest from Rider and Central Connecticut.
--Jared Kimbrough has the chance to make a large impression, larger than his 6-foot-8 frame, when he returns to the Sportika courts Saturday. The Neptune High School center has already made an impression on several mid-major schools, earning offers from the likes of La Salle, Monmouth and Towson, but he’ll have the opportunity to earn his first high-major offer when he plays in front of Michigan, who will be in attendance tomorrow per Kimbrough’s AAU coach. Kimbrough was a force in Jersey Force Elite 17U’s showcase victory, patrolling the paint and protecting the defensive glass. He has the defensive tools at his disposal and if the upcoming senior can develop his shot, he could have more high major schools taking a look.
--While his recruitment is heating up and the offers continue to roll in, Drew Friberg is not letting the attention affect his play. The 6-foot-6 forward for the Jersey Shore Warriors 17U team picked up an offer from Delaware Thursday and has several other teams, including the likes of Bucknell, Lehigh, Brown, Navy and New Hampshire along with the Blue Hens, showing plenty of interest in the upcoming State College High School senior. Friberg showcased a smooth shot and the ability to take advantage of a mismatch in JSW’s double-digit win Friday night and could easily add to his list of offers. That won’t speed the process up for Friberg, who will wait until after July to make any sort of decision on which school makes the cut. “I’m just taking it all in,” Friberg said. “I want to play the rest of July out then probably after I’ll cut it down. But right now I just want to focus on playing and taking it all in. Things are really wide open right now.”
--Team Melo brought its talented 16U squad to Manalapan and they showed why they should be taken seriously in their showcase game, a 20-plus point victory. R.J. Blakeney (2019/St. Maria Goretti) and Jalen Willis (2019/Joppatowne) were the main attractions with Blakney, a lanky 6-foot-5 forward, dominating in transition and Willis, a 6-foot-3 guard, displaying a solid inside-out scoring prowess. Blakney said he holds offers from Tulsa and Towson and that schools such as UCF, UMBC and Xavier have expressed interest.
-- Team Melo Red’s Brandon Watson (2018/Our Lady of Mount Carmel) is listed as a power forward, but the 6-7 athlete with long arms and a terrific frame really is more of a combo forward/wing, with his ability to shoot the 3-pointer off the couch and even put the ball on the floor a few times to get to the hoop. Watson’s defensive versatility is also impressive, as he’s an effective shot-blocker inside who can also step out and guard wings and big guards. No offers yet, he said, but mentioned that New Hampshire and Mount St. Mary’s plus D-II Shepherd had reached out.
-- Watched the East Coast Power 16s beat the Jersey Force 16’s ‘B’ team 72-56 in one of the first sets of the day, with some talented guard play on both sides. East Coast Power’s best player in this one was either Pennridge’s Sean Yoder (13 points, three rebounds) or Haverford School guard Gavin Burke (10 points), both of whom were able to break down the Jersey Force defense and get into the lane, though Episcopal’s Matt Dade also chipped in nine points and eight boards while Methacton’s David Duda Jr. knocked down five 3-pointers en route to 17 points. Playing well for Jersey Force-Arlington was 5-8 point guard Brenden Kelly (Arthur L. Johnson, N.J.), who had 14 points and hit some tough shots off the bounce; 6-5 big man Dylan Kaufman (2019/Marlboro) had eight points and five boards and made some nifty passes out of both the high and low post.