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Team Final Scrimmage: Recruiting Notebook (April 18)

04/18/2021, 11:15pm EDT
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin) & Jerome Taylor (@ThatGuy_Rome)
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The annual Team Final Scrimmage took place this past weekend in Wilmington, at Final's new home at the Grail Sports complex. The lights were bright on the gym's solo court, spotlighting a ton of talent that took to the floor over the weekend.

Here’s a recruiting notebook from the second day of action, which featured each of Team Finals’ three oldest teams playing twice, against the Albany City Rocks (N.Y.) and then Team Melo (Md.). 

Jameel Brown dribbles a basketball

Jameel Brown (above) had 14 points in the second day of the Team Final Scrimmage. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Jameel Brown (2022 | Team Final | Haverford School, Pa.)

Brown spent his entire junior season off the market, committing to Purdue in December, but changed his mind last month after Penn State hired former Purdue assistant Micah Shrewsberry as its head coach. Shrewsberry had been Brown’s primary recruiter to the Indiana school, and his departure was enough for Brown to reconsider his options.

That doesn’t mean, though, that he’s just going to follow Shrewsberry to Happy Valley.

“I feel like everyone thinks I’m just going to commit to Penn State just like that,” Brown said, “but I’m going to look at every school and every school’s going to look at me, so I’ll take my time with it.”

That being said, the Nittany Lions are very much in the picture; Brown said he’d had a Zoom meeting with Shrewsberry and his new staff — which includes former Miami (Fl.) assistant Adam Fisher and former Hofstra interim head coach Mike Farrelly, both of whom have connections to this area — this week. 

Along with Penn State, Brown said he’s also heard from Saint Joseph’s, Virginia, Notre Dame, Pitt and Xavier since re-opening his recruitment. They’re all interested in his combination of size (6-foot-4, 195 pounds) and scoring ability, especially the ability to stretch the floor from deep he’s demonstrated with regularity over the years. Brown had a strong game in Final’s win over the City Rocks, finishing with 14 points (3-5 3PT), four assists and four boards, then had five points on only four shots in Finals’ 88-61 destruction of Team Melo to close out the event.

Some of those schools were recruiting him before his decision last year, but notably St. Joe’s coach Billy Lange has made a push for Brown’s services over the last couple months.

“[He’s] just trying to build a relationship with me, and my family,” he said. “I’m a local guy and I go to Haverford, so it’s right there, just keeping that Philly connection [...] I always want my family to come out and see me play, so they wouldn’t have to drive hours and fly. 

“But geography doesn’t really mean anything to me in my recruitment,” he added. “Wherever’s the right fit, that’s where I’ll go.”

As for Notre Dame, Brown said he was also forming a relationship with the coaching staff, but also wanted to reach out to talk to former Team Final and Imhotep Charter big man Elijah Taylor, who just finished his freshman year with the Fighting Irish; Taylor had preseason ankle surgery and didn’t play, but Brown said he was looking forward to hearing Taylor’s thoughts on the experience up in South Bend.

When it comes to a potential recruiting timeline, Brown said he’s just waiting to know he’s found the right spot — which could be sooner, or it could be later. In the meanwhile, he said he wants to focus on his on-ball defense and his foot speed/athleticism.

“I just feel like whenever [I find] the right fit for me is when I’ll make my [college] decision,” he said. -- Josh Verlin 

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(More weekend coverage: Day 1 Recruiting Notebook | Weekend Standouts)

J.J. Starling dribbles a basketball

City Rocks 2022 shooting guard J.J. Starling is fielding offers from a number of high-major programs. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

J.J. Starling (2022 | Albany City Rocks | La Lumiere, Ind.)

Starling was having a rather quiet game against Team Final in a 17U game midway through the action on Sunday, when all of a sudden he wasn’t. 

The 6-4, 200-pound wing guard caught fire in the second half, pulling up from deep for ‘3’, getting to the rim, and finishing with 21 points with three triples and a perfect 10-of-10 showing from the stripe. While it wasn’t enough to help City Rocks overcome perhaps the best 17U travel team in the country, it was plenty of evidence as why the rising senior is considered a consensus four-star recruit as well as a top-60 prospect in his class by ESPN.

