CONSHOHOCKEN — The second round of the 2022 Donofrio Classic continued with its final of four nights on Monday, with the last two teams punching their ticket into Thursday’s quarterfinals. Here’s a roundup of the evening at the Fellowship House, with recaps of each game, as well as notes and quotes from several of the participating prospects:
Game One: One of the last two teams to make its 2022 Donofrio Tournament debut on Tuesday night, Team Hardnett got a balanced team effort from its deep group to outlast a Philly Pride squad that only had five players, advancing to the quarterfinals with a 108-86 victory. Elmarko Jackson (2023 | Academy New Church) led the way with 25 points for Team Hardnett, getting support in the form of 17 points from Jarell Keel (2023 | Academy New Church), 15 from Muhsin Muhammad (2023 | Germantown Friends), 13 from Jaren Morton (2023 | Springside-Chestnut Hill), 12 from Anthony McCall (2023 | Academy New Church), and 10 from Rashan Locke-Hicks (2023 | Lincoln). Philly Pride got 29 points from Richmond signee Michael Walz (2022 | Conestoga), 17 from Ife West-Ingram (2023 | Abington Friends), 16 from Mark Butler (2023 | Penn Charter), 13 from Alassane Amadou (2023 | Springside-Chestnut Hill), and 11 from Izaiah Pasha (2023 | Cardinal O’Hara).
Game Two: For the fifth time this Donofrio Classic, overtime was needed to settle a game. NEPA’s Jason Shields (2022 | Scranton High) hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer, a leaner with a second left in regulation, to force the extra session, and his team made it pay off, beating K-Low Elite 97-87 to buy a return trip Thursday night. Shields’ four 3-pointers led him to a 18-point game, supporting 25 points from Stonehill signee Ethan Meuser (2022 | Hill School), as well as 14 from Augie Gerhart (2023 | Hill School), and 12 from Ben Chilson (2023 | Tunkhannock). K-Low Elite was led by Kaseem Watson (2022 | West Catholic), who had 27 points, with Roman Catholic 2023 guard Xzayvier Brown (24 points) and Archbishop Wood senior and Drexel signee Justin Moore (14) joining him in double figures.
ANC’s Jackson seeing things differently this summer
Elmarko Jackson is in a good spot, and he knows it. Now, he can focus on the details.
Elmarko Jackson (above) has schools in the ACC, Big East, Big Ten and more hot on his trail. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Academy New Church junior guard has been a Division I target for a couple years, entering his final season of AAU ball with a number of impressive programs who are strong suitors — that’s evidenced enough by the fact that he got a Syracuse offer after playing on Tuesday night, the Orange staff impressed by what they saw of him this past weekend during the first Under Armour Association stop in Indianapolis.
That adds to a list that includes VCU, Maryland, Penn State, Minnesota and more.
In addition, he’s playing on the UAA’s 17U circuit for the second year in a row, giving him a good idea of what it takes to be successful on one of the sneaker circuits.
“I feel like I learned a lot my first year, going against a lot of elite guards,” he said. “The game comes a lot easier to me; [...] each game, each practice, everything I do, each work out, is a learning experience, and I’m using that to better help me with my game and my future.”
That experience paid off last weekend as WeR1 opened up 3-1 on the circuit.
“Before, like last year, I’m not going to lie, I was kind of focused on offers, kind of like a little bit self-centered,” he said. “I shouldn’t have been, it should have been a more team-oriented approach. This year I’m just focused on winning, winning firsthand, that’s the thing that’s most important, because now I understand, if you win, everybody on the team eats, [it] creates a better team environment for everybody to hustle more, play harder.
“Coaches want to show up to a team that plays good basketball, a team that’s unselfish, that plays how they do at the next level. That’s just what I’m trying to do; lead my team to play good basketball.”
Before getting the offer from Syracuse, Jackson said he was hearing most often from “St. John’s, VCU, Miami (Fl.), just got in touch with Northwestern, and Maryland as well.” Many of those programs have been at least showing heavy interest since last summer, when the 6-foot-3 guard was able to impress with his combination of point guard and scoring abilities, as well as his athleticism on the perimeter and defensive intensity.
That meant Jackson was able to watch them during the 2021-22 season and into March Madness, getting a chance to really evaluate his options more than just how they talk to him on the phone.
“I definitely watch teams and ask myself if I fit in their system, if the play style fits me, if I like this play style, how the coaches talk to the players, those are big things that I look at,” he said. “I look at the bench to see how they are, if they support each other, if it’s like a family. I look at all that stuff.”
Two teams that have made a positive impact in that regard?
“One team [that] jumps out, I’d probably say St. John’s, they jump out a lot,” he said, “and VCU as well, because I saw their practice and they get after it and they have a fun time.”
With a long summer ahead and plenty of time to decide, Jackson’s recruitment remains wide open.
“It depends on whatever the best fit is, for real,” he said. “To me it’s just hard work and academics; that’s what it comes down to, hard work, academics and winning.”
Walz getting ready for Richmond
The high school days of Conestoga’s Michael Walz are winding down. Monday marked a part of that process. Walz, the Pioneers’ standout 6-foot-11 senior, is heading to Richmond on June 20, a little over a week after he graduates. He has to check in at Richmond on June 18.
Walz was part of the five-man Philly Pride team that lost to Loving Basketball-Team Hardnett and ANC star Elmarko Jackson, 108-86, on Monday night after scoring a team-high 29 points.
Michael Walz (above, right) is headed to Richmond in less than three months to start his college career. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
It wasn’t Walz’s last high school game. But it was his last high school basketball experience, parting ways with his Philly Pride AAU teammates.
