West Chester’s ‘Big 64’ event took place this past weekend at WCU and Glen Mills, with more than 120 teams from around the region coming to the Golden Rams’ campus for a couple games of preseason action.
Here’s a notebook featuring some recruiting news and notes from players who participated this weekend:
Imhotep junior Justin Edwards (above) is one of the fastest-rising prospects in the entire country. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
It was a busy summer for Justin Edwards (2023 | Imhotep Charter, Pa.) who spent his time playing with Team Final’s 2023 team on the EYBL circuit, including a championship run at the biggest AAU tournament of them all, the Peach Jam tournament in Augusta Georgia.
Edwards started the tournament with the 2023 team, but when they were eliminated, Edwards was called up to play with the 2022 team for the elimination rounds. This move meant Edwards went from being the No. 1 option to coming off the bench as a role player.
When you play with the likes of Jalen Duren (Memphis), Dereck Lively (Duke), Justice Williams (LSU), Corey Floyd (Uconn), and Jameel Brown (Penn State), it can be hard to get an opportunity, but Edwards took advantage of his.
The lefty was used as a spot up shooter for the most part, but he did what he needed to do, knocking down big shots and providing a spark off the bench, chipping in 5.1 ppg and 3.0 rpg during Final’s run to its first-ever Peach jam title.
“It was good, but I’d much rather win it with my 2023 team because that was our goal,” Edwards said, “but we couldn’t get it done.”
Edwards has seen his stock rise in recent months and has been one of the quickest ascenders in the class of 2023. Edwards is ranked in the top 30 on the top recruiting websites including being as high as No. 8 on the Rivals rankings.
“It feels really good because people are beginning to notice me now,” Edwards said. “Me being recognized and coming from where I’m from, it’s a big accomplishment.”
Edwards stock isn’t the only thing that’s grown over the past few seasons, with him growing in stature about five inches since his freshman season, going from about 6-3 to 6-8. The Junior has started to use that size to his advantage, going from being known as a perimeter shooter to somebody who can back smaller players down inside and using a little jump hook in the middle of the lane. Edwards can still light it up from deep with his smooth stroke and is a terrific defender, using his huge wingspan to his advantage.
As you would expect from a player of his nature, Edwards is getting heavily recruited by high-level D-I programs. The likes of Virginia, UConn, Oklahoma State, Maryland, Penn State, LSU and Kentucky all are going after Edwards. He’s visited Penn State and Maryland’s campuses, and was able to sit in on a UConn practice when he made his visit to the school.
“It was good to see their practice and how intense they were,” he said. “The atmosphere was great, they really got after each other and you could tell they were pushing each other to get better.”
Kentucky is a team that’s recently joined the fight for Edwards, and even though the Wildcats have yet to offer him, they still seem to be very invested in the Imhotep product. John Calipari was recently spotted at an open gym where Edwards was featured; Edwards explained that Kentucky wants him to take a visit to their campus first, before officially giving him a scholarship.
Edwards is still only a junior and still has room to grow over the next two seasons at Imhotep. He still feels he can get stronger and put on some more muscle as well as being able to go right with more confidence. With a long list of schools still chasing him, Edwards hasn’t decided when he’s going to narrow his list down, but he does plan on making a decision before his senior season. — Zak Wolf
Sam Brown (2023 | Lower Merion, Pa.) has no fear when playing on the basketball court. Despite playing against a Westtown team that’s loaded with D-I talent, Brown held his own, scoring 19 points and connecting on four 3-point shots in a tough 70-55 loss. Brown knows going up against players like Dereck Lively II (Duke) and Jameel Brown (Penn State) is a big challenge that requires you not to play afraid.
“You’re not going to get anything good from playing scared, especially against those guys,” he said.
Along with playing against Westtown on Sunday, Brown has been playing in open gyms at Harcum College to try and prepare him for the next level. Playing against bigger, stronger and faster guys in those runs has helped him develop his game this summer.
The junior knows what it takes to win after playing on a Lower Merion team that won the District 1 championship last season in dominant fashion. It was the Aces’ first District title since 1996, back when the late, great Kobe Bryant was still dominating high school basketball. Brown helped his team push a stacked Archbishop Wood team to the limit in the state semifinal also. After averaging 12 points last season, Brown is ready to take on an even bigger role for the Aces this season after they graduated starters Zach Wong and Sam Davison (Franklin and Marshall).
As of now, Brown is most experienced playing the two guard, but knows it’s unlikely he’ll play there in college. He’s working on his playmaking while trying to be more comfortable in initiating the offense, as he tries to make the transition from a shooting guard to a point guard. Brown already has a solid handle and along with a quick release jumper that he uses to great effect. The junior
has yet to pick up an official offer (edit: picked up his first offer from Albany this summer), with interest from Ivy League and Patriot League schools, specifically Penn. Brown recently took a visit to the school and enjoyed the experience.
“The Penn campus is beautiful, and I really like the way they play,” he said. “They’re highly intelligent and it would be tough to play there”
Brown also mentioned that it would be great to play at what is often called the “Cathedral of College Basketball” at the Palestra. He explained that Lower Merion was supposed to play two games there last season, but because of COVID, they were unable to do so. After a weird year due to the pandemic in terms of recruiting, Brown is prepared to put it all together in his junior season and pick up a few Division I offers.