Starling’s recruitment stayed strong during COVID, as he picked up offers from the likes of Ohio State, Penn State, Notre Dame, Miami, UConn and more to go along with ones from Syracuse, St. John’s, Washington, and other high-major programs; Stanford and Maryland are also checking in, but haven’t yet offered. And Starling said that that list of offers hasn’t been just for show.

“They all prioritize me, which I love. Each and every one of my offers, they’re contacting me, making sure they’re prioritizing me,” he said. “And I’m surprised, especially (the ones) playing in the tournament and stuff like that, having their own games, they’re still contacting me.”

Those schools shouldn’t expect a commitment anytime soon: Starling said he’d likely wait until he’s sure he’s found the right spot.

While he was a sophomore at Baldwinsville (N.Y.), Starling averaged north of 28 points per game, topping the 30-point mark 11 times according to Syracuse.com’s stats. He made a jump up in competition this past year, transferring out to La Lumiere, annually one of the nation’s most competitive prep programs.  

“I definitely got stronger, with finishing and stuff like that, because I put on some weight so I’m able to absorb more contact,” he said. “And defense, that’s what I honed in on at prep.

“Right now I’m just honing more on being a better scorer, like a shooter. Valuing shots so I don’t have to take as many so I can hit more, be more consistent; and defense.”

Starling gave a lot of credit for his love of basketball and his dedication to his older brother, Tyler, who’s 10 years Starlings’ senior; Tyler, who was unable to play due to sickle cell disease, helped Starling toughen up on the court.

“When I was younger, even if I was like four or five, I would go outside and play with his friends,” Starling said. “And he would let them play their hardest to block my shot, so I would learn.

“I’m doing this for my family, big-time, especially my brother and my mom, I’m really really close with them, so I’m doing this for them.” -- Josh Verlin

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Justice Williams dribbles a basketball

Team Final 2022 guard Justice Williams spent his junior year at national powerhouse Montverde Academy (Fl.). (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Justice Williams (2022 | Team Final | Montverde Academy, Fla.)

In the year that he’s been away from Philadelphia hoops eye, Williams’ recruitment has gone from the backburner to the forefront.

A year ago, Williams was just finishing up his sophomore year at Roman Catholic, and though he already held a half-dozen high-major offers in his pocket at that point, it was clear there was a lot more to come for the highly-touted 6-4, 180-pound shooting guard. Then came COVID, and Williams — along with Roman and Team Final teammate Jalen Duren — had the opportunity to attend national hoops powerhouse Montverde Academy (Fla.), and they spent the entire 2020-21 winter in sunny Florida helping Montverde to the GEICO National Championship.

Now he’s back home with Team Final, another dozen high-major offers coming his way during that junior year. And college is no longer a far-off prospect for a guard who’s been on the high-major radar since coming into his freshman year.

“It has gone by fast,” Williams admitted. “People say it’s going to go by in the blink of an eye, that’s not a lie at all. When you look up and I’m going to be a senior next year, that’s crazy. Everything’s coming to a reality and we signed up for this, so we’re getting closer to our goal.”

Of the schools that he’s been offered by, Williams said he’s hearing most often from “Michigan, Memphis, UConn, Alabama, [and] Maryland,” adding that he’s also been hearing from Kentucky. He also has a Villanova offer, but the Wildcats have brought in several backcourt pieces recently, including St. Peter’s Prep (N.J.) 2022 guard Mark Armstrong, who committed earlier this month; Williams said he still hears from Villanova “from time to time.”

When it comes to making his decision, Williams said that player development is key, as he wants to put himself in the best possible position to turn pro. And while all the programs he’s hearing from have developed plenty of pros, he knows he’s got some time to sort things out.

“I’m just riding this out, this summer out, see whatever happens and when visits start back up then I can kind of have an (idea) of where I would fit at,” he said, “but [I’m] also hearing everybody else out.”

Williams was playing his best in Final’s win over Team Melo, finishing with 17 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals while hitting 6-of-8 from the floor. Normally a strong outside shooter, he did all of his damage from inside the arc, showing off an improved handle and dribble-drive ability as well as working within Final’s loaded backcourt.