Walz’s next reality—college—is arriving fast. The game marked the longest Walz played since the live period last summer.
“These guys I’ve played AAU with are guys I’ve had some great memories with that are family, who I’ve had a lot of laughs with, and Philly Pride prides itself on family,” Walz said. “I have no time for a Senior Week after I graduate. I can’t really enjoy that, but I do get to enjoy the fruits of my labor with a basketball scholarship.
“I picked up AAU basketball when I was in ninth grade.”
Before Walz had aspirations of being LeBron James, he wanted to be Tiger Woods.
At 6-11, he’s a scratch golfer with a .5 handicap. He began playing golf at 3.
“Golf was my first love,” said Walz, who was a four-year varsity starter on the Conestoga golf team. “Every day I would go out with my dad and practice golf. Some of my earliest memories are hitting balls off my screened porch when I was really little. That was my first aspiration, to go D-I golf.
“But you grow to 6-11, you really don’t have a choice anymore. I still golf at least once a week and I try twice a week. I don’t think I missed my calling. Basketball is my sport, but when I get some free time at Richmond, I plan on hitting up the local courses. People see me and they think I’m a hack. I’ll fool guys.”
Walz has AP testing in early May and since he loaded up on courses his freshman and sophomore years, he’s able to get out of school at 1 p.m. every day.
“I know the thing that I’m going to miss is the leadership, because we have younger guys on the AAU circuit and we had a young team with Conestoga, and I got to be a leader,” Walz said. “I wasn’t that satisfied my senior year, but as a person, I liked the leadership aspect of being part of the team, to show the younger guys fundamental skills and bringing them together.
“I don’t want to think too far ahead right now about leaving for Richmond. I’m not a hugely emotional person, but that day I go to Richmond, it will bring up a lot of memories. And with my mom, I’m the youngest of three, I’m still her baby boy. I’m trying to cherish all of the memories and the time we have together in these next two months before it’s time to go.”
Pasha is getting on some radars
Izaiah Pasha, Cardinal O’Hara’s 6-foot-5 junior, was part of the five-man Philly Pride team that lost on Monday.
But in many ways, Pasha gained quite a bit, too.
He received a call from Georgia, after getting a call from Minnesota over the weekend. He’s received no offers, but he’s on their radar.
“I’m out here having fun, and I had one good game in the Donofrio, but this was more like an all-star game,” Pasha said. “It was difficult playing with only five players. But I’m in good shape, and I wanted to compete, have fun and enjoy playing against the top players in the area.
“I have to work on getting stronger, getting a better feel for the game and I’m 6-5, 180 pounds and I have to gain weight. I just got a call from Georgia tonight, and they were telling me they think that I’m an underrated player that no one knows about.”
Siena has offered Pasha and the school is still high on his list. He’s being sought as a point guard.
Georgia and Minnesota are the first two major schools that are showing interest. Pasha didn’t feel he helped himself at the first Under Armour Association stop in Indiana, but apparently, he did.
“Georgia and Minnesota have both told me that they like me and they’re interested in recruiting me,” Pasha said. “I can’t wait for this summer and O’Hara is going to be good next year. We may have help coming in and I think we have a chance of winning it all.”
Muhammad (above) was a first team All-FSL selection as a junior. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
— Germantown Friends junior Muhsin Muhammad had a strong year with the Tigers, earning first team All-Friends School League honors, and now he’s hoping to turn that into his first collegiate offer. The 6-4, 165-pound guard has turned his game from a slashing wing into a three-level scorer, and now he’s playing this summer with East Coast Power in events all over the country — Indiana last weekend, Kansas the one after next.
“[I’m working] on better handles and becoming a better defender,” he said. “Just get better in every aspect, but those are the two [areas] I’m going to focus on this summer.”
Muhammad said he’s hearing from a number of Ivy League schools, noting that Penn has come to see him play, while also mentioning Princeton and Yale, plus Lafayette, and “a couple HBCUs” as having been in touch as well.
— Lincoln’s tiny dynamo junior guard Rashan Locke-Hicks is easy to look over, though incredibly tough to miss. As a member of the winning Loving Basketball-Team Hardnett squad Monday night, Locke-Hicks did what he usually does, cause chaos, sneak up from behind ballhandlers and create steals, and facilitate on offense.
The glaring issue is that Locke-Hicks is 5-foot-5.
He’s received no attention from any college at any level—so far.
“I think the Donofrio is good exposure,” Locke-Hicks said. “I took some time off because of a sore foot. No schools have spoken to me yet, but hopefully a tournament like this will help me get some attention. It’s all I can ask.”
— Ben Chilson, a 6-foot-5 junior at Tunkhannock High School, is coming a junior season in which he averaged 18.4 points a game, including dropping a season-high 38 points in one game, after scoring a single-game, school-record 50 as a sophomore, which included a single-game school record 12 3-pointers.
Tufts, Ursinus and Williams are calling him. But the Ivy League and Patriot League are his goal and nice nights like the one he had in NEPA Elite’s overtime victory K-Low Elite will help.
There’s certainly no doubt he can score.
Chilson, 17, has gone from being one of the fresh faces on NEPA last year, playing up, to being one of its leaders.
“I was the only 16-year-old on our 17U team last year, so I played with the seniors on this team and the sophomores I’m playing with now,” Chilson said. “I was playing as hard as I can. I think playing against top competition automatically makes you better, especially when you’re hanging with them.
“Not many guys on our team have played competition like this. It’s a great gym, a great environment to play in. It’s going to get really packed in here these next few weeks.”