Now healthy, Alpha Bangura (above) is back for one final season at Westtown, with multiple schools starting to catch on. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
— Alpha Bangura Jr. (2022 | Westtown School, Pa.) has basketball built into his D.N.A. With his father playing at St. Johns, a year with the Wizards and 10 seasons overseas in China, Bangura has the genes to be great. Right away, you can see that Bangura is a gifted athlete, he has long arms, broad shoulders and a quick first step. In Westtowns win over Lower Merion, Bangura was their leading scorer, with 15 points, showing off his bounce with multiple highlight reel dunks. Bangura gets off the ground quickly, which allows him to make his dunks look effortless. The fifth-year senior was more of a shooter last year for Westtown, knocking down 48 percent of his 3-point attempts, but has transformed his game after a knee injury this summer. Bangura has become more explosive and physically imposing after growing two inches and putting on 10 pounds of muscle. With interest from Georgetown, UCF, VCU and other A-10 schools since his reclassification, Bangura is looking to pick up his first official offer as a member of the 2022 class — he had numerous mid-major offers as a 2021, but those all came in a couple years ago before a series of injuries — but is remaining patient as he knows the right school will come his way eventually. — Zak Wolf
— Kareem Watson (2022 | West Catholic, Pa.) had a big summer playing on the AAU circuit with K-Low Elite. Watson got to play against high level competition from all over the country, which helped prepare him for his senior season in the PCL, where every game is going to be tough. The 6-7 wing has a long wingspan, which allows him to guard multiple positions on defense and exploit mismatches on the offensive end. Watson scored 12 points in West Catholics blowout win over Prestige Prep, showing off his improved jumper, hitting a couple of fadeaway shots. Watson likes to get out and push the ball in transition and get to the rim as well. He currently holds offers from mostly mid-major schools like St. Peters, St. Francis, Drexel, Cal State Bakersfield, Cleveland State and New Mexico State. Watson is set to take visits to St. Peters and Cal State Bakersfield in the fall as he tries to figure out which schools have the most interest in him.
Salesianum (Del.) wing Justin Molen has recruitment coming in from all three levels. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
— Interest at all levels has been coming for Justin Molen (2022 | Salesianum, Del.) ahead of his senior season. The 6-foot-7 forward brings length, shooting and versatility on the floor, and he’ll have a variety of options in making his next step. Division III schools Johns Hopkins, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Washington University (Mo.) are Molen’s most interested colleges at that level. West Chester and West Liberty have shown interest at the D-II level. Division I programs such as Princeton, American and Columbia have been interested recently as well, with Columbia’s new assistant coach Bruce Hamburger staying in regular contact with Molen. A post-grad year is not out of the picture either.
Academics will be a major key in any decision for Molen, who plans on majoring in chemical engineering. Ivy League schools carry that major, as well as some Patriot League schools, Army, Navy and the four D-III schools that have been in contact with Molen the most. He wasn’t sure when a decision would be coming, but Molen has visits scheduled throughout October at Johns Hopkins, WPI, RPI, Washington University, Columbia and the Hill School and Phelps School as post-grad options, as well as possible visits planned for Army and Navy.
— A 6-foot-9 power forward, Elijah Jones (2022 | Mt. Zion Prep, Md.) showed off ability in the post, on the glass and on the defensive end for the Warriors on Saturday. The senior has Division I offers from Old Dominion, Rider, Bryant, Mississippi Valley State and Hampton, while schools such as Providence and Virginia Tech have shown interest as of late. Jones doesn’t really favor one school over the others at this point in the recruiting process, calling the situation “pretty neutral.” He hasn’t made any official visits recently and does not have any planned as of now. Jones seems to be waiting on some additional offers to come his way before making any kind of decision. He’s been trying to improve his all-around game this summer and fall, and he believes the offers could follow. “If I keep playing the way I’ve been playing,” he said Saturday, “I feel like they’re definitely coming.” Obviously nothing is close at this point, but Jones said a commitment might be made around the end of the calendar year.
— Tyler Houser (2022 | Cedar Cliff) has narrowed his potential landing spots down to three, and his decision should be coming soon. The 6-foot-9 senior will be choosing between Division I Virginia Military Institute, Division II West Chester and Division II East Stroudsburg. He expects to make and announce a decision “in the second or third week in October.” In the meantime, Houser has visits at each of the three schools planned before then. Those trips should help him in picking one over the others, as the big man does not have one school in the lead for his commitment at this point. Houser said Saturday he is excited for the upcoming visits and subsequent decision so he can keep his mind on playing out his final season for Cedar Cliff. “I’m looking forward to getting it over with,” he said with a laugh. “I want to be able to focus on our team getting better for the season and focus on winning.”
— At one point in time, Masud Stewart (2022 | Neumann-Goretti) had official offers from four D-I colleges. But some things have changed as the months have gone by, leaving the senior with just one. Other players made commitments to Rider, St. Peters and Holy Cross, so offers from those schools are no longer on the table for Stewart. However, his lone offer remaining is from the school that has pushed for him the hardest. Wagner’s offer to Stewart still stands, and the Seahawks program has been in contact with him more than any other. Stewart made an unofficial visit to Wagner this summer and enjoyed it. An official visit is likely up next in the upcoming weeks. Outside of Wagner, Columbia has also shown significant interest in Stewart. An assistant coach from the school was at Neumann-Goretti’s open gym this past Thursday. Cornell has been the most recent college to reach out, contacting Stewart for the first time on Saturday. A commitment is not imminent for Stewart yet, but the 6-foot-1 guard said he doesn’t want to wait too long to make a decision and will likely announce one during the winter. — Ty Daubert