Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The Hoop Group’s Southern Jam Fest kicked off its 2021 edition in style Friday night, with some of the country’s top prospects in the gym at the Boo Williams Sportsplex for the first night of the three-day tournament.
Here’s a notebook featuring notes and quotes from some of of the 17U Platinum bracket first-round action:
The No. 1 prospect in the 2022 class, Emoni Bates made his Team Final debut Friday night. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Bates’ impressive Team Final debut nearly spoiled
There was always going to be a large crowd gathered around Team Final’s oldest group this weekend, the result of having the No. 2 prospect in the 2022 class (Jalen Duren) on the roster. But when Final announced this week that No. 1 prospect Emoni Bates was joining the squad, Final’s 17Us became the must-see team of a field loaded with Nike, Under Armour & Adidas-sponsored squads.
So it’s no surprise that the stands were full and the sidelines packed by Court 1 when 7:30 PM rolled around, with just about every scout and mixtape specialist in the building gathered by the baseline.
Final won, 97-82, but that end result doesn’t tell nearly the whole story: how the VA Playmakers, despite a significant size disadvantage, hit a dozen 3-pointers to keep things close the whole way, from a five-point halftime difference to making it a 60-60 tie midway through the second half.
The VA Playmakers were led by Seton High School (Va.) 2022 wing Jack Vander Woude, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound shooting guard who had the night of his life. Vander Woude was absolutely unconscious from deep, knocking down six 3-pointers in the first half, including a half-court pull-up at the buzzer that had an underdog-rooting crowd going nuts.
Vander Woude finished with seven triples and 25 points, and he wasn’t the only one on his team who played well. Woodbridge (Va.) 2021 wing forward Shane Eden (6-6, 170) was equally hot from all over the floor, hitting three 3-pointers of his own to help him to 22 points. Both said they weren’t hearing much on a recruiting front, but that’s sure to change after the way they played against a bevy of high-major talent.
Speaking of Team Final, it’s not as if the Philly-area Nike-backed squad played poorly.
Bates, a 6-8 wing guard out of Ypsi Prep (Mich.) who’s been hailed as the Next Big Thing since he was a lanky high school freshman, finished with 18 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals, shooting 7-of-11 from the floor, including 2-of-4 from deep, and he seemed to be fitting in well amongst a Final group that’s been playing together for the last few years. An effortless high-level athlete, Bates flashed a fancy handle and finishing ability, plus the aptitude to stroke deep 3-pointers with ease.
Duren, typically a dominant post presence, had just eight points and seven boards against an undersized VA Playmakers, going only 1-of-6 from the foul line. Blair Academy (N.J.) 2022 guard Otega Oweh paced Final with 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting, while Corey Floyd (22/Roselle Catholic, N.J.) had 13 points and Justice Williams (22/Montverde Academy) had 11 for Final, which plays Team Richmond-HGSL on Saturday morning at 10:45 AM, and a Round of 16 game immediately afterwards against either Garner Road NC - Graves or Rhode Island Elite if they win.
Jack Scott flirted with a triple-double Friday night, finishing with 15 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Scott shines for shorthanded ShoreShots
The NJ ShoreShots have been one of the top teams on the Hoop Group’s circuit early in the offseason, but four of their key players are out with injuries that will sideline them for various lengths. That leaves head coach Matt Pooley with only a seven-man roster for the weekend, which will make an already-daunting field even more challenging for a squad that’s not lacking for talent in its own right.
It certainly didn’t bother the ShoreShots Friday night, as they cruised to a 61-35 win over Team Loaded 757 (Va.). At the middle of all of it was Hun School (N.J.) 2022 guard Jack Scott, who looks primed for a huge summer.
A 6-5, 178-pound lead guard, Scott was in control from tip to final buzzer, looking every bit the part of a prospect who’s about to find himself a popular commodity amongst Division I programs. He was continually getting into the teeth of the defense and finding teammates, making strong cross-court passes on the move, no-look flick-backs to open shooters, and jump-stops in the lane to get to his own shot or use some fancy footwork in post-up situations.
He finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and two steals, shooting 6-of-10 from the floor and 3-of-4 from deep.
“I know in that game I shot it well but I always can be a better shooter, and that’s such an important thing in today’s game, is being able to knock down shots,” he said. “ [I’m] just in the gym working on my shot, off the dribble, and then I always try to have a motor, so [I’m working on] keeping my motor up.”
The son of current Air Force head coach Joe Scott, Jack Scott has spent his childhood moving around the country with his dad’s jobs: born in Colorado when his dad was at Air Force the first time (2000-04), he’s also lived in New Jersey, back in Colorado, then Massachusetts and Georgia, though he’s now doing his prep school years in the Garden State.
Despite his clear Division I talent, Scott is still waiting on his first official Division I offer, but he knows it’s only a matter of time. Schools haven’t really gotten a chance to see him at his current size; he was only 6-2 as a high school sophomore, and has grown six inches since he began his freshman year, taking him from an average-sized point guard to one with terrific height and length for the position.
Penn and Princeton (where his dad was head coach from 2004-07) are talking to him, Scott said, as are Penn State and Davidson. Expect many more to jump on board once the high school live period begins in June, if not sooner.
“I lived all over the country so (location) doesn’t really matter to me, just the highest level basketball that I can play at, and it’s got to be a school that cares about academics,” he said. “Whatever has the best combination of basketball and school, that’s where I want to go.”
Neumann-Goretti's Masud Stewart (above) will be the Saints' senior leader next year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Stewart next up in Neumann-Goretti leadership role
Masud Stewart hasn’t been around Neumann-Goretti basketball too long, but he’s been around long enough.
The Saints’ rising senior guard first saw his future team play as an eighth grader in 2018, the year after five-star lead guard Quade Green drove the engine for Carl Arrigale’s program; Green was following on a procession of high-level lead guards that also included Tony Chennault (Villanova), Tyreek Duren (La Salle), Ja’Quan Newton (Miami), Lamarr Kimble (St. Joe’s/Louisville) and more, with Chris Ings (Rider), Jordan Hall (St. Joe’s/Texas A&M) and Hakim Byrd (Marist/UMBC) joining that group the last couple years.
Now it’s Stewart’s turn to be the senior leader on the court for the Philadelphia Catholic League powerhouse, taking the role that Temple guard Hysier ‘Fabb’ Miller played to perfection this year (18.4 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 6.4 apg). He'll be responsible for helping lead a young-but-promising group that includes the next up in N-G's guard lineage, rising sophomore Robert Wright III and more.
“Carl was telling me, like, this is your team, this is your year, just be confident with everything you do,” Stewart said Friday night after helping the NJ Scholars to a 75-55 win over Team AKT (Va.). “I’m the senior, you know? I’m going to be the team leader, I’m going to be a scorer, going to do everything [...] do whatever the coach needs me to do, honestly.”
Playing alongside the nation’s top 2023 prospect, Camden’s D.J. Wagner, Stewart chipped in eight points and a pair of assists in the win for the Scholars. He entered this offseason with three Division I offers, all picked up last summer, from Rider, Saint Peter’s and Holy Cross; Stewart said of the three, Holy Cross is still in touch most often. He’s also hearing from Brown, UC-San Diego, Penn, William & Mary and Howard.
A 6-1, 180-pound guard, Stewart was Neumann-Goretti’s fourth-leading scorer as a junior (9.5 ppg), shooting 13-of-35 (37.1%) from the 3-point arc, averaging 2.0 rpg and 1.5 apg as well. The Saints, an annual contender for the PCL title as well as the PIAA 3A or 4A crown, finished with an official record of 4-6 this year after having to forfeit a number of games due to a player eligibility issue.
“I feel like I could have done a lot more [personally], but this upcoming season I want to do a lot better and I want to win the ‘chip,” Stewart said. “I felt like I wanted to be a little more aggressive, and then I wanted to get to the rim a little more, I felt like I relied on my shooting too much and I wasn’t getting to the rim as much.”
— Started the night off watching Caveman Basketball (Pa.) come from down 23-2 out of the gate to knock off 6th Man Warriors (Md.), 80-76, behind a strong team effort. Leading the way was Pine-Richland (Pa.) rising senior Joey Dudkowski; the scoring combo guard missed his first three shots but finished with 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including 5-of-8 from downtown. A 6-3, 175-pound guard, Dudkowski also had five assists and three rebounds, showing the ability to hit shots off the catch as well as pulling up off the bounce, and he also hit a nice floater and displayed great footwork in the post. He’s hearing from high-academic Division III schools including Swarthmore, UChicago, Johns Hopkins and Carnegie Mellon. Also worth mentioning from this game was Penn Trafford (Pa.) 2022 point guard Noah Wright, who had 18 points and five assists; Wright’s high school teammate, Penn Trafford (Pa.) 2022 guard Nick Crum, had 11 points and another five dimes.
— Playing well for the 6th Man Warriors in a losing effort was Scotland Campus (Pa.) 2021 G Johannes Kirsipuu. The Estonia native scored nine points, with five rebounds and three assists, but he showed a great burst with the ball in his hands, played really hard on both ends and had a gorgeous high-arching jump shot that, while he wasn’t splashing it through the net, also wasn’t missing by much, indicating it was more of a good shooter on a off night. Also liked the game of DeMatha (Md.) 2022 Carl Powell, as the 6-2 off-guard had 18 points, three assists and two steals, with a smooth pull-up jumper and good athleticism on the wing.
— Though Scott was main standout from the NJ ShoreShots in their win, there’s no doubt that Phelps School (Pa.) 2022 G Jack Collins was a major part of the win, too. The 6-5, 190-pound off guard had 19 points on 6-of-7 shooting, hitting 3-of-4 from deep and 4-of-5 from the stripe, with seven rebounds. A 2021 graduate of Manasquan (N.J.) high school, Collins only recently made the decision to spend one more year in high school (and one more summer on the AAU circuit), so he’s only heard thus far from D-II Adelphi (N.Y.) and D-III Randolph-Macon (Va.). But at his size and shooting ability, he certainly looks like a scholarship prospect and potentially even D-I, especially if he continues to work on his handle.
— First look tonight at D.J. Wagner, the Camden superstar who’s trying to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather (Milt Wagner) and father (Dajuan Wagner) and become the first-ever third-generation NBA player. A 6-2, 155-pound lead guard, Wagner’s feel and athleticism are obvious, even though it wasn’t his best outing Friday night; he finished with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, though it wasn’t until right at the end that he finally hit a few shots to pad his total. Not going to read too much into one performance, and hoping to see Wagner a few more times this weekend.