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Hoop Group Elite Camp II Day Two Notebook (Pt. 1)

07/19/2018, 11:15pm EDT
By Josh Verlin & Tyler Sandora

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin) &
Tyler Sandora (@tyler_sandora)
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READING, Pa. — A loaded crop of rising seniors, juniors and sophomores descended on Albright College this week for the second Hoop Group Elite Camp in as many weeks, drawing out coaches from some of the top programs in the country as the second of three July live recruiting periods tipped off at 5 PM on Wednesday night.

Here’s Part 1 of a notebook from Thursday’s action; Part 2 can be found here:

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Jalen Gaffney (above) is starting to sort through a pile of offers more than a dozen high-majors deep. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Jalen Gaffney (2019/Westtown School, Pa.)

The Team Rio ride that Gaffney has been on since middle school is about to come to an end -- and, soon after, so will the highly-touted guard’s recruitment.

Ever since seventh grade, Gaffney has been playing with Team Rio during the offseason, part of a program that’s become one of the most-recognizable summer teams around, thanks to the presence of Gaffney, plus five-star Ranney School (N.J.) wings Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis and more.

After picking up plenty of buzz during their middle school years, Team Rio burst onto the scene as rising sophomores with a big-time upset of a talented Sports U squad of rising juniors at the Under Armour event in New York City in April 2016. Now, the group of four- and five-star prospects are less than two weeks away from the end of their AAU careers, with just one tournament left to play as Team Rio -- the Under Armour Association championships in Las Vegas next week.

“Yeah, it is hard to believe,” Gaffney said. “We’ve been together since Rio started, seventh grade. So a lot of them are like my brothers...it is something we talked about, we’ve talked about it a lot.”

Though Gaffney’s recruiting isn’t quite at the level of Antoine and Lewis, who have schools like Villanova, Kentucky and Duke in their final 5-7 schools, he’s got plenty of high-level programs in pursuit.

“Xavier, Florida, St. John’s, Pittsburgh, Clemson, UConn, those are probably [recruiting me] the hardest,” he said. “t feels like yesterday, basically, freshman year, and getting my first offer. It’s crazy that it’s about to be over.”

A 6-foot-3, 170-pound lead guard, Gaffney arrived at the Westtown School last fall after previously playing at Lawrenceville Prep (N.J.). He was the second-leading scorer on the Friends’ Schools League champion Moose at 16.6 ppg, and will be expected to be their go-to bucket-getter this fall with Cameron Reddish off at Duke, though he’ll have plenty of help.

While he doesn’t have elite size for an off-guard, Gaffney makes up for that with a bouncy game, getting great lift on his 3-point shot and into the lane with ease. His outside shot wasn’t particularly falling on Thursday afternoon, but he found ways to be disruptive on drive-and-kicks and getting to the basket in transition.

So far, Gaffney has one official visit set, to the University of Florida, in September; the Gators had assistant Darris Nichols watching Gaffney multiple times on Thursday.

“I took an unofficial there freshman year with Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine, a bunch of those guys,” he said. “I love the campus, it’s a great atmosphere, so I’m just looking forward to seeing the rest of it.”

Though Florida was the only official schedule, Gaffney insisted that didn’t label them as a favorite, and he intends to take all five officials before making a decision, which he said didn’t necessarily have to come before the early signing period.

“The factor that’s playing the biggest part is probably what program can get me to the next level, which is playing pro, in the NBA, whatever,” he said. “Who’s going to develop my game the most.” -- Josh Verlin
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Brenton Mills (2019/Phillips Academy, Mass.)

Mills is going to have quite the adjustment to make in the next few months.

A graduate of Allen High School in Collin County (Tex.), Mills was part of a school enrollment just south of 5,000 kids. In the fall, he’ll be reclassifying and heading to Phillips Academy in Massachusetts, a private boarding school with just over 1,000 kids. Also factor in the climate change, and the need to meet a bunch new people.

“Yeah, it’s a change,” Mills said, “but I’m going to get used to it. I went up there on spring break. It was cold. Need to get used to that.

“But I figured it would be the best fit for me, both with academics and basketball-wise.”

Considering the way Mills played on Thursday afternoon, it’s hard to believe he didn’t have any offers coming out of Allen last year. A 6-3 combo guard, Mills filled up the stat sheet by scoring around 20 points, nailing threes, grabbing rebounds, and playing hard the entire game. He was seemingly in the right spot all the time, and had a nose for tracking down rebounds and making the right plays.

“I do a little bit of everything,” Mills said. “Shooting, passing, rebounding, and defense. I’m just trying to compete.”

Since reclassifying, Mills, who has a 3.9 GPA, has been in contact with high-academic schools such as Princeton, Boston U, Bucknell, and Holy Cross. He went and visited all four of the campuses recently, and picked up offers from Bucknell and Boston about a month ago.

Even though the offers are just starting to come in, Mills figures a possible decision date could be sometime in August or September, once he has some time to sort things out and visit the campuses again.

If he continues to perform like he did on Thursday afternoon, more and more colleges are going to be chasing after Mills. -- Tyler Sandora

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Idan Tretout (above) picked up an offer from Saint Joseph's this past week. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Idan Tretout (2019/Wilbraham & Monson, Mass.)

One Big 5 school has thrown its hat in the ring with Tretout, but if he keeps up what he did on Thursday, the competition for the New York City native is about to get fierce.

Tretout was absolutely lights-out in his afternoon game, hitting the first six shots he took: a pair of smooth 3-pointers, a baseline jumper (plus contact), a pair of driving layups. He only missed one shot all game, finishing with 19 points in his two quarters of work.

Saint Joseph’s was one of two Atlantic 10 schools to offer Tretout after he helped New Heights (N.Y.) to the 17U championship at the Under Armour Challenge in Atlanta last week, along with St. Bonaventure.

“I went down to visit last year,” he said. “it was a good place, small school, I liked it.”

Wake Forest and George Washington have been showing interest in Tretout, and Florida had recently reached out as well.

The Hawks are going to have some tough competition in Harvard, which offered in May; Tretout spoke highly of Crimson coach Tommy Amaker, who’s overseen the rise of Harvard into an Ivy League contender, with four straight NCAA trips from 2012-15, the program’s first dances since 1946.

“(Amaker) just wants me to be like kind of the leader of the 2019 class, he wants me to come to school, work hard,” Tretout said. “He’s not going to just give me a spot, but work hard and I can make an impact right away, and Harvard could hopefully make a run in the tournament.”

Tretout is targeting a fall decision, before he begins his final season of high school basketball. He did say that Harvard will get an official visit, but wasn’t sure yet which other schools might get one as well.

“I just want to make an impact once I get to the school,” Tretout said. “I don’t want to wait two years to make an impact, I want to get there and play.”

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Hakim Hart (above) had a huge weekend at the Under Armour Challenge during the first live period. (Photo: Tyler Sandora/CoBL)

Quick Hits
-- As Hakim Hart has grown, so too has his game. A rising senior at Roman Catholic, Hart has sprouted up a few inches in the recent months, now standing 6-foot-6. He’s always been known for his shooting and scoring abilities, averaging 15.3 points per game this past year, including a 26-point outing to win the PIAA 6A state championship game. But he’s taken those talents to a whole new level as of late, scoring 16.6 points per game at the Under Armour Challenge with Philly Pride, and shooting 52 percent from deep.

One thing he’s been working on, and showcased to coaches, is his improved game in the paint. Now that he’s starting to get bigger, he’s gotten better in the post, something he and his dad continue to work on. Hart said that St. Joe’s, which offered him last week, is recruiting him the hardest along with La Salle. He hopes to take visits to La Salle, St. Joe’s, and Temple, but wants to wait until after the summer to finalize those dates.

-- Arion Lewis had two offers on the table as a 2018 prospect in IUP and Shippensburg, but he’s had a goal for a while now to play Division I basketball. In hopes of reeling in some DI looks, Lewis has decided to head up north to Connecticut and the South Kent School, and reclassifying to the class of 2019. Since he wasn’t sure what his plans would be until after the spring, Lewis didn’t play AAU until the July Live Period. Since then, he’s been contacted by DI’s Lafayette and Loyola (Md.). A high-academic student athlete with a 3.8 GPA, Lewis, a graduate of Valley Forge Military Academy, hopes to attract some more schools my improving his strength and conditioning.

-- Perhaps the top sharpshooter in the Lehigh Valley and certainly one of the better shooters in the state, Bethlehem Catholic’s Justin Paz picked up his first scholarship offer late in June, from East Stroudsburg; the 6-foot-tall combo guard was offered by Warriors head coach Jeff Wilson after a strong weekend with BeCaHi at ESU’s team camp.

“They feel like I could produce for them right away, that I could play the ‘1’ or the ‘2,’” he said. “Coach has been texting me every day, how much I can mean to the team, make an immediate impact.”

Playing with WeR1 on the summer circuit, Paz has picked up some Division I interest, including Rider, CCSU, Holy Cross, Lafayette, Lehigh and and Mount St. Mary’s.

-- Although he doesn’t currently have any offers, Trenton Catholic (N.J.)’s Eddie Evans has racked up a good number of schools expressing interest in him. St. Joe’s, VCU, West Virginia, Tulane, Clemson, Delaware, Loyola (Md.), and Delaware State have all recently texted and/or called the 6-4 rising junior. Even though it’s still early in the recruiting process, Evans, who played for the NJ Playaz 16u squad this summer, hopes to get out and take visits to as many schools as he can get to. An athletic combo guard, Evans’ strength is his ball handling ability and court vision. He made a few impressive no-look passes for some easy buckets on Thursday afternoon.


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