“I feel like I’ve grown over the year, I’ve gotten more versatile in terms of playing the point guard and shooting guard as well,” he said. “I feel like I made some big steps, especially defensively, I feel like I have more intense defense now.”

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Quadir Copeland holds a basketball

Team Melo 2022 guard Quadir Copeland will spend next season at IMG Academy (Fl.) after playing his junior year at Life Center Academy (N.J.). (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Quadir Copeland (2022 | Team Melo | IMG Academy, Fla.)
After worrying that competition at Gettysburg (Pa.) wouldn’t be enough for him to reach his potential, Copeland took his game west on I-76 and across the bridge to Life Center Academy (N.J.). He’ll be heading further south this upcoming season after announcing over the weekend that he will be playing next year at IMG Academy (Fl.). 

Copeland believes the year at Life Center has prepared him well for his next step and that his game has grown due to the uptick in competition. 

“Playing at Life Center against DJ Wagner, Zion Cruz, it helped me a lot,” he said, “and it helped me see the next level of basketball.”

Copeland specifically had to spend time improving his jump shot during his time in Jersey because the 6-6 guard, as he put it, couldn’t “bully” his way to the basket against better athletes. However, during Team Melo’s loss to Team Final on Sunday he still showed he can be an effective finisher at the rim, getting six of his 10 points as layups and showed off his range with a 3-pointer. 

Though he can score in bunches, Copeland gets more out of getting his teammates involved and the colleges currently pursuing him see him as their point guard of the future because of his pass-first style. 

Copeland currently has offers from Syracuse, Oregon, Miami, Maryland, Siena, La Salle and St. Joe’s and Big Ten schools like Michigan and Iowa are reaching out. So far in the process, La Salle, Oregon and Syracuse have been talking to Copeland the most and when he can officially visit he plans to check out Miami, Syracuse and Oregon’s campuses in person.

This summer Copeland wants to continue to work on his jumper and develop further as a playmaker, he also wants his time with Team Melo to help prepare him for playing with a true post player, because he knows he will have to at IMG Academy and in the years beyond. -- Jerome Taylor

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Quick Hits
Rahmir Barno (2023/Team Final/Imhotep Charter, Pa.)
Barno, coming off a shortened-yet-unbeaten season with Imhotep where the Panthers won the Public League championship, has an impressive basketball IQ, and his ability as a playmaker was on display against Team Melo on Sunday when he recorded five assists. Barno also showed an impressive ability to get to the rim and shake defenders. His “wiggle” has  been something that has impressed college coaches, leading to his first two offers from La Salle and Hofstra. “I want more,” Barno said. “So I’ve got to keep working and pushing and striving…it doesn’t stop, there’s no limit.” Barno is using the summer to work on extending his range as a shooter and is continuing to tighten his handle.   

Justin Edwards (2023/Team Final/Imhotep Charter) 
Edwards is an impressive athlete who is looking to use the summer to fine-tune his game; during the weekend he led Team Final with 16 points and pulled in six rebounds (and a block and steal to boot) against Team Melo. This past season at Imhotep he was primarily used as a spot up shooter and high-post player, but during the weekend his dribble pull-up game was on display and it’s something he says he’s continuing to work on. Edwards is also working on his off-hand a lot and wants to bring the ball up more to show off a combination of size and playmaking. The 6-7 guard/wing already has offers from Virginia Tech, Seton Hall and DePaul and said he’s recently been talking to Penn State and Georgetown.

James Johns Jr. (2023/Team Final/TBD)
Johns, whose father is the Team Final 17U head coach, has had an interesting high school career thus far; after spending his freshman year at West Catholic (Pa.) Johns Jr. went to Spire Academy (Ohio) so that he could continue to play during the Covid-stricken 2020 season. Now Johns Jr. is back home and is currently choosing between two local high schools for where he wants to play during his last two years. Whichever school gets him will be bringing in a sharpshooter with size (6-6, 195) who can get a bucket at any time, especially if he's open fromt he perimeter. “When I started playing basketball,” Johns Jr. said. “I was the kid who just sat in the corner and shot.” That shot making ability has earned him scholarships from Miami, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Before getting onto some college campuses when he's allowed in June, he wants to use the summer to become a better vocal leader and a better defender. 


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