Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
HAMPTON, Va. — Spent all weekend at the Hoop Group’s Southern Jam Fest, a loaded tournament stocked with shoe-sponsored travel teams as well as several top independent and Hoop Group Summer League (HGSL) programs. Even though Division I coaches weren’t allowed in the building, the competition all weekend long was akin to that of a live period, with the various Nike, Under Armour and Adidas-backed squads all battling for a trophy and some serious bragging rights.
Here’s who really stood out from games I was watching this weekend:
Imhotep guard Rahmir Barno (above) helped lead Team Final to the 16U championship. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Rahmir Barno (2023 | Team Final | Imhotep Charter, Pa.)
One of two Final and Imhotep teammates on this list, Barno was terrific in two games watched Sunday as Final won the 16U championship. The 5-11 combo guard really turned it on in the second half of Final’s semifinal win over Durant, finishing with 13 points and six assists, then had 10 points in the championship win, including a pair of game-clinching foul shots with five seconds left. Barno has a great feel for the game, including when to dish and when to score, and he’s an elite finisher with both hands. Temple, Drexel, La Salle and Hofstra have all offered since March.
Emoni Bates (2022 | Team Final | Ypsi Prep, Mich.)
It’s always tricky to write about a player who’s considered No. 1 in the country, with all the hype that Bates has: it’s tough not to hold such prospects to a higher standard, expecting greatness and feeling somewhat disappointed if they don’t live up to that standard. But watching Final four times this weekend, it’s clear that Bates very much deserves his ranking, even with plenty of high-level prospects itching to prove themselves worthy of that spot and the attention it brings. A 6-9, 205-pound wing guard, Bates has elite size and length for his position, with a wiry, bouncy frame, and he’s a true three-level scorer who can launch and connect from deep with accuracy, get into the midrange and attack the basket against anybody, finishing all sorts of tough layups. Most impressively, he didn’t hog the ball, played within Final’s offense, had good body language and looked more and more comfortable in the flow as the weekend went on.
Jack Collins (2022 | NJ ShoreShots | Phelps School, Pa.)
A shooter with terrific size, Collins looked like a burgeoning Division I prospect on Friday night when he scored 19 points on just seven shots in a win over Team Loaded 757 (Va.). A 6-5, 190-pound wing guard, Collins just graduated from Manasquan (N.J.) and is taking a prep year at Phelps School in Malvern (Pa.), where he’ll certainly have a chance to prove he belongs on a D-I roster, if he doesn’t do that in the next couple months. In the win over Team Loaded 757, Collins was 3-of-4 from downtown and also grabbed seven rebounds, and he knows how to use his size to his advantage when matched up against smaller guards, getting into the lane and knocking down some mid-range buckets as well. So far, he’s hearing from D-II Adelphi (N.Y.) and D-III Randolph-Macon (Va.).
Quadir Copeland (2022 | NJ Scholars | IMG Academy, Fla.)
Copeland recently joined the Scholars after beginning this offseason with Team Melo (Md.), but the prospect from southwest Philly -- who played his first couple seasons of high school ball at Gettysburg (Pa.), looked plenty comfortable in his new duds as well. A big guard (6-6, 180), Copeland doesn’t just call himself a point guard, he walks the walk, racking up big assist numbers whenever he’s on the court, like a 11-point, seven-assist effort against Team AKT (Va.) on Friday and a 14-point outing against WeR1 on Saturday that saw him get a laceration on his forehead in the first half and return in the second with a bandage to play his best ball thus far. Syracuse, Oregon, Miami, Maryland and more are all heavily involved with Copeland, who’ll head down to IMG this year after playing at Life Center (N.J.) last season.
Joey Dudkowski (2022 | Caveman Academy | Pine-Richland, Pa.)
Watched Caveman, a group of Western Pa. small-college prospects, take down 6th Man Warriors (Md.) on Friday night, and Dudkowski was a major reason why. The 6-3, 176-pound guard was on fire from beyond the arc, missing his first two but then making five of his next six as he poured in a game-high 26 points, along with five assists and three rebounds. More than just a spot-up shooter, Dudkowski was knocking down pull-up jumpers, got into the lane and showcased a beautiful floater and some nifty post footwork, got to the line and attacked the rim, using his strong athletic frame well on the defensive end. A high-academic prospect, he’s hearing from Swarthmore, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins and UChicago.
Jalen Duren skies for a dunk during Sunday morning's quarterfinals against DC Premier. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Jalen Duren (2022 | Team Final | Montverde Academy, Fla.)
While Bates is No. 1 in 2022, Duren is right behind him, as the former Roman Catholic (Pa.) big man has more of an impact on the court than anybody else when he’s on top of his game, which is most of the time — and even when he’s not, he’s still a major problem for opponents. The 6-10, 230-pound power forward’s biggest threat is his ability to intimidate, whether that’s with blocks swatted onto the next court or the regular thunderous dunks he throws down either off lobs from his teammates, on put-backs, or just posting up, using his length and strength to get to the rim and slam it home. The only real flaw in his game right now is his shooting ability, as he has the ability to knock down a 15-foot jumper but not with as much regularity as he eventually needs.
Justin Edwards (2023 | Team Final | Imhotep Charter, Pa.)
Edwards has been making big leaps in his progression over the last six months, and that was really clear in watching him for a couple games on Sunday. The 6-7 lefty wing has been a promising prospect for several years, and now he’s really starting to turn it into production; not that he wasn’t good this season, averaging a double-double and garnering first team All-State honors, but that’s because most teams in the Public League can’t handle a wing of his size and athleticism. But now he’s playing much more aggressively off the bounce, trying to dunk everything he could, and showcasing the smooth outside shot that he’s had for a couple years. Next step is to become more of a playmaker off the wing, but that’ll come.
Kwame Evans (2023 | Team Durant | Baltimore Poly, Md.)
Evans is certainly one to watch in the 2023 class, as the 6-8 wing does a lot of things well and makes it look easy. What especially stood out about him in a couple watches this weekend in addition to his overall size and versatility was his 3-point shot: high-arcing with the perfect backspin, he hit six triples between the two games; he had 14 points and nine rebounds in a win over Philly Pride and then 18 points and six rebounds against Team Final. Played mostly off the ball and as a spot-up shooter, but he showed he can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. Holds numerous high-level high-major offers including Kansas, Texas, Maryland, LSU and more.
Demetrius Lilley (2022 | Philly Pride | Lower Merion, Pa.)
Consistency can be a tough thing to gauge in the scouting world, as it’s impossible to see every player even most of the times they play, so there’s always that unknown element. But Lilley seems to have that consistency factor, as every time he’s seen he’s productive; include in that a 16-point, four-rebound effort against Team Final Red in a second-round 17U game Saturday afternoon. The 6-9, 245-pound forward has vacuums for hands and is a stick-back expert with his left and right, and he’s also excellent at getting to the hoop from 12-15 feet out by backing his man down, and has great feel around the rim. He’s also a solid outside shooter, taking good shots with his feet set, and excels in pick-and-roll situations.
Dereck Lively II (above) had a strong weekend inside and out for Team Final. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Dereck Lively II (2022 | Team Final | Westtown School, Pa.)
There aren’t many places where a 7-1, top-50 prospect can go under-the-radar, but that’s sometimes how it feels about Lively and Team Final — he’s a key part of all their success, and his team knows it (and college coaches know it), but alongside Duren and now Bates, as well as Final’s cadre of scoring guards, Lively II doesn’t always show up on these types of lists because he doesn’t have the mega-games that some of the others do. But he had a great weekend at Boo, doing all the things that make him a five-star big man: running the floor with ease, blocking shots, finishing lobs, hitting 3s, and playing hard all the time. It’s easy to think that Lively’s most productive days are still ahead of him, and he just might have the highest ceiling of anybody on his team.
Dug McDaniel (2022 | Team Takeover | Paul VI, Va.)
The star of the Takeover 17s who made their run to the 17U championship game, McDaniel is a whole lotta fun to watch with the ball in his hands. A 5-11, 170-pound lead guard, McDaniel had 13 points, four assists and three rebounds in the championship game, showcasing a terrific burst of speed up and down the floor, with excellent court vision and the ability to read the pick-and-roll, utilize screens and get defenses in motion to make things happen for his squad. Playing for two of the powerhouse programs in the DMV area in Takeover and Paul VI and a starter since his sophomore year, McDaniel is sorting through a pile of high-major suitors including Michigan, Florida, Penn State, LSU and more.
Jack Scott (2022 | NJ ShoreShots | Hun School, N.J.)
There’s a lot to like about Scott, a lead guard with great size (6-5) and ability, who had a fantastic game Friday night against Team Loaded 757. He was 6-of-10 from the floor (3-4 3PT) for 15 points, with 11 rebounds, six assists and two steals to boot. Scott was in control from tip-to-buzzer, playing confidently with the ball in his hands and making great reads on seemingly every possession, with all the tricks a point guard could want: no-look passes on drives, pinpoint kick-outs to shooters, dishes on the break, and knowing when to pull up and knock down a shot. The son of current Air Force head coach Joe Scott, Jack looks like he’s about to break out nationally.
Jack Vander Woude (2022 | VA Playmakers | Seton HS, Va.)
The show-stealer of the tournament, Vander Woude picked the right game to have the shooting night of his life. With his VA Playmakers matched up against Team Final in the opening round Friday night, there wasn’t a soul in the building who thought they had a chance of hanging with the top travel hoops team in the country, one which had just added the No. 1 player in the 2022 class. Thanks in large part to Vander Woude’s stellar outside shooting (seven 3-pointers), the Playmakers hung with Final until the very end. The 6-3, 175-pound guard banged in six treys in the first half, including a halfcourt buzzer-beater that tied the game and sent the crowd into hysterics. Possessing a shooter’s confidence and a quick trigger, Vander Woude utilized a nifty side-step to get free on several occasions, and also showed he can put the ball on the floor and find teammates.
Camden (N.J.) guard D.J. Wagner (above) is hoping to become the first third-generation NBA player. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
D.J. Wagner (2023 | NJ Scholars | Camden, N.J.)
This weekend was my first time seeing Wagner play, and even though it wasn’t his best weekend, it was still good enough for him to be on this list, because he’s still quite good; he finished with 15 and 19 points in two games watched; 34 points on a combined 26 shots. The 6-1, 160-pound point guard is a tremendous athlete and on-ball presence, capable of getting his own shot at any point with a quick first step, a ton of bounce, and a picture-perfect shot even when he’s on the move, plus a variety of complementary scoring touches. He can really heat up in a hurry, which he showed multiple times over the course of several watches, using defensive pressure to get momentum going in his direction. His abilities on the ball also help open up plenty of opportunities for others.
Christian Watson (2022 | DC Premier | St. John’s College, Md.)
A 6-7 wing guard, Watson did just about everything for DC Premier in the Under Armour squad’s run to the quarterfinals, where they ran into Team Final. In a Saturday win over New World (Md.), Watson showed his versatility with a 13-point, five-rebound, five-assist, two-steal performance. Though he plays everything from the ‘1’ to the ‘3’ he spent plenty of time on the ball, utilizing a crafty handle and his size to get into the lane and find shooters, and he also knocked down long-range shots of his own; in a 19-point outing in the quarterfinals, he had three triples. There’s a reason he’s reeled in multiple high-major offers lately, including South Carolina and Penn State.
Justice Williams (2022 | Team Final | Montverde Academy, Fla.)
Yeah, one more Team Final player. They had that kind of weekend (and several others were in the discussion for this list, but they’re all in the honorable mention category below). Williams, a 6-4 combo guard, has been trying to show off his point guard abilities this spring, but with Bates joining the squad, he was playing more as a scoring guard, which is his best ability. Williams was getting buckets all weekend long, leading his team with 16 points (on 8-of-10 shooting) in the 17U championship game, the same number he had in the semifinals, and he had 11 in the opening-round game on seven shots. A true half-court scorer, Williams can shoot from the outside but was doing most of his damage this weekend attacking the bucket, where he was finishing through contact and also using great rise on his mid-range jumper against defenders with length, hitting those shots with regularity.
Daniel Alcantera (2022 | Team Final Red | Reading, Pa.)
Neel Beniwal (2022 | RI Elite | Phelps School, Pa.)
Jameel Brown (2022 | Team Final | Westtown School, Pa.)
Shane Eden (2021 | VA Playmakers | Woodbridge, Va.)
Kareem Ewell (2021 | WeR1 | Patrick School, N.J.)
Justyn Fernandez (2022 | DC Premier | Virginia Episcopal, Va.)
Massai Graham (2022 | RI Elite | Tapestry Charter, N.Y.)
Nikolas Graves (2022 | Garner Road | Greensboro Day, N.C.)
Scott Gyimesi (2022 | NJ ShoreShots | Rumson-Fair Haven, N.J.)
Amani Hansberry (2023 | Team Durant | St. John’s College, Md.)
Elmarko Jackson (2023 | WeR1 | Academy New Church, Pa.)
Johannes Kirsipuu (2021 | 6th Man Warriors | Scotland Campus, Pa.)
Sam Kodi (2022 | RI Elite | Bradford Christian, N.H.)
Jahnathan Lamothe (2023 | Team Durant | St. Frances, Md.)
Gabe Moss (2022 | Philly Pride | Hill School, Pa.)
Jevin Muniz (2022 | Philly Pride | Executive Education, Pa.)
Fray Nguimbi (2022 | NJ Scholars | First Love Christian, Pa.)
Kachi Nzeh (2023 | Team Final | George School, Pa.)
Otega Oweh (2022 | Team Final | Blair Academy, N.J.)
Carl Powell (2022 | 6th Man Warriors | DeMatha, Md.)
Anthony Purnell (2022 | Philly Pride | Kiski School, Pa.)
Angelo Reeves (2022 | Team Final Red | First Love Christian, Pa.)
Shawn Simmons (2023 | Team Durant | Life Center, N.J.)
Justin Taylor (2022 | Team Takeover | St. Anne’s, Va.)
Noah Wright (2022 | Caveman Academy | Penn Trafford, Pa